Read Acts 17:16-21
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens,he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles,and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection,they said,”What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said,”He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”
19 Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things,and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.) (NLT)
Times have changed. Athens in Paul’s time was a hotbed of debate and discussion,much of which centred on philosophical and religious beliefs. Paul was encouraged to share his rather novel ideas with the locals. They might disagree with him and even mock him but they wanted to hear more. In time,some even came around to his side.
In our own day,it is now common to have any ‘religious’ debate stifled. Sadly,extremists of all religious persuasions have made civilised and robust debate much more difficult. Nervous civil authorities and companies are scared stiff of breaching regulations which govern what we say and do. The regulations which are meant to promote tolerance are intolerant of people declaring what they believe.
And so our Christian faith in particular is being pushed into the private sphere. We are to keep it to ourselves. Pretty difficult really considering that we are told by God to share his good news with everyone. Of course we are to do it wisely and sensitively,of course we tolerate other faiths and grant them respect.
But our faith,while it is deeply personal,is not at all private. It is to be lived out in the public sphere and talked about in public forums. The Athenians might have sneered at Paul but at least they took him seriously and were willing to debate him. Nowadays he would have been hauled before some tribunal for disturbing the peace! Times have changed.