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Cultural Conversation Starters, Part 2
by Tom Goodman
May 7, 2009

Acts 17 gives us a three-point outline for how to use the surrounding culture to begin conversations about Jesus:

Know your world.
Respect your world.
Inform your world.

How are we to interact with the culture?  Books and films and music often touch on the same subjects that the Bible does: forgiveness in the midst of betrayal, failure, hope in the midst of suffering, redemption in the midst of failure, and so on.  So, the books and films and music around us can be "cultural conversation starters."

The Apostle Paul shows us how.  In Acts 17, as Paul walked around Athens, he was "greatly distressed" at the idols he saw.  When he was given a chance to present the gospel to the leading intellectuals of the city, he set an example for us to follow.  We must know the culture we want to reach for Christ, respect the people, and inform them.

Last week we looked at the first point.  In this edition of LeaderLines, let's reflect on the second point.  To be on mission requires that we respect the people we hope to reach.

Verse 16 says Paul was deeply disturbed by all the idolatry he saw in Athens, and verse 18 says that some people derided him and misunderstood him.  But when he was given a chance to present the gospel, he spoke with great respect.

Not all of us are as spiritually mature.  If we're disturbed by what we see and hear, and then if we feel we're being made fun of or patronized by those around us, it's hard to speak respectfully.  We get defensive and let our conversation be a vent for our frustrations.

Not Paul.  He was internally distressed and yet externally respectful.  He said, "Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious."  Now, I know that some Bible teachers mistakenly think that Paul was being sarcastic there -- probably to justify their own rudeness!  But I don't think of Paul's words as sarcasm.  The man who wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, "Love is not rude," would not act in rudeness when given the chance to present the gospel.  No doubt he points out that they have fulfilled their religious impulses in the wrong way, but he acknowledges their spiritual hunger as a starting point for what he wants to say.

This respect extended to accurately quoting from an idolatrous statue and from their pagan poets.  We Christians can be infamous for spreading urban legends about the culture instead of checking the facts.  We show our respect not only by what we say but also by the accuracy with which we talk about someone else's views.

As Hillcrest leaders, we're developing a congregation that God can use to reach our Athens.  It requires the same things we see in Paul when we read Acts 17: knowledge of our surrounding culture and respect for the many things that can be respected.

Such an approach will give us a hearing to share the King's message.  Next week we'll look at the third way to interact with the culture:  Inform your world.


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