Paul in Athens: Pre-Evangelization Primer

I love the account of Paul speaking at Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17. While pre-evangelization includes witness without words, we’re often called to converse or speak in the midst of pre-evangelization, and Paul’s speech is verbal pre-evangelization at its finest:

  • identifying shared values
  • using evidence/examples from the audience’s [in this case secular] perspective (that’s right, so Paul, a trained Pharisee doesn’t even quote the Old Testament!)
  • avoiding stumbling blocks too early on in the relationship, i.e. while Paul talks about Jesus, he does not use terms that would cause pagan-defensiveness (like the name of Jesus)
  • inspiring curiosity, rather than giving answers

What does Acts 17 look like today, in our culture?

Check out this fantastic example from Bishop Robert Barron, as he heads over to the Rubin Report for an unscripted interview:


The reactions captured by Brandon Vogt highlight how much this is indeed an Acts 17 example in our modern world. Remember the aftermath of Paul’s speech:

When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We should like to hear you on this some other time.” And so Paul left them. But some did join him, and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Court of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34)

As evangelizers, let’s hold ourselves to the same standards as St. Paul. We need not expect 100% of our conversation partners or audiences to have a life-changing conversion to Jesus Christ on the spot. We can rejoice when pre-evangelization is the need, and that need is satisfied–when God uses us as a means to arouse trust and curiosity, even in places where it’s not time to explicitly proclaim the name of Jesus. We can be bold, like the early Christians of Acts, yet comfortable and confident using secular art and narrative to help open the eyes of non-believers. We can acknowledge common values and practices we see among those who do not (yet) worship Jesus as Lord and Savior, just as Paul did, declaring “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). By walking more and more deeply with the Holy Spirit, we can be unafraid of living in a secular world, and experience great joy in this tremendous mission of pre-evangelization God has equipped us for.

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Vermeulen

Colleen Reiss Vermeulen, M.Div., M.N.A., blogs, ministers in parish life and lay/deacon formation, and serves as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. She and her husband, Luke, have been married since 2011 and live in Ypsilanti, MI with their two young sons.

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