Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The New Athenians:

In Acts 17, Paul met a group of people who "used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:21, NASB95) So, when this little Jewish guy showed up talking about a strange god and the teaching associated with his worship they were ready to show up and jaw about it.
OK, I'll confess I just got something in my email in box that smacked me a little, so make allowances for the personal, here, but I'm struck by how many of the decisions and changes that people, especially young people make are motivated by the quest for novelty.
It seems that the folk who met Paul on Mars Hill were looking for something new to think about it. "Tell us something that will stimulate our minds, challenge the old ways of thinking, or give us an opportunity to practice our skills of argumentation. Some of my New-Athenian friends share that spirit. They are constantly reading, searching the web, blogging, and talking over their favorite adult-beverage. More of them, though, in my limited experience are not after something new to think about a novel experience. I have noticed for years that Boomers like me tend to buy stuff, houses--then bigger houses, cars--then nicer cars, clothes--then more clothes, etc.--closets, garages, and storage units full of stuff. The late George Carlin's routine about stuff was so funny because it was true. (I'm not posting a link, because his routine is also somewhat vulgar.) But I digress, back to the NewAthenians, they come from a generation who seem to be more interested in buying experiences than stuff. Their parents have full houses, they have passports full of stamps and frequent-flier accounts overflowing with points.
Mom says, "You would think since our son-in-law, has decent job, that he and Sally could afford a decent bed for the guest room." Dad replies, "Well, I don't wonder. Have we ever been to Europe?"
Paul told Timothy, "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." (2 Timothy 4:3, NASB95) If possible I think we are beyond that. Not only do the New-Athenians want to have their ears tickled, but the other four senses as well. Music is not evaluated based on whether it communicates truth, but by whether it is contemporary, cutting-edge, relevant, in a word new. Churches spend a great deal of effort and money making things look, feel, sound, and smell right (I'm not talking merely about properly cleaning bathrooms, but incense, etc. Since many new ministries adopt a coffee-shop motif, and other contemporary pastors and evangelists seem to think that it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation with a person of this generation without sharing beer or ale, even taste must be included in the mix. Stuff comes to my inbox all the time, from church decor, to stuff to project, to new paradigms for preaching and ministry, to new music, to books that promote new stuff, it is clear that a who industry has built up around reaching out the New Athenians.

That day on Mars Hill Paul presented something revolutionary. A concept so out-of-the-box that it stretched the impress-me-with-something-new minds of all but a few of the Athenians to the point of rejection. I fear that in the same way New Athenians reject this truth.
I fear that Athenians Old and New are looking for something with which to amuse themselves, something to tickle their ears (and other senses). The truth Paul was presenting, if accepted, radically changes lives. "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33) So Paul went out of their midst. 34) 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, NASB95)
The five senses are gateways for the communication of truth. There is certainly nothing wrong with presenting that truth in stimulating, artistic, even entertaining ways, but bottom-line the question cannot be:
"Is it new?"
"Did I like it?" or
"Do I feel better?"
But, "Is it true?" and if it is, "Am I willing to change my life accordingly?"

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