Friday, November 15, 2019

Acts 17.16-34 and our Mission to our Culture

* The following are notes prepared for a talk to Christian students.

Acts 17.16-34 and Our Mission to Our Culture

·     Goal: Be challenged by Paul’s teaching and example

·     A lot to look at: we can only look at some of the details

·     Notes:

·     Four elements for us tonight

o   Cultural Engagement

o   Cognitive Element

o   Comprehensive Content

o   Critical Response

1.    Read Acts 17.16-21

2.    Look at verse 16: Cultural Engagement

a.    Paul’s spirit “was being provoked”     (WHY?)

b.    He “was observing the city full of idols”

                                               i.     Idols are fake substitutes

                                              ii.     Idols take away the glory from God 

                                            iii.     The entire cultural system was not right with God and leading away from God

1.    Religious
2.    Economic
3.    Political
4.    Educational
5.    Family life
6.    Entertainment

c.     “Provoked” from Psalm 119

                                               i.     v. 53: a time for anger

                                              ii.     v. 136: a time tears

                                            iii.     v. 126: a time for prayer

d.    Why is it we are not provoked?  

e.    Two dangers for the church in a hostile culture

                                               i.     Isolation: closed off from the world in our own little Christian subculture 

                                              ii.     Assimilation: become just like the culture; no distinctiveness

f.     Proper approach to our non-Christian culture

                                               i.     Creative resistance: against the idolatry of our time

                                              ii.     Constructive interaction: with the structures and systems for the sake of promoting God’s kingdom goodness

3.    Cognitive Content of the Christian faith

a.    v. 17: “So he was reasoning…”

b.    Paul is reasoning with both Jews and the Greek and Roman philosophers

c.     Paul’s pattern: See Acts 17.1-4

                                               i.     “Reasoned”

                                              ii.     “Explaining and giving evidence”

                                            iii.     “Some of them were persuaded”

d.    Christianity has cognitive content

e.    Truth claims that can be set down in the marketplace of ideas and reasoned about!

f.     Christianity is not just…

                                               i.     Experience

                                              ii.     Relationships

g.    Both of these—YES!

                                               i.     But the experiences and relationships are rooted in truth

                                              ii.     “Truth is Christianity’s most enduring asset. When all other things—the picketing and protesting—pass away, it is the question of the truth of Christianity that will determines its endurance.”  Carl F. H. Henry

4.    Paul’s Cultural Engagement with the Cognitive Element of Christianity…

a.    He is called before the Areopagus: location (hill) and an official body

b.    He is called to explain and defend his views

c.     What would you say?!

5.    Leads to our next point… the Comprehensive Content of the Christian faith


a.    Read Acts 17.22-31: Paul’s sermon 

b.    List out as many attributes and actions of God as you can

7.    The importance of our view of God

a.    Most important thoughts… what comes to mind when you hear the word “God”

b.    Important for worship

                                               i.     Deep view of God leads to deep worship

                                              ii.     Shallow view leads to shallow worship

c.     Important for evangelism

                                               i.     Need to communicate a proper view of God

                                              ii.     People tend to make God in their own image

                                            iii.     Psalm 50.21 “… you thought that I was just like you…”

                                            iv.     “I believe in God.”  Which one?!

1.    Thor

2.    The Force of Star Wars

3.    Flying Spaghetti Monster

4.    Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

                                              v.     Before Paul can get to Jesus, he has to make clear the proper view of God!

8.    The Doctrine of God in Acts 17.22-31

(1) Knowable (v 23)

(5) Self-sufficient (v 25)
(9) Immanent (v 28)
(2) Personal (v 27)

(6) Sovereign (v 26)
(10) Patient & Gracious (v 30)
(3) Creator (v 24)

(7) Desiring of relationship (v 27)
(11) Judge (v 31)
(4) Sustainer (v 25)
(8) Transcendent (v 24)
(12) Act in history and
          perform miracles (v 31)

a.    (1) God is Knowable (v 23): “…this I proclaim to you.”

                                               i.     God is not shrouded in complete mystery

                                              ii.     Agnosticism is refuted

1.    “Soft-boiled” agnosticism: “I don’t know whether God exists.”

2.    “Hard-boiled” agnosticism: “No one can know for sure if God exists.”

                                            iii.     God is knowable because he has revealed himself

1.    General revelation

2.    Special revelation

b.    (2) God is Personal (vv 27, 31): “seek for him”; “he will judge the world in righteousness”

                                               i.     Pantheism is refuted (“paneverythingism”—Francis Schaeffer)

                                              ii.     We stand in some relationship to God

c.     (3) God is Creator (v 24): “the God who made the world and all things in it”

                                               i.     Defining point in God’s self-disclosure

1.    Isaiah 44.24

2.    Jeremiah 10.10-12

                                              ii.     “He uttered one word by which he has subverted all the doctrines of the philosophers.”  Chrysostom (c. 4thCentury A.D.)

                                            iii.     If you do not see the world around you in terms of God’s creatorship, then your “vision” is faulty!

“Ideally, to know something is to know how it relates to other things—to know what it is for, where it is from, what obligations I have concerning it, what is its worth, what it signifies.  The non-Christian scientist will give intellectual assent to all sorts of truth statements.  But he will not be able to provide any ultimate explanation of the facts in terms of these relationships. The more explanation he gives, the more it will be seen that his interpretation runs counter to God’s.

“For example, as any scientist knows, apples come from trees and are normally good for eating.  But where do apple trees come from?  Ultimately the secular scientist will say that trees are a product of evolution, that is, chance.  In other words, apple trees are not designed by God.  Thus, for the nonbeliever, apples are Creator-denying apples: to really understand applies is to deny the biblical concept of God; apples provethat the God of Scripture does not exist, and each apple is an evidence againstsuch a God.  Ultimately, the nonexistence of God becomes part of the definitionof apples.

“Of course, the non-Christian rarely statesthe matter this strongly.  He prefers to soften his expression of rebellion against God in order to project an unbiased profile.  At bottom, however, the stance of the nonbeliever is not unlike the portrayal I give it here.  And as he is pressed to provide an ultimate interpretation of facts, he will voice increasingly explicit anti-Christian sentiments.  Yes, even his definition of apples is affected because he defines allthe terms of his experience on the basis of atheistic presuppositions.”[1]

                                            iv.     Creation has a purpose: 1 Corinthians 8.6 “… we exist for him…”

                                              v.     God is to be worshipped for his Creatorship: Revelation 4.11

d.    (4) God is Sustainer (v 25): “… gives to all life and breath and all things…”

                                               i.     “Moreover, to make God a momentary Creator, who once for all finished his work, would be cold and barren, and we must differ from profane men especially in that we see the presence of divine power shining as much in the continuing state of the universe as in its inception.” John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian ReligionBk 1, Ch XVI, Sec 1—p. 197)

                                              ii.     Deism is refuted.[2]

                                            iii.     Colossians 1.17 “…and he is before all things and in him all things hold together.”

                                            iv.     Hebrews 1.3  Christ “upholds all things by the word of his power”

                                              v.     We are ever-dependent for life each moment—take a breath, that is God’s air you breath and he gives you the life to breath it!

e.    (5) God is Self-sufficient (v 25): “… as though he needed anything…”

                                               i.     Psalm 50.10-12

                                              ii.     Isaiah 66.1-2

                                            iii.     Job 41.11

                                            iv.     God did not create humans because he was lonely

                                              v.     God’s self-sufficiency should comfort us. God’s power can be directed to us as the objects of his love; he is not trying to fill some lack in himself

1.    a se= Aseity

“The term aseitycomes from the Latin phrase a se, meaning ‘from or by oneself.’  In the theological literature, the term designates a divine attribute b which God is ‘what he is by or through his own self.’  Since God is a se, he does not owe his existence to anything or anyone besides himself, nor does he need anything beyond himself to maintain his existence.  He is not like the idols that depend for their existence on select materials, skilled craftsman, and ritual offerings (Isa. 40:19-20; 44:15-17; Ps. 50:8-15).  Indeed, he has no needs at all (Acts 17:25).  So the terms self-contained, self-existent, self-sufficient, andindependentare often used as synonyms for a se.”[3]

2.    Everything else depends for its existence on God but God depends on nothing for his existence.

f.     (6) God is Sovereign (v 26): “… having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation…”

                                               i.     Purpose pervades the universe!

                                              ii.     God deals with the sparrows that fall to the ground and the hairs on your head (Matthew 10.29-30).

                                            iii.     He also raises nations up and thrusts them down

1.    Psalm 33.10-11

2.    Isaiah 40.22-23

3.    Daniel 4.34-35

                                            iv.     Do you see the news of the world through the lens of God’s sovereignty?

                                              v.     We tend to see the world (the nations) as ruled by political, economic, and even environmental forces.  We invest these forces with omnipotence and tell ourselves, “That’s the way the world is!”

                                            vi.     “…the way in which we view our world should be relativized by the truth of God’s Word.”  David Wells, God in the Wasteland, p. 161

g.    (7) God is Desiring of relationship with people (v 27): “… that they would seek God…”

                                               i.     His sovereignty is directed so “that they should seek God.”

                                              ii.     Not a “need-desire” (v 25) but rather this desire flows from the full well of his love

                                            iii.     People spurn this God (Romans 1.21) and thus become foolish (Romans 1.22)—they grope about blindly

                                            iv.     A person can’t “take or leave” God—he desires a loving response!

h.    (8) God is Transcendent (v 24): “… he is Lord of heaven and earth…”

                                               i.     God is exalted, high and lifted up; enthroned in heaven

                                              ii.     Isaiah 66.1-2

i.      (9) God is Immanent (v 28): “… for in him we live and move, and exist…”

                                               i.     God’s nearness; he is not far removed

                                              ii.     Jeremiah 23.23-24

                                            iii.     Transcendence and immanence must be kept together!

                                            iv.     Faulty views of:

1.    Transcendence: God is wholly other; far removed from us; he doesn’t care; can’t reveal himself in the Scriptures

2.    Immanence: God is identical to the world and world processes; his activity cannot be identified in space and time (i.e., miracles don’t happen)[4]

                                              v.     Proper view:[5]

1.    Transcendence: God’s sovereign lordship

2.    Immanence: God’s presence

j.      (10) God is Patient and Gracious (v 30): “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.”

                                               i.     Exodus 34.6-7: “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness”

                                              ii.     Acts 14.16: “… and in generations gone by he permitted all the nations to go their own ways…”

                                            iii.     With the coming of Christ the world-wide scope of the gospel is put into stark relief!  All the nations are to turn to Jesus Christ—none are to be left out!

k.    (11) God is Judge (v 31): “… he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world…”

                                               i.     Exodus 34.7: “… yet he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…”[6]

                                              ii.     Presupposes God’s holiness

                                            iii.     Psalm 7.11: “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.”

l.      (12) God is able to act in human history and perform miracles (v 31): “… having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.”

9.    “Three theological  ‘non-negotiables’ on display in the Areopagus address guide the Apostle in his ability to address reigning philosophical assumptions.  First, the Apostle stresses the sovereign lordship of the one true God.  This lordship is manifest in creation ex nihiloand in maintaining the history of nations. Second, proof of divine disclosure can be found in the resurrectionof the God-man, Jesus Christ.  A stumbling-block to any generation, the resurrection ‘forces the issue,’ as it were, in validating Christianity’s truth-claims.  As cultural apologists, Christians need to be equipped with an understanding of philosophical and theological ‘first things.’  Competing in culture are diametrically opposed world views, and the ultimacy of Christian truth-claims stands or falls with the resurrection.  Third, the movement of a faithful apologetic is always in the direction of moral accountability.  By underscoring the reality of future judgment, the Apostle dismantles religious inclusivity: all people everywhere must repent and confront the knowledge of the Creator that has been imparted to them.”[7]

10.The Critical Response needed

a.    v. 30: the call for repentance

                                               i.     Repentance: a fundamental shift in allegiances

                                              ii.     Not simply enough to acknowledge Jesus as just one more option

                                            iii.     Not enough to add him to the mental furniture in your mind

b.    “the times of ignorance” and the call to repentance

                                               i.     Truth is real

                                              ii.     Not everybody has the truth

                                            iii.     Religious pluralism is false

                                            iv.     Challenge for us: the exclusivity of Jesus

“Perhaps the two hottest issues are Christian uniquenessand homosexuality.  According to the ‘progressives,’ these two are the tiresome, secondary issues constantly raised by uptight, unloving, obnoxious, right-wing fanatics, who obstruct a kinder, more loving Christianity.

“These two issues are not secondary, however.  They are fundamental because each evokes a theme of profound moral and spiritual import—the nature of God and the nature of humanity—basic theology and basic anthropology.  ‘Theology,’ because interfaith allows so many different kinds of gods that the true God is eliminated; ‘anthropology,’ because when the Bible describes the image of God in human beings it includes the male/female distinction.”[8]

11.Results: verses 32-34

a.    Our task is to be faithful

b.    God will bring the results

12.Where are you?

a.    Your Cultural Engagement

                                               i.     Isolation or assimilation

                                              ii.     Creative resistance and constructive interaction

b.    Your commitment to the Cognitive Element

                                               i.     Are you growing in your ability to reason with non-believers?

                                              ii.     Are you committed to growing in this area?

c.     Your grasp of the Comprehensive Content

                                               i.     How deep is your view of God?

                                              ii.     Does he amaze you?

                                            iii.     Are you growing in your understanding of who he is?

d.    What is your Critical Response?

                                               i.     Have you repented—had a fundamental change of allegiances to Jesus?

                                              ii.     Are you committed to sharing the tough parts of Christianity—the exclusivity of Jesus?

     [1]Thom Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence (Phillipsburg, Penn.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 38-39.
     [2]See my “Some Thoughts on Deism” White Rose Review(July 30, 2017)—online:
     [3]John M. Frame, “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologeticseditors: K. Scott Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 115.
     [4]See my two short essays: “Liberal Theology and Its Pantheizing Tendency” White Rose Review(December 26, 2014)—online: “Liberal Theology and Its Naturalizing Tendency” White Rose Review(January 28, 2014)—online:
     [5]See my essay “Thoughts on God’s Transcendence and Immanence” White Rose Review(February 17, 2013)—online:
     [6]For more on the wrath of God see my “The Wrath of God” White Rose Review(December 8, 2015)—online:
     [7]J. Daryl Charles, “Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics” Trinity Journal16 NS (1995), 60-61.
     [8]Peter Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference—Romans 1 for the Twenty-first Century (Main Entry Editions, 2010), 58.