"Share Good News - by Logic"
April 15, 2007 Acts 17:22-34
Evangelism with Integrity: Find Your Fit
For some people, "evangelism" or "evangelist" are words with unpleasant connotations - suspect at best, hokey at worst; if not downright nefarious. The thought of infamous televangelists extracting large sums of money from broadcast audiences induces righteous anger. Evangelism in that light is not 'good news' but bad news. Or perhaps we've thought evangelism entails knocking on people's doors in a cold-call and rhyming off a carefully memorized, canned recitation, including some key Bible verses that warn them they're going to hell unless they do some strange thing called 'repent'. We'd secretly be afraid that, if we did that, they'd either stare at us in confusion or slam the door in our face! Either way, evangelists would come across as fools or frauds.
Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg comment: "In fact, [the book] The Day America Told the Truth...[a book by James Patterson and Peter Kim] reports that when a national survey asked respondents to rank various professions for their honesty and integrity, TV evangelists came out almost at the very bottom, below lawyers, politicians, car salesmen, and even prostitutes. Out of the 73 occupations compared in this integrity rating, only two ended up lower on the scale: organized crime bosses and drug dealers!"
Yet Jesus commanded His followers to be evangelists - to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mk 16:15) Is there a way to carry out the Great Commission yet keep our honesty, integrity, and sanity intact?
We've been looking at various 'styles' of sharing the good news, such as by invitation and by testimony. We're each unique, and different ways of sharing suit different believers. We each need to find our own style; that way we'll come across with more integrity when we do talk with someone, it won't seemed forced or artificial. Hybels & Mittelberg in Becoming a Contagious Christian relate there's "great news that's both freeing and empowering: God knew what He was doing when He made you.He did! He custom-designed you with your unique combination of personality, temperament, talents, and background, and He wants to harness and use these in His mission to reach this messed-up world."
Paul's Peculiar Preparation
Consider the apostle Paul - how God uniquely prepared him to be the "apostle to the Gentiles". When Jesus was telling a reluctant Ananias to go lay hands on him after he'd been stricken blind, the Lord said, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." (Ac 9:15) A 'chosen instrument' - specifically suited for expanding the scope of the Christian gospel.
[MAP this2.jpg] Consider this map of the eastern Mediterranean, showing Paul's missionary travels. Initially the gospel was communicated in the area around Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria. God's aim was to broadcast it across the whole world, particularly the immediate empire that stretched to Rome in the west. Where did He start Paul's preparation? In Tarsus in Cilicia. You can see the idea of a bridge starting. Tarsus was a bustling metropolis, a centre of lumber and linen production, wealthy, with a university that was the best of its time - excelling even those at Athens and Alexandria. And Paul was no average citizen: he was a pure-blooded Jew (original name Saul), whose father was a Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin (Php 3:5). Yet - interestingly enough - Paul was born a Roman citizen, a key factor that would come into play later in his mission work. We're not told how this was obtained, probably by Paul's pop; people could either buy their citizenship, or be granted it as a result of distinguished service to the state.
Although Tarsus was rich in literature (and we see him quoting secular poets), Paul's training didn't end there. He was brought up Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel, a widely-respected rabbi of the day, being thoroughly trained in Jewish law. Another important ingredient in his preparation for apolegetics, reasoning from the Scriptures.
So, when the Lord lays His hand upon Saul and steers him in a different direction as Christ's ambassador, he's been uniquely prepared to "bridge" at least two divides - East and West, and Jew/Gentile. This is very strategically significant. Perhaps Paul's aware of this when he chooses Timothy to be his aide in Acts 16(1): Timothy too is a bit of a hybrid - his mother's a Jewess and a believer, while his father's a Greek. God's going to use the unique personality backgrounds, combinations, and gifts of His servants to cross cultures with the Good News.
Paul and Timothy aren't isolated cases. God has brought you as an individual along a unique path, equipping you with training and understanding to reach out to various people groups. Consider your background. How has the Lord prepared YOU to be His ambassador to the people-groups in YOUR circle of contacts? What passions, interests, hobbies, skills are invested in you that would serve as points of contact with others in developing redemptive relationships?
Spotting the Opportunity
For evangelism to be actually "good news", it involves helping people to see - with the Holy Spirit/Counsellor's leading - that they need a Saviour, and presenting Jesus as the One who can address their predicament. He is the answer to our deepest needs; as Lord He is the authority who can break our bondages to sin and release us from guilt through His sacrificial death at the cross. As an introduction to Paul's talk at Athens in Acts 17, let's take a quick survey of the locations he visits leading up to that, and his methodology. He has sort of a "standard operating procedure" that emerges: at each location he finds a relevant occasion to present Jesus as either the fulfilment to a question or the answer to a pressing need.
Starting in Acts 13, Paul proclaims God's word at the synagogues on the isle of Cyprus. The base for this proclamation, then, is SCRIPTURE: particularly Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, which found their fulfilment in an uncanny way in Jesus. At Paphos on Cyprus Paul confronts a sorcerer whom he calls "a child of the devil" and declares the "hand of the Lord" is going to make him blind for a time. So here the base or occasion we could list as SATAN.
Back on the mainland in the region of Pisidia, they go to Antioch (not to be confused with Antioch in Syria, their home/sending church). Again Paul preaches in the synagogue; Luke preserves quite a detailed model sermon that masterfully shows Jesus must be the long-awaited Messiah. Base here: SCRIPTURE. Paul starts to encounter persecution instigated by Jews. That brings us to chapter 14 and Iconium, where he again starts in the synagogue, and again there's opposition from the Jews - a plot to stone him. Base: SCRIPTURE. They flee to Lystra: there Paul sees a man crippled in his feet from birth, and seeing he has faith to be healed, does so. The basis or occasion here we might describe as SUFFERING.
Skip over the Jerusalem Council to Acts 16, Paul's second missionary journey. From Antioch in Syria he heads overland and picks up Timothy in Lystra. Paul responds to a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help, taking it as a sign they're to cross over from Asia to Europe. The gospel is spreading! At Philippi there is no synagogue, just a place of worship beside a river where they find some God-fearers. Lydia responds to Paul's message - again, SCRIPTURE. Then they're followed constantly by a slave girl with a fortune-telling spirit whom Paul commands to come out in Jesus' name; the base here - SATAN. As a result, Paul and Silas are thrown into a dungeon where their feet are locked in the stocks. The occasion here: SUFFERING - but they manage to find the "sing" in "suffering", praising God in hymns about midnight when a violent earthquake strikes. The jailer (who's beside himself at the possibility of the prisoners escaping) and his household come to believe.
Acts 17 begins in Thessalonica; here, in Berea, and in Athens, Paul starts out "as his custom was" by reasoning with the Jews from the SCRIPTURES; 17:3 says he was "explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.'This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,' he said." At both Thessalonica and Berea, opposition from the Jews causes him to leave.
So, up to Paul's arrival at Athens, we've seen three usual bases or occasions from which Paul presents the good news: SCRIPTURES, SATAN, and SUFFERING. Be alert to each of those as possible factors in the people you encounter: is there a religious background, or area of spiritual bondage from the enemy, or just plain suffering in each person's life that Jesus could help address? Try to spot the opportunity, find the occasion that would serve as a relevant basis from which to refer them to the Saviour. Be praying for God to point out to you the key area of need which offers a promising entry point for Jesus to minister.
So, at 17:16, here's Paul at Athens - a long way from Jerusalem. In many ways the city is a capital of secularity. What launching-point could he find here for a meaningful presentation? He's reasoning in the synagogue (v17). Besides that, we read "he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols". Evidence of Satan, darkness - but how to approach that positively? V18, "A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him." Epicureans had a more sensual system of thought; Stoics started out admirably enough, but by this time "had degenerated into a system of pride" (NIV Study Bible). Yet he's attracting some curiosity. then in vv19-21 Luke records: "Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, 'May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.' (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)" The Areopagus (or, hill of Ares, the god of thunder and war) was not just a place, but a council of a dozen chief magistrates which had originally ruled the city-state, but more recently governed matters of morals and religion.
What's the occasion or base here that might be addressed by the gospel? Idols are vehicles of Satan, but could also be associated more generally with darkness, ignorance. They certainly seem interested in whatever's going spiritually; they're searching, inquisitive, intrigued by this 'babbler' with his 'new teaching' and 'strange ideas' about 'foreign gods'. Perhaps we could class this broadly under the heading of SPIRITUALITY. (and there's a lot of that around today!)
This seems to be the angle Paul takes in his presentation: their spiritual searching. V23 he refers to 'what you worship as something unknown' (lit.ignorant); v27 has the language of people seeking, reaching out for God - literally 'groping'. V30 "in the past God overlooked such ignorance" - the focus is their mystification, their searching or puzzlement. Paul decides to present Jesus to them as the answer to the religious riddle that absorbs them. V23, what they worship as unknown, he says, "I am going to proclaim to you": the word 'proclaim' can be translated 'announce, declare, make known.' Hints of John 1 and 17(3,6,26): Jesus is God's 'making-known'. Paul has spotted the need: now he can proceed.
A Skilful and Scholarly Scheme
Paul's whole life has been preparing him for this lecture on Mars Hill. The gifted scholar from Tarsus and well-studied former Pharisee lays out a skilful scheme to point these elite philosophers to Jesus. I say 'scheme' - not with any negative connotation, but because it's artfully crafted: the dictionary defines 'scheme' as a 'systematic arrangement proposed or in operation, table of classification or of appointed times, outline, syllabus." Looking at the scope of Paul's presentation, you could compare it with the title of Stephen Hawking's book - A Brief History of Time. In just 10 verses, he's pretty comprehensive!
Paul's style of evangelism is to present the good news by logic, intellectually. We've already seen how he "reasoned" from the Scriptures in the synagogues. Look closely at the grammar and conjunctions - it's the language of logic: v23 for, now, 25 and, because, 27 so that, 28 for, as, 29 therefore since, 30 but now, 31 for, given proof. He's using arguments and logic to drive toward a conclusion.
At the Township Council meeting Tuesday night here in Blyth, it was interesting to hear Councillor McClinchey present two resolutions in good form. "Whereas...and whereas...and whereas...Therefore": a well-crafted resolution or petition is a beautiful thing (at least, intellectually speaking - if your mind has that bent!). That's the same language of logic: because this and that, therefore this must follow. Standard practice when making a presentation before a ruling body - whether the Council of North Huron or the Council of the Areopagus.
What's Paul's substance? His launching-off point or 'presenting problem' is the altar "To an Unknown God" (the existence of which other Greek writers confirm). They worship as something unknown; but reason abhors mystery, so Paul offers to enlighten them with new information. In v24 he talks about God's magnitude, that the Lord of heaven and earth is bigger than man-made temples. There are echoes here of the Psalms and Hebrew prophets: Psalm 115(2-8), "Why do the nations say, "Where is their God?" Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see...Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them." Paul's weaving Biblical thought into the debate without quoting directly.
In v25 he refers to God's all-sufficiency, not needing anything from mere people; implied is God's authority and ownership in giving all life and breath. This implies accountability, that we're responsible to God. V26 brings out God's sovereignty and power, determining the times and places in which people live. The stage is set, v27, for God's invitation, receptivity, grace and approachability: "God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him [that's the 'groping idea'] and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." Now at this point Paul diverges from Biblical thought to draw in direct quotations from Greek authors: Epimenides from 600 BC, Aratus 315 BC, Cleanthes 331 BC - this must have caught their attention and appealed to them: they're whispering to each other, "This guy knows his authors!"
He's definitely got their attention. Where's he going with this? Time to get to the point: 29-31 wrap it up. God isn't like some dumb image, but responsive, intelligent, awaiting our response. "Now he commands all people everywhere to repent." That sounds pretty all-encompassing! This isn't just a Jewish or Greek or Epicurean or Stoic thing; we're joined in the depraved origins of the 'one man', and need the solution offered by the 'one man' God has appointed - and vouched for by the sensation of raising him from the dead. God served notice at the resurrection of Jesus that judgment is coming, with justice (an echo of Psalm 9:8). This idea of just judgment would be intellectually satisfying from a moral point of view: books balanced, scores evened up. Life's inherent un-fairness is one of the great moral dilemmas that thoughtful people must wrestle with. Paul's dramatic and startling news presented an opportunity for a groping humanity to finally be reconciled with its Creator.
Was Paul's logical approach effective? The Epicureans who tended to be light and flippant sneered; the Stoics were probably more polite, and dismissed him with a 'we'll talk more about this later'. But some believed - including Dionysius, who was actually a big-wig, a member of the Areopagus; also a woman named Damaris who must have been somewhat educated and elite to be present at such a gathering. Early church historian Eusebius records that Dionysius later become bishop of the church at Athens, and died a martyr.
Paul had done a masterful and comprehensive job of presenting the gospel in the short hearing he was allowed. He covered the bases. Commentator Robinson observes that Paul "has preached the unity of God, the one and only god, has proclaimed repentance, a judgment day, Jesus as the Judge as shown by His Resurrection - great fundamental doctrines..." He laid it all out - briefly, brightly, compellingly.
The Intellectual Evangelism Style
Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg point to Paul as an example of what they call the "Intellectual Approach" to evangelism. They say this type of person is curious - asks a lot of questions; analytical - puts a lot of thought into what they say, do and believe; logical - approaches decisions by thinking through them methodically; likes to debate; and is more concerned with what people think than with what they feel. A theme verse for them might be 2Cor 10:5, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Here's a video example of someone using the intellectual or logical approach...[VIDEO]
See how he used questions and analogies to open the door to a presentation of Biblical truth as an alternative worldview? It showed some forethought and sound thinking.
Hybels & Mittelberg ask, "Is the intellectual approach one that fits you? Are you an inquisitive type who enjoys working with ideas and evidence? This style has become more and more important as our society has become increasingly secular. So many seekers need to hear the gospel not only declared but also defined and defended."
They add some cautions - avoid letting discussions become heated arguments. Remember that attitude is as important as information; use 'gentleness and respect' (1Peter 3:15). Avoid getting sidetracked. And be careful not to always focus on intellectual discussions: talk to your friends about everyday events as well. Find out what's happening in their lives and tell them what's happening in yours.
So, if the logical style suits you, submit your gift to the Lord so He can use you to present Himself as the answer to their deepest needs. Whether the occasion be Scripture, Satan's effects, Suffering, or just general Spirituality - the Holy Spirit will help show you the entry-point for a presentation of our Saviour. God can use your intellectual abilities; as the title of a book by Josh McDowell puts it, "Don't Check Your Brains at the Door"! Let's pray.