4 Tips from Paul for Cross Cultural Witnessing
Sunday 30 June 2019
Have you ever been burdened by the brokenness around you and had a heart to share the hope of Jesus, but found that the culture and context was just so daunting? Pastor David Weng shares four tips based on Paul's sermon to the Areopagus, the highest council in Athens. Paul was up against a hundred highly intellectual people and philosophers in a place that was the centre of philosophy. Furthermore, the people at the council were from a different background to him, one that included idol worship and superstitious beliefs.

Today, we can face similar challenges when attempting to share the good news. People consider themselves to be intellectuals and may come from very different backgrounds to us. The following are four tips for cross-cultural witnessing.

Acts 17:16-34
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods."
Tip #1 - Do Not Change the Gospel Message

Paul presented the gospel message undiluted, unmodified and unchanged. This is essential as the people with whom we share the good news may want to add the gospel message to their existing spiritual practices such as ancestor worship. As Christians, we believe that God is the Creator of all things good. To turn back to him and repent involves forsaking all other objects of worship. We see Paul's boldness again in verse 31 when he warns the people of what is to come.

However, before revealing this truth, he begins by building a bridge with this foreign culture (tip #2).
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead."
Tip #2 - Establish a point of contact

If sharing the gospel message is point B, Paul starts by acknowledging their point A. Notice that he does not insult their beliefs, but he does not affirm them either. Instead, he establishes a point of contact, a sense of commonality, so he can build a bridge.

In today's world, it would be hard to find a true atheist. Most people are spiritual in some way. Their spirituality may stem from a belief in "The Universe", an "unknown god or gods", "themselves", or the ideas that "everything is god" or "god is in everything".
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 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. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
Tip #3 - Find Familiar Concepts for Illustrations

When Paul was in Athens, he observed the spiritual practices of the Athenians. He examined their background to find familiar concepts. He was aware that he was up against two main schools of philosophy. One was that of the stoics who had a pantheistic view and sought harmony with nature because they believed that "everything is god and god is everywhere and everything". The other was that of the epicureans who did not fear God or want to fear death. They pursued a life of pleasure, not wanting to be accountable to a God.

Paul sought to use concepts with which they were familiar to illustrate his point which was anchored in God's truth. The Illustrations used do not have to be explicitly found in the bible but must undoubtedly represent a biblical truth. Since the Athenians were cultured in poetry, Paul used the words of their own poets.
28 'For in him we live and move and have our being. 'As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' 29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Tip #4 - Leave the results to God

We need to be faithful in preaching the gospel and should leave the results to God. When it is time to move on and present the gospel to the next person, we must do so faithfully. It is not in our control to make a person believe. Paul preached and "after this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth" (Acts 18:1).
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The gospel message should never be changed or diluted, but the approach can be changed. We can change our approach based on the cultural background of the people to whom we are preaching. This is cross-cultural witnessing. Like the Apostle Paul, come with a heart and a burden but come prepared.

Author: Hien Banh
Photography: Sanjay Stephen Chelliah