Christians and the Public Square: The Necessity of Apologetics in the Marketplace of Ideas
by Dave Jenkins
Acts 17:16-34 is as a model of the Great Commission proclamation, matched to an apologetic in defense of Christian truth. In that passage, Paul is standing at the center of apologetic ministry in the first century city of Athens. Athens was the most intellectually sophisticated culture in the ancient world, but its glory at that time of history was retreating. Even though Rome held political and military preeminence, Athens stood supreme in terms of cultural and intellectual influence. The centerpiece of Paul’s visit to Athens is his message to the court of philosophers at the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill.
The important thing here and the focus of this article is the fact that Paul went to the marketplace. The marketplace here is likely the ancient agora, the central meeting place of most cities in ancient Greece, although it could also have been in one of the smaller public squares. Either way, Acts 17 notes Paul reasoning in the public square meaning he didn’t shy away from going public with his views both to the Jews in their synagogues or to the general population in the public square. The message of the gospel compelled Paul to share the truth of what Jesus has done in His death, burial, and resurrection. In the same manner as Paul did in Athens and likely in many other places throughout his missionary journeys, Christians today are called to declare the truth of Scripture in the public square. We are called to be a people of the Word which results in the need to stand firm in the Word for the sake of the gospel. This gives shape to the reason why Christians need to defend and commend the faith in a public forum.
Apologetics is often viewed only as defending and commending the Christian faith. Yet, since apologetics is directly related to the Great Commission and every Christian is called to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15), it follows that Christians are called to not only proclaim the gospel message, but more importantly to hold to a lifeview that centers on God, His Son Jesus, what He did in His death, burial, and resurrection, and the second coming of Christ, just to name a few important matters of theological importance.
Christians throughout church history have cared about the public square. They have entered into the fray of moral and intellectual debate and discourse. They have not retreated but rather have spoken up for the sake of the gospel. They have stood on the Word of God and declared its truths to a lost and dying world.
Recent days have seen a noted resurgence among Christians engaging the culture by declaring the gospel that is the power of God. The reason Paul spoke in the public square was he was provoked in spirit (Acts 17:16). Paul saw a city full of idols and it seized him with grief and it was that grief which turned to gospel proclamation. Christian apologetics is not rooted in intellectual snobbery nor is it based on merely a superior philosophy or worldview founded in one’s ability to win an argument. Christians declare truth through the medium of apologetics because they have met the Savior, they have been claimed by the gospel, and have been transformed by the renewing of their mind. Christian preaching is a matter of spiritual concern. A dying world languishes in spiritual confusion and God calls His people to proclaim His unchanging Word to this culture…
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