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Paul in Athens and Interreligious Communication

Looks at Acts 17 and the story of Paul speaking at the Areopagus, The focus is on contetualization of the Gospel message, and effective interreligious communication.

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Paul in Athens and Interreligious Communication

  1. 1. Paul in Athens and Interreligious Communication Acts 17 Robert H. Munson
  2. 2. Finding the Balance  Some struggle with finding a healthy balance between two extremes in Evangelizing one of another faith.  One extreme is Antagonistic. Attack, berate, belittle.  The other extreme is to be so friendly and agreeable, that the Gospel message is not clearly proclaimed. Paul in Athens may give some guidance in finding a balance between the extremes.
  3. 3. Athens  A pagan city, full of idols and temples to different gods. But it was also the center of Greek philosophy.  Many of the philosophers in the city did not believe in the polytheistic myths... rather they tended to allegorize them. Some saw God (or gods) as uninvolved with man if they exist at all. Others saw God in more of a pantheistic... less personal... sense.
  4. 4. Paul in Athens  In Acts 17, verses 16-17, Paul, distressed by seeing the city so full of idols, reasoned with Jews and Gentiles in the synogogues regarding Jesus and His resurrection.  Paul also reasoned with whoever was in the Marketplace (“agora”).
  5. 5. The Invitation  In verses 18 and 19, we find that some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers heard Paul and misunderstood some of his teaching.  They believed he was teaching of “foreign gods”  They also described him as a babbler or seed picker--- one who grabs little scraps of knowledge, but never really properly “digests” them.  Still, they wanted to know more and so invited him to speak at the Areopagus .
  6. 6. A. Courtesy with Truth Paul says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious...” (verse 22) Note that in verse 16, Paul was “provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.” When speaking at the Areopagus, he expressed the truth, but in a less provocative (less attacking) manner.
  7. 7. B. Interpretation  The God of the Bible was tied to the Greek story of “The Unknown God.” The story of the Unknown God is well-known to Athenians... a story of a curse placed on the city apparently from some unidentified god, who only relented after some sheep were sacrificed. Additionally, the one who saved the city was an outsider (the Cretan, Epimenides).  Paul says that the Unknown God of the Athenians is the same God that Paul preaches.  So the God of the Bible is not a “foreign god.”
  8. 8. C. Clarification  Paul gives more information about their “unknown God.”  Paul described the God of the Bible: − Lord of Heaven and Earth − Does not dwell in temples − Does not need anything from man... is self-sufficient − Is the giver of life, and the creator of all mankind − Is personal and near.
  9. 9. D. Connection  Demonstrated that his thoughts on God were not that far from the Athenians.  Quotes Epimenides, “For in thee we live and move and have our being” (in the poem “Cretica”) referring to Zeus.  Quotes other Greek poets, “For we are also His offspring.”
  10. 10. E. Minor Challenge  Paul takes the Christian (and Greek) understanding that we are God's offspring, to suggest that we mustn't see God's divine nature encapsulated in works of art (idols).  However, Paul doesn't condemn the Greeks for their idolatry. He notes that their behavior was excusable since they were seeking God... but without knowledge.  Now it is time to change, and leave behind idols.
  11. 11. Note 1  Up to this point, Paul's presentation would be fairly easy for the Greeks to accept.  Paul presented the God of the Bible in a way that was quite palatable to the Greeks.  Paul's presentation of a single personal God would be different from Epicurean and Stoic thought... but not hard to connect to.  Even Paul's rejection of idolatry would not have been too strongly opposed by the philosophers-- who tended not to take Greek myths and cultic practices literally.
  12. 12. F. Major Challenge  Paul did not stop at a minor challenge. He kept going to the major challenge of resurrection.  Paul proclaims God's intent to judge, and the sending of Jesus-- whose ordination was demonstrated by His resurrection.  The philosophers would be generally platonic... seeing material things as evil, and miracles as false or at least dubious.  As such, this would be a major challenge to them accepting Paul's message.
  13. 13. The Response  Some mocked Paul and his message.  Some expressed interest in hearing more.  Some responded positively and accepted Paul's message.
  14. 14. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles.  #1. Acceptance of our Common Humanity. Dialogue is not between two ideologies or religions, but between two people... created in the image of God.  Paul explicitly states everyone (Jew and Greek alike) are from “one blood,” one Creator, all offspring of the one same God.
  15. 15. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #2. Divine Omnipresence. Entering into a dialogue, one is not entering alone. God is there, and has prepared the situation long before one arrived.  Paul does not explicitly note this... but Luke does make it clear in verse 20, that the philosophers were the ones who were inviting Paul to share his message with them.
  16. 16. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #3. Accepting the best in other religions. Don't focus on what is bad about other religions... freely acknowledge their good points as well. That is fair and honest, prepares others to accept what is good in the Christian faith, and establishes the setting to identify real differences, as well as similarities.  Paul notes problems with their beliefs... but also describes them as religious (rather than idolaters). They are described as already worshiping the god that Paul is preaching... even if in ignorance.
  17. 17. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #4. Identification. Attempt to understand them as if you were one of them. Think incarnationally. Imaginatively “walk in their shoes” to understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it makes sense to them.  Paul seems surprisingly positive about what the Athenians believed... accepting much of what they believed, and suggesting that errors they had in their belief was quite understandable... and forgivable.
  18. 18. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #5. Courtesy. Dialogue with identifiable respect. This should be identifiable by the other in ones words, demeanor, and actions.  The passage seems to emphasize Paul as being reasonable, friendly, and courteous... even if at least some of the philosphers were not.
  19. 19. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #6. Interpretation. Sharing one's faith to another is not one of proclamation or didactics. Rather it is one of interpretation... contextualization... translation. Attempting to make one's faith understandable within the symbol structure of the other, NOT one's own structure.  Paul used the Athenian myth of the Unknown God, as well as Greek poems, language, and concepts to express his message to them.
  20. 20. Look at Max Warren's 7 principles. #7. Expectancy. God is at work in the dialogue, and one should be expectant that this work will ultimately bear fruit in one way or another... in the other AND in oneself.  It certainly did bear fruit... three types of fruit. − Acceptance − Rejection − Cautious interest
  21. 21. Note 2  Following Warren's guidelines for inter- religious dialogue is NOT about watering down the Gospel... or embracing a relativistic/pluralistic faith.  Rather, it is to remove inappropriate hindrances to positively responding to God's message.  As Darrell Whiteman notes, contextualizing the Gospel message is to make sure that it is accepted or rejected “for the right reasons.”

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  • HEZBONOMBATI

    Sep. 14, 2020

Looks at Acts 17 and the story of Paul speaking at the Areopagus, The focus is on contetualization of the Gospel message, and effective interreligious communication.

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