Relevant Text: Acts 17:23
Full Text: Neh. 7Acts 17

Audience | When I think about how to “go and make disciples” in New York [1], I often tell myself, “Think Paul in Athens, not Paul in Jerusalem.” In Jerusalem, Paul preached Jesus as the fulfillment of the Scriptures. In Athens, however, Paul knew that the Greeks could’ve cared less about Jewish prophecies; they were obsessed with philosophy.

Athens | As Paul toured Athens, the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world, he saw idols and temples everywhere. Yet, instead of being impressed with their great architecture, he was “greatly distressed” [2]. So he decided to reason with their philosophers. His source material was their own imagery, not Scripture. He referenced an inscription he saw on one of their altars: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” [3], and he quoted their philosophers and poets [4]. His point? Just as Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Scriptures, he also fulfilled all wisdom and philosophy. As Paul concluded, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” [5].

New York | We may think our city is postmodern, but – like Athens – its icons reveal the truth. For example, in architecture, the New York Stock Exchange portico has a statuary tribute to Integrity, who protects “the works of men” [6]. Yet, as we all know by now, the stock market is hardly a protector. Jesus, on the other hand, “establishes the work of our hands” by protecting our eternal significance [7]. Also, in literature, no contemporary author compares with J.K. Rowling [8]. Yet, the immense popularity of her Harry Potter series reveals our longing for its gospel truths, e.g., substitutionary atonement, death and resurrection, and the victory of good over evil [9]. In the midst of our culture, therefore, we can say, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this we proclaim to you” [10].

Prayer | Lord, Teach us how to be faithful Christians in our culture – not condemning it, but engaging it and exploring its true longings. Today, as we pass by the icons of our culture, open our eyes to see how they reveal a deep longing for you so that we may creatively point to the all-satisfying joy of knowing you. Amen.



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[1] See Matt. 28:19  [2] Acts 17:16 ESV [3] Acts 17:22-23 ESV [4] See Acts 17:28 [5] Acts 17:23 ESV [6] NYSE History (click: here)  [7]  See Ps. 90  

[8]  The 7 Harry Potter novels sold more than 375M copies and were translated into 60+ languages between the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the original UK title) in 1997 and the end of 2007, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published. The first 5 movies each set records for opening box office and the series as a whole had, by early 2008, already surpassed both the 21-film James Bond series and the 6 Star Wars films as the most successful movie franchise of all time. John Granger, How Harry Cast His Spell (2008).

[9] John Granger, in his book How Harry Cast His Spellargues, “’Why do readers young and old love Harry Potter?’ … The answer, believe it or not, is very simple, if frequently misunderstood. Readers love Harry Potter because of the spiritual meaning and Christian content of the books” (Introduction) (2008). See also Andrew Peterson, Harry Potter, Jesus and Me (July 11, 2011).  

[10] In J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay, On Fairy Stories, he argues that the great stories of all time are considered great because their truths are rooted in the Truth of Jesus. Thus, as children read fairy-stories and ask, “Is it true?” and, indeed, long for them to be true, we read the Gospel and our hearts leap with joy and ask, “Is it true?” and it is! As he concludes in his epilogue, “The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality of truth. It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’ The answer to the question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): ‘If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.’ That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the ‘eucatastophe’ we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue … I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels – peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels if the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath” (1947).