Becoming a contagious Christian – Understanding our world



Acts 17.


ILLUS.: Conversations with various people – office – friends –  family etc

  • co-habiting vs. marriage “What’s wrong – they are happy and they aren’t unhurting anyone!”
  • Gay/lesbian couple adopting a child – Xn> “It is not right! Not what God intented”  Response> “Well you may believe in a God like that but I don’t — you shouldn’t be so narrow minded after all no one can be dogmatic about these things!”
  • You pluck up courage to “witness” — Response > “I am glad for you; if it makes you happy that’s great!”
  • After some discussion – the closing remark is “Well of course it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere


We can tut-tut, shake our heads or climb on our soapbox/pulpit and pronounce that these people “need the gospel” [whatever we mean by that]!

We can become very sanctimonious and disassociate ourselves from such people!


We can proclaim our message more strongly!

ILLUS.: – foreign students of English – we speak more slowly and shout! “You understand? no?”

Not an effective way to teach English nor to witness!

ILLUS.: or like the preacher who wrote a note to himself  in the margin of his notes “Weak point – Shout!”


We live in a society that can be very confusing at times – if not all the time!

Post-Christian; post-modern; pluralism; relativism; syncretism; materialism;  New Age …     the terminoly is confusing enough let alone the content of all these philosophies.


Your response to all this may be – “We don’t need to know about all this – we should just be preaching the simple Gospel.”


I don’t for one minute doubt the power of the Gospel. Nor do I doubt that on occasions a brief and simple message about Jesus can have a life changing effect on an individual.

Can we just go around quoting the 4 spiritual laws – or dishing out tracts expecting people to fall on their knees in the street … it would be great if that were so and it was so effortless!!


Sometime we can be guilty of reading the Bible to superficially – Paul went here preached, people were saved and a church was started– then he went somewhare ealse and the same thing happened.

It must have been great to be a Christian in those days,  it was so easy!!!          NO WAY!!




ILLUS.: story of Epimenides – 6thC BC – Athens – during plague in the city – Epimendies a Cretan asked to help – had sheep released on hill side – where they lay (Presumably morning as sheep don’t usually lie down then but eat) altars where built to Agnosto Theo – the unknown god – the plague lifted –

from  “Eternity in their hearts” – Don Richardson


Did Paul know this – v.28 he quotes from their own poets

In Titus 1:12 12 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (NIV)

According to Encyclopedia Britannica this poet was Epimenides [D Richardson]


In v.18 Paul is debating with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers – then he goes to the Areopagus – Mars Hill Philosophical Society – he spends time there talking with these men ………… I don’t think that what we have recorded here by Luke is all that Paul said — this is the bear bones.


Paul could not have debated with these men NOR quoted from their poets if he didn’t know something about them and their beliefs! Paul must, at some time , have taken the time to study and read what these philosophies taught!


ILLUS: Today when christians go as missionaries to other countries and cultures the study language and culture – WHY? to be able to relate the gospel message effectly.

** Janet & I amongst the Muslims – studies Islam – started learning Arabic – etc. — to be effective communicators of the Gospel –


Such we not all then in trying to be Christ’s witnesses in our own culture try to understand as best we can the culture in which we live? Do we not have a responsibility in this area?

We are not all philosophers – we can’t all spend years studying trends in society BUT we should all to a greater or lesser degree try to understand the things that influence the thinking of our society –

For two reasons:- 1) we can’t think that because we are christians we are not deeply influenced by the society we live in 2) it helps us to understand the thinking of the people we are endeavouring to tell about Christ – in a meaningful, sensitive and appropriate way. One of the accusations levelled against Christians is that we are sometimes trying to give answer to q’s that no one is asking.


Paul’s model is a good one to follow – when he spoke to the Jews his launch pad was the OT – when to the Greeks it was their philosophies  BUT he goal and ultimate message was the same – Jesus Christ – the son of God, crucified, risen, the saviour of ALL who believe in Him!




What makes 20th C people think the way they do??


We talk about living in a Post-Modern society? What is it? How did we get here?


[Can’t deal with this in detail and will come back to it in future]



A whole new world of learning during this time in art, philosophy,science and above all humanism. Mankind, not God became the measure of all things and this world not the next became the centre of attention.

No longer was the Christian worldview the only one on offer..

The Reformation in the 16thC began to see the fragmentaion of the church there was a rise in the prominence of the sciences with men like Capernicus and Galileo. It was not all bad by any means as there was a liberation from some of the unbiblical Church dogma… BUT this was a beginning of a move away from God..


THE ENLIGHTENMENT {The Age of Reason} 18th C

Hume, Locke and Descartes ..[I think therefore I am]

Beginning with himself and explicitly excluding any need for God or revelation, the Enlightenment systematically built a worldview from reason alone!

This thinking became known as MODERNISM – the idea that man is autonomous.

It pushed God to one side and put human reason in his place — this reason would unveil a natural religion common to all humanity — there would be a universal morality that would seek the highest good for the greatest number of people — human rights would be the universal possession of all people — society would be held together by social contract [ replace the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humankind].

These Enlightenment thinkers were very optimistic – they believed that essentially everyone is good and that we would keep on progressing and become better and better [Darwin’s theroy of evolution fitted right in with this kind of thinking- thus it became widely accepted]

Religion could not be proved and it caused social division SO it was sidelined and this world became all important ~~~ Expansionist-Capitalism and Communism both grew out of this they seem to be opposing systems [in some respects are] but at the heart of both is “Humans have the power to solve their own problems


Christians have never believed that reason and technological advance would solve all our social problems – and now , over the past 20 odd years our society is recognising that they haven’t!


MODERNISM rejected Christianity because it was claimed to be unscientific and therefore untrue! Postmodernism rejects Christianity simply because it claims to be true!


POSTMODERNISM means we have moved beyond Modernism – BUT what is it? – we find it difficult to define {like trying to sculpture warm jelly} And difficult to understand BUT it effects us all!!


CRJ {Christian Reseach Journal} Fall 1996 p.35 –  #1

-1- challenging the truth claims of another is arrogant

-2- personal choice alone makes my spiritual choice valid


Key words for Postmodernism — ‘tolerance’ which rejects all moral absolutes AND ~ ‘openness’ which does not have the restraints of reason ~ ‘individual choice’ (ever heard that in the political arena)


Never criticise, always be tolerant, WHY? because we can’t know absolute truth when it come to the spiritual and the moral.

You can never say “This belief is right and that belief is wrong” becasue it is all relative. What does relativism mean? It is true for you but not for me! There is no objective/absolute truth – there is no truth outside the human realm ~~ according to Pm we determine what is true!


According to Postmodernists a thing is true because I believe it, I do not believe it because it is true” [CRJ p.36]


NOT everything in Pm is bad – it has brought back an opennes to ‘the spiritual realm’ – BUT it is a kind of spirituality that is basically anti-christian.

WHY? because Biblical Christianity believes that there is such a thing as absolute/ objective truth – The Jesus is “THE TRUTH” and John’s Gospel says.


The Bible insists on historical revelation

1 Corinthians 15:13-15 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. (NIV)

Jesus was a historical figure – our faith is based on historical revelation.


The Bible declares statements of truth:-

Romans 10:9 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (NIV)


The Bible teaches that God reveals himself in nature:-

Romans 1:18-20

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)


The Bible presumes that there is such a thing as objective Truth!! Some things are relative but some things are absolute!

This places Christianity in direct opposistion to Pm thinking.




It is easy to feel intimidated by modern attitudes – we want to be seen as loving and kind and sensitive to people yet we are being accused of being ‘intolerant’ ~ ‘arrogant’ ~ ‘narrowminded’ ~  ‘judgemental’.


How do we respond?


-1-  Pm thinking (society’s way of thinking) is not on a solid foundation – there are cracks ~~~~~  Told that truth is relative – almost indecent to say something is ‘true’ or ‘false’  — perfectly happy to apply ‘tue’ or ‘false to the world of public facts – e.g. battle of Hastings in 1066 – Major is Prime Minister – Wales beat Scotlanf 34 – 19 at rugby yesterday!! WHY squirm when these are applied to values and ideas??

ILLUS.: a friend tells you “All truth is relative; you must not make absolute claims for it.”  This statement is absolute!! While claiming that ALL truth is relative he is making an absolute statement! YET on the basis of his belief that is impossible!


ILLUS.: Story of Swiss worher respobsible for ringing Factory siren at 16h00 – each morning set watch by clock in watchmakers window – until one day watchmaker told him that clock was unreliable and he [the watchmaker] reset the clock everyday by the factory siren at 16h00.

The logical extension of Pmodern thinking leads down a blind alley!!


It is what Anne Atkins calls “intellectual sogginess” ~~ Anne Atkins – acticle ‘The Daily Telegraph’ Sat. 28/12/96  READ marked section!!


-2- We need to think carefully about how we witness!

We want to recommend the gospel – persuade people it is true – lines of argument use 20-30 years ago are less effective today – NOT because the gospel has changed but society has changed and so our starting point needs to be different,


READ CRJ p.38 #1 ——-


Starting point must be different — in the past we assumed we all shared the same world view – no longer!!


VALUES (attitudes)




Can no longer talk about beliefs until we have talked about worldview –


ILLUS.: Africa  – to a person – discussion how to fend of evil spirits –  Westerner responds – “I don’t believe evil spirits exist” — The gap between the African and Westerners worldview is too great to discuss demon counter measures.


So for us – we can’t begin discussing Truth claims about Jesus until we have established the possibility that TRUTH  exists.


-3- A warning and an encouragement.

Can’t think that merely discussing Objective truth is enough in witnessing — NO!

Witnessing is much more than intellectual debate!! {next few weeks messages}

If I have confused you this morning I am sorry – don’t be discouraged – this is one aspect of witnessing — more to come!!


Few people are won to Jesus only by intellectual argument – Relationships with people are vital ~~ even more so in our Pm world where communities are falling apart, and families are breaking down!!


People need to experience Christian love, to see Christlike lives, to experience the power of God. When this is the witness that is SEEN then people will be willing to listen to the claims of the gospel.





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