From ZEUS let us begin.
Him do we mortals never leave unnamed:
full of Zeus are all the streets
and all the market-places of men
full is the sea and the havens thereof.
Always we all have need of Zeus
for we are also his offspring
and he in his kindness unto men
gives favorable signs
and wakens people to work.
— Aratus (270 BC),
The goal of the Emerging Church is to reach the post modern generation. The movement has attempted to do this by making Christianity relevant to the culture – that is by preaching and teaching truth in a way that is native to the understanding of the new generation.
Some traditional Christians have criticized this movement as misguided, unscriptural, and of man. I believe, however, that the goals and methods of the movement are both legitimate and scriptural.
When Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) he modeled how to preach to pagans. He did it by being relevant – by finding common ground and understanding with his audience. Paul presented Christ in a way that was familiar to the culture of the Greeks.
Acts 17:22 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.”
Paul went to the Areopagus (their center of learning in Athens), and engaged the Greeks in their environment. He didn’t demand that they go learn about God in the synagogue (and there was one in Athens). He didn’t complain that they ignored Jewish law. He didn’t insult their religion.
23: 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.
Paul understood his audience. He took an aspect of their pagan culture (the unknown god), and used it as a way to proclaim Jesus Christ to them.
24-27: 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.
Wham! Now that the ground was laid, Paul hit them with 100% Gospel. The truth was not watered down. He explained who God is. He explained how God is real, and how God is not honored with idols made by human hands.
28:For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Look at that little phrase “We are his offspring.” It’s easy to overlook, but it is SO important to understand the context of how Paul preached to the Athenians. This quote was NOT from the Bible. It was Greek poetry, and it in fact referred to Zeus. Paul taught the Greeks about Jesus by quoting a pagan poem about Zeus!
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 Paul shows how the nugget of truth contained in their poetry (“We are God’s offspring.”) differs from what they are actually practicing (worshiping man made images). After showing them their error, he tells them that they must repent. And he explains that they will be held accountable before God.
Every culture (including ours) has nuggets of God ‘s truth in it, just like Greek culture did. These nuggets can be surrounded by paganism but they can still point to the real God of the Bible. We must find these aspects of our culture that make God understandable. If the Church is losing ground in our culture (and it seems to be), maybe part of the reason why is that we are not making the Gospel real. We are not connecting.
It is the goal of the Emerging church to close this cultural understanding gap, and to make a connection.
Does the movement have weaknesses it must confront? Certainly it does. Its theology is weak. The movement must learn to not ever water down or compromise the truth. We dare not compromise God’s truth. But we must learn present timeless truth in a way that can be understood by the culture in which we live.
It’s time to break out the Greek poetry.