3 Cultural Engagement Lessons from Acts 17
by Mikel Del Rosario
Got a cultural engagement question for you today: Ever wonder how you can better engage with that skeptical co-worker, friend or family member? How should we interact with the broader culture as ambassadors of Christ?
Besides teaching Christian Apologetics at William Jessup University, I’m also a cultural engagement fellow at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the things I learned during my first year with the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement is that the Apostle Paul provides a great model of cultural engagement in his 1st century context that can help us think about our spiritual conversations with skeptics in the 21st century.
In Acts 17:16-34, Luke reports that Paul visited Athens–a city which was a huge draw for people looking to get involved in spiritual conversations. It seemed like everyone was into talking about a bunch of religious and philosophical issues.
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Back in the day, Athens was a massive intellectual center. Anyone who set foot in the city couldn’t help but notice all the statues, temples, altars and inscriptions to various deities. So polytheism–a belief in many gods–was everywhere. For example, there was a temple honoring Hephaestion, the god of the craftsmen. The Parthenon tourists visit today was actually huge temple honoring Athena—the patron goddess of the whole city.
Paul’s Cultural Engagement Method
Truth matters. But tone matters, too. Take a look at three cultural engagement lessons based on Paul’s encounter with the people of Athens:
1. Have a Heart
It’s obvious that Paul really cared about the people he spoke with–even when it seemed like their beliefs were the complete opposite of his Jewish background. Just imagine how he must have felt when he saw a city full of idols. Luke reports in Acts 17:16 that Paul was “greatly distressed.” Luke’s comment here probably means Paul was totally irritated by it all [A]. As a well-trained Pharisee, he knew full well how seriously God dealt with idolatry in his own country.
But Paul didn’t lose it. He didn’t freak out or blow through like a hurricane, going, “You people have got it all wrong!” I really like how he didn’t show up with a spiritual chip on his shoulder—even though he might have really been offended by the idolatry he saw throughout the entire city. Like Jesus, his engagement with the culture was fuelled by a heart of compassion…
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