The Audience (Acts 17:22-23)

“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:22–23, AV)

In the previous devotion, I mentioned that many of the people we meet are postmodern. That means they do not have a Christian worldview. They believe that the Bible is one of many authoritative religious books. The Athenians seem to typify such a postmodern worldview. We can learn some principles for evangelization of the postmodern by studying Paul’s sermon. Many of these principles will universally apply to both those with a Christian and a postmodern worldview.

One of the first things we see in Paul’s sermon is that he knew his audience. As Paul walked through the city, he noticed that the city was full of idols (v16). This was a keen observation that provoked Paul and it would become the springboard for his evangelistic message to the Athenians. What did Paul grasp from this observation? He understood that they were a “superstitious” or in some translations, a “religious” people. They believed in things that were supernatural.

This belief, albeit in ignorance, in supernatural things was a common ground to introduce spiritual truth. Paul made one other keen observation, that they had an altar to an “unknown god.” This observation revealed the uncertainty and ignorance of the people. They apparently had this altar just in case they missed a particular god. Paul wisely tells them that he wants to teach them about that which they do not know.

In our evangelistic efforts, we need to be observant. In most cases, this requires building a relationship, at least at a beginning level. The best way to do this is to ask some questions. These questions will include those that get to know the person in his or her secular life. These questions must also include those that get to the core beliefs of the person. These might include questions like these. Are you interested in spiritual things? How do you view eternity or life after this life? What is your view of God? Do you have any church background? In the questions about spirituality, you will determine whether the person has a Christian worldview or has a postmodern worldview. This understanding does more than tell you how to proceed with the discussion; it is a springboard to the discussion.

Interestingly, Paul identified that the Athenians were uncertain in their belief system. It is this uncertainty that He addresses. Frankly, anyone outside of faith in Christ has an uncertainty of his or her future in eternity. The reason is that only Christ offers free grace. Other religions offer a philosophy or system based upon the works of man. No one can ever truly know if he or she has met the divine standard through his or her own works.

However, this leads us to another uncertainty. The postmodern, is uncertain or ignorant of the essence and attributes of God, and thus does not understand the divine standard. This is exactly what Paul addressed with the Athenians. Having many gods, they were ignorant of the one true God. Thus, Paul engages them at a theological level. For, until they comprehended the awesome wonder of God and His purposes, they could not grasp the severity of their own moral failure. To engage the true postmodern with the gospel, we will need, like Paul to take them on a journey to understand the God that they do not know. We will continue the discussion on this sermon of Paul in the next devotion.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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