Apologetics and The Public Square
It seems like one of the greatest areas of pondering for the evangelical church over the last couple of years has been seeking to understand how to take biblical Christianity into the public sector. How does one engage as a Christian in politics? What is a Christian vision of education? How is it that we as believers honor the Lord Jesus Christ by proclaiming and living faithfully by the totality of His sufficient Word? In this post, I want to look at the specific area of actually taking Scripture into the public arena in order to declare the truth, call sinners to repentance, and teach what Christ has commanded.
Perhaps no greater example can be found than that of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. There are a few points to cover here in this section of Scripture, but foundationally verse 16 provides an incredibly valuable insight:
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. -Acts 17:16
Notice the provoking of the Apostle Paul at the worship of false deities. Fundamentally, he is not holding a position where he wants to try to come halfway between Christianity and paganism. No, his allegiance to the one true God causes his heart to be pricked when men are bowing before false gods. He is concerned about God’s glory primarily and the souls of those around him. That same motivation must be present in our own lives. Whenever we see the worship of false gods, allegiance to untrue doctrines, and the devotion of men to something other than God it should cause us to be provoked. Now, this provocation does not merely remain stagnant, instead, it takes action:
Later on in this chapter, the Apostle Paul finds himself at the Areopagus addressing many of the “worldly elites” of his day. It is interesting to note that in this text, it is seen that the Athenians had an altar to “the unknown god” and when Paul stands up to speak he points to that reality and says he will proclaim to them that which they are worshipping as unknown (Acts 17:23). In his declaration, Paul immediately begins to refute some of the cornerstone tenets of ancient paganism. For example, he clearly affirms not only the creative act of God in making the world but also the reality that God does not need us:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” -Acts 17:24
What the Apostle Paul does in this text is immediately proclaim the truth of Christianity in opposition to the religions of the day. Just as one illustration, he was talking to people who worshipped multiple gods as seen in the fact the city was filled with “idols” not just an idol (Acts 17:16). However, when Paul speaks, he talks about the God, not multiple deities, he discusses the one, true, and living Triune God. In addition, it is said that Paul had encountered the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in verse 16 of this chapter. As one example of Paul’s refutation of their errors, Dr. John MacArthur makes a key point by saying the Epicureans did not believe God became involved with the affairs of men (see MacArthur Study Bible on this verse). Paul said in verse 24 that it was God who gave life and breath to humanity and everything else. Do you see what he is doing here? He proclaims the truth directly in the face of the errors of his day, that is faithful engagement in the public square as a Christian.
What do we see so often by evangelicals in our day? They are bold when it comes to teaching the parts of Christianity that might be palatable to the culture, however, they become timid in the areas of disagreement wanting to win the audience’s approval. Notice friends, Paul starts his message right on the very place he knows they will disagree. He is talking to polytheistic pagans and the very first thing he says is “the God” pointing straight to the area of difference. That is courage, that is boldness, that is an unshakeable allegiance to the message of Christ. You and I must learn not to back down on the unpopular doctrines. If we only preach a Christianity that tickles the culture’s ears, then it is worldly wisdom, not biblical truth we are proclaiming. Christ defines the message we preach in His Word and we have been commissioned to declare the entirety of it (Matthew 28:18-20). Learning from the example of Paul, we must shine the bright light of truth on the errors of our own day so that God may be glorified and sinners might be saved by the power of Christ! The Apostle Paul told the pagans that God commanded them to repent
Another question we must ask ourselves as it pertains to taking Christianity into the public square is to seek to understand whether or not a negative response means we were unfaithful? Certainly, we do not want there to be a negative reaction because we were unbiblical in our preaching by demonstrating a wrathful anger or vengeful attitude, nor because we were unclear on the truth. However, Paul preached clearly, boldly, and rightly, yet we see a mixed response from his audience:
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. -Acts 17:32-34
Some individuals in God’s providential plan believed the Gospel, others mocked Paul, others wanted to hear him again later. Notice it is specifically for his belief, which in this case was the truth of the resurrection of the dead, for which they mocked Paul. The great truths of Christianity will receive mockery by sinners who are dead in their depravity and do not want to bow before Christ. We must be prepared for that fact as we take Christianity into the public square. If you are going to declare the biblical message and live faithfully with exclusive allegiance to Christ, you can be assured that there will be many who are unpleased with you just like they were with Paul, Peter, all of the Apostles, the early church, and Christians throughout history. Christian, understand this, our call is to live unflinchingly loyal to Christ. Biblical Christianity is not only about your personal life, it declares the reality that all must bow before the Lord or suffer His wrath. Our lives, both privately and publicly, are to be testimonies to His glory lived out by the power of His grace.
So, what do we learn as it pertains to bringing Christianity to the public square? We see the reality that we must preach the truth directly against the errors of our day. That undoubtedly takes courage and trust in Christ, but we as believers are called to exhibit these realities. We must inform ourselves of what Scripture teaches by studying it relentlessly. Our task is not to stop there, but to then go out into the world living and declaring that truth. We must defend it, we must strive to be a faithful example of it, and if need be, we must even die for it. That is the task and calling of the believer in their life. The public square is not a neutral arena, it belongs to Christ the king, let us as believers preach His glorious truth that He might be magnified!