Tag Archives: Western Philosophy

God’s People, part 264: Philosophers

Read Acts 17:16-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.”  (Psalms 138:6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus

Part 264: Philosophers. As a person who has his BA degree in Philosophy, this has always been one of my more favorite encounters in the New Testament. Paul visiting Athens, the western philosophy center of the ancient world, is an epic example of how brilliant Paul was as an evangelist. It shows that Paul had enough cultural intelligence and competency to know how to engage people in a way that drew their attention.

Sadly, when we think of evangelism today we think of tracts being handed at random to people, we think of signs saying, “turn or burn”, and we think of religious fanatics going door to door to tell people about their Lord and Savior Jeeezusah!, without whom they’ll go to hell. Yet, when we look at Paul’s approach, particularly here in Acts 17:16-34, we see that Paul did quite the opposite.

Instead, Paul enters into Athens and the Areopagus with a measure of humility and appreciation of the culture and religion of others. That is not to say that Paul subscribes to their religious beliefs or practices, but he respects them and treats the human beings at the Temple in Athens and the Areopagus as humans created in the image of God. This is absolutely a must, and it is the approach that we see Paul employ throughout his ministry. He didn’t try to change the culture or the cultural traditions; rather, he inserted Christ into them. He invited people to believe in Christ and accept Christ, who accepted them regardless of where they were from or what their culture was or was not.

One great example of this was when he went before the council at the Areopagus and addressed the the leaders and Philosophers as follows:

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about” (Acts 17:22-23, NLT).

In that discourse with the “men of Athens”, Paul did not denigrate them, nor did he attack them; rather, he saw the value in their religiosity and used that at as the basis from which he shared the Gospel with them. In other words, he took the time to understand them before he embarked on a campaign to share who he was with them. He saw that they humble enough of a people to recognize that they don’t know the fullness of God. As such, he commended them on their setting up an altar to the “Unknown God”, and then proceeded to tell them about the God they did not know.

Of course, Athens being full of philosophers, Paul’s speech led to a ton of philosophical, metaphysical, and theological questions. Paul, of course, entertained those; however they did come a point when he realized that many of those philosophers were merely looking to engage philosophically and were not interested in believing Paul’s teaching on who Jesus Christ was. Again, Paul understood his audience and, instead of further arguing with them in order to force them to see things as he did, he simply walked away and did not return to entertain further useless philosophical debate.

Regardless, there were some who came to believe who Christ was as a result of Paul’s witness, including a woman named Damaris. Praise God! How awesome that Paul was able to understand and respect the culture of other people in a way that invited them to hear about Jesus in non-threatening ways. That, of course, led them to accept him. Again, praise God.

This should challenge us to really consider how we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Do we spread “God’s love” through the bully pulpit, through Bible thumping and through a “holier than thou” approach? Or do we get to know the people we are witnessing to and, instead of trying to change their culture or who they are, bring Christ to them in a way that works for them organically and naturally. Obviously, there are certain theological and doctrinal tenets we need to hold on to; however, the best witness to Christ is to accept people as they are unconditionally and guide them to who Christ truly is. I pray we all take on Paul’s model of evangelism.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“He who is not a good servant will not be a good master.” – Plato

PRAYER
Lord, help me to have the humility to see your image in all people regardless of their beliefs or culture. Amen.

Playground Christianity

Read 1 Corinthians 13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8 NLT)

St.-Johns-Wood-Adventure-Playground-London-Hurtwood-1968I am one who believes that God can and does reveal truth in all things. Something need not be “Christian” for God to use it for the revelation of truth. Over the years, I have been finding truth in the unlikeliest of places. I have found God’s truth at a Krishna temple in India, I have found it in films, in novels, in Walt Disney World (I mean, who wouldn’t), and I have found it in other faiths, old and young alike.

One such place that I have found some truth is in a book by James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy. James Redfield was brought up in a Methodist Church that he described as being “loving and community-oriented”; however, he now is an influential person in the New Age movement. He was no doubt influenced by his Christian upbringing, but he also studied Eastern philosophies such as Taoism and Zen while a student at Auburn University.

Though he spent more than 15 years as a therapist for abused children, he left that and, since he published the worldwide bestseller, The Celestine Prophecy, he has become an bestselling New Age author, lecturer, screenwriter, and film producer. The book itself follows the protagonist, never actually named in the book, on a truth-seeking, soul searching adventure in Peru following the loss of a job and other personal crises that arise in his/her life.

In the film version of the book, there is a quote between the protagonist and someone else. While I don’t remember the quote exactly, word for word, I remember the gist of it, “When people have the true God-experience, the debate over whose religion is right or wrong fades away.” That quote truly struck me as provocative and something worthwhile writing about.

First, let me be clear that I DO NOT endorse the theology behind The Celestine Prophecy. As a New Age theology, it is quite simplistic with many glaring holes, inaccuracies of other religious beliefs and is, in many regards, without much substance in terms of a cohesive theology. Its mish-mashing of different theological ideas from different religions is intriguing, but often falls short and does a disservice to all the religions involved. But that does not mean that truth cannot be found within it.

Now, on to my point. One thing I have noticed in Christianity, is that some Christian circles are filled with some of the most insecure people ever. For instance, if one was secure in their faith in Christ and in God, why would they feel the need to demonize others who disagree with them or other religions that are not in line with theirs? If one were not operating out of fear and insecurity, there would be no need to participate in the whole, “My God is bigger than your god” debate.

Yes, there are times that one must defend their faith and their religious beliefs, especially when others are mischaracterizing them. Yes, one should stand up for their faith when others are pressuring him or her to deny it. Yes, one should represent their faith well and should teach people what they believe to be correct and theologically sound. However, one need not go on a crusade against other ideologies, other religions, or other people who differ from him or her.

Christians who aggressively attack other belief systems than their own, who pass out tracts warning people of a religious group that they’re going to be damned to hell, or go on long diatribes online as to why they think someone else has it so wrong, are practicing what I like to call, “Playground Christianity.” They’re acting like elementary-aged bullies on the playground fighting over whose daddy is bigger and can be the other’s dad up. It’s silly and it completely misses the heart of Christ’s message: LOVE.

The “true God experience”, as I see it and certainly as Redfield sees it as evidenced in his book, is the experience of God’s wild, untamable, unconditional LOVE. When one is enveloped and filled by that LOVE, one cannot help being transformed by it either. LOVE begets more love. God’s love transforms us to be creatures of love, to be agents of love, to be bearers of love. When one has the true God experience, when one truly knows and enters a relationship with God, the debate over who’s right or wrong, who’s holier and who’s not, and any other nonsensical comparison fades away. All that remains is LOVE. This doesn’t mean that LOVE doesn’t hold others accountable to truth and justice; however, there is no room for pettiness or divisiveness in LOVE.  I would like to invite you to search God out, to have that true God experience in the context of a community of believers, and let go of anything that counters God’s LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (John 13:34-35 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with your love and transform me into an agent of love. Amen.