Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Mars Hill Christianity

Christmas always makes me think of Paul on Mars Hill. You may find that odd, but it goes back to my Dad. Dad was (and is) a preacher for a fairly traditional Church of Christ. Many of these churches frown on celebrating the birth of Christ on Dec. 25 b/c it probably wasn't the actual date (if you don't understand this "logic", just thank God and move on). Dad would always preach on the birth of Christ anyway, and when questioned about it would explain it by saying he was following the pattern of Paul on Mars Hill. Paul used a pagan idol and pagan poets and philosophers to teach the Greeks about the true God, or stated differently he used what they knew to tell them about what they didn't know. Dad would always talk about how silly it would be at a time when almost everyone turned their attention to Jesus for us to talk about something else. I thought it was brilliant then and I still do today.

Recently, I've been reading a book by Leslie Newbigin called "Foolishness to the Greeks". The title alone really got me thinking. The majority of scripture is written by people with a hebrew mindset to people with a hebrew mindset. However, the vast majority of western culture operates under a decidedly greek mindset, and there is a major difference/disconnect. Perhaps "Mars Hill" operates as a living metaphor for the Gospel in western culture. Perhaps Christians should be doing the hard work of studying and understanding culture(instead of hiding and sheltering ourselves from it, or "knocking it off" and making our own cheap imitations of it) as Paul apparantly did in order to redeem it for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe we need to recognize that all creation is saturated with God...that all truth is God's truth and therefore we can claim it wherever we find it and use it for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.

Merry Christmas


John Owens said...

Adam, just a few weeks ago, I stood on Mars Hill myself. It was fascinating to think of the Biblical history that took place in the area surrounding me. However, I stood in a huge crowd of tourists. Many of those people probably had varying reasons for their visit that day. I doubt they all had the same warm fuzzy feeling that I did. Which is the same as what takes place in our lives everyday. We're surrounded by people with a different mindset and missing the "feeling" or the "experience" that we know. The only way to get them to "get it" is to engage in new ways. That's EXACTLY what Jesus did. His visit in the flesh was all about engaging culture rather than leaving behind people who did not understand the things of the spiritual world. I don't know if these thoughts are coming through, but what I'm trying to say is Amen and let's get in there and engage.

Mr. Green said...
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Mr. Green said...

Manual trackback from The Naked Green.

That is brilliant! Thanks for sharing, Adam!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. By the way, last Sunday I my sermon was from Luke 2. The title was "No room in the Inn" As you may have guessed I did go back to Mars Hill and no one got lost in the calendar but my prayer is that they saw Jesus.

I love you and am proud of you,

Chad said...

I agree Adam. Newbingen discusses a healthy tension between the gospel message, culture and the missionary/church that presents the message. The tension is to always find a way to present the gospel message in a real, relevant way without compromising its message. To me it's easy to 1) lose the message by marketing it like we have something to sell or 2) sit back and force others to speak our language. As a youth minister, I struggle/strive to somehow present the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that connect with lives while allowing God's Word to speak for itself.

Brandon Scott Thomas said...

great post, dear brother! Thanks for this.

LOVED the picture of your daughter on the beach. Like I've said to you....CHURCH ON THE BEACH (hint, hint)

Merry Christmas, friend. We love you all.

Greg said...

Adam, Amen, brother! Amen. Merry Christ-mas.

Donna G said...

Merry Christmas! I know I would like you and your Dad!

Anonymous said...


I wonder if the significance of the story from Mars Hill is not that 'all truth is God's truth' or that we need to make the Gospel fit to culture. The Greeks had a statue to the a god unknown. When Paul says, "I know who that is.." he did not really mean they had been worshiping God all along. He is simply using a rhetorical device to manipulate and subvert their culture--they cannot accept Jesus and remain polytheists. What Paul ends with is not a Synthesis of Christ and Culture, a Subversion of Culture through Christ. Paul's Gospel uses their polytheism against them and destroys it.

The fact that Christianity is foolishness to the Greeks does not mean that we need to figure out how to reinterpret the Gospel in a 'Greek' mindset. Paul is claiming, with great boasting, that the Gospel is simply unacceptable to Culture. The Gospel will destroy Culture every time. Our mission, then, is to use culture to fall in on itself so that nothing remains but Christ Crucified.

'All truth is God's truth' overlooks the truth that 'Man's truth is no truth'.


Ryan Pendell

Adam said...

Thanks for your comments. I think maybe I wasn't clear. I am not implying that we should (or that Paul did) swallow anything that culture is handing out. Interestingly enough, that's exactly what the church did with modernism after ignoring it for a while, producing, in my opinion, results that are quite removed from anything Paul would have wanted (much less Jesus). What I am proposing is that we "engage" culture...that we redeem what we can from it (and refute what we have to) for the Gospel.
Also, I was not suggesting that we absorb anything that claims to be true into Christianity. I am saying that God reveals Himself and His truth in often surprising places. When we find something that's (actually) true, instead of fearing it or denying it, we should recognize it as God's truth. Truth simply isn't afraid of questions (nor is God). God has nothing to fear from truth. It's His anyway.
P.S. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I've been out of town for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. This is stimulating...

My intution is that revelation never affirms human thinking, feeling, culture-making. All revelation is iconoclastic (Lewis?). Subjecting all things unto Christ does not mean seeing where Christ and culture match up, but putting to shame ALL the wisdom and reason and philsophies of human beings. Granted, it is difficult to let Christ burn away ALL our presuppositions, good thoughts, bright ideas and truths, but I think that was Paul's real aim.

Redeeming a person means death with Christ. So redeeming a culture must not be just 'finding the good' in it, (God did not redeem us by just picking out our good parts) but something more fatal.


Adam said...

I see what you are saying, but I disagree (or maybe we just misunderstand each other). I am not talking about us just looking for the places where "culture" just happens to get it right and saying "Look! That's what we've been trying to say!" Instead I am proposing that we recognize the places where God is revealing Himself. even outside the church (as if He were limited to only working inside it), claiming His truth, and using it for His purposes. It's interesting that on most occasions when Paul is "preaching the gospel" to gentiles (such as on Mars Hill), he doesn't refer to scripture. He instead quotes pagan poets and philosophers to make his case, which would neccessarily imply that he read and studied them.