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 17:23)
We live today in a more complex world that is religiously pluralistic, secularized, globalized and open to all forms of knowledge. The world is very critical of the actions and inaction of contemporary Christians. Irrespective of the change in dynamics of how the modern world appears, it does not defeat or render null the Great Commission. Thus, a critical question that one ought to ask is how the Gospel can be propagated in such a religiously pluralistic world without offending the people of other faiths and not disrupting the peace we all yearn to attain. How does one witness Christ among interfaith communities? We must make a conscious effort to answer this question.
In Acts 17:23, there is a mission model, which I call “Paul’s model to interfaith missions”, that shows how Paul proclaimed Gospel in a religiously pluralistic context without engaging in unnecessary arguments or conflicts. This verse demonstrates some fundamental approaches to mission among people of a different faith.
First, the study or assessment of the people. Before addressing the Athenians, Paul observed and assessed their object of worship and had a fair idea about what they worshipped. I was a member of the University Christian Fellowship at the University of Ghana from 2013-2017. During those years, before we embarked on any mission journey, we would first send a delegation to do what we call “spiritual mapping.” This mapping would help us assess the people we encounter and how we should deal with them before we embark on missions. This knowledge gained from the mapping is the key to making our missions successful.
Second, Paul’s knowledge gained from his observation enabled him to start preaching his message. Paul began from the known to the unknown. He began by citing an inscription on an altar which read, “to the unknown God”, and preached to the people about his faith. Observation and assessment of people of other religions will enable us to begin our conversation about Christ with them. We must observe that Paul did not attempt to condemn their faith or speak ill of the knowledge and philosophies that they possessed. What he did was a reflection on such ideas in the light of the Gospel.
In this record, as we conclude this brief reflection, even though, as Christians, we observe and assess the people of other faiths to introduce them to our Lord and Savior, the act of conviction lies with the Holy Spirit (John 16:8).
Dear Lord, grant us wisdom and grace to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Savior. Enable us with the Holy Spirit that our proclamation may be harmonious and courteous to people of other faiths. Amen.
Samuel K.B. Nkrumah-Pobi, Azusa Revival Outreach Ministry, Ghana