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Cultural Conversation Starters, Part 3
by Tom Goodman
May 14, 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:  We must know the culture we want to reach for Christ, respect the people, and inform them.

We've already looked at the first two points, and you can review our coverage of the first point here and the second point here.  In this edition of LeaderLines, let's reflect on the third point.  To be on mission requires that we inform our world of the exclusive and life-changing truth of Christ.

In Acts 17, we find Paul waiting in Athens for his friends to catch up with him.  As Paul walked around the city, he started conversations about Jesus with anyone who would listen, and soon someone said, "You need to present your views at the Areopagus."  That's a Greek word that means Mars Hill, and it was a place where the philosophers of ancient Athens gathered to hear various opinions and then discuss them.

Notice how he actually used one of the many idols within the city as a reference to start his message, and he even quoted from two of their familiar pagan poets as a way to support what he was trying to say.  Look at verses 22-28:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:  "Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  'For in him we live and move and have our being.'  As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

Notice in Paul's speech how he respectfully started with the spiritual interest represented by all the idols, and he focused on that one admission of mystery and ignorance in the idol with the inscription, "To an unknown God."  And then he said, "Let me tell you about that God."

He told about how God created the world, about how people search for God, and about what God expects of us.  And then he began to introduce the subject of Jesus.  The speech continues in verses 29-31:

"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image made by man's design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Now, obviously that was not the conclusion of his speech.  But when he started to turn the conversation to Jesus, this whole idea of a dead man alive from the grave brought the whole conversation to an end for the time being.  Verse 32 says, "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.'"  That was the end of the conversation for that day, but some of them expressed interest in hearing more later, and verse 33 says some came to believe.

Knowing your world and respecting the people you want to reach isn't the end of the missional process.  We have to inform our world about the exclusive and life-changing truth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, 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, and inform your world.  As a result, some will sneer, some will say, "Let's keep talking," and some will say, "I'm ready to cross the line of faith."

Let's ask God for his blessing as we lead Hillcrest on an "Acts 17 mission" in Austin.


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