So on Monday I talked about listening to a podcast from Chris Backert given at a Ecclesia church planting gathering called Planting Missionary Churches and what stood out to me, especially in relation to the text in Acts 17 when Paul goes to Mars Hill in Athens and I also gave a historical back story that happened 500 years before Paul's trip to Athens. I want to take this post and look at the same text and draw out some of Paul's missionary strategy for how he shared the gospel at Mars Hill. Then in my next post on Planting Missionary Churches I want to draw out some steps for planting a missionary church in our world, or you could call it our missionary strategy in the west.
So here is the text again from Acts 17:16-34:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 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 would like 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.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
So what is Paul's missionary strategy while in Athens? Here is what I believe made up his missionary strategy.
1. The first thing you notice is that when he arrives in Athens is that he goes to the Synagogue and reasons with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks. He starts in the place where there would be some common "language" (so to speak) and where there would probably be what is called "Low Hanging Fruit".
2. While he reasoned in the synagogue day by day with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, he also went into the marketplace where he would rub shoulders with those who had a different worldview than those he would encounter in the synagogue. And while there he met some philosophers who took me with them to the meeting at the Areopagus. He didn't go straight away and force himself into the meeting at the Areopagus where the center of learning, philosophy, and culture was taking place. He went based on an invitation to go and present his message of Jesus and the resurrection.
3. Paul walks around Athens and looks at their objects of worship. He learns about their culture by what they worship. He doesn't just go to Athens and begins to speak to people. He uses his eyes and ears first before his mouth and tongue. He does his cultural exegesis, his cultural research on what makes people in Athens tick.
4. He uses whatever is authoritative in the lives of his listeners. In the synagogue I am sure that when he was reasoning with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks he used the Old Testament scriptures. When he was in the Areopagus I'm sure he didn't start out by quoting the Old Testament because they weren't authoritative in the lives of his hearers. Instead he used the poets of their culture. In verse 28 we read, "‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’" The first quote- For in him we live and move and have our being is from the Cretan poet Epimenides and the other quote, "We are his offspring." is from the Cilician poet Aratus. In fact this isn't the only place where Paul quotes Greek poets (see 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Titus 1:12).
My next post will be taking the four things that I mention above and applying it to our western culture. Our postmodern, post-Christendom culture. And how we go about following Paul's missionary strategy and how we come up with a missionary strategy that also works in our world today. And I'll also share some thoughts on how I am going about this as we are continuing to plant Veritas, a Missional or Missionary Church in Lancaster, as well as how Veritas is seeking to go about this as a missional/missionary community.