by Phil Johnson
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
harity is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Among other things, it "does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (v. 6).
"Charitableness" (the postmodern substitute for charity) is something altogether different. It's a broad-minded, insouciantly tolerant, unrelenting goodwill toward practically every conceivable opinion. Its twin virtueoften labeled "epistemic humility'is a cool refusal to hold any firm and settled convictions. These cardinal postmodern moral values are both seasoned with blithe indifference to the dangers of heresy.
In other words, if you want to be "charitable" by the postmodern definition, you must always leave open the possibility that someone else's truth is equal to if not better than yours. You must never write off other people's beliefs completely. Above all, you must seek to be conciliatory, not confrontive. Bottom line: you pretty much take the position that nothing we believe is ultimately anything more than a personal opinion.
Naturally, then, building bridges to non-Christian worldviews is deemed a better tactic than challenging error head on. Winning the admiration of unbelievers becomes vastly more important than demolishing the false ideologies that bind them. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to gain non-Christians' respect and appreciation is by looking for common ground and then stressing those areas of agreement, rather than pointing out differences between what the non-Christian believes and what the Bible teaches. The more compliments and congratulations you can give to other points of view, the better. And the more your ideological adversaries like you at the end of the dialogue, the more gratified you are entitled to feel.
That obviously means that candidly telling someone he or she is in error is unacceptable. To the postmodern mind, direct contradiction like that is the polemical equivalent of dropping a nuke; it's an extreme last-resort tacticrarely used at all in dialogues with unbelievers, but reserved mainly for other Christians whose views are too rigid or too conservative for your tastes.
Did Paul use the tactic of postmodern-style charitableness in Athens?
It sounds pretty silly even to raise that question, doesn't it? You know he didn't. He simply proclaimed the message Christ had given him to preach"not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). Just as Paul had always done, he headed straight for the one truth he knew very well would sound most like utter foolishness to them: the resurrection of the dead.
Remember, the Areopagite philosophers were all materialists. Even the ones who believed in a kind of afterlife thought the idea of heaven and hell as actual places where people had glorified physical bodies sounded so utterly foolish and unthinkable that when Paul got to that point in his message, it brought the house down. End of sermon: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, 'We will hear you again on this matter.' So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (vv. 32-34).
Three reactions, and I think it's a reasonable conjecture that Luke lists them in declining order from the majority response to the minority.
"Some mocked." That's what you would expect someone steeped in Greek philosophy to do. "Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified . . . to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Paul's worldview was so utterly and completely in contrast with the Athenian culture and belief system that most of these guys simply turned away.
That doesn't mean Paul failed. Listen: even if every last person in the philosophers' circle had turned away angry, that would not mean Paul's ministry strategy was wrong. His only task as an ambassador for Christ is to deliver the message clearly and accurately, and he did that. If they had all picked up stones to kill him (as the crowd at Lystra did in Acts 14), God would still have judged Paul faithful. But if he compromised the message in order to win people's appreciation rather than their repentance, that would not have been faithful.
Others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." Paul's straightforwardness evidently gained their interest in what he had to say. He had an open door to preach the gospel again to them.
However, some men joined him and believed. For a handful of people, including "Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them," this was the moment of conversion. They believed, and became disciples.
That's what faithful evangelistic ministry looks like. It doesn't cower before opposition. It isn't intimidated by human wisdom. It isn't shaken by rejection. It doesn't waver from the truth. It doesn't shift and change content to suit the preferences or felt needs of an audience. It has one theme, and that is Christ in His death and resurrection. It has one strategyto unpack the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection and proclaim it with clarity. It confronts every worldview, every false religion, every superstitious belief, every human philosophy, and every skeptical opinion. It rises above all those things and speaks with unshakable authority, because the gospel is the truth of God, and the power of God for salvation.