communication,  faith

[Paul] Cultural Communication at Mars Hill

In this series we have looked at biblical examples of being “ready to speak.” We observed that Moses, though he had a voice and was technically ready, wasn’t willing or available. In Esther’s story we learned that just because an idea occurs to us, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right time to speak it – even when we believe it’s from God. Often we need to wait. To make time to listen to wise counsel. Timothy taught us, along with his mentor, Paul, to set an example for other believers through our lives, beginning with our speech. 

For this final example, we’ll look at Paul’s famous speech to the Athenians. The book of Acts records his visit to Athens and his address to the people. The writer of Acts sets the stage for Paul’s talk this way: All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas (Acts 17:21). Couldn’t the same be said about many in today’s culture? (Think online controversies.) 

The writer also records the philosophers of the day wanted to debate Paul when they heard him talking about Jesus. They asked among themselves, What is this babbler trying to say? (v 18). Then they took him to the Areopagus, a hill in Athens where the judicial council met. We might say the court house. There the philosophers invited Paul to explain himself: May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean (v 19, 20).  

Paul was ready to speak to this group as a cultural communicator. He referred to familiar cultural symbols to help them consider strange new ideas. Paul used their surroundings and their vocabulary to help them understand something very different. He appealed to their own religiosity. Today we might say, their sense of spirituality. 

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” 

Now that Paul has their attention, he connects the dots for them. He helps them to realize they can know the One they have been searching for, even though they didn’t know they were looking. 

Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything that is in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might feel around for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His descendants.’ Therefore, since we are the descendants of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by human skill and thought. So having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now proclaiming to mankind that all people everywhere are to repent,  because He has set a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all people by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:23-31). 

At this point, Paul has done his part. Now it’s up to the listeners to respond. And they do. The text goes on: When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (v 32). 

One concept we mentor young communicators in is this: you can say anything you want to on the platform – once. But the goal of every platform is to earn the privilege of speaking again. Paul knew that. He earned the chance to share more about his faith in Jesus. There were many who wanted to hear from him again. 

Also, as cultural communicators for Christ, we can be ready to speak with people in our culture. We can be prepared. We can practice. We can pray. But we do not get to control the results. Paul knew that too.  

Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed (v 34). Some of them. Not all of them. 

We’re not asked to communicate like the culture. Instead cultural communicators connect with culture. The culture we find ourselves in, just as Paul did in Athens. This is our mission in the Institute for Cultural Communication. To be ready to speak to influence today’s culture in the best possible ways.  

How might you reference cultural norms or trends to connect with people who are looking for answers today? Do you someone who is looking for “the UNKNOWN God”? Are you ready to speak with them by appealing to their own spirituality? Are you prepared to reference what’s already familiar to them? 

Drop a note in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 



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