المؤلف: Lars Dahle
Category: الحق والتعددية, الشهادة الشخصية, خدمة السوق
The major theme for the opening day of the Cape Town Congress 2010 is “making the case for the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world”.
In order to encourage and equip each other for that key task, we need to identify, explore and apply relevant biblical material. There is no better place to start than with Paul’s apologetic approach in Athens.
This approach is relevant when meeting secularity, in the marketplace, when engaging the media, and in personal witness.
Learning from Paul’s argumentative approach in Athens
We are called to bear witness to the truth of Christ in today’s pluralistic and globalized world. Our contemporary world represents a variety of pluralistic contexts, each with its different defining characteristics and with its specific opportunities and challenges for Christian witness.
There are some parallels between our contemporary pluralistic contexts and the pluralistic contexts of the early Christians, especially when they were facing the marketplace outside the synagogue. This is, of course, what the apostle Paul faced in Athens (as well as in other major cities like Corinth and Ephesus).
Acts 17:16-34 provides us with a highly fascinating account of Paul’s visit to Athens. This passage describes the apostle’s initial preaching in the synagogue and in the marketplace. He encountered a context characterized both by critique and curiosity, expressed in objections and questions and coloured by various alternative worldview. Paul was invited to present his case in the marketplace before the Areopagus Council, which (among other duties) had the task of licensing heralds of foreign gods.
Thus, the apostle was invited to make the case for “Jesus and the Resurrection” to this distinguished audience with other Athenians in the marketplace listening in. We may say that Paul’s argumentative approach in Athens was a move from natural theology via ultimate authority to the Resurrection.
First argument: The natural theology argument
Paul argues that natural theologies such as Stoic pantheism and Epicurean deism contain elements of truth. However, a Judeo-Christian natural theology provides the most adequate view of God, the universe and humanity.
This developed argument has a number of functions in Paul’s apologetic: It simultaneously answers the question "Is there a need for a new altar?" and meets the objection "This is foreign!". Furthermore, it provides a credible premise for Paul’s claims about God’s judgement - since God in fact has ultimate authority as the Creator and Sustainer. Finally, it provides a theistic context for Paul’s claims about ’Jesus and the Resurrection’.
We need to explore critical and creative ways of introducing the reality of God into our various secular and pluralistic contexts.
This includes the following:
Second argument: The ultimate authority argument
Paul argues that the Judeo-Christian God has ultimate authority, as expressed in the claims about his final judgment. This is plausible, since he is the Creator and Sustainer, and it constitutes an appropriate basis for claims about “the epistemic obligation” of the Christian faith.
This compressed argument has a number of functions in Paul’s apologetic: It answers the implicit question "If we are wrong, why is there no plague?" and relativizes or deconstructs any claims to any kind of human ultimate authority. It also challenges fundamental Athenian attitudes such as their escapism, attempts at safety-precautions, and feelings of self-sufficiency. Furthermore, it presents God’s final judgment (which is an expression of his ultimate authority) as the plausible reason for the universal summons to repentance (thus claiming the ’epistemic obligation’ of the Christian faith). Finally, it reintroduces the topic "Who is ’Jesus’?" in an indirect and ’proactive’ way.
We need to explore critical and creative ways of introducing God’s ultimate authority into our various secular and pluralistic contexts.
This includes the following:
Third argument: The Resurrection argument
Paul argues that the historical Resurrection of Jesus has a threefold function. It resonates with ultimate human concerns, it indicates the uniqueness and authority of Jesus, and it is based on sufficient, available evidence.
This highly condensed argument has a number of functions in Paul’s apologetic: It answers in an indirect way the questions "Can we hear more about this?" and "Who is ’Jesus’ and what is ’the Resurrection’?". It also reintroduces the controversial question of the Resurrection (from 17:18) in a theistic context with claims to ultimate authority. The Christian claims about the Resurrection are introduced as more attractive than Stoicism (“the soul lives on after death but is finally absorbed into god”) or Epicureanism (“death is the end of all existence”). The reason is that the message of the Resurrection (“death conquered!”) speaks to ultimate human needs and concerns. Furthermore, it provides evidence of the unique role of the man Jesus as God’s appointed Judge. Finally, it implicitly invites the listeners to check the credibility of the historical evidence for the Resurrection.
We need to explore critical and creative ways of introducing the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus into our various secular and religious contexts.
This includes the following:
Using and applying Paul’s argumentative approach today
Paul’s case for the truth of Christ, as expressed in the Athenian context, is confirmed by the book of Acts at large. I am here thinking both of the apologetic purpose(s) of Acts and of other speeches (such as in Lystra and before King Agrippa).
It should also be mentioned that some key passages in Paul’s letters also confirms his Athenian approach (such as 1 Thess. 1.9-10, Rom 1:18ff, and 1 Cor 9:19-23). Thus, Acts 17 may be taken as a legitimate biblical model for apologetics.
We have seen that Paul’s argumentative approach before the Areopagus Council may be expressed in terms of a move from natural theology through ultimate authority to resurrection.
This argumentative model is certainly worth exploring in our missional encounters with today’s secular and pluralistic contexts. We all need courage, wisdom and the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit in our creative applications of this key biblical model in our different cultural contexts.