The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.
Paul knew his culture. That much is clear in his ability to astutely argue with the Athenian philosophers on Mar's Hill. He was there by the invitation of the philosophers assembled there (Acts 17:19) and immediately he answered their request to know more of his teaching. He starts with a cultural observance, moving from the known about the people of Athens into the unknown teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these men had already heard his preaching (Acts 17:17-18) as he reasoned with them in the public marketplace (agora) at Athens.
This is both a defense of the gospel and a sermon that prepares the way for the gospel to have maximum meaning in the culture of philosophy at Athens. There are several things I notice. First, Paul was not afraid to argue the reasonable points of the gospel. And in doing so, he entered into the rarified intellectual atmosphere of his day. Secondly, Paul knew his culture. He was acquainted with pagan philosophies and poets and could use his understanding to build a platform for the gospel message. He is a strong apologist for the faith because he knows how to present the faith. Thirdly, Paul was not afraid to make bold assertions. Basically, at this point in his argument, Paul is telling the philosophers of Athens, the wise men and faculty of his world, that they are ignorant and unlearned of the most important truth in the world. God could overlook that ignorance in the past, but now they would be held to knowing God's truth because God had commanded the preaching of the gospel in the world. These were serious assertions.
I grew up in an atmosphere where fundamentalism tended to have a negative view of scholarship and intellectual exercise. We were told to just believe because God said to believe. And although that is one reason to believe, it is not the only one. The result was that there were some theological insecurities and ignorances that I swallowed because of this negative view toward the mind. But I do think better of academic vigor these days. It is one way in which the presentation and purpose of the gospel can be more clearly refined. And I am all for the gospel taking the minds of the world's greatest thinkers captive toward righteousness! Minds ultimately shape culture. And when the gospel shapes the philosophy of one who shapes the culture, Christian virtues and values can thrive in a way that builds this world in true knowledge, and not the spiritual ignorance that human pride can foster.
- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.