I have a new business idea. When faith gets challenged or offended by a movie, book, television show or stupid celebrity quote I am going to sell an evangelistic hyperventilation bag. This paper bag, featuring stylish cross artwork on one side and a fish insignia on the other, will allow beleaguered Christians to witness as they hyperventilate over the latest dire e-mail warning to boycott, plunder and protest.
The most recent threat to faith and, according to some distraught sources, God’s sovereign plan on earth is an upcoming movie called The Golden Compass. I recall that God and His people have somehow weathered other recent crises like The DaVinci Code, The Book of Daniel TV show, Madonna’s stage presentation, the Lost Tomb of Jesus and a veritable parade of books by atheists who could use the non-religious version of my hyperventilation bag when discussing God.
Yet somehow, the God that I believe created the heavens and earth has survived the punches of Hollywood, television and print. What a surprise. In fact it appears that they have not made a dent in His plan. May I suggest to you that this has been going on since the creation. My position on such issues is based on the game plan that the Apostle Paul outlined in the book of Acts. Yes, he was angry that Athens was full of idols and false gods. But he chose not to organize noisy protests or a boycott of the tourist attractions in Greece. His plan was simple.
- Be aware
- Be informed
- Be faithful
Anytime we have a chance to engage others in a discussion about authentic faith, Jesus and grace in the natural flow of culture I think it is an open door. This movie is another treasure chest of opportunities to discuss faith in real life. Paul is the working model of engaging a culture that is often less than sympathetic. Paul went fearlessly to the intellectual epicenter of his day.
The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got–all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols. He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicurean and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What an airhead!” But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”
These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were a little quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway? Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything. So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with. (The Message – Acts 17)
Paul was aware of the opposition to his faith and to the God he believed in. He was informed about the philosophies of those who opposed his faith. He engaged them in intelligent and probably spirited debate. The book of Acts honestly records the results.
Some laughed at him and walked off making jokes; others said, “Let’s do this again. We want to hear more.” But that was it for the day, and Paul left. There were still others, it turned out, who were convinced then and there, and stuck with Paul–among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris.
Maybe that is why we are often more comfortable decrying the culture instead of engaging it. Most of us don’t like being labeled as airheads (The Message) or as a babbler (NIV). I certainly don’t enjoy the very real fact that some will laugh at me and walk off making jokes. But perhaps some will want to hear more. And the reason for taking the chance is that some will be convinced. How do I know that such a strategy works? I have been able to introduce my faith naturally while discussing every one of the perceived threats listed above (DaVinci Code, Lost Tomb of Jesus, et al). The door opened naturally because of the culture. Isn’t it amazing what God can use for His purpose if we will just let Him?