The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Walking with Paul in Athens

In Acts 17, Paul is in the ancient city of Athens with a bit of time on his hands, so he walks around the metro area and takes in what's there. Paul engages his own people in the synagogue and strangers in the marketplace.

Epicureans in a restaurant, perhaps. (They're eventually associated with a fondness for fine food but originally believed that everything happened by chance and that if God exists, he's pretty remote. So eat, drink and be merry.) Finally he mingles with Stoics who believed everything was of God and nothing happened apart from divine will.

Paul ambles around in this mix of ideas about life and the Creator — a large, portable kiosk of meetings and movements all around the city.

Like it or not, this is the lay of the land for the church in the 21st century. The church doesn't have the same moral authority, the same widespread admiration, the same assumed biblical starting point as it did in the 1950s. Some of this is good. It has reminded the church of its apostolic beginnings. It has reminded us that we were originally mission-minded people. It has reminded us that Jesus said, "Go and make ..." (Matthew 28:19), not "Come and sit."

Paul walked around the city. He didn't wait for people to show up in the synagogue and then count heads, ciphering an average attendance for somebody back in Jerusalem.

Paul walks directly into this variety of beliefs and philosophies and urgent ideas. And he engages them all — with Jesus and the scandal of the resurrection, the raising of a crucified Jew from the dead.

For Greeks, this was the ultimate laugh. Please notice the stunning contrast between the numerical responses here in Athens and in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In the holy city, thousands were converted by a single sermon from Peter. Paul's collective sermon series in Athens resulted in only two named converts — Dionysius and Damaris — and a couple of their friends (Acts 17:34).

Paul refuses to resort to any evangelical gimmick to win people for Christ. But he engages the culture aggressively — and faithfully.

Check out this week's articles:

cover2Breaking bread together: (right) Consider new and old Christian responses amid hunger.

Following in Paul's urban footsteps: Paul knew how to get around in all the major metropolitan cities.

Reflections on Paul at 2,000: Celebration year yields ecumenical progress.

Yes, there will be snacks: In Wausau, Wis., Senior Luther League hasn't changed — much.

Also: Hanson meets with King Abdullah.

Also: Presbyterians retain rule for gay clergy.

Also: ELCA help after earthquake.

Read these articles at our front page ...

Discuss following in Paul's urban footstepsdreier

June 2-9: Discuss following in Paul's urban footsteps with Gary Dreier (right), pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn.

Consider reading "Following in Paul's urban footsteps" before joining in.

Join the discussion ...

This week on our blog:Julie

Julie Sevig (right) blogs about older adults.

Sonia Solomonson revisits Memorial Day.

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February issue


Embracing diversity