I recently read an article by James Emery White, a pastor and writer (Meet Generation Z Bake, 2017) in Charlotte NC, entitled: What Should Ministry Look Like in Post-Christian America? His thesis is that the church in North America has moved from an Acts 2 to an Acts 17 cultural context.
So, what does that mean? In Acts 2, we find Peter speaking to the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. His message was: “You know about the creation, Adam and Eve, and the Fall; you know about Abraham and the chosen people of Israel; you know about Moses and the Law; you know of the prophets and the promised Messiah. So, we don’t need to waste time on that. You need to know that Jesus was the Messiah, you rejected and killed him, and he rose from the dead and unleashed his church, which means you need to repent.”
It wasn’t even the length of a good blog post. The result? 3000 people repented and trusted Jesus as Savior! Peter spoke to a group of people who were already monotheists, who already bought into the Old Testament Scriptures, and who already believed in a coming Messiah.
Now move forward to Acts 17, featuring Paul on Mars Hill speaking to the philosophers and spiritual seekers of Athens. Here was a spiritual marketplace where truth was relative, worldviews and gods littered the landscape, and the average person wouldn’t know the difference between Isaac and an iPhone. Paul knew he wasn’t in Jerusalem, so he didn’t take an Acts 2 approach or give an Acts 2 message. He found a new way to connect with the people of this culture.
Paul surveyed the cultural landscape and found a touchstone: an altar to an unknown God. The culture was so pluralistic that the only thing they could agree on was that they couldn’t know anything for sure. “What if I could tell you that God’s name? Would that be of interest?” Paul suggests. He then went all the way back to creation and worked his way forward, laying a foundation for the understanding and acceptance of the gospel. Different culture. Different approach.
This is precisely where Christians in North America find ourselves today. We are not speaking to the God-fearing Jews in Jerusalem. We are standing on Mars Hill, and we need an Acts 17 mindset with an Acts 17 strategy. Our primary cultural currency should be explanation.
It’s not enough to move from a King James Version of the Bible to a contemporary retelling such as The Message. We have to begin by saying, “This is the Bible. It is a collection of 66 books, which are divided into two sections known as the Old Testament and the New Testament. It tells the true story of God and us.” And then we need to explain that story.
Unfortunately, many Christians suffer from the “curse of knowledge.” Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. It’s as if we have forgotten what it was like to be apart from Christ. If we are going to minister in a post-Christian context, we need to remember.
Will you join me in telling the story of Jesus, the true story of how God came to us and how he can come to you and your friends too?