Rethinking Acts 17 and Apologetics


Let me go ahead and beat any commenters to the punch: This post is full of hypocrisy. Hence the ‘rethinking’ part of the title. I’m rethinking how I approach issues and deal with them. So, let me get to the hypocritical part of what I want to say.

Much of modern Christian apologetics is full of pointing out how every other belief in the world is wrong. Much time and effort is spent pointing out how Islam is actually violent by nature, arguing with Muslims over how to interpret their own holy writings. We point out how illogical Eastern thinking is. We do everything can to show why other beliefs are wrong and why our beliefs are right. From a Western mindset, this is simply the logical way of handling things, but I’m not sure it fits with what we see in Scripture.

The favorite go-to verse in Scripture dealing with Apologetics is Acts 17 where Paul confronts the intellects of Athens. It’s the famous passage dealing with the statue to the “Unknown god.” Paul points out who the unknown God is to them, stating that He is Christ and the Creator of everything. By stating exactly who God is, he is automatically implying that the pagan philosophies he’s dealing with (stoicism and epicureanism) are wrong in some regard, but he doesn’t come right out and say that. Instead, he points out where they’re right, but then moves on to complete their beliefs by removing the incompleteness from them.

And that’s where I think we’ve gone wrong. We’re so quick to point out where other religions are wrong that we’re missing the point; they’re not wrong, they’re just incomplete, and in being incomplete they’ve tacked on these certain beliefs in the hopes of completing their religions. A heresy is wrong – being a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon is wrong because it denies an essential aspect of Christ’s nature. But it’s wrong because it’s incomplete and a falsehood has been used to make up for the incompleteness of the religion.

Think of how Paul would address Taoism. In modern apologetics one would simply show how Taoism is illogical and point out the problems with it. But I’m not sure this is the best approach. Take part of the Tao teh Ching, where we read:

There exists a Being undifferentiated and complete, born before heaven and earth. Tranquil, boundless, abiding alone and changing not, encircling everything without exhaustion. Fathomless, it seems to be the Source of all things. I do not know its name, but characterize it as the Tao. Arbitrarily forcing a name upon it, I call it Great.

Now, “tao” in Chinese mens “way” or “path.” In other words, the way is fathomless, the source of all things, is Great, and is eternal. Who does that sound like (hint: John 14:6)? Perhaps the best approach here isn’t to say, “Wrong, Jesus is the way, not the tao!” we should instead say, “Yes, you’re right, let me explain more of this Tao.”

I’m certainly not advocating pluralism or universalism. I’m not saying these other religions are true, merely that they contain truth. One is not “saved” by holding onto aspects of the truth, just as one is not in a relationship with a person by only knowing a few things about the person and never having contact with the person. But knowing a few things about that person sure helps in getting to know him.

Perhaps we should do what Paul did, which is find what we have in common first. Let us find the truth in each religion first and then point this truth out to the adherent. In coming into contact with the truth, they will begin to see how the falsehoods surrounding the truth do not coincide with the truth, they’ll begin to see the contradictions; just as oil cannot mix with water, lies cannot mix with what is true. By allowing the truth to come to the surface, the lies will inevitably be pointed out, opening the door to point them to the Truth.

After all, how effective have Christians been at protesting Islam or holding debates against Rabbis? How much is really gained when people are put on the defensive? It would seem that instead of pointing out what’s wrong, we should first point out what’s right and then go from there. After all, if it’s the Truth we’re after, why not begin with truth?

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One thought on “Rethinking Acts 17 and Apologetics

  1. “Much of modern Christian apologetics is full of pointing out how every other belief in the world is wrong.” …. Most of my reading reveals a collective focus on athiesm and agnosticism??
    “Much time and effort is spent pointing out how Islam is actually violent by nature, arguing with Muslims over how to interpret their own holy writings. We point out how illogical Eastern thinking is.” …. A message that hasn’t been overwhelming evidently. A vast majority of Americans believe that Islam is “just another” religion and its adherents should not be challenged in any way. Soft headed professing Christians follow suit. They must be taught the truth. The readership of Christian apoligetics is, by in large, Christians, not Muslims. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. It is full of violence through and through. Culturally, religiously, practically. And it has it’s god.

    It is not “incomplete”. It is a very complete lie of the evil one. There are truths, no doubt. Morality can be built and processed without the aid of Heaven. And Satan’s very best lies are 99% truth.

    Stoiscism and Epicureanism had no “god” as we think of God. It was more an idea than a reality to them. A mental soccer ball to bounce back and forth. Even so, Paul’s quick launch from their god to Jesus Christ does not imply a long period of philosophical debate. This, it would seem, he reserved for the Jews.

    The Tao example of witnessing is very good. As a one on one, you are precisley correct. Showing concern, appreciation and willingness to learn (which should be genuine) is right on.

    But witnessing personally and writing apologetically are different altogether. Different audience. Different goals.

    Protests against Islam? Didn’t know that was happening. I’d vote “no” at the Wed night business meeting.

    Debates against Rabbis? To whom is the desired target of the debate? The audience, I would say. The Rabbi would be secondary.

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