I teased you last week with this question: If you had to decide whether you should teach like Peter in Acts 2 or Paul in Acts 17, which would you choose and why? Have you made your choice?
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis and founder of the Creation Museum and The Ark Encounter, recently told of a seminary professor who blasted Paul for missing a golden opportunity to preach Jesus to the people of Athens in Acts 17. He advised his seminary students that they should always preach like Peter in Acts 2 if they wanted to be effective.
In Acts 2, the disciples who gathered in the upper room during Pentecost received the promised Holy Spirit. To further confirm the power of the Spirit they began to speak in different languages so that every nation gathered for the great event could comprehend their testimony. Peter used this event to convict the God-fearing Jews of their unbelief in Jesus as the Messiah.
In Acts 17, Paul entered Athens and found the city full of idols. The gentile Greek culture paid honor to a variety of gods hoping to fall into their good graces in order to receive blessings of health and wealth. Paul noticed they also had an image honoring an unknown god. Paul used this god as his starting point to proclaim the one true God of heaven.
For many years America was an Acts 2 culture. The one true God of heaven reigned supreme in government, schools, and neighborhoods. Particularly in the South, the Word of God identified the things we should all steer clear of while proclaiming the values we should embrace. Though some Americans might not have accepted God’s love and forgiveness, they, for the most part, believed He existed. They understood sin and death. This mirrors the God-fearing Jewish culture of Acts 2.
Today, America is morphing into an Acts 17 culture. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Scientologists have become more numerous. Their gods are either based on men’s ideas of religion or the idea that each of us is our own god. None of them can proclaim a resurrected Savior. We, like the Greeks, have become a nation of many gods.
Like Paul, in order to explain our passion for our faith, we have to know our listeners and be willing to find a more appropriate starting point. The first eleven chapters of Genesis introduces skeptics to the God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth— he does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. (Acts 17:24-25, CSB)
Perhaps the seminary professor who minimized Paul’s effectiveness might reconsider his criticism. Those who don’t know God need to hear the story of creation and discover the scientific evidence of the flood. They should be shown the contrast between the Biblical view and worldly view of the earth’s age and the development of mankind. The evidence is compelling and overwhelming. Paul didn’t benefit from the scientific evidence we have today, and yet some people joined him and believed. I’d say that was some powerful preaching!
So, do we use Paul or Peter’s example? It depends on who’s listening to our testimony. But the most important thing is that we ourselves accept the love God has for all people and the grace He provides through Jesus. Then we must extend it to others. We can’t give what we don’t have.
It’s not so much what we know but Who we know. We don’t have time to waste. Jesus is coming soon.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15, CSB)
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