Paul At Athens — Part II (The Unknown God & Natural Theology)

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

In giving only one sermon addressed to Gentiles by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, namely the Aeropagus speech in Athens, his (Luke’s) primary purpose is to give an example of how the Christian missionary should approach cultured Gentiles.

Martin Dibelius
Studies in the Acts Of The Apostles

St. Paul is brought before the Aeropagus to be examined about his bringing forth doctrines of strange gods. Note that now that Paul is in this formal setting their is no longer any ‘seed picker’ language being used. Instead what we find, fitting for a governing council, is a polite request ‘to know of this new doctrine of which you speak,’ and the reason give for the request is that the Apostle is bringing ‘strange things to their ears,’ and they want to know what these things mean. We would say immediately here that there was a reason that they found what Paul was saying was ‘strange.’ That reason is simply because they were thinking with a pagan plausibility structure while the Apostle was thinking according to a Biblical worldview. This recognition helps to understand the methodology of conflict and contrast that the Apostle uses to defend the Gospel. Precisely because their paradigms were so radically antithetical the Apostle could not appeal to brute facts because even though all the facts were shared between Paul and his opponents none of interpretation of the facts were agreed upon. So, as we shall see in the Apostle’s evangelistic methodology, when he engages his opponents he engages them both in regards to facts and in regard to proper interpretive paradigm in which those facts must exist in order to be seen as the facts that they are. This means that the metaphor for evangelism should be ‘train wreck’ and not ‘bridge building.’

The Apostle has been asked to give meaning to his proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection. We should immediately note here that the Apostle does not use a evidentialist approach in this apologetic. He does not try to build overwhelming evidence that would lead the Athenians to conclude that there was a very high percentage that indeed Jesus rose from the grave. Given the time + circumstance + chance theological framework of the Athenians such a presentation of the evidentiary fact of the resurrection could only have been seen as an absurdity. People without a biblical philosophy of fact will never embrace facts as having biblical meaning. Knowing this, what the Apostle does is to build the framework of a presuppositional approach which first provides a over-arching Creation narrative as a theological – philosophical backdrop against which the resurrection of Jesus makes sense. Just as Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t make sense in a Pirate movie, neither could the resurrection make sense in a Athenian Worldview, therefore the Apostle begins his defense of Jesus and the Resurrection with Creation.

Before we get to involved in the Apostle’s methodology, proclamation, and defense of the Gospel we should make some observations about his introduction. First, he notes that they were ‘very religious.’ The Greek word and concept is somewhat difficult to get into the english language. To translate it as ‘very religious’ is to complimentary but to translate it as ‘somewhat superstitious’ is to pointed. In the ancient world the term could be used as a compliment but more often it gave the meaning of an excess or strange piety. Who knows, maybe Paul used this phrase precisely because it could have been taken in different ways by the council. The ambiguity of the phrase could have made two points for him at one time. If the address was taken as ‘very religious’ the Apostle would have brought home the point that man cannot escape the idea of God (something that the Epicureans would have disagreed with) but if the address was taken as ‘somewhat superstitious’ then the Apostle would have brought home how it is that fallen man twists the supernatural to fit his God avoidance agenda. In short the term, by way of inference, teaches what the Apostle teaches in Romans 1 when he writes that man cannot escape the knowledge of God and precisely because he cannot escape the knowledge of God he perverts the knowledge of God so as to lie to himself that he has escaped the knowledge of God.

By appealing to their worship of the ‘Unknown God’ the Apostle continues with this subtle critique against them. Paul can appeal to this Unknown God not because he believes that in this appeal he has found neutral ground with the Athenians on the Character of God. He chooses this altar as his cultural preaching text on the basis that it provides common ground. The common ground is found in the ground shared between the Athenians and the Apostle where they have made provision for worship of some deity that might have slipped through the net of their god seizing culture and where the Apostle can proclaim to them the character of the one true God. However, it must be emphasized that common ground is not neutral ground. The Athenians and Paul share this common ground but the Athenians, unless regenerated by the Spirit of the living Christ, will deny everything that the Apostle has to say to them about this putatively Unknown God. In working from the Unknown God the Apostle most emphatically does not appeal to what they know of this Unknown God by way of a shared natural theology between himself and the Athenians. Quite to the contrary he begins not from what they know but from what they say they don’t know. He thus brings attention to their ignorance and not to their understanding gained about the gods from Natural theology. Indeed, in the ancient world, the whole idea about ‘Unknown God’s’ and the altars built unto was based on complete and total ignorance. Cases are recorded where peoples were sent some kind of deliverance and not knowing which god was responsible for interceding on their behalf they would build an altar to that god. Now unless there are those who wish to contend that Natural Theology is premised on complete ignorance of those practicing it, there is no way that Paul is appealing to some shared notion of Natural Theology by which to lead the Athenians to understand the God of the Bible given their God hating worldview.

In the end, the Apostle by noting their worship of the Unknown God is giving a subtle internal critique of the Athenian Worldview serving to expose their contradictions. If God is unknown then by definition he cannot be known to build altars to. They could not know what they could not know and they could not whistle it either. And yet, these gods which they say are unknown are known enough to be worshiped. In exposing this contradiction he could have have said that ‘although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.’

Whether one is dealing with Athenians, Academians, or Americans one cannot start with a perverted Natural Theology and reason to a pristine Biblical Theology. To insist that one can start with fallen presuppositions and arrive at biblical theology would be like insisting that one can start with horse manure and finish with Chocolate cake.

Let The Race Conversation Begin

“Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.”

Well, as all conversations go in two directions Pat Buchanan has some good questions that he would like raised in this budding conversation.

“Is white America really responsible for the fact that the crime and incarceration rates for African-Americans are seven times those of white America? Is it really white America’s fault that illegitimacy in the African-American community has hit 70 percent and the black dropout rate from high schools in some cities has reached 50 percent?

Is that the fault of white America or, first and foremost, a failure of the black community itself?

As for racism, its ugliest manifestation is in interracial crime, and especially interracial crimes of violence. Is Barack Obama aware that while white criminals choose black victims 3 percent of the time, black criminals choose white victims 45 percent of the time?

Is Barack aware that black-on-white rapes are 100 times more common than the reverse, that black-on-white robberies were 139 times as common in the first three years of this decade as the reverse?”

Ed Kaitz at the ‘America Thinker’ likewise has something to throw into our engaging conversation on racial relations. Ed, speaks of a conversation that he once had,

“While I had been (working on a Vietnamese owned) fishing (boat) my new black friend (I had met on my airline flight) had been working as a prison psychologist in Missouri, and he was pursuing a higher degree in psychology. He was interested in my story, and after about an hour getting to know each other I asked him point blank why these Vietnamese refugees, with no money, friends, or knowledge of the language could be, within a generation, so successful. I also asked him why it was so difficult to convince young black men to abandon the streets and take advantage of the same kinds of opportunities that the Vietnamese had recently embraced.

His answer, only a few words, not only floored me but became sort of a razor that has allowed me ever since to slice through all of the rhetoric regarding race relations that Democrats shovel our way during election season:

“We’re owed and they aren’t.”

In short, he concluded, “they’re hungry and we think we’re owed. It’s crushing us, and as long as we think we’re owed we’re going nowhere.”

And I will add my own conversational contributions.

How can any of us expect any kind of progress on race issues when the kind of vitriol that poured forth from Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s mouth in those recorded sermons continues in locations throughout America? If you watched the video’s closely you will see that the church is chock full of young people whooping and hollering over the ‘truth’ that Rev. Wright offered about the evil of the cracker kingdom in which they all lived. Are we really going to make advance in this ‘conversation’ if generation after generation are filled with such bitterness?

Of The Making Of Moral Equivalence Arguments There Is No End

It seems that the machine continues to try and justify the words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Most recently what is being attempted is trying to equate the words of Wright with the words of well known orthodox ministers, such as Francis Schaeffer. What is hope to be accomplished is not only that Wright’s words will be seen as justified but also that orthodox ministers will be seen as extremist as Wright.

Unfortunately, it is Franky Schaeffer that is leading the charge against his own dead father’s memory. In a column written yesterday Franky wrote that,

When my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Franky seems to forget that not all denouncements are equal. Francis Schaeffer’s denouncements were against those matters which Scripture denounces, and Franky’s Dad didn’t suggest that the sins of this country belonged uniquely to any one people group. Wright on the other hand denounced a country and a people that in the last 50 years has bent over backwards to accommodate black sensibilities — to the great harm of black and white people alike. The accommodation of which we speak has come in the form of Welfare, Quotas, Family, and Education policy and legislation and has only made muckier the mire that many black people are stuck in while at the same time impoverishing a nation while creating a new plantation massa class in governmental politicians and bureaucrats to which blacks and whites are both enslaved. Franky apparently remains too bitter towards his father and towards what his father built in order to see that not all denunciations are created equal.

Franky goes on with his immoral moral equivalence argument,

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the “murder of the unborn,” has become “Sodom” by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, “under the judgment of God.” They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted “controversial” comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.

America should be condemned for what Franky notes above. Wright fault wasn’t in saying God D*&% America. Wright’s fault is that his purported evidence couldn’t carry the weight of his indictment. Wright also made blanket bigoted statements against white people as a whole — something that his father never did regarding any people group. Wright’s comments weren’t mild because Wright’s comments, unlike Franky’s fathers, missed the mark. 1.3 million aborted children annually confirm America’s indictment. Nobody can confirm that the American government infected black people with AIDS per Wright’s indictment. If any minister is going to say that ‘we are under the judgment of God’ he better have his facts straight. Wright didn’t.

Finally, on this score, Wright made it clear on the video clip that he wasn’t going to sing God Bless America because “uh uh uh, God D*&^ America,” suggesting that his congregants would be better served singing that refrain. There are few people that are harder on the sins of this nation then myself but I sing ‘God Bless America’ with passion because it is my desire that God would bless America. I don’t want God to D*&% America though I know a just God eventually will unless we repent.

Franky, you’re comparing apples and mosquito bites.

Franky continues quoting from His Father’s book, “A Christian Manifesto” — a book that every thoughtful Christian should read,

If there is a legitimate reason for the use of force [against the US government]… then at a certain point force is justifiable….

In the United States the materialistic, humanistic world view is being taught exclusively in most state schools… There is an obvious parallel between this and the situation in Russia [the USSR]. And we really must not be blind to the fact that indeed in the public schools in the United States all religious influence is as forcibly forbidden as in the Soviet Union….

There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate… A true Christian in Hitler’s Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state. This brings us to a current issue that is crucial for the future of the church in the United States, the issue of abortion… It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s law it abrogates it’s authority. And our loyalty to the God who gave this law then requires that we make the appropriate response in that situation…

Again, Franky wants us to believe that this language is at least as bad, if not worst then what Rev. Jeremiah Wright said. But consider that Dr. Schaeffer’s diagnosis was accurate, whereas Rev. Wright’s comments were not accurate. The reason that Wright has incensed so many people is not because he is a black man and people are showing their racism by having a different standard for him then what was applied to Francis Schaeffer. The reason that Wright has incensed so many people is that the reasons that he is giving for his indictment is either old news that no longer is the current coin(Tuskegee experiments, Jim Crow) or is just plain loopy (Government infecting black population with AIDS).

Franky complains that a double standard is also seen in the Wright case in the response each has generated. Franky says his dad was wined and dined by the Republican political establishment when he gave his sermons while quite to the contrary Wright is being vilified. Franky complains that while his dad was embraced the outcry is for Wright to be denounced. The answer to that though is easy to see. What Dr. Schaeffer was saying resonated with people. People could see that a tectonic cultural shift had taken place and they sensed that Dr. Schaeffer had his finger on the pulse of the reasons behind that shift. Rev. Jeremiah Wright on the other hand is in lala land with his accusations. They bear no correspondence to reality. It is the difference between embracing a physician who rightly diagnosis gangrene in the right leg of a sick man, calling for it to be cut off, and repudiating a physician for wrongly diagnosing gangrene in the left leg of a sick man, when in point of fact it is the right arm that is gangrenous. There is no moral equivalence between Franky’s Dad and Rev. Wright, nor is there any double standard between those who heaped accolades upon physician Schaeffer while repudiating physician Wright.

Continuing with Franky,

Take Dad’s words and put them in the mouth of Obama’s preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet when we of the white Religious Right denounced America white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words “godly” and “prophetic” and a “call to repentance.”

I don’t believe this is true. Speaking only for myself if you took the exact same words of Dr. Francis Schaeffer and put them in the mouth of an inner city Black minister I would be sending checks to his ministry. Franky’s words reveal that not only does he harbor hatred for his immediate family but also that he harbors hatred for his people in general.

I am saddened for Francis that his son has made an argument that suggests that his dad was no better or worse then Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Responding To Dr. R. Scott Clark

Dr. R. Scott Clark of Westminster West keeps missing the problems inherent in radical two kingdom theology. In an article he posted recently on his heidelblog site he tried to show how radical two kingdom theology would rescue the day when it comes to social concerns as well as continue to provide impetus to not compromise the Gospel by signing documents like Evangelicals and Catholics together (ECT).

First we should note that there are great numbers of people who are not radical two kingdom Reformed people that didn’t sign the ECT document. This reality demonstrates that the desire for co-belligerence in the civil realm does not necessarily lead to compromise on the Gospel. Those Reformed people who signed the ECT document were in egregious error. Those Evangelical people who signed it were just be consistent with their Evangelicalism. Dr. Clark should realize that the semi-pelagianism inherent in Evangelicalism serves more to explain the Evangelical signatories of ECT then Clark’s explanation that the cause of such evangelical declension is a lack of his radical two kingdom theology. The common front that was pursued in the ECT document is explained by the reality that Theologically, Evangelicals and Romanists really do share a common front, due to the synergism that is involved in both camps. In order to be as plain as possible Dr. Clark needs to realize that even if Evangelicals had owned a radical two kingdom theology that would not have necessarily kept them from signing ECT. Actually, ECT should have been called ‘Synergists Together.’

Clark desires to explain ECT as a document that was motivated by the desire to rally conservatives together to form a common alliance against the inroads of modernity, aping earlier work that existed in Britain in the 60’s. What Clark doesn’t seem to understand is that it is possible for people to be conservative and still be semi-pelagian — if even only as their theology is expressed pragmatically. I’ve read the McGrath volume that Clark cites and it was the same type of cast of conservative synergists in the 60’s in Britain that was seeking to build coalitions as it was in the 90’s in America. The common fault then and now was and is synergism and not a lack of Clark’s radical two Kingdom theology among the signatories. The doctrine of Justification did not get in the way in Britain or in America for the signatories because they were janus faced in their theology. Radical two kingdom theology would not have healed their janus faces.

Dr. Clark keeps insisting that if only Evangelicals had held radical two kingdom theology they wouldn’t have signed the document, but it seems to me that, at least theoretically speaking, there is no reason why an Arminian Evangelical couldn’t be radical two kingdomist, and so have signed the document. It seems to me the only reason that such an eventuality didn’t happen is because radical two kingdom theology is so obscure that only a very select breed of people embrace it.

Dr. Clark insists on the cure of radical two kingdom theology for weak kneed Evangelicals. The problem here is that the cure is worse than the disease. What consistent Evangelicals (guys like J. I. Packer) should have done, is that instead of signing the document they should have told the folks from Rome,

“Look, y’all, we’re never going to agree on Justification or on the Gospel, but you know what — we can still be co-belligerents in the culture wars, on particular issues. We are going to have to remain divided on the Gospel, but we can unite on any number of other issues.”

The last thing they should have said is what Clark might have told them,

“Look, y’all, Christ’s Word doesn’t apply to what we call the common realm — but we can still work together as individuals by appealing to something subjective that is called natural law. Now, if we all together objectify the subjective and agree and pretend that our mutually agreed upon objectified subjective is really objective we can make sure that the world doesn’t get as evil as our eschatology says it must — at least not to hastily.”

Clark goes on to site the things that natural law teaches that could be common ground for Roman Catholics, Reformed, Evangelicals, Muslims, Hindus, and Mormons. The problem of course is that those self-evident things that Clark insists that all these people can agree upon are only self-evident things when people have been conditioned by a largely Christian institutional framework that they have been informed by over the centuries. Try to get someone from the Democratic party to agree that liberty vs Statism is self-evident. Try to get someone from the house of Saud to agree that sharia isn’t self evident. Try to get someone from queer nation to agree that heterosexuality is self-evident. Dr. Clark refuses to see that natural law is not going to solve these problems, and indeed, that these people likewise appeal to their own versions of his precious natural law theory.

Dr. Clark finishes his article by insisting that in this world there are two Kingdoms. We agree. The problem is that for radical two kingdomists, like Clark, there is a desire to divorce the two Kingdoms from one another as opposed to merely distinguishing them in a way that non-radical two kingdom folk would. We agree that the Spiritual Kingdom finds its central expression in the Church. We agree that “in the Christian life we live by the law of God in the grace of God by faith.” However we also believe that the Christian life, lived by the law of God, in the grace of God by faith, means that we together build public institutions that reflect a people who are living by the law of God, and who are kept by the grace of God by faith. We agree with Clark when he says “that the power and authority of the visible church is spiritual and it touches spiritual ends: faith and sanctity and its means are spiritual: Word, sacrament, and discipline.” But we also insist that the spiritual ends that he speaks of, faith and sanctity, end up incarnating themselves in realms outside of the Church. Further we believe that the Word he speaks of, applies not only to individual piety but also to the public piety of Kings, Economists, Journalists, Lawyers, Educators, Artists, etc., and that the Word needs to be brought to bear on the public realm. We agree with Clark “that law is revealed in nature, in the human conscience and is universally known by humans.” Where we part with Dr. Clark is where he refuses to embrace the scripture that teaches that fallen men suppress that law revealed in nature and conscience. Finally we agree that “Christians, who live in both kingdoms simultaneously, may cooperate as members of the civil kingdom toward common ends without agreeing on the sorts of issues entailed in ECT.” Where we disagree is that when we are working on common ends with unbelievers, we, unlike Clark, realize that we are agreeing with people who are being inconsistent with their religious presuppositions which should have them behaving in a very different way. Thank God for common grace and providence.

Dr. Clark continues to advocate for a realm where religion or religious presuppositions don’t apply. He continues to advocate for the active pursuit of irreligion in what he calls the ‘common realm.’ Such theology is most unfortunate.

Hypocrisy on Stilts

From an article dated 11 April, 2007 recording a interview with Barack Hussein Obama.

“I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus,” Obama told ABC News, “but I would also say that there’s nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude.”

“He didn’t just cross the line,” Obama said. “He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It’s one that I’m not interested in supporting.”

“And the notion that somehow it’s cute or amusing, or a useful diversion, I think, is something that all of us have to recognize is just not the case. We all have First Amendment rights. And I am a constitutional lawyer and strongly believe in free speech, but as a culture, we really have to do some soul-searching to think about what kind of toxic information are we feeding our kids,” he concluded.

So, Senator Barack Hussein Obama believed that Don Imus should have been fired for referring to female Black Basketball players as ‘nappy headed ho’s,’ but the vile vitriolic hatred that spewed from Jeremiah Wright’s mouth must be understood in the larger context of American racism?

I know … I know … the double standard is a black thing and so I wouldn’t understand.

If you haven’t been able to tell, I am definitely exercised over this bilge.