Summary: A look at Paul’s evangelism methods in Athens and what we can learn from him to better reach the culture around us.
Principles of Evangelisms from Acts 17
I was driving a group of teenagers to a concert last weekend and while we were all talking one of them turned to me and said, “Did you know that there is an actual atheist in the class below me? Can you believe that?” It sounded like she was talking about a Bigfoot sighting. I said, “You don’t have to talk about them that way. Atheism isn’t a disease.” This made the kids chuckle a little. Then one of them said, “Is it contagious?” Not wanting to be outdone I said, “It can be if you don’t know why you believe what you believe.” This made them get quiet for a minute (which I hope means that they were thinking.) Now I want to ask you all to think about this. When you’re talking to an unbeliever are you persuading them or are they persuading you. II Corinthians 5.11 says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. . . .” Are you prepared to defend and communicate the message of Christianity to today’s people?
This is an unusual time. People seem to be more interested in spirituality, but not in God. Why else would there be a show on network TV about talking with dead people? We all think that we’re more intellectual than those who came before us, but we do the stupidest stuff. Why else would you be able to watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire on one channel and then turn to Fear Factor on another? And of course, immorality is widespread. (Insert your own television show.) How are we going to take the gospel to a generation of people like this one? The apostle Paul once visited a place like this. He went to a city that had a misdirected interest in spirituality. He went to a city that claimed to be the most intelligent. This place also had rampant immorality.
We can learn some things from Paul’s time in Athens that could help us do evangelism better today. Read Acts17.16ff.
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.
Open your eyes and look around you. Don’t walk around in the world blindly and don’t huddle here in the church and ignore what goes on out there. This phrase can also refer to anger. He had a sense of righteous indignation. But note his reaction. He doesn’t set off a bomb in the temple of Hermes, he doesn’t petition the government to censor the idolatry. He turns his anger into compassion and tries to help.
17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
He used reason. Don’t buy into the lie that reason and faith are incompatible. One of my favorite books explains why this idea is false and how it got so popular. It is good to use reason when explaining the gospel. This doesn’t mean you have to be eloquent (I Corinthians 2:1) or complex, but you can let logic and reason point to the simple truth of Christianity. Reason alone will not cause people to accept Jesus, but if it’s their first line of defense and we never get them past it, then they will remain lost and they’ll be convinced that they’re right.
Reasoning is what he did, but where and with whom? He went first to the place where people discussed religious things and then he talked to those who were present and willing to listen (in the market). We can also look for opportunities like this. Where are the places that the gospel needs to go and where people are interested in talking about spiritual matters?
18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
He was misunderstood by some people. (Iesous and Anastasis. They don’t know the first thing about what Paul’s saying, and that’s going to influence how he presents his message later. They had made altars to shame, famine, and desire.) They responded by disputing and mocking. When we proclaim the message, some people will oppose us. We can’t change their hearts, only God can do that, but it is our responsibility to give the message as clearly as possible.
19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)