Wednesday, September 1, 2010

reasoning the gospel

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Acts 18:4

Paul's evangelistic method among the Jews involved strong teaching and interaction with them from the scriptures. Here, in Corinth, Paul has ample opportunity to do so each Sabbath. Philo, the first century Alexandrian Jewish historian makes it clear that Corinth was a city with a strong Jewish presence. It would make sense that there were a lot of Jews and also Greek "God-fearers" who were a part of synagogue life. Paul's early efforts involved work among the Jews in the Corinthian synagogue.

His method was to reason with them from the scriptures. The Greek word (dielegeto) in this context translated as "reasoned" in the ESV is related to the English cognate "dialogue". It carries with it the idea of prepared and informed debate in which Paul went back and forth with his hearers, dealing with their observations and objections as he laid out his case for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Jewish world needed this kind of teaching to take place. So did the Gentile world as evidenced in Acts 17 with Paul's dialogue with the Athenian philosophers. Paul was intellectually and spiritually prepared to talk through the issues at bear in putting faith in Christ. It was an intellectual as well as a spiritual exercise.

I find it fascinating that there is no tension in the Book of Acts between this intellectual and rational effort and the work of the Holy Spirit. God was adding to the church. The Holy Spirit was mighty in conviction and confirmation of the gospel. But men such as Paul and later in this chapter, Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) were able to use their intellectual and communicative gifts to help persuade people of the veracity of the gospel.

So many Christians today would choke at the concept of such a vigorous academic and intellectual commitment. We have often fallen to an emotionalism and subjectivism when it comes to faith, something our culture is more than happy to foist upon us. Why? Because then faith is just a subjective personal preference, like collecting Pez dispensers, watching "Lost", or reading Harry Potter novels. But if there is intellectual and academic depth to the Christian faith, then it transcends into a societal force. There is no other way to explain western history unless we acknowledge that Christianity is a faith that reasons, makes sense, and shapes people and society. And if it can be reasoned, then it is a worldview (and a viable one... I would argue it is the only viable one) capable of changing and directing human destiny.

That is why we need to disciple Christians to the point that they can reason the gospel. Not everyone needs to be the type of apologist who can debate university philosophy profs. But we ought to be familiar enough with the reasons to believe to speak with a colleague or neighbor intelligently about the issues and worldview they may have learned from a college that intentionally taught pure secularism.

The type of ministry Paul used in reasoning with people was carried on after him. Apollos is evidence that it was needed and encouraged. Paul's followers, Aquila and Priscilla were sufficiently discipled by Paul (and they were just lowly tentmakers) to help refine the polished and skilled Apollos in his knowledge of the gospel. It seems to have been pretty common in the early church to teach and encourage the skill of "reasoning from the scriptures". May we refine this vital spiritual skill today!

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

No comments: