“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…’” (Acts 17:28)
The other day I was asked for a book recommendation after our Wednesday night Bible study. After some discussion, I suggested the book “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Harrison Warren. It’s a wonderful little book that articulates how the mundane, ordinary parts of everyday life can be opportunities for us to worship God. Of course, the irony was not lost on me that I was a Southern Baptist pastor recommending a book by an Anglican priest, and female at that (*gasp*)! This past week I’ve been reading (the now classic) “Hillbilly Elegy,” a book about growing up in a poor Appalachian family. What do these books have to do with my conservative, reformed, baptistic worldview? Well, nothing. And yet, everything.
The Apostle Paul was once engaged in a discussion with Greek philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic schools (cf. Acts 17:18). Upon hearing Paul, they brought him to the Areopagus in Athens where he preached to all who gathered. During his address in which he proclaimed the Gospel of King Jesus, he quoted the Greek poets Epimenides and Aratus (v. 28). These were poets, authors, and philosophers with whom these people would’ve been quite familiar. To study the life of Paul is to discover that he was highly intelligent, extremely studious, and well-versed in the philosophies of his day. Paul was no one-trick pony. He used his knowledge, his mind, to serve the advancement of the Gospel. While it is true that he warned his readers to never be taken captive by worldly philosophies (cf. Col 2:8), it is also true that he demonstrated on more than one occasion that philosophy can indeed be the “handmaiden of theology.”
So, here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that we should never study our own doctrine, our own beliefs, and authors within our own tribe (obviously). I’m not saying that it is an absolute necessity to be as well acquainted with other ideas as the Apostle Paul (after all, he was a pretty special case!). However, what I am saying is open your eyes, open your ears, and open your mind to the world and people around you. Sometimes I think we fear what might happen if we go too far down the rabbit hole. But, as long as we keep our doctrinal essentials firmly established and don’t become “so open minded that our brains fall out,” then we can become more conversant with those around us, more aware of their worldview, more sensitive to their journey, and more effective as we try to articulate the Gospel in a way they will comprehend. Ultimately, the power of conversion is in the Spirit of God using the Word of God to accomplish the purposes of God- not in our ability to “make people get it.” Nevertheless, I remain convinced that we earn a wider audience if we are able to understand their world. But, beyond evangelism, reading “beyond our tribe” will strengthen our own convictions, challenge our misconceptions, and sharpen our thinking. So, don’t be afraid to try something new. You might just learn a thing or two.
Soli Deo Gloria!