Today, we’re moving on in my new series of posts called, “7 Tips on Engaging Skeptics Like Paul Did in Athens.” In part one, we took a brief look at some historical background and focused on two simple lessons from Paul’s encounter in Acts 17:
In this article, I’ll share 3 more cultural engagement tips we can learn from Acts 17.
The Apostle Paul in Athens – Lessons
Here are 3 more life lessons from Paul’s time in Athens.
3. Find a Point of Contact
Paul kept his eyes open for a point of contact with the culture. He knew people in Athens worried about accidentally disrespecting some god they didn’t know about—a god who might bring some bad stuff down on their city. I really like how he started off with a tactful observation that was generally positive and inviting:
“Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects” (22).
This probably surprised a few people who knew where he was coming from. But Instead of shutting down potential dialogue by saying their deeply held religious beliefs were all wrong right off the bat, he started off with their interest in gods and ideas:
“As I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown god” (23).
Here’s the point: Be observant. Some of your friends just like to talk—even if it’s just about whatever you’re interested in. You know who they are! But other people like talking about interesting ideas, kind of like the people in Athens. If that’s where they’re at, look for ways to connect with ideas that are interesting to them.
4. Help Them Connect the Dots
Paul was talking to Greco-Romans who worshiped a whole bunch of pagan deities. But he also had Epicureans there—people who were skeptical of organized religion and didn’t believe in hell; Not too different from a lot of people I’ve met while teaching a World Religion course at a secular university—except that the Epicureans actually worshipped a bunch of different gods (I might have had a polytheist or two in class before).
But Paul also had Stoics who believed in Zeus and thought the Epicureans had it all wrong. Maybe you’ve been there before–talking to a group of people from a whole bunch of different religious backgrounds. How do you connect the dots in a conversation like this?
After getting everyone’s attention, Paul approached the conversation this way:
“What you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you” (23).
One of the cool things about Paul’s encounter is the way he challenges people. It’s clear he respects their quest for spirituality, but then he clarifies what they’re looking for. In fact, he defines it. Paul knew where they were at, spiritually, and where they needed to go in order to find a real relationship with God—the one thing which actually brings lasting fulfillment.
Here’s the point: Challenge people in a way that respects their quest for truth or spirituality. Let your friends know you get where they’re at in all of this, even as your gently turn the conversation towards the hope you have in Jesus.
5. Recognize the Potential for Truth in Culture
Paul was up on the culture of the day. In fact, he readily used popular poems that were actually consistent with Scripture in this conversation. For example, he quoted a Cretan poet named Epimenides who wrote, “For in you we live and move and have our being.” Another guy he alluded to was a Cilician poet named Aratus, who wrote, “We are also his offspring” (28).
And I love the way he makes use of their culture’s own ideas to help build a bridge to his message—kind of saying, “I get where you’re at. Here’s where your quest can go,” and “Here’s where you really should go with all this.”
This is one reason I like to use stories and illustrations from TV, movies, songs, and popular Web sites. It gets people nodding in agreement, like “Yeah, this guy gets where we’re at.” So watch some TV or go see a movie. It might just help you as a Christian case-maker.
Here’s the point: Show people you get where they’re at by recognizing the potential for truth in the culture. Is there a way you can use pop culture—something that expresses our universal longings—to better understand your skeptical friends and build a bridge to the Christian message?
That’s all for now. Next time, we’ll finish up the series with 2 final, cultural engagement tips from Acts 17. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series on engaging skeptics like Paul did in Athens. And if you found this post helpful, please share it on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks!