Day 41: Knuckle-dragging, Uneducated, Arrogant…and other Christian Traits (Acts 17:16-34)
Today’s Passage: Acts 17:16-34
Today’s title tries to capture how some people who are not Christian (and some who are) view Christians.
The idea that as people become more educated, they throw off religion, with all its superstition, is one of the key components of “secularization theory”. Pew Research challenges that view here.
Religion is identified as the root cause to many of the evil’s that humans have perpetrated against one another, all in the name of God. And rather than go down that road, my point is that I wonder what we expect of ourselves.
Do we think that Christianity can stand up against the theories of our own day?
Chapters 15:36 to 18:32 documents what is referred to as “Paul’s Second Missionary Journey”. In the last few posts I have dug into the geography, and even a little Greek, pondering how far they walked, where they went, and what Luke was trying to tell us.
The first 15 verses of chapter 17 report of the ministry to Thessalonica and Berea. From Philippi, through these two cities, and onto Athens was about 450 miles. And they are somewhat on-the-run as they turn the world upside-down.
One interesting observation is that while Thessalonica and Berea had very different reactions, one thing is common—their (the people’s) attention to the Scripture.
“In Thessalonica Paul ‘reasoned’, ‘explained’, ‘proved’, ‘proclaimed’ and ‘persuaded’, while in Berea the Jews eagerly ‘received’ the message and diligently ‘examined’ the Scriptures. Paul ‘argued’ out of the Scriptures and the Bereans ‘examined’ them to see if his arguments were cogent. And we may be sure that Paul welcomed and encouraged this thoughtful response.” (Stott, John. The Message of Acts (The Bible Speaks Today Series). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)
I bring this up because now Paul and his team are in Athens…and let’s be clear…Athens had been the foremost Greek city-state since the fifth century BC. Even after being absorbed into the Roman Empire, it retained a proud intellectual independence and also became a free city. It boasted about its rich philosophical tradition inherited from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, of its literature and art, and of its notable achievements in the cause of human liberty.
It is physically impressive. Even today, what is left of its Temples, propel our imaginations to a city that must have immediately captured people’s attention.
It captured Paul’s, but in a different way. In 17:16 we read, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” That was the NIV version. The ESV says his spirit was provoked. Other versions say deeply disturbed or upset.
What is going on? Paul could have played the tourist, walking around with his jaw dropping at the marvels. He didn’t. He saw spiritually. He saw that all the wonders of this city were not built for God’s Glory, but rather to idols. This is the golden calf on steroids. These people have completely turned from God and have given themselves over to the ruler of this world.
And here is the deal—they don’t know it. They are super-impressed with themselves.
Paul is among the intellectual elite, and he shows them that he is not some uneducated vagabond. He shows them that Christianity is a robust, comprehensive, and philosophical view of the world. That Christianity is TRUE.
Yet if this is where we stop—at Christianity as a robust, cogent, and philosophical explanation of the world—then we have come no further than the Athenians. We have filled ourselves with spiritual pride. And as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
No, following Jesus, or Christianity, is about more than philosophical truth. Turning again to C.S. Lewis, “Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life, we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little like Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”
And this then, becoming united to God, that we might be like Christ, is our aim—whether we be considered “knuckle-draggers” or not.