Secularism is on the rise. Hostility toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to grow. Post modernism has had a cataclysmic impact on Western Europe, truth is no longer considered objective and absolute. What is the result? Scepticism toward any religion or worldview which claims to be the truth, refusing to bow the knee to subjectivity. Consequently, historic Christianity has been nudged out of the mainstream; we are living in a non-Christian culture.
Suppression of the Truth
This shouldn’t catch us by surprise. This cultural shift in the Western Europe has been in motion since the nineteenth century (subject to debate) and increased in velocity during the twentieth century. Paul’s epistle to the Romans traces the underlying issue further back than the nineteenth century, even predating the mid-first century Greco-Roman world in which he wrote. Humanity in its fallenness has been suppressing the truth since the beginning of time.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.Romans 1:18-19
How Do We Respond?
How is the Christian to navigate a culture which is resistant to their faith and made up people of who suppresses the truth? There are many possible responses but I’ve decided to narrow them down to three:
(i) Scold and Run
In all honesty, this is my reflex response. The state of our culture is a mess. Far too often I’ve viewed this as a licence to criticise and condemn rather than lovingly engage people with the Gospel. Just like every single believer God has saved by grace, I too was once like them. I formerly suppressed the truth of God, exchanging His glory for an incomparable image of my own choosing (Romans 1:22-23).
Romans 1:18-32 is universal. This was not a state into which some people were born into, but is the condition of the entirety of humankind. The only hope for this sorry state of affairs is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit through the inherent, transformative power of the Gospel. (Romans 1:16)
Paul echoes the same message to Titus. We are to speak gently and kindly rather than throw insults. Be courteous and avoid quarrelling (Titus 3:1-2).
(ii) Accommodate the culture
To accommodate the culture is to deny that Jesus is the only way by which sinful persons may be reconciled unto God. Well this clearly isn’t an option either. Our options are whittled down to one.
(iii) Preach the Gospel
Irrespective of the cultural climate, our assignment remains the same. We have the great privilege of proclaiming the Good News. We can look to the example of Paul in the seventeenth chapter of Acts where he wonderfully modelled how to do so in a non-Christian context.
First century Athens was the intellectual hub of its day. It was a highly educated and cultured city, t home to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great. Each passing day brought a new philosophy which captured the attention of the people. Nonetheless, Paul stood boldly and made an admirable evangelistic effort.
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.(Acts 17:16)
The Greek likens this provocation in Paul’s spirit to a feeling of being gripped in his intestines. There was an anguish stirred within the apostle’s soul, yet it didn’t drive him to hurl insults at the Athenians. Contrastingly, he engaged in persuasive dialogue with the Jews, Gentile sympathisers and those at the market place (v.17). Undeterred by the hostility, his subject matter was unchanged: Jesus Christ and the resurrection.
This climax of his visit was his address to the Areopagus at Mars Hill and how he masterfully witnessed before this crowd. Firstly, Paul acknowledged what was commendable among the Athenian people. In expressing “I perceive that you’re very religious” (v.22), breaking the barrier of hostility. He then proceeded to direct his challenge toward their own assumptions, revealing to them the falsity of their gods and the reality of the Creator, Yahweh (v.23-29) to whom they were all accountable. (v.30).
Paul then arrived at the crux of his message, issuing a call to repentance, casting the spotlight upon the person, work and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a noble effort, tactfully meeting his audience at their level of understanding whilst faithfully declaring the Good News. You may expect such a presentation to be met with great applause and numerous listeners flocking to him, but this wasn’t the case. Some scorned him, some were intrigued and a presumably lesser number believed and became fellow disciples of Jesus Christ (vv.32-34). Nonetheless, it is an example to follow and implement as we interact with our own non-Christian culture
It won’t be easy
The task ahead is formidable. We must continuously pray for the lost, knowing that effective evangelism begins on your knees. Great boldness is required. Let us learn from the greatest evangelist this world has ever seen. Let us lovingly engage our culture, not scolding the people or their beliefs but bridging the gap in order to point the lost toward the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.