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ADDENDUM FOR PASTORS: AS YOUR OWN POETS HAVE SAID
In Acts chapter 17, Luke leaves for us a model of Paul’s preaching to a Gentile audience. Interestingly, Paul doesn’t quote the Bible (at least not in the bit recorded by Luke). Instead, Paul appeals to the natural knowledge of God and so attempts to move, according to good teaching pedagogy, from the known to the unknown. And in doing this, he quotes the Athenians’ own secular, unbelieving poets. You and I know that Paul could use even such poets to teach truths about God, because the natural knowledge of God is accessible to all people and so it’s reflected in the great art, literature, and thinking of many cultures throughout all of human history.
The author of Ecclesiastes claims that everything in life, considered apart from the biblical God, is meaningless. If we grant that King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes at the end of his years, reflecting on a life of sinful attempts to accomplish sinful ends, we find in Ecclesiastes an implicit confession of sin: Solomon had turned his life into a chasing after the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and he was admitting that. Even a life of accomplishments as great as his own, he admitted, is meaningless apart from the God of the Bible. This was God’s law working on his heart. Along similar lines, we find God’s law working, albeit imperfectly, on the hearts of artists, writers, and philosophers throughout all of human history. Many throughout time have reflected that life is meaningless, and they’ve experienced this because they were considering life apart from the biblical God (whether or not they knew they were doing this).
This book might have as its theme: As your own poets have said. This book has been written especially with non-Christians in mind, or at least nominal or biblically illiterate Christians, and so we have attempted, like Paul in Athens, to move from the known to the unknown with our readers. We have provided numerous examples of secular writers and thinkers that you and I know have God’s law written on their hearts, and we have shown how these thinkers support Solomon’s claim.
But of course, the natural knowledge of God only takes us so far. Solomon says life is meaningless when not considered within the biblical metanarrative, that is, within God’s revealed overarching story of his redemption of humankind. And so our response, once we let secular authors help Solomon put the nails in the coffin of the possibility of a meaningful life, is to resurrect the meaningful life through meditating on this gospel-driven metanarrative. And we know the Holy Spirit can work through sharing the gospel to create faith. Like Paul on Mars Hill, it might take us a while to get to that gospel. We had to explore life without the biblical God thoroughly, and so we felt the weight of that accursed darkness. But this was all so that the light of the gospel can shine all the brighter, so that its dawn is all the more welcomed.
People today need a transcendent good Story that is also real, one that doesn’t leave them meaningless, hopeless, and dying in their sins. My prayer is that this will aid you in telling that Story.
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