A philosopher and recent convert to Christianity named Justin wrote to the Emperor Antoninus Pius circa A.D. 155. Justin’s goal was to convince the emperor that Christians were not dangerous to the state and that being a Christian was not a crime. Justin made two basic arguments. First he assured the emperor that what Christians do is not all that different from some of the religious practices he had likely encountered.
His second argument stood behind the first. He wrote that, because of our creation by one God in his image, every race and tribe and nation craves an intimate relationship with that one God. The catch is that the one God has to reveal himself. Many (possibly all) religious traditions, Justin wrote, have a trace of the truth, a sensus divinitatis, because every human being has a sense of the divine. Christians believe, Justin explained, that the full revelation of the one God we all are seeking after is found in Jesus Christ. On our own we have broken antennae that only receive pops and clicks of God. In Christ the station comes in crystal clear.
This strategy for explaining the Christian faith, one packaged with a particular view of creation and anthropology, has found expression in every period of Christian history and it has always proven particularly useful. In Simply Christian, Bishop Tom Wright dusts off this 1,900-year-old strategy. Wright discusses our sensibilities about justice and beauty and how each one of us hungers for these things. The fullness of justice, though, only comes into view in the Kingdom of God, a sovereign rule revealed and then ushered in by Jesus Christ.
It’s obvious that there are many voices between Justin in 155 and Tom Wright today. But the unknown God needs to be made known in every age; in every age the church has to summon the spirit of Paul standing in the Areopagus — Mars Hill — and explain to those blown about by the winds of changing culture the immutable purposes of the God who desires to be known. We often speak about living in a pluralistic culture, but the truth is that 21st-century America cannot hold a candle to the pluralism of the ancient Mediterranean world. Here the old pantheon sat next to the new mystery cults. One made supplications to Apollo in the morning, burned incense to the emperor as a deity at noon, and was initiated into the cult of Mithras in the evening. And in Athens a strange, wind-burned Jew stepped into the forum north of the Acropolis, a place known as Ares Rock, and he said something strange to Athenian ears.
It was there, at the Acropolis, that Romans believed the god Ares was tried for murdering the son of Poseidon. It was, as a result, a place of criminal trials as well as devotion. The wind-burned Jew, wearied by travel, called out to them: I know that you have a sense of God, and in truth there is one God who gives life and breath to all; and now is the time to turn from idols and focus your eyes on this one God who has been there all along. Paul and Justin and so many others have found ways of sharing this truth, because the message of Easter — of God overcoming all boundaries, even death itself — is simply too good not to share.
Look It Up
Read Acts 17:22.
Think About It
How does God reveal himself?