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A Message from Duncan- January 09, 2024

A Message from Duncan- January 09, 2024

Bible Places

Until last summer I’d never been to a Bible place.  I know, I know – that is inexcusable for a guy who is supposed to have a professional interest in Bible stuff, and who grew up on the same continent as the Holy Land (depending on your definition of ‘Europe’).

Some of you reading this have spent entire months in Israel and Palestine.  You have posed for photos at all the sites mentioned in the Gospels, eaten unleavened bread in the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated his final Passover, even been baptized in the Jordan!  Come on!  Enough already!  You’re putting me to shame.

So last summer Gelind and I decided it was time to finally visit a place (any place would do) that is mentioned in the Bible.  Athens seemed as good a spot as any.  Granted, Jesus never went there, and it is 800 miles from the Holy Land, but it is still a bona fide Bible place thanks to the evangelistic zeal of St Paul.

You read about Paul’s missionary trip to Athens in Acts 17.  In the week Gelind and I spent there, with my son Tim and his wife Amel, I found it almost impossible to imagine how the city looked and sounded 2,000 years ago.  The port where Paul docked looked nothing like it does today.  Back then there were just as many seagulls, but way fewer cruise liners.

What I really wanted to see was place where Paul debated the claims of Christianity with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.  It was called the Areopagus, or Mars Hill.  Before Paul’s time, the Areopagus had been the site of the supreme court of democratic Athens.  In Paul’s day, though, Rome was in charge and democracy was a hazy dream.  By then, the Areopagus had become a debating chamber for intellectuals to waste their days in obscure and abstract theorizing.

Into that daunting place, strode the Apostle.  I tried to imagine him preaching under the tree pictured at the top of this article.  Even better, I tried to see him standing exactly where I was in the photo at the bottom, perched on hard rock, towered over by the Acropolis, metaphorically being watched by the pagan deities he had come to pick a fight with.

I found it much easier to imagine Paul’s emotions as he opened his mouth to proclaim the Good News of Christ.  I bet he had to swallow hard and breathe deeply for several minutes.  Fancy talking about your faith in such an intellectual hothouse.  I’d have been a nervous wreck.  Actually, Paul did not deliver a full-throated proclamation of the Good News of Christ that day.  But he surely returned, probably many times, to go deeper; but in his first presentation he doesn’t even mention Jesus by name.  Leave them hungry for more, Paul.

Paul’s strategy is fascinating and vital.  He compliments the Greek philosophers, quotes their poets, identifies with their culture, but doesn’t alienate them by going too deep or too fast.  He doesn’t insult or offend them by arrogantly dismissing their beliefs out of hand.  Paul knew you have to love people and take them where they are before you win the right to share your faith with them.  You must get alongside, listen, understand their beliefs, and try to get into their shoes.  Only then, after you’ve made it clear you respect them and their opinions, can you expect to be heard in return.

Thanks for the model of evangelism, Paul.  And thanks, Athens, for responding to his message and embracing the Good News of Christ.  You’re a beautiful city.  Signs of your ancient Christian faith are everywhere.  Thank you.  We won’t forget you.