Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Great Conversation
There was a day when people talked. Today when you pass a stranger on the sidewalk, there are no conversations about life, no regard for each other's experiential wisdom (what that person has been through in life and what he's learned from it), and no social permission to breach a discussion about issues of love, or God, or... anything, really. In fact, today you're lucky to get a silent head nod and not fear for your life when walking past a stranger. But there was a time when philosophy (the love of knowledge/wisdom/truth) was considered the most important pursuit in a man's existence. And so it was normal, if not expected, to run into a stranger on the street and engage him in conversation about, for example, the nature of the human soul.
Now, don't misunderstand here, my hope is not to be a philosopher; I was a C student through high school and I still only read when I "have to." But I want to continue this "Great Conversation," as its been called by many scholars, and to be sharpened by the knowledge and life experiences of my friends (and relative strangers). At the recommendation of my good friend, Dan (Pray Your Gods blog), I would like to begin a new series called "The Great Conversation" with this purpose in mind. I, or one of my blogging friends, will start a topic of discussion under the title "The Great Conversation," open it up to discussion, and then friends with blogs can post a response (rebuttal, if you will) on their own blog page. I'll spare you further explanation, it'll make sense as we go. And so, I'll open with a statement for our first discussion:
Many families cling to a "Christian-only" policy when it comes to books, movies, and music. And while I encourage protecting the minds of young kids, it's sad to me that Christians are growing up to adulthood with a subconscious belief that everything "secular" is bad. These kids grow up to be critical (rather than discerning) of everything that doesn't have a Christian label attached.
I would submit that God can use "secular" art (literature, theater, music, etc.) to accomplish His evangelistic purposes in our world today, just as He did through ancient paganism in the centuries before Christ's first advent. In ancient Greece, they didn't have an AMC, Barnes and Noble, or Flava' Flave (it wasn't all bad in ancient Greece); what they had was the theater. The theater wasn't just another source of mind-numbing over-stimulation like much (not all) of our entertainment is today; the theater was where deep-rooted issues of politics, war, and the human condition were expressed artistically through comic, tragic, lyric, or epic portrayals. The things performed on that stage were THE stories and, in many cases, the beliefs of that culture.
One such play was called "Prometheus Bound." The tragedy opens with Prometheus, a Titan god who created man and posesses the gift of prophecy, nailed to a rock on a mountain. The play unfolds as Prometheus recounts the events leading up to his punishment: Cronos, the god of the Titans, and Zeus, the god of the Olympians, were at war with one another. Prometheus, with his gift of prophecy (his name means "Forethinker") tried to counsel Cronos in his strategy against Zeus, but Cronos would not listen. So, in order to save himself and his family, the god Prometheus defected to the Olympians, and by his counsel, Zeus defeated Cronos. But then Zeus punished Prometheus by making plans to destroy all of mankind (Zeus wants to punish him because, like all tyrants, he distrusts even his closest friends for fear of his power being taken from him). Knowing that Prometheus is compassionate to the race of men (since he created them), Zeus hides the gift of fire from mankind, leaving them utterly incapable of performing their skills/crafts of survival, which would lead to their complete destruction. But Prometheus, the god, takes on human flesh and sacrifices his life in order to save and to bring light (fire) to the race of men. As a consequence, Zeus has Prometheus nailed to a rock on a mountain, where vultures will peck out his eyes every day forever.
This story (and many other Greek plays) would have been common and extremely well-known by everybody in that time (perhaps like you and I know the story of Cinderella). So when Paul comes to Greece with the Gospel ("good news") that there was a God who left His throne in heaven to take on human flesh, in order to be the "light of the world" and save men from the curse of death by Himself being nailed to a tree on a mountain... he was speaking their language, to say the least.
Did God take a pagan play about a polytheistic war and a god-man's sacrifice and use it as an evangelistic foundation for Paul to build upon? Could God have inspired those stories in the hearts of Greek men in order to prepare them for the coming of Christ? Does God commonly use "secular" expressions to make His work known to generations of people today, as it seems He did in ancient times?
I would submit that yes, He can and He does. Perhaps we should be less guarded as a "Christian" culture and more confidently aware of what God is working in the hearts of "secular" beings that could be foundational to our witness.
Please POST your thoughts (don't keep them to yourself); the whole point of this series is for you to contribute to the conversation. And after you've commented, please check out the above-mentioned friends' blogs for their responses (Pray Your Gods and Late Night Over Pancakes).