I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a preaching workshop with David Jackman from the London-based Cornhill Training Course. David made some telling points from a survey of apostolic preaching from Acts 17-20, and one in particular struck me.
As Paul preaches the gospel in Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth and Ephesus, his method is quite consistent: he proclaims, reasons, explains, proves, persuades, and teaches that Jesus is the Christ. In the synagogues, from house to house, and in the lecture halls, he persistently argues for the truth of the gospel in a rational and persuasive way.
By contrast, the powerful opposition to the gospel in these chapters is not rational at all. Paul’s opponents do not counter his presentation with reasonable, persuasive arguments of their own—quite the opposite. The opposition is abusive, irrational and violent. They stir up crowds to the point of riot; they make false accusations; they throw Paul out of the synagogues.
On the one side you have rationality, argument, persuasion; on the other, prejudice, blinkered animosity, violence.
I think I have often made the mistake of regarding those who oppose the gospel as the “rationalists”: the cool-headed philosophers who want to demolish Christianity with their rapier wit and devastating arguments. But as I think back over my experience—in personal conversation and in public debate—the number of thought-through, rational, persuasive objections to the gospel have been minuscule. On most occasions, it is prejudice, willful misunderstanding, distortions, personal attack, lies and abusiveness. Certainly, the coverage that the gospel (and evangelical Christianity) receives in the mainstream media is most often of this nature.
We must not be surprised when we encounter this sort of reaction to the gospel. And neither should we be tempted to change our methodology. Like Paul, let us not shrink from proclaiming, teaching, reasoning, persuading, arguing, proving and testifying about repentance towards God, and faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.