Lecture 5: Miracles and Evangelism
Lecture 5: Miracles and Evangelism
a. Examples from Africa
One of my brothers-in-law is a professor of New Testament at a seminary in Cameroon. He is also the dean of the seminary and a pastor of a large church there. They both introduced me as Pastor by the name of Andrew Newmodzy and they attested to his credibility. He gave me a number of accounts for healings of which God had blessed him in this way. One of the accounts was concerned with a girl named Olive who was only six years old. She had been pronounced dead in the hospital and the parents had been desperate for something to happen. They tried to get a second opinion but the doctors all agreed that she was dead. There was nothing they could do for her. So the parents brought the child to the church right into the pastor’s office and laid her on a table. It was evening and the assistant pastor was just beginning to start a prayer meeting; it was roughly eight hours after the child had died. They laid her on a table asking them to pray for her. The assistant pastor was saying that this wasn’t a morgue or a hospital; it is a church. Please take the body out, we are very sorry for this, but Pastor Andrew said no, let me pray for her. I feel that the Lord wants me to pray. He told the assistant pastor to go out and start the prayer meeting. So Pastor Andrew prayed for Olive; a little while later during the prayer meeting, the pastor, the parents and Olive walked into the prayer meetings and shocked the assistant pastor. After Pastor Andrew finished telling me this; this was five years later and the girl was still well. So, afterwards, my translator turned to me and said that he had actually heard this story once before. He had heard it from the assistant pastor. I visited Congo Brazzaville where my wife is from and she put me in touch with a number of people there. These were people from Eglease Evangelic Congo; that the mainline protestant denomination there in the Congo. This is the largest Congo Congregation in Congo Brazzaville. Congo Brazzaville is a fairly small country with about three million people at the time. Catholics are much larger than Protestants there. This denomination was less than a million people. Now, all of these examples are from this particular denomination as these are the people my wife knew and that we were able to talk with. Pastor Swami, the president of the denomination had an account about his own son being raised. My wife knows him and these others were very close friends to the family. One is a deacon in the Evangelical Church of the Congo; she gave me three eyewitness accounts with some having other witnesses available including one of my brother’s in law, named Emanuel.
One of the accounts she gave me was of child that was still born. This afore mentioned deacon was a midwife during the war in the Congo; she had been trained by the World Health Organization and she had helped deliver this child. The child was born with the cord around her neck and she wasn’t breathing and had already turned gray. It was fairly clear that the baby had already died inside the mother’s womb. The father went out and started building the coffin. But Momma Joan as she is locally called and two other people, the mother and another woman banded together and prayed. When the father returned from building the coffin, the child was now alive and is now in school. Another example which is even closer in the family; this is an example from Papa Elbare Beswasway and his wife Julie Ann Beswasway. Papa Beswasway was a school inspector many years ago in the north of Congo. One day he was coming back from his office and he found a crowd gathered around a dead girl. This girl had died that morning and they had taken her to various traditional healers who would sacrifice different animals to spirits trying to revive her. They had smeared the blood into her mouth, nose, eyes and ears and now her body was now laying in front of Elbare Beswasway’s home. Papa Beswasway asked why they had brought the dead body to him. They replied we tried all these other things; we want to see if the Christian God can do anything. He responded, ‘why didn’t you bring her here last? You should turn from all these other spirits and turn to the true and living God.’ He took her aside and prayed for about half an hour and he presented her back alive to them. This made a big impression in this village; so much so, the next time a child died, they came looking for him again, but he was out of town. They found his wife and ask her to pray and she did. The Lord gave her the strength to do it because afterwards she didn’t know how she could had managed it. But she prayed to the Lord who raised Lazaret and the child came back to life. I ask them whether they had ever prayed for children who didn’t come back to life. No, we had never prayed for anyone else to come back to life. This is what God chose to do; this is not something normal in our lives.
Another account from Andante Molambey isn’t as dramatic as other accounts, but it had more of an impact on me personally. I had heard this account already, but I wanted to be able to talk with the eyewitness and so Andante Molambey told the story. When her daughter Tares was about two years old, she cried out that she was bitten by a snake. Her mother got to her and found her not breathing. There was no medical help available in the village. Let me say that these miracles show us the kinds of things God cares about and we should care about the same thing. But she knew that a family friend was doing ministry in a nearby village and so she took the child and went there. After she got there, Coco Molise prayed for the child and the child started breathing again and the next day she was fine. The child didn’t have any brain damage. Now she is an adult and has completed a master’s degree in Cameroon and is now doing ministry back in the Congo. As it turns out, Tares is my wife’s sister. Andante Molambey is my wife’s mother and not to question one’s mother-in-law, we did consult with Coco Molise and he also confirmed the story as the other eyewitness.
There are other accounts from the Congo; Sarah Spear, a Canadian nurse there that we know very well. She also told us of a baby being raise through prayer twenty minutes after the medical had given up on him. He survived and the baby also miraculously survived. Well, whatever we think about these other cases; natural miracles are certainly not psychosomatic. There are a number of accounts in Indonesia during the different revivals; one such was in the 1960’s as well as in the early 20th century. In one such revival in West Timor, there were massive reports of miracles taking place. There was a western researcher who did believe that God could sometimes do miracles. He went to research these miracles in the midst of the revival and he personally saw the blind being able to see. There had been other accounts of healings from others. Another such account in Papua New Guinea was reported to me by Donna Ruakurea. She was telling me about a ministry team where she was working with a leader named Candeewa. And it was during the worst drought in memory in Papua New Guinea. They came to a village where the well was nearly dry. There was just mud at the bottom of the well. The people were desperate and the team needed water as well. So, Candeewa prayed and they went to bed; the morning when they got up the well was now full with clear water. Yet, it still hadn’t rained for months. Another example is from China; there are actually a number of examples that could be given from China. Watchmen Knee also gives this particular report. In his younger days he was out with a team doing evangelism in a village. Some of the village people were saying that their god was more powerful so why would they believe in the Christian God. In fact, it has never rained on the day that the priest has scheduled the festival. One of the Christians who was there said that this year it was going to rain on that day; but the people laughed at him. He went back and told Watchmen Knee and the others and they told him that he should not have done that. Now, if it doesn’t rain on that day, no one is going to listen to us. But nobody was listening to them anyway.
They begin to pray and on the scheduled day the sun came out. But they had prayed and gave it over to God. Then it began to rain and then came a torrential downpour; the largest downpour they had witnessed in years in this village. The priest said that they had made a mistake and had to reschedule the festival. The day that had rescheduled the festival however; the Christians said it was going to rain on that day also. In fact, there was so much rain that day, the priests were swept off their feet and the water rushed through the streets. The statue of their deity was broken and many people in that village became Christians as a result of this.
I have a very close friend, Dr. Emanuel Tomson; a pastor in an evangelical church in West Africa, Nigeria. He also had a PhD in the Hebrew Bible from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. He grew up in the household of an evangelical church of West Africa as a church planter, planting churches in various villages that were unchurched. Around 1975, he and his family were there in a village in which they had just moved to. He was trying to quickly get a roof on his home that he was putting up. Some skeptics were mocking him saying that this was the rainy season; everything that you have will be ruined. You said that your God sent you here and they laughed. He got angry and said that it wasn’t going to rain one drop in this village until I have a roof on my house. That was going to take four more days and so they again laughed at him. He then fell on his face before God and said, ‘Oh God, what have I just done?’ But for the next four days, it rained all around the village and yet not a single drop of rain fell in the village. And at the end of the four days, those people who knew what the rainy season was like in their area; only one person in that village had not become a Christian. And to this day, that village still talks about this as the precipitating event that brought about this village becoming Christian. I have eyewitness accounts of this from people in the West as well.
b. The Philosopher, David Hume
But scholars who claim that eyewitnesses could not report experiences such as these simply revealed their limited exposure to the world. Just because it may not be your experience doesn’t mean that it is nobody else’s experience. Well, some will grant that such things happen but they deny that they are divine acts. They say that true miracles cannot happen and they simply assume a non-theistic starting point or sometimes a deistic starting point. Yes, God originally set things up but God no longer cares about the world and doesn’t intervene in the world today. Many people who state that as a presupposition don’t know historically where that assumption comes from. But normally, it is traced back to David Hume, who argued that miracles were not part of human experience. There were other people in his day that was considered more persuasive on this point but Hume’s stature as a philosopher is what caused it to be widely accepted in following generations. David Hume regarded miracles as violations of natural law. This was kind of a dramatic way of putting it. Nobody had ever put it that way in history because it sounded like that God would be breaking a law to do them. That is against the way earlier thinkers defined miracles. In fact most early enlightened scientists were Christians so this is a philosophical issue, not a scientific issue. But the way he argued was like this; miracles violate natural law and thus natural law cannot be violated; therefore miracles don’t happen. Who says that God cannot act upon change or as Hume puts it, violate natural law if God wants? Hume simply presupposes this, without admitting that it is a presupposition. He is just stating an opinion, not giving an argument. It is a circular kind of argument. Much of Hume’s argument about miracles violating natural law depends on the definition of natural law. Modern physics has undermined Hume’s prescriptive approach to natural law. His argument is supposedly inductive but as scholars often know it is actually circular. Experience shows that there no miracles; therefore, if you have well supported eyewitnesses in regards to miracles, we can reject those. But yet uniform human experience shows us we can expect miracles. Well, this is a circular argument. You saying that human experience is uniform and then explaining away all the examples that don’t fit your paradigm rather than taking them into account.
So, it is a circular argument and we can see this in particular when he sites examples even that were known to him. He cites the example of Pascal’s niece who had an eye sore. If you studied philosophy, you have probably heard of David Hume; you have more likely to have heard of Blasé Pascal, who was a brilliant mathematician as well as a philosopher. Pascal was a firm believer in Christ and his niece had a running organic eye sore; it admitted a really bad odor. It was known to everyone around her. She was instantly and publically healed; in this case it was when she was touched with a holly thorn from Jesus’ crown of thorns on the cross. Personally, I don’t believe that it was a holly thorn from Jesus’ crown. I don’t think it would have survived that long and I think that Martin Luther was probably correct about the large number of relics circulating at that time. One of his remarks was that there are enough nails from the holy cross of Jesus circulating today to shoe every horse in Saxony. People were very much into relics; but it was a contact point for her faith. She was instantly and publically healed. The Queen mother of France sent her own physician to check this out. He verified that she was truly and miraculously healed. Now, Pascal’s response to this; this was medically documented. This healing was publically attested by very creditable witnesses; it’s cases like this that people remark that they will believe if they could see such. Hume denied it happening. The monastery where she was healed was associated with the Augustinian, thus being too Catholic for the Protestants and being too Augustinian for the Jesuits of that period. It was a healing done through faith in Jesus. Hume simply presupposes atheism or deism, not to say what his exact views were but that is what he presupposes to make his argument work without stating it.
He explicitly frames his argument against contemporary Christian apologetics and science. People, like Isaac Newton and Robert Boil, the father of chemistry, who used science in a way that comported with natural revelation believing that God had done these things. But Hume’s argument is so circular that there have been a number of major recent philosophical challenges to Hume regarding miracles, published by Cambridge, Cornell, Oxford, etc. So in the real world of academic philosophy, Hume has been challenged quite a bit. The book published by Oxford is entitled ‘Hume’s Abject Failure.’ One critic said that the author of the book didn’t like Hume’s argument about miracles because this author is a Christian. The author responded saying that he wasn’t a Christian in any traditional orthodox sense of the word; I just thought that it was a bad argument. Part of Hume’s argument against accepting witnesses is that only ignorant and barbarous nations affirm miracles. If somebody said that today, we would call that person an ethno centric cultural bigot. And in Hume’s case, this was true. Hume was known for his anti-Semitism and advocating slavery. In fact Christian abolitionists had argued again Hume and because of his stature as a philosopher more generally, his arguments in favor of slavery carried a lot of weight. But Hume doubted exceptional people of color; he said that all great civilizations, all inventions, all great master pieces of art, music and literature had mainly come from white European civilizations. He seemed ignorant of the great empires of China, of India, of Africa and of Central and Southern America. But in any case, Hume went so far as to say that we have had slaves here in the British Empire for generations and never have any of them have achieved any great status of education. Well, if you don’t let people get education, how are they supposed to get it? So, David Hume was a raciest, bigot and anti-Semitist thinking that all blacks were below that of white Europeans. Hume came from an ethno centric starting point; he defined the circle narrowly and says that nobody in my circle have had these experiences. He doesn’t think that it is rational to think that such miracle experiences happen. Some of his critics responded that just because it hasn’t happened in your circles doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened in other people’s circles. We do have eyewitness reports of things that are not familiar to your circle. He replied, ‘I’m not going to believe them because they are not in my circle.’
c. Witnesses Divine Healings
Rudolf Bjorkman in the mid-20th century; now he was not ethno centric in any sense the way Hume was, but nevertheless, he said that mature modern people did not believe in miracles. It is impossible to use the electric light and the telegraph and to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. He further said that the modern world denies miracles and thereby excluded from the modern world all traditional Jews, Christians, Muslims, tradition tribal religions and Spiritism except mid-20th century western academic elite and those who are shaped by them. But many people have responded to this. Gusto Gonzalez citing the Latino churches points out what Bjorkman declares to be impossible is not just possible but even frequent. Quy Young, a retired Methodist Bishop of Malaysia argues that Bjorkman problem is a western problem; here in Asia we don’t have problems believing in spirits. Philip Jenkins, in his book published by Oxford notes that Christianity in the Global South tends to be quite interested in the works of the supernatural. These are people groups excluded by Hume, but Bjorkman simply wasn’t aware of these things. But how wide spread is healing today? If we start with Pentecostal and Charismatic churches; there have been major academic studies produced on this. There was a 2006 Preform survey that surveyed Pentecostals and Charismatics in just ten countries; from these alone, the estimated total of people claiming to have witnessed divine healings comes out to be somewhere around two hundred million people. Now what may be even more surprising, for reasons of comparison the survey also included others who were not Pentecostals and Charismatics and somewhere around thirty nine percent of other Christians in these countries claimed to have witnessed divine healings? So, we might have more than a third of Christians worldwide who don’t identify themselves as Pentecostals and Charismatics claiming to have witnessed divine healings. Whatever the case, we are probably talking about hundreds millions of people who have claimed to have witnessed divine healings. This is true even in westernized countries such as the United States where thirty four percent of Americans have claimed this. The point isn’t the proportion of these claims that involve divine activities or miracles. There is really nobody that would say that every claim among these is a miracle. Nobody would claim that everybody was telling the truth and thought it was a miracle.
2. Signs and Wonders with Miracles
The point is not what proportion of these involved divine activities or miracles; the point is whether someone like Hume could start from the premise that uniform human experience excludes miracles. How could you say it is uniform when you have hundreds of millions of counter claims? You are at least obligated to research these counter claims, especially some of the more dramatic ones and especially some of the better attested among them. This isn’t only among Christians, but millions of non-Christians have been convinced to the extent that has changed centuries of ancestral beliefs because of these extraordinary healings. China wasn’t among the ten countries mentioned in the above survey, but one source within the China Christian Council, affiliated with the three self-church, estimated that roughly half of new conversions in the previous twenty years were due to what they called faith healing experiences. Within the rural house churches, some have claimed figures closer to ninety percent. I can’t verify what the actual percentage is in any case, but we are probably talking about millions of people. People who didn’t start with Christian premises but who recognized something so out of the ordinary, something different than the way people usually get better; something different from what they had expected in normal religious or other practices. They were willing to change centuries of tradition on certain points to become followers of Jesus. A 1981 study that was done in Xin’ai and again surveys are not always precise, but according to this study, ten percent of non-Christian in Xin’ai reported being healed when someone prayed for them in Jesus’ name. Some people became Christians when they were healed; some people didn’t become Christians when they were healed but they acknowledged that they had been healed when someone prayed for them in the name of Jesus.
One example, one of my past students that I taught in a seminary that comes from India; through praying for the sick, this Baptist church grew from a handful of people to about six hundred; mostly Hindu converts. I found out about this, sort of by accident; I wasn’t really asking about it. In the room where this picture was taken of Pastor Israel, I had just come in from outside having a splitting headache. He said, oh brother, let me pray for you. I answered, okay, you can pray. He prayed and nothing happened and I told him this, perhaps my lack of faith. Oh, no brother, that doesn’t work here; everybody I pray for in India gets healed because these precious people don’t know very much about Jesus and God is lavishing his love on them to give them a chance to know how much he loves them. God just wants these people to know his love so much. Well, my headache did eventually go away, but that was when he began to tell me his story. J.P. Moorland, a well-known evangelical scholar points out that the rapid evangelical growth around the world in the past three decades; up to seventy percent of it is intimately connected with signs and wonders. And even three decades before that already someone who wrote a thesis at Fuller Seminary surveying over 350 other thesis and dissertations representing most of the world, interviewing many other missionaries discovered more accounts of signs and wonders in the growth of the church around the world that he could possibly use. Just people reading the Bible and people praying and God dramatically answering; not exclusively but most often. It happened in ground breaking areas where new ground was being broken as people were hearing the Gospel for the first time. The situation is very similar to what we see in the Book of Acts. God may answer prayer anywhere and sometimes does dramatic things elsewhere. But healing like James 5 talks about, you can pray for the sick and the sick can be healed gradually; the sick can be healed through medical means, it is still an answer to prayer. But these dramatic kinds of signs where the signs are meant to get someone’s attention so that they can hear the message so that they can believe. Sometimes people respond is negative ways by way of persecution. We see this in the Book of Acts. Signs happen in order to get people’s attention.
We see these special kinds of signs most often during evangelism in largely un-evangelized areas as people hear the Gospel for the first time. That was also true in the past; many church fathers claimed to be eyewitnesses of healings and exorcisms. Ramsey McMullan discovered that this was the leading cause of conversion to Christianity in the 3rd and 4th centuries, healings and exorcisms. It was also prominent in many other times in history. It was a prominent feature of a Korean revival around 1907 mainly among Presbyterians to show you how wide spread it was. Interestingly enough, many of the western missionaries who were working among the Korean Christians at this point had been trained to believe that miracles didn’t happen anymore and that demons and spirits were just psychological things which really didn’t exist. And so they took it very lightly when the Korean Christians were experiencing these things. They commissioned a study that came back saying that instead miracles had taken place and the Korean Christians converted some of the missionaries to believe that these things were taking place. Now, at this point, I want to go beyond the credibility of miracles and talk some about the unity of Luke and Acts.
3. The Unity of Luke and Acts - Parallels
This is how the works fit together. I am just going to give you samples; first you can see Luke’s literary sophistication. It is beautiful to see how he weaves narratives together. In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel was sent to Zechariah and then to Mary. In both cases they were afraid but the angel told them not to fear; both in both cases the reason was given for the coming miracle. The child’s name is given in both cases: John and Jesus. The child will be great Gabriel says in both cases; the child will be filled with the spirit from his mother’s womb and will be conceived by the Holy Spirit in the case of Jesus. Then Gabriel announces the mission of each and then in each case there is a question. In Zechariah’s case the question seems to be a bit more of an objection. Then proof and explanation is given; Zechariah is muted for his unbelief and Mary is praised for her faith. Mary was a humble young girl from this village in Nazareth comes out looking greater in the sight of God than Zechariah who is also viewed positively. He was the aged priest serving in the great temple at this point. Then at the end of each narrative, the child grows. John the Baptist grows in Luke 1:80 and Jesus as a child grows in Luke 2:40 and 2:52. We have a number of parallels between Luke and Acts, actually in a couple of different sections of Acts. The Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and onto the Jerusalem church. We see the Holy Spirit continue to be poured out. The inaugural initial speech of Jesus in Luke 4 and you have that for Peter in Acts 2 and for Paul in Acts 13 with healing power unexpectedly going forth from Jesus with the woman touching his garment and in Acts 5 it is with Peter’s shadow. You have the healing of a paralyzed person in all of these and similar parallel language in each case. You have opposition from Jewish leaders in each case and you have the raising of the dead in each case. You have a God fearing centurion in each case. You have a widow’s son being raise in two of the cases. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; some of the language is similar to Paul’s journey to Rome.
You have Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and Paul being received when he goes to Rome. The entering of the temple before trouble arises; you have hostile Sadducees rejecting the resurrection and you end up actually having both Jesus and Paul arraigned before the Sanhedrin. In the case of the Sanhedrin with Jesus there is a provocative announcement in regards to the Son of Man at God’s right hand and then Stephen also makes a provocative announcement of the Son of Man at God’s right hand. Jesus commits his Spirit and prays for his persecutors, just like Stephen does. The Centurion recognizes God’s attestation of Paul’s innocence. There are Jesus’ four hearings and also Paul’s four hearings declared innocent in both cases. Also with Paul and Jesus when they are taken before the Sanhedrin; for Jesus you have Joseph of Arimathea; he demonstrates a positive side to Jesus. In the case of Peter and the other disciples; when you get to Acts 5 for that Sanhedrin account, there is a Pharisee who also demonstrates a positive side for Peter. The Pharisee isn’t a disciple but he supports the believers. And then when you get to Acts 23, the Sanhedrin is divided: the Sadducees want Paul to be executed; it is not fit for such a man to live, but the Pharisees are more positive in their attitude towards Paul. So, you have that parallel. Also, you have a number of Peter and Paul parallels. You could go into a great deal of detail with these from appointing of leaders to the laying on of hands, etc. Both confront false prophets; Paul has to do it more than once. Both reject worship; Agrippa I wants to be worshipped in Acts 12 and then he is stuck down by the angel of the Lord. The same angel of the Lord earlier in the chapter releases Peter from prison where Herod Agrippa I had put him. Peter rejects worship; somebody wanted to bow down to Peter and he says no, I’m just a human being. People call Barnabas and Paul Zeus and Hermes and in Acts 14:15, they tell them that they are just human beings like them and they tear their clothes. Also in Acts 28, Paul is thought to be a god but he rejects this. So, you have a number of parallels with both Peter and Paul in prison during a Jewish festival with both of them being miraculously released from prison. You can see that Luke designed his work in a very cohesive way. It is a literary master piece. We will keep this in mind as we go through the accounts in the Book of Acts.
4. Evangelism and Church Planting
Now, another large issue in Luke and Acts is, of course, evangelism and church planting. I am going to look at this as a sample theme. I have some interest in this myself because of my own past experiences. There is something very significant that is related to this. We mentioned before the importance of Prayer in the Book of Acts. Well, prayer often comes before the out pouring of the spirit. It is a frequent theme in Luke and Acts. The Spirit comes upon Jesus when he is praying in Luke 3. In Acts 1 of course, they are praying and in Acts 2 people are filled with the Spirit at Pentecost. In Acts 4, they are praying together and they pray that God will continue to heal people through Jesus. Then 4:31 they are filled with boldness, like they prayed for and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Also Peter and John prayed for the Samaritan to receive the Spirit of God. Paul is praying in Acts 9:11 and 9:17. Cornelius is praying in 10:30 and he’s filled with the Spirit. So, if we are talking about evangelism and church planting; there are a whole lot of different themes we can approach throughout Acts. But this is an important one. Paul is the same whether he is on a ship in Malta as well as when he is preaching to the masses in Ephesus. He is serving people being called to be a servant. We learn a lot about Paul’s character in Acts 20:24 with his calling matters more than life itself. In Acts 20:31, I was going about warning each person with tears, he said. In Acts 20:33-35 he says that he wasn’t in this for the money; I was working to support the mission. This is very similar to what you see with Peter and John in Acts 3:6 where they said that they didn’t have any silver or gold but they had the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Clearly these people weren’t doing this for money or greed; they were doing it to serve the Lord. We also are learning about how to evangelize.
Evangelism and Church Planting is not exactly the same thing. Philip was great at doing evangelism; he got things going in various places, but he didn’t stick around to grow the church afterwards; there were other people who could do that. Ideally, the best way to make things grow is with long range multiplication. Robert Coleman, in his work on evangelism points out that multiplication eventually gives you more people than just addition does. That is why in the Book of Acts, we see that part of their agenda was to establish disciples who could carry on the mission; not just having converts. That is why Acts 14:22 when Paul and Barnabas go back among the churches that they briefly planted; they return and establish elders and leaders and they warn them Acts 14:22 through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom of God. You have to be ready for these things; there has to be follow up with sound teaching. So, let’s say that we are not just adding, but we are multiplying; the first year you lead someone to the Lord; you have two disciples; the next year you have the original two but each of you lead two people to the Lord and then the third year you have twenty, etc. This is of course hypothetical; it is an ideal situation and not totally realistic. Acts shows us that there are persecutions, divisions and difficulties along the way. So, if we multiple and are not just winning people to Christ and then abandoning them but instead disciple them and teaching how to do the same, helping them to be grounded in the faith. The content of evangelization is very important, the Gospel message. We see that the content of the Gospel is contextualized. Paul preaches one way in the synagogues by quoting Scripture; another way to farmers where what he says in Scripture but relates it to the language of farmers. He speaks to philosophers and those educated in philosophy in Acts 17 in ways that they would understand within their context. However, the central message remains throughout the Book of Acts, Jesus died and rose again. And when you talk to non-monotheists, you also talk about the one true God.
To get people’s attention, we need to think creatively and especially strategically; we need to think about cultural openings. We need to contextualize and allow for local culture and that is something Paul did in Acts 15:20. Jesuits did that when they were sharing the Gospel in China, but that got shutdown by the Vatican of that period because of the politics going on and so that shutdown the witness of the Jesuits in China for many generations. Paul rarely missed an opportunity to speak of Christ; he would try to give it in textual relevant ways. He introduced the Gospel only briefly where he was quickly driven out; sometimes this happened with China Inland Mission. But Paul stayed longer where he could, eighteen months in Corinth and two and a half years in Ephesus. He got to know the people and the culture. Studies have shown, at least in the United States that a church really flourishes when a pastor is part of the community for at least a couple of years. For Paul, he recruited leaders from within the local congregation who already knew the community. Having time within the community allows time for more stability. With Paul visiting synagogues and speaking in them; there was already a belief in God and thus already having a connection. Synagogues also used Scripture and those gentiles that believed in God most likely related to the local synagogues. There were also public discussion forums, for example, on the street. We see in Acts 14:9, Paul appears to be preaching on the street. That was permitted back then; it was understood as something you could do back then. Educated Christians tended to use this method more; both educated and uneducated with signs and wonders would draw attention to the Gospel. You have that with Peter who may have had some education but certainly not the same level as Paul. Apollos was an educated person and well trained intellectually; he, Stephen and Paul emerged in these public debate settings and thus getting the attention of people that way.
There were certain forms that were available for communications. Paul does that with philosophers who liked to stand around and talk about new concepts so Paul did this in Acts 17:18. They brought him before the city council and he had an opportunity to present his case there. In Acts 19:9, Paul sets up a place for lectures in the School of Taranis which apparently looked something like a school of philosophy. In Paul’s day, as outsiders looked at Christianity, they wouldn’t think of it necessarily as a religion. It didn’t have a cult or sacrifices; what they instead had was lectures and dialogues, etc. So, that is why people viewed it as a school of philosophy. Some people viewed the synagogue the same way. Paul used that to his advantage. Paul also used relational networking to get the Gospel out.