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Here in Redditch this afternoon [Sunday 21st May 2017] I, will be taking part in a Faiths Walk. This will involve Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and some of no expressed religion walking and talking together. The walk will conclude with a discussion of how different faiths have evolved last 500 years.

Some sections of the Christian church find this sort of interaction difficult and might even go as far as to suggest we are dishonouring Christ by engaging, with those of other faiths, in this way.

Other parts of the Christian church might say, clearly we should engage because we all believe in God so have a common bond. What’s the problem!

I find our passage from Acts 17 a helpful challenge when considering how we interact with other faiths. And indeed, how we interact with an even more numerous group in the UK today, those of no expressed faith.

St Paul is in Athens. A great city but one that was living on past glories to a degree. Still a significant and respected place but, not what it once was. He has arrived ahead of his colleagues. In effect, he has some time for sight-seeing, but also follows his normal pattern, of starting preaching the Gospel in the Synagogue and then in the Market Place.

In our reading from Acts, we join Paul after local philosophers have become intrigued by Paul’s preaching. They take him to a sharing place for ideas, the Areopagus. What follows is Luke’s rendering of St Paul approach to preaching to non-Jews. Of Paul’s preaching out of context and culture. A different perspective to Paul writing to Christian communities as we find in the Epistles.

The first thing I note is that he did this at all. He didn’t say I cannot risk having my faith being polluted by talking with these people. Secondly, I note that, Paul starts by using points of connection. Scholars suggest that the style of his speech is that of Greek Philosophers in its early stages and it engages with what his site-seeing has revealed:

“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you."  (Acts 17:22-23 - NRSV)

As Paul has explored the city he has seen the countless idols but rather than condemning this outright he uses this as a starting point. He uses the altar to an “unknown god” as an opportunity to explore a Christian understanding of God.

An understanding of God where:

  • God is the creator of the world he does not dwell in a temple.
  • God created humanity, we have life through him and God does not need our service.
  • We are related – we are children of God and God calls us to seek him – to reach out to him.

Paul then with subtly and gentleness points to Jesus (the risen one) as judge. He points to Jesus as the one who saves us from our error and brings us into relationship with God.

But, the disagreement and discussion does not end there. There is no altar-call where all come and submit to Christ and Paul’s work is done. For some maybe that happens, but for others this was only the start of discovering Jesus.

So…can we use this as a way of relating to those of other faiths and those of no faith? Can we use Paul’s model?

  • Can we start by daring to understand those of other faiths and none?
  • Where are our points of connection with others outside of “church”?
  • Are we, individually, equipped to communicate the good news about Jesus with gentleness and in appropriate language?
  • Do we offer opportunities to continue to conversation in the Market Place or in the Areopagus!

More questions:

  1. Who or where is your Athens, Market Place or Areopagus?
  2. How should you speak of the Good News of Jesus to your non-church friends in a relevant way?