Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sharing the Gospel with Skeptics & Cynics

Sermons preached at Bethesda Pasir Ris Mission Church on 16 & 23 Sep 2012

Paul at Athens (Acts 17:16-18)

Acts 17:16-18  While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with (1) the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of (2) Epicurean and (3) Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him.

Three Kinds of Pre-believers

1. SEEKERS: “Jews and God-fearing Greeks” (v.17)
  • Belief: Theism - ”GOD IS OUT THERE”
  • Purpose: Fear & Obey God
  • Attitude: Curiosity
2. SCOFFERS: “A group of Epicureans” (v.18)
  • Belief: Naturalism – “GOD IS NOWHERE”
  • Purpose: Seek to be one with Nature
  • Attitude: Cynicism

3. SKEPTICS: “Stoic philosophers” (v.18)
  • Belief: Pantheism – “GOD IS EVERYWHERE”
  • Purpose: One with the Universal Mind
  • Attitude: Skepticism

7 Questions Defining a Worldview

  1. Origin: Where did I come from? (A child's question)
  2. Identity: Who am I? (The Teenager's Question)
  3. Knowledge: How do I know what’s true? (The Youth's Question)  
  4. Ethics: How should I live? (The Young Adult's Question)
  5. Purpose: Why am I here? (The Middle-aged Adult's Question)
  6. Destiny: Where am I going? (The Elderly's Question)
  7. Reality: What is Ultimate Reality? (The Final Question)

Three Major Worldviews

1. Theism-"God is out there!"

Answers to 7 Worldview Questions:
  1.  ORIGIN: Pre-existent God
  2. IDENTITY: Man is created by God
  3. KNOWLEDGE: Through Scriptures
  4. ETHICS: Ten Commandments
  5. PURPOSE: Seek God’s Kingdom & righteousness
  6. DESTINY: Live with God forever
  7. REALITY: Yahweh – LORD is God!
  •  Christianity
  • Judaism 
  • Islam 
  • Sikhism

 2. Naturalism-"God is nowhere!"
·       Answers to 7 Worldview Questions:
  1. ORIGIN: Pre-existent Matter. 
  2. IDENTITY: Man is highly evolved complex biochemical machine-brain is real, mind is a biochemical illusion
  3. KNOWLEDGE: Science deals with facts, religion deals with values (social construct) 
  4. ETHICS: Embrace pleasure, avoid pain
  5. PURPOSE: Seek evolutionary progress 
  6. DESTINY: One with Gaia
  7. REALITY: Nature-Gaia is God!
  • Darwinism 
  • Marxism 
  • Secularism

3. Humanism-"God is Everywhere!"
  1. ORIGIN: Pre-existent Nature/Alien life forms
  2. IDENTITY: Humans are gods/aliens
  3. KNOWLEDGE: Science & spiritualism
  4. ETHICS: Seeking self-actualization
  5. PURPOSE:  Maximize human potential
  6. DESTINY: Become one with universal Mind 
  7. REALITY: Man - We are gods!

  • Secular humanism 
  • Cosmic humanism (New Age)
  • Buddhism
  • Confucianism 
  • Taoism

“Different Strokes for Different Folks!”
1. Seekers
  • Question: What should I believe?
  • Worldview: Theism-God/Spirit is ultimate 
  • Attitude: Want to know what Bible says about God and man
  • Approach: Give answers from Bible to believe

2. Skeptics 
  • Question: How can I believe? 
  • Worldview: Humanism/Pantheism - Man/Self is ultimate 
  • Attitude: Want to convinced that Jesus is real & relevant 
  • Approach: Give reasons to overcome doubts (Buy my book-51 FAQs: Frequently-asked Questions about Christianity, Armour Publishing, 2010)

3. Scoffers 
  • Question: Why should I believe? 
  • Worldview: Atheism - Matter/Nature is ultimate 
  • Attitude: Want to prove religions are superstitions 
  • Approach: Challenge the presuppositions of the Scoffer's worldviews by asking the 7 Worldview Questions

Postmodern mindset: affect seekers, skeptics & scoffers 
  • Basic attitude: Truth as what is real and relevance

Evangelical Salvation: “life after death”
  • Otherworldly: only for elderly & weak
  • Focus: Conversion 
  • Evangelical Gospel unreal and irrelevant

Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom: “life before/beyond death” 
  •  This-worldly: Good News to live abundantly in this life & beyond
  • Salvation is not conversion but transformation
  • Jesus  saves us from Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness to Christ’s Kingdom of Light

o   From 4 D’s: Despair, Disease, Demons & Death
o   From Despair to Hope: Hope, Healing, Freedom, & Eternal Life

Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom is real & relevant—Not only for pre-believers but also for believers (That is why we have the Four Gospels which are very much Good News for life before death!)

Paul at Athens (Acts 17:22-34)

1. Be Affirming

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious…”
  • Affirm the good and the godly in every religious practice
  • Don’t condemn others’ religious belief or cultural practices 
  • Find good things about other religions that we can affirm: e.g.
    • Moral values in Buddhism 
    • Filial piety and social order in Confucianism, etc.

2. Build Bridges, not Walls

23 “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
  • Find common grounds
  • Starting with the “Unknown God” 
    • John 1:1-14 – Logos:  Impersonal Logos to Personal Word
    • Chinese religions: 上帝
    • Arabic: Allah

·         3. Begin with Creation

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
  • Talk about God as Creator, not Redeemer
  • Beauty, order & design in nature  and life are evidence that points to a loving Creator
  • Most people instinctively believe in God, though they may not be sure which God is the true one

4. Point to Common Human Desire to Seek God

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face f the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us
  • Desire to seek God suggests He exists
  • Common desire for worship, love & justice arises from the imago dei in every human person
  • Fall marred but did not obliterate God’s image in man

5. Connect with cultures

28 for "'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, "'For we are indeed his offspring.‘ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
  • Stoics: God is in us & we in God
    • “In him we live and move and have our being”
    • “For we are indeed his offspring” (Aratus, a Stoic poet)
  • Cultures are stepping stones, not stumbling blocks,

 6. Present God as Saviour

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
  • Progressive : from Creation to Redemption
    • Explain grace: “The times of ignorance God overlooked…”
    • Explain sin: “He commands all people everywhere to repent”
    • Explain judgement: “he will judged the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed”
    • Explain salvation: “given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

 7. Be Patient—Give time

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this.“ 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
  • Conversion is a process
    • Give space & time for worldview change
    • Persuade, but don’t pressurize
  • Three possible responses
    • Mocking: Cannot reconcile with biblical worldview
    • Connecting: Need more time to think
    • Believing: Can identify with biblical worldview

  • Alpha best tool for Skeptics for Scoffers
  • It’s process evangelism, not crisis evangelism-takes time
  • Alpha moves from scoffers & skeptics to seekers as they are given reasons for faith & presuppositions challenged

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