The Word on the Week

Gospelling Today

I have just finished reading “The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas” because I thought it would be a help in speaking (or writing) about Jesus to modern people. The book is subtitled “Paul’s Mars Hill Experience for Our Pluralistic World” as the authors wisely focussed on Paul’s sermon addressed to Gentiles who would not have known anything of the Jewish scriptures and whose beliefs most closely match those found in the public square today.

After dealing with the world of 1st century Athens and comparing it to the mismatch of ideas and religions available today the book focuses on Paul’s sermon found in Acts Chapter 17 verses 16 – 34. In a word for word analysis it reveals Paul’s in depth knowledge of the worldviews of the different groups he was addressing. By this means he gained their respect by showing an understanding of their position without diluting his message.

Using a statue to an “Unknown god” which he found there as his entry point to their beliefs he outlined the work of God in creation and in sustaining all that exists. He went on to reveal Jesus as universal judge and his resurrection as proof of this bringing forth a threefold response. Some mocked, some procrastinated and some believed and joined Paul.

All who engage in Gospel work will be familiar with the responses but few will have analysed their audience as thoroughly as Paul. His quoting from their literature where it fitted would have gained their attention in the same way as picking out the redemptive key in film or literature would do today as all great plots have their redemptive episodes.

This was radical – Paul was not looking for a new temple or a new statue – not even a priest! Paul did not require an effigy of Jesus since God can see, hear and speak. Athenian statues could do none of these things and were made redundant.

The word Paul used when he encouraged his hearer to repent had a double meaning: first to change one’s mind and second to change one’s practice. Action needed to follow understanding.

The Authors suggest a ‘Socrates Café’ as our Mars Hill and we could add ‘Third Spaces’! We have both in Dublin so bring on the debaters and pray that the Holy Spirit will bring forth a harvest.