“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'” Acts 17:22–23 (NIV84)
We as Christians need to know that when we defend our faith we are entering into an arena of conflict. Knowing this, how do we engage the world around us without getting ourselves into a polarized discussion? The last thing we want is to get into a discussion that looks like two people in opposition, rather than two people side by side discussing approaches to a topic. Obviously, if we enter into a polarized discussion, we will end up with two sides feeling the need to defend their position and eventually go on the offensive to prove the other wrong. The side-by-side approach invites someone to come alongside so that two people can have an open discussion about their differing perspectives. This approach leaves people non-threatened and open to constructive dialogue.
Note: This is exactly what Paul did in our text for today. He knew he was dealing with very intelligent people. Not wanting to make them defensive, he began his discussion with a compliment and then proposed an answer to one of their open-ended issues (unknowns). They had a monument for an unknown god. Given the fact that this God was unknown to them, he could use this unknown god as the means to introduce the one true God in a neutral way. He entered a discussion with them at the point of one of their philosophical questions. He stepped into a door already cracked open rather than trying to break down firmly entrenched ideological walls.
His approach worked. It led to an invitation to have this larger group discussion before the Areopagus. As he continued to use this approach before the members of the Areopagus it proved effective. He successfully introduced the God of the Bible to a Greek thinking people. He promised in his presentation to give answers to their longstanding question as to who this unknown god was. This is a strategy we need to learn when we discuss our faith with others. We need not debate! We will be much better off if we position ourselves in a place of trying to answer a question/problem that plagues our society.