Acts 17:16-34 – 16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) .22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24″The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28’For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29″Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
As indicated in a my previous write up, when a foreign family gets into a new culture, they have one of the following reactions, · Fight the new culture because it is threatening,
- Avoid the new culture because it is overwhelming
- Assimilate as fast as possible by making all choices to accord with the new cultural system
- Tolerate discomfort and confusion while slowly making intentional choices about what to accept and reject.
In like matter Christians, choose one of these reactions in relationship to traditions and culture by fighting it (combating), avoiding it (cocooning), assimilating into it (conforming) or selective acculturation i.e. retaining your identity while making intentional choices about what in the general culture they will accept or reject.
In addressing the disciples, Jesus said to them I send you out as sheep among wolves, be as wise as serpent but be as gentle as dove(Matthew 10:16). While we are not of the world, we are in it. Furthermore, we are meant to light up the world, being the light and salt of the earth. But how can we do this without compromising our faith having regard to the fact that the culture of the world opposes the culture of the Kingdom of God.
Among the four reactions to culture stated above, I propose that the best reaction is selective acculturation. The reason being that by combating the culture of world, we are condemning it to destruction and implying that everything in it is doomed. However, there are good and bad aspects in the culture of the world, therefore we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater. We can use the good part as our access point.
I have met Christians that condemn everything and everyone that represented and stood for particular cultures and way of living, the result was that, while they were able to convert some to their way of thinking and culture, the majority rejected and condemned the ‘new culture’ they were proposing. This method leaves people feeling you are implying that you are superior to them and their culture is worthless. Friend , remember, some of these ways of life was passed down to them from several generations and by combating them head-on means, you are showing contempt to their ancestors and what they hold dearly. So for maximum result, avoid a combating reaction to culture. The reacting to any culture by avoiding it or cocooning is apathy and nonchalance. Refusing to engage with a culture brings this proverb to mind, ‘all that evil needs to thrive is for good men to keep quiet’. By keeping company only with people that think, talk, look and behave like you is against scriptures. Jesus sent us into world not out of the world. So reacting to the ungodly culture by staying completely away from it would be lack of engagement with the seven pillars of society, i.e.Education, politics, finance, family, media and entertainment, arts, and religion. If we do this then we would not have influence in and on our community at large and we will deprive ourselves of bringing and being light and salt that we are created to be. Dis-engagement with the culture is liken to burning the bridge leading to change. Remember, that our Lord Jesus came from heaven to earth to save the world from the culture of the devil into the culture of God. But he had to come into the world to do it, so also we must engage in order to make any felt impact.
Another way of reacting to culture is by getting assimilated into it that is by conforming to it. In Romans 12:2, Paul warned the Christians not to conform to this world. To conform means, to abide, accept, not to put up any resistance, to exchange your values in order to be acceptable and feel among. It is the process of preferring comfort over courage. This is the reaction that is quite prevalent in today’s culture; the church has become so churchy that in some cases we cannot even differentiate between a Christian and a non-Christian. Christian absorption of the negative aspects of the fallen culture reflects our failure to resist the assimilative effects of enculturation. Some Christians have the ‘join them mentality’. Instead of becoming change agents, they are conformist to everything the world throws at them. Any Christian practicing this is in a backslidden state and has lost a sense of purpose and identity. I suggest you; depart from this way of reaction. The next form of reacting to culture is by selective acculturation. This is the process of retaining your identity while making intentional choices about what in the general culture they will accept or reject. From reading the above scripture in Acts 17, I note that Paul applied this method. Selective acculturation appears to be the best path for the culturally savvy Christian. Paul by walking through the city of Athens observed the culture, made a sense of it and came up with a narrative between the Athenian culture and the culture of the kingdom of God and built a bridge between the two to create access for these idol worshippers to switch who they worship but not stop them from worshipping. Our job as Christians is not to stop people from living and enjoying life but to help them live and enjoy life for and with a greater purpose and in Christ. Billy Graham said ‘God loves you the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you the way you are’. That is the job of culturally savvy Christian, to love people in spite of their culture or lifestyle but love them too much to leave them the way they are. Dick Stuab in his book, the culturally savvy Christians says’ as we follow Jesus’ example and engage with the world around us, we should not conform but should retain the distinctive beliefs, values and behaviours that are consistent with God’s kingdom. The only healthy way to live in the tension between the two worlds is selective acculturation’, that is being in the world but not of the world. So be intentional in your relationships and be purposeful. Engage but not conform to ungodly way. Love but don’t compromise your faith. Embrace people and not necessarily their lifestyle. I will explain how you can develop the skill of being culturally savvy in my next write up.
For Further Study
Questions for you to reflect on
- What was your cultural reaction before reading this piece?
- What is your cultural reaction preference now?
- Are you a courageous Christian or a conforming Christian?
I am an agent of divine change