“For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (Acts 17:20, AV)
In the military while in the Army Ranger School, I learned how to build rope bridges. One evening on a training exercise in the swamps of Florida, we had to get across a river and it required the construction of a single rope bridge. Once we constructed, the bridge allowed us to travel across safely to the other side. Bridges basically build connections.
Bridges are necessary for building connections in evangelism also. When Paul arrived in Athens, he went to the synagogue and marketplace, and reasoned with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles from the Scriptures. He showed them that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. Here his bridge was his Jewish background as a teacher of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, later in the marketplace he encountered some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They stated, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities.” They had relatively no understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures that would help them comprehend the gospel. They took Paul to the Areopagus where the council would convene for discussions of new ideas.
Here in contrast to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who had a basic understanding and agreement with the authority of the Scriptures, we see the philosophers and foreigners. They were intellectually astute people interested in new ideas, who had no conviction of the authority of Scripture. With them, Paul used a different approach based upon their cultural understanding. He uses their understanding of philosophy, the statues to their gods, and in particular an altar to an unknown god to build a bridge for preaching the gospel.
Fifty years ago, the average American had a basic feeling that the Bible and its teachings were true. Today this is not the case. Many in our society now believe that the Bible is just one of many authoritative books or that it is not necessarily truth but a book of philosophy for life. We call the group that does not hold to a Christian worldview, Postmodern.
The point is this, while the gospel that we present is the same for both those who hold to a Christian worldview and the Postmodern, the bridge that we must build to reach them is different. For those with a Christian worldview, the bridge we build is shorter, it requires less groundwork. It is to appeal through the Scriptures. However, for the Postmodern, the bridge is longer and takes much more time and energy to build.
In the Postmodern mind, all religions are equal, all or a combination of many may be good. The bridge to presenting the truth to this segment requires establishing the relevance of the Bible and Christ. However, we cannot do this by preaching alone. This group tends to determine relevance and truth through experience. In short, they need to see the reality of Christ in our lives and the church.
In the case of both those with the Christian worldview and the postmodern, the common thread for building bridges to share the gospel is building a personal relationship. The evangelist’s relationship must evidence the reality of Christ. This is even more paramount when evangelizing the postmodern. When the postmodern realizes the reality and relevance of Christianity, he is then prepared for the evangelist to cross the bridge and present the gospel.