Preaching Jewish in a Greek World

Greg Stier
Greg Stier
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I get asked alot about different methods of sharing Jesus. My standard response is “I like their way of sharing Jesus than the average Christian’s way of not sharing Jesus” (stolen and adapted for my blog friends from one of my heroes D.L. Moody.)

But, having said that, I do have a few gripes with some of the methodology that is prevalent out there today when it comes to sharing Jesus. The biggest, of course, is that many are not clear on the gospel of grace. But,  I guess, muddy water is better than no water at all.

Last week I was talking with one of our ministry partners and he mentioned some modern methods of evangelism that are, in his words, “preaching Jewish in a Greek world.” In other words he believes that some faith sharing methodologies miss the mark with the average American postmodern teenager.

By “preaching Jewish in a Greek world” he was referring of course to Paul using two different methods to reach two very different audiences in Acts 17.

In the first part of Acts 17 Paul is preaching to the Jews in the synogogue. I’m sure his opening went something like, “Open your scrolls to Isaiah 53….” He used the Old Testament to prove to his Yahweh-fearing, law loving audience that Jesus was the Messiah. Here’s how verses 2 and 3 of chapter 17 describe Paul’s method of preaching to and reaching Jews, “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.”

But a few verses later Paul is on Mar’s Hill preaching to Greek philosophers. He didn’t open with a passage from Scripture or take these Epicurean and Stoic brainiacs through a ten commandments survey. Instead he used something from their culture (the altar of the unknown god), quoted two pagan poets (the 1st Century equivalent of rock stars) and told the story of salvation starting with the creation of the universe and culminating with the resurrection from the dead. He explained the big picture of the Christian faith and took those who were interested and shared the gospel message in it’s full scope and intensity.

Now don’t get me wrong. He didn’t hesitate to share the “bad news” along with the “good news.” His sermon culminates with the unveiling of judgment day and the need for all men everywhere to repent and believe in the true and living God. Paul told the athenian intellegensia the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. He gave the “metanarrative” (a fancy way of saying “full story”) of the Christian faith. He created a context where the Greek mind, which was totally unfamiliar with the gospel, could understand and believe…or not.

What does this have to do with you and me as we minister to teenagers? Let’s not assume the teens we are sharing with understand the story of Christianity. Let’s not assume they accept and embrace the Scriptures as the Word of God. Instead let’s assume they don’t know the whole story and then let’s explain it to them with love and in a culturally relevant way. As we do let’s make sure we use illustrations they connect with and “quote the pagan poets” to clarify the full story of the Christian faith. As we do this we should not hold back on the bad news or the good news. We should use quotes from the Bible (but not necessarily their references) as we witness because the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword and will not return void (see I just did it!) But we must explain the gospel story in a way that is relevant to the minds of these teenagers.

Remember that the average teenager is more Greek (unfamiliar with the full story of Christianity and not accepting God’s Word as fully inspired) than Jewish. So before we unfurl our scrolls and start proving that Jesus is the messiah and that they fall short of God’s standards, let’s make sure they understand which God and gospel story we are talking about. The average teenager, like the average ancient Greek, has all sorts of altars they can bow before. Let’s bring them to the altar to the unknown God and make him known.

Become all things to all men. To the Jews speak Jewish. To the Greeks speak Greek. To the average American teenager use average American teen talk.

Speak the right language to the right audience in the right way. Let’s all take a clue from the second greatest evangelist ever to live, the apostle Paul.

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