In Roger Wagner’s excellent book Tongues Aflame: Learning to Preach from the Apsotles, there is a useful chapter on preaching the Gospel in a culture like Athens. If it is true that America is, in many respects, the new Athens (i.e. pluralistic and tolerant) it is fitting that a careful study of Acts 17 would again prove beneficial in learning what is the best way to advance the kingdom. Wagner suggests that many today are “celebrating the intellectual glories of the ‘marketplace of ideas.'” He writes:
Men and women come together for a free exchange of views, characterized by mutual respect and open honesty. Through this dispassionate intellectual process the best opinions prevail for the mutual benefit of all. Sounds great. But I have never seen it work in that way. Have you? Nobody likes to be shown up to be wrong. People change their minds very reluctantly. What’s more, according to God, all men (being sinners) ‘suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Rom. 1:18). In a world of sinners, Luke’s account of the marketplace in Athens is more true to life than the idealized ‘marketplace of ideas.’ (251)
What should we expect when we take the Gospel into the marketplace? Wagner sets it out clearly:
When you enter the ‘marketplace of ideas’ expect to be mocked. Even if you have spent thousands of dollars and years of your life accumulating a string of initials after your name
(so much so that you impress all your Christian firends and colleagues), it will count for nothing to those who despise your message. No Ph.D degree will make acceptable to the world a message which they find supremely foolish. In fact, the more effective you are in making that message known, the more certain you can be that the unregenerate will mock and reject it. If your academic studies make ou a substantially better exegete, theogian, and preacher–wonderful. But don’t get your feelings hurt when your degrees cannot buy you intellectual respectablity. Like Paul, if you are faithful to the message of Christ you are nothing more than a ‘seed-picker’ to the wise-men of this world. No matter. God is pleased, ‘through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.