Reasoning in the Marketplace

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“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:16-17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Just recently I was in Hereford leading some local churches in outreach. I felt the Spirit wanted me to do some open air preaching but I was engaged in the usual wrestle with my flesh:

“You can’t preach, you’ll say the wrong things. All you’ll do is upset people and push them further away from God.” 

We entered a large square with lots of people sitting out, beer-in-hand sunning themselves. I knew this was the spot but I could feel the anxiety rising up within me. All of a sudden a young man walked up to us, offered us a book and began telling us about Buddha. That was it. I dropped my bag immediately and began preaching with such a loud voice I wasn’t sure it was my own. I was provoked.

Paul was provoked in Athens, that was what led to him to reason in the marketplace with any who would listen. What will it take to provoke the church? Is the slaughter of 190,000 unborn babies per year not enough? Or perhaps the wolves in sheep’s clothing ravaging the Church? Maybe the advance of false religion and worldly philosophy? The idols here in the uk may not be stone monoliths in town centres but they ought to be clear as day to the Christian. 

The voice of Christian reason in the public arena has had a resurgence of late. In the world of philosophy individuals such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig have put God firmly back in the frame, much to the chagrin of the secular elite. However, by and large the 20th century saw the Church retreat from public discourse and take refuge within the four walls of the sanctuary.

Rapture theology promulgated by Edward Irving and John Nelson Darby in the 1800’s spread through the evangelical church like dry rot. It lulled many into inactivity, they believed that as the world grew darker and darker, this was a prophetic sign that they would soon be caught up to meet Christ in the air. Why do anything to delay the inevitable? 

Rapture theology was the poison and the hangover has been long and dreadful.  As the evangelical church slowly returned to the marketplace, she has found it to be a strange and hostile place. A hardline Darwinian naturalism now sits entrenched. It’s reach has spread far and wide throughout Western Europe, from the very top of academia to the shop floor of every factory. 

Our children hear in school that evolution can explain everything, even Christianity. They arrive in Sunday school each week needing basic training in apologetics and instead we tell them a bible story and give them a digestive biscuit. 

We’re in trouble. 

Recently a young man visited our youth group and asked “If God created man in His own image, male and female. Doesn’t that make him transgender?” He wasn’t a Christian and had hoped his question would throw a spanner in the works. Thankfully, it didn’t and he and I went on to have a further in-depth discussion on whether evolution was able to account for consciousness or not. I can say that the young man loves coming to church now, much to the consternation of his atheist parents! The point is, these questions are coming to a Sunday school near you. Are we ready? It’s simply not good enough for the church to play dead on this one. 

It’s time to step back into the marketplace!

Of course, the sound of Christianity making itself heard again will be greeted with scorn and derision by and large. There are many within the church that believe that this negative reception proves that we are getting something wrong. That we aren’t preaching the right message, or that we’re using the wrong tone. Perhaps we aren’t being relevant enough or maybe we haven’t appreciated that times have changed and so must our Gospel. 

What these delicate souls fail to realise is that this is the way the world has always responded to the Gospel. The Pharisees gnashed their teeth and tore their robes, the Greeks laughed and mocked, the Romans fed its messengers to the lions. The world will always hate this old Gospel because she hates the Author.  It is no coincidence that the Bible is still banned by many nations today. 

The world is not neutral, it is at enmity with God and is wilfully suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Why should we expect that our message should be greeted with applause? In fact, I would go as far as to say that any gospel that is greeted with acclaim by the world is no gospel of God. Yet, we must remember that it is His gospel alone that can save, it is His gospel with which we must reason with the world. 

The Christian worldview is deep and robust and able to provide powerful explanations for why we are here, why the world is broken and what our ultimate purpose is here. Christianity is a reasonable faith. It is important that we re-learn this, that Christianity is an evidential faith, not a superstitious belief. It is verifiable or falsifiable based on historic events, and the historical evidence supporting these events is very good! 

Yet, paradoxically, no one shall enter through that narrow gate through reason and logic. Only by grace, through naked faith upon Jesus Christ alone will souls be saved. Christian apologetics are a tool in the hand of an evangelist. Though they cannot lead an individual to faith in Christ, they can be used to show that he is not rejecting Christ based on reason, logic or science. I have found that through studying apologetics my own faith has been enriched and it has led to many opportunities to share Christ with friends who are hardline atheists. 

Yet, we must be sure that our reasoning in the market place is not merely the reasoning of man, but of God. For He uses the foolish things to shame the wise. Let us preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentiles. Let us speak prophetically to our nation once again, calling it to account for sin, warning of the judgment and wrath of a Holy and Just God. For surely this is the most loving thing we can do? 

If you were to see a child playing near a cliff edge you would pull them back, you wouldn’t stand there applauding their individualism as they tumble over the edge. Yet this is the witness of many church leaders today. We must speak the truth from a place of love to a wayward world. 

Finally, Paul reasoned in the marketplace with whoever happened to be there. He didn’t wait until he had set up a ministry base in Athens, employed a few staff and booked a campaign ground. He preached to any Tom, Dick or Harry that crossed his path. There is nothing wrong with huge gospel crusades and evangelistic events, in fact I praise God for them. But we mustn’t let large crowds, ambient lighting and powerful worship music become preconditions for preaching of the gospel. We must reason with whoever God puts infront of us, any time, any place. 

Brothers and Sisters, I pray you might be provoked. I pray that His holy provocation will continually lead you to your pulpit, whether that be in a public square, a train carriage or in a Sunday school. I thank God that He is raising up a generation who are willing to reason in the market place once again. 

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Graham Phillips

Graham Phillips is an evangelist and serves as Associate Pastor at LifeSpring Church, Wolverhampton. He is currently studying Christian Apologetics at Biola University and has a weekly podcast and blog at wordview.co.uk

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