May 29, 2011
The Super Bowl, professional football’s mightiest conflict, takes place early each year. Two conference champions enter, and one ultimate champion emerges. Would that philosophical conflicts were settled that easily and forthrightly! Conflict over ideas can pit nations against each other (remember the battle of communism vs. democracy in the Cold War?) and even a nation against itself (e.g. America’s monumental battle of states’ rights vs. federalism).
Ideological conflicts are as old as mankind. One of the most resilient battles is the old brawl between humanistic philosophy and biblical theology. It is a supernatural battle fought on the battlefield of the human mind, and it is not for the fainthearted (or the weak-minded, for that matter). Unfortunately, too many Christians think faith and intellectualism are mutually exclusive. That position, however, flies in the face of Christians being transformed and renewed by the ultimate Intelligent Designer, God.
Perhaps you have experienced the frustration of having unbelievers and skeptics pelt you with seemingly unanswerable questions such as, “How can a good God allow evil,” or “Why would a loving God condemn people who never have heard the gospel” and many other questions that attack our faith and raise suspicions about the author of our faith. Our passage pits Paul, Christianity’s greatest thinker, against the teachers and followers of the world’s most prominent philosophies. Paul shows us how to engage humanistic philosophy in a way that stifles critics and honors God. In essence, we learn how Christians can confront humanism.
I. Approach them with informed appreciation (vv. 22-23).
Paul’s years of study prepared him with a working knowledge of the philosophies of his day. He did not begin with a caustic or inflammatory attitude. He demonstrated an informed appreciation for their pursuit of religion through these many gods. His audience immediately realized it was not dealing with an illiterate buffoon or a demagogue. It is still true that we catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Are we willing to educate ourselves to the point that we can articulate a clear and compelling defense of the gospel in the market place of ideas? Are we willing to view adherents of other religions and philosophies as humans made in the image of God with infinite worth to God, and deserving of a loving, respectful critique of their ideas?
II. Announce the intent of creation (vv. 27-28).
Amazingly, Paul did not begin by attempting to discredit their gods; rather, he told the biblical account of creation. He made his narrative very personal by informing the crowd that each person was created to know and worship this “unknown God.”
Religion is ultimately man’s attempt to understand God. Thus, when dealing with followers of another world religion, it is important to establish the God of the Bible as Author of creation, and that this Creator God did His creative work with a specific plan for them. It is not enough to talk in abstract terms. These are people for whom Christ died, and they must be informed that His sacrifice was given that they may fulfill God’s plan for their lives. At the core of every person is a desire to know his or her purpose. Few thoughts are as liberating as being informed that the God who created the universe and perfectly sustains them desires to know you personally and intimately.
III. Appeal for individual salvation (vv. 30-31).
After appealing to their minds, Paul went after their hearts. He made it clear that this God who governed creation also held authority over eternity.
This is the step where philosophy collides with theology. It is not enough to understand intellectually that the God of the Bible is the true God of all creation and philosophy. Each individual must bow before this Creator God to have a new life created within him or herself. The salvation plan calls for individual repentance of sin and acceptance of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Nothing short of that will transform the heart and secure salvation.
Maybe you are thinking this is too overwhelming for you. What if you don’t present your claim for Christianity passionately or persuasively enough? What if hearers say no, and it’s your fault? The good news is that your argument will not save the hearers, nor was it ever intended to do so. That responsibility falls on the Holy Spirit. We are commissioned to lovingly and intelligently present the claims of Christ.
Toby Mac, a Christian music megastar, has a wonderful song, “City on Our Knees.” The chorus begins:
Tonight’s the night
For the sinners and the saints
Two worlds collide in a beautiful display.”
The collision of philosophy and theology can be beautiful when we approach them with informed appreciation, announce the intent of creation and appeal for individual salvation. Remember, it is a supernatural battle. It’s not the Super Bowl, but the Supernatural Bowl. Play your position to the glory of God, and let Him be coach and official.