Why I Am A Christian (6)

To quote Jerram Barrs, “The message of the gospel is timeless, but it is always revealed in time.” What does this mean? That the gospel is “once for all delivered to the saints” However, the gospel does not enter into a vacuum, but into a human culture. The gospel and culture are not in opposition, but there is a wonderful and perfectly fitting interplay between the two.

Christianity is incredibly adaptable. Over thousands of years history has seen it adapt to cultures across geography and time. This adaptability is not a strike against Christianity, as though its truth were by nature a compromise, on the contrary, adaptability demonstrates the truth of Christianity and is one of the reasons I am a Christian.

This is exactly what you would expect to be true of the real meta-story of the world, that the stories of every human culture (and human life) would have parallels to that meta-story, but none would have the full story. That would make the real meta-story incredibly “contagious” and incredibly durable. It would not be limited to one culture, but would still be “at home” in every culture it entered. No single culture would be able to contain it, to tell the whole story, but each culture would reveal new facets of the greater story. This is exactly what we find when we look at the interaction of Christianity and culture. This is a beautiful aspect of Christianity – culminating at the end of Revelation in which every nation brings their glory into the new Jerusalem.

The Bible is full of examples of the fact that this is how the writers of the Bible viewed the interaction of God’s truth and culture. One of the best of these is Paul’s interaction with the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17. (Jerram Barrs has been helpful to me in seeing this about Christianity. Most of the following comes from his course, Apologetics and Outreach, at Covenant Seminary. Specifically the lecture on Apologetics and Understanding.)

Paul speaks with the assumption that there are many things in pagan Athenian culture that overlap with God’s truth. Paul quotes two poems to the Greek God Zeus and uses them to say something true about God. Acts tells us that Paul has spent his time in the marketplace in Athens and studying their idols, and when Paul is addressing the Athenians he begins by pointing out an idol to an unknown god, and praises them for their spirituality. It is also possible that Paul alludes to some of Plato’s writing here, as he uses language that is identical to quotations from the Greek philosopher. We are told that Epicurean and Stoic philosophers his audience that day. The first half of Paul’s message (that god is not served by human hands) is something that the Epicureans would readily affirm, and the second half (that God gives men life and breath and everything else) is exactly what the Stoics would have said. Paul does not condemn their culture entirely false and backward, in fact, he has memorized their poets and reflected on them and how they point to the one true God. He has stayed up long hours of the night perhaps pouring over their philosophers. He affirms so much of their culture, and here we see the adaptability of Christianity at work in the hands of a master communicator.

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