Contemporary society is more interested in living the “good life” than knowing or doing the right thing! Today, it’s all about that “lovin’ it” feeling and “I did it my way” individualism. Postmodernity has eroded us of absolutes and secular humanism has left us with a moral relativism that is skeptical of exclusive truth. As pluralists we tolerate all things, so anyone who believes one way is the right way is irrelevant or arrogant. Savvy issues on social networks get us into the latest trends, but delink us from accessing the truth about life’s ultimate purpose. Is ignorance really bliss? How can intellectual knowledge puff us up? At Athens Paul reasons with some philosophers and boldly presents biblical truth that can set us free (Acts 17:16-34)! Here is a useful example of how the gospel encounters and prevails in any pluralistic society.
The infamous Greco-Roman city, Athens, was notoriously hedonistic. They enjoyed arguing over ways to please themselves while avoiding consequential pain. They pushed all moral limits to feel good, typically using two opposing schools of thought. The Epicureans were naturalists with the art of fine living in moderation, whose slogan was, “Don’t worry be happy!” Their life goal was happiness here-and-now without concern about death or the afterlife. In contrast, the Stoics were panentheistic, believing the whole cosmos is god—a divine spark within that unites us all with everything else. Going with the flow, they stressed the exercise of reason and self-discipline. Unlike the disengaged god of Epicurean Deism, Stoic pantheists believed in endless cycles of rebirth. So at aAthens, we see a sample of the New Agers and the New Atheists of today!
Paul’s approach and presentation of the gospel in this pagan, pluralistic culture is instructive. He noticed and commended them for their religiosity, yet was deeply disturbed at an idolatry that refused to acknowledge the unseen Creator. Finding this entry point, he shares about Jesus and what God has done for us all by raising him from the dead. He starts with God’s goodness, not human badness. Then, via Jesus’ resurrection (some thought Anastasis was Iesous’ consort!), he established who Jesus Christ was and God’s offer of salvation and eternal life. His audience scorned him as a scavenger teaching new and strange things. Yet Paul cleverly quotes their own philosophers to effectively communicate the gospel in their context then demands a verdict!
Paul’s message on Mars Hill’s marketplace of ideas, put God back where he rightly belongs as the sovereign Creator, only Savior and coming Judge. These pagans had not engaged with the Jewish Bible or heard of the Messiah! Paul convinced them that ignorance, or suppression of the Truth about Jesus, God’s only Way to Life, is not bliss. They now knew the One, True and Living God who raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him as the Judge. Such a special revelation warranted a response. This is good news (the gospel) for everyone, everywhere, since it calls us to repent from sin and turn to God by placing our faith in what Christ has accomplished for us.
Jesus’ resurrection set up an “appointment” that we must all keep. The Day and the Judge has been decided. We are called to take the gospel to all nations who have not yet heard, or have deliberately suppressed the truth. In both we see hedonism, the problem of pleasure. Sadly, we are more devoted to our false gods of materialism and secular humanism that remakes God into our own image. Let us prepare now for Jesus’ Second Coming by living out the reason for our living hope!