In a paved section of London’s Hyde Park is Speaker’s Corner, where anyone can show up and wax eloquent or rant about current issues. Everyone from unknown citizens to Karl Marx can and has taken a stand at the park’s northeast corner—and endured spectators’ insults. The heckling goes with the territory.
But should it be? As Christ-followers, should we also delight in heckling those who hold beliefs that differ from orthodox Christianity? As the world presents its philosophies and paradigms about the person of Jesus Christ, how should we respond?
In Athens, Greece, there’s a Speaker’s Corner by another name—Mars Hill. Called the Areopagus in Acts 17:19, 22, the large rock formation that overlooks the Parthenon was named after Ares, the Greek god of war. The association with war is rather fitting considering the heated debates that took place there among ancient Greek philosophers. “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there,” the author of Acts tells us, “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (v. 21).
When Paul arrived in Athens, he grieved over the people’s idols (v. 16). But did he clench his fists and storm over to Mars Hill to call down God’s wrath against the Athenians? No. Instead, “he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day” (v. 17). He reasoned—and was reasonable.
Not only did he consistently “engage the culture,” but he did so in several venues—so much so that “a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him” (v. 18) and “brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’” (v. 19).
Bingo! Sock it to ’em, Paul. Time to tell the worshipers of false gods how misguided they are, right? Wrong. Acts 17:22 says, “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.’”
Wait a minute … what? He affirmed them? People who worshiped false gods? Aren’t we to be about the truth of Jesus?
Absolutely. Paul indeed spoke truth to the Athenians. But he looked around, observed the culture, and listened first. And he saw the philosophers’ invitation as an opportunity to take a stand for Christ. Yet he avoided humiliating them in the process.
Peter encouraged believers of his day to “always be prepared to give an answer … for the hope” they had in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15), and to do so “with gentleness and respect.” And his advice stands for us today. As we dialog with today’s “philosophers” about their “latest ideas” about the person of Christ, we should expect hecklers. It’s part of the world’s delight. But when it is our turn to take a stand at Speaker’s Corner or Mars Hill in our section of town, how will we answer? Should we angrily spout our defense, or should we proclaim our hope with gentleness and grace?
—Charles R. Swindoll