A Vision for Engaging Post-Christian Culture

Jul 18, 2021 by

by Samuel James, The Gospel Coalition:

Recently a friend was sharing some thoughts with me about Acts 17, the chapter that includes the apostle Paul’s sermon to the Greek pagans at the Aeropagus (or Mars Hill). Paul tells the crowd that he has seen one of their altars with an inscription, “To an Unknown God,” and proceeds to preach the gospel to them, proclaiming that it is Christ who, while unknown to them, was the true God worthy of trust and obedience. As we were thinking about the passage, Paul’s proclamation in verse 23 stood out to me in a way it had not before: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

As I turned these words over in my mind, I realized that this sentence was not merely a prefatory comment aimed at an ancient polytheistic society, but contained a massive vision for engaging contemporary culture with the gospel.

Everybody Worships

The Athenian society whose pantheon of idols “provoked” Paul (v. 16) was a culture primed to hear the gospel of the true God. The altar to the unknown God was more than a sociological curiosity; it was a transparent confession of religious impulses bursting inside these pagan people. While the good news about Yahweh and Jesus of Nazareth may not have been what these religious folks thought they needed to hear, Paul knew it was fundamentally something they wanted to hear. Their hearts were restless, so Paul preached rest.

Christians in the West today should think very carefully about how this might describe our context. I fear that we sometimes throw around the word “secular” carelessly, glibly labeling every facet of Western culture as secular and reenforcing the notion that we live in some kind of post-religion generation. While it’s true that the traditional institutions and forms of religion do not have the same influence they once did, it is likewise true that contemporary culture in the West is inarguably, even aggressively, religious.

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