1. AshleeW says:

    I completely agree. What a great and refreshing article!

  2. notleia says:

    BUUUUUUT, Paul also used the altar to the “unknown god,” something familiar to his heathen Greek audience, in order to draw them in. Though that was in Ephesus. And he wasn’t above using references to heathen Greek writers, either (I forget where it’s at, but apparently the diss he dropped on Cretans was a reference from a Cretan writer).

    So I don’t find your argument convincing even just on Biblical grounds.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      Notliea, did you miss my discussion of that passage in Acts 17? Yes, Paul used the unknown god idol in his presentation in order to form a bridge. Nothing I said negated the need for those bridges. But he got that speaking gig not because he used that illustration in his preaching, but because he’d been preaching about the resurrection of Christ and “strange gods.” They came to hear him because of that, not because he passed out a “flier” that he was going to talk about the unknown god. That was simply his introductory bridge to talk about the resurrection, which is specifically why it says they came to hear him. Because he’d been preaching the resurrection for days before that encounter.


      Like my fantasy analogy points out, an effective cultural engagement will have both points of relevancy and a radical difference. If the attempt to be relevant mitigates the radicalness of the difference, however, you’ve lost.


      Same principle with a good story. It is the unique voice and book that attracts attention. If it looks, sounds, and reads like everyone else’s, it will blend into the crowd. A Christianity that does not challenge one to live the radical Kingdom life  (take up your cross and follow Me, he who loses his life will save it) is not worth pursuing, because it will make no difference in your life.


      • notleia says:

        Yes, I did miss your discussion of Acts 17, because it was a reference rather than a discussion. I just find your one-sided approach to the topic of marketing to be…lacking. If we were to analyze the whole of Acts 17, we see what is clearly a pattern of Paul using the familiar, whether it be Jewish Scripture to the Jews or the unknown god to the Greeks, as the bridge to his Jesus message. Familiar to new: playing with expectations.

        Playing with expectations is a good portion of storytelling/engaging conversation, but I think that one requires a good knowledge of expectations, and probably needs to demonstrate it to the audience, before one can play with them. Paul not only uses his knowledge of Greek expectations to make a bridge to his new point, he also incorporates Greek culture into reinforcing his point. (Relevant and super-interesting article here.)

        TL:DR Paul is actually a pretty good marketer with his mad skillz in mixing the familiar with the new.

        Tangent: Then again, that assumes the Jesus-marketer in question actually has something new to offer besides the usual come-to-Jesus spiel, because that is pretty darn familiar to an American audience (probably the Western hemisphere in general). It’s not really that new to just graft the precanned Jesus-spiel onto fantasy and dystopias and ninja turtles. But that’s a whole nother article, and I’m sure there’s a relevant article somewhere on this site.

        • R. L. Copple says:

          I didn’t see where what I said is one sided. You just pretty much said what I was saying, except I focused on the fact it isn’t enough to just try to be culturally relevant–as important as that may be–if it doesn’t offer something different. You’re saying something different isn’t enough if you aren’t relevant. Just looking at two sides of the same coin it sounds like to me.


          I did quote verses from Acts 17 that appear right before Paul talks about the unknown god, saying why they came to hear Paul, because he was talking about this strange god, Jesus, who rose from the dead. That is their stated reason for wanting to hear Paul out. The unknown god was Paul’s lead in when he started preaching to them.


          The marketing gurus of today would say Paul blew it in that instance. He had their attention. He should have convinced them to come to worship service to develop fellowship bonds before springing on them such a radical concept as someone rising from the dead. As soon  as he said it, people dismissed him. Nothing about starting a church in Athens, no letters in the NT to a church in Athens.


          And I propose giving up one’s life to save it is still a pretty radical concept today. Read the Romans 12 passage and see how much of the lifestyle he talks about there is compatible with secular life as we know it.

          • notleia says:

            That’s assuming that the proper end game for street preaching (or any preaching, really) is to get butts in the pews rather than accomplish a transmission of ideas. Which is probably the shortest way of explaining the reason why I think that a large portion of the evangelical ideas and practices of marketing are freakin’ terrible.

            But I guess this means that my previous tangent was actually relevant (yay, me!) in that another wrench I’ll throw in your gears is that you don’t really address what you mean by originality besides “not of the world” and that leaves way too much room open for the come-to-Jesus rehashers (see above: terrible evangelical marketers).

            • R. L. Copple says:

              Good point. I perhaps relied upon the fantasy analogy to make that clear.


              Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world. (Would look up the reference, but feeling a bit lazy and need to get to bed.)


              His kingdom has its own culture, one I tried to point out in the article. It is the injecting of that culture into our own that shines the light Jesus said we were to not hide. That culture always stands out as unique and strange to the world because it doesn’t originate in the world, but from God.


              That is what will initially draw them to “come and see.” We don’t impress people by showing them how much like them we are. If our lifestyle is the same as theirs, then why would they pay any attention to us? We can use their culture to build bridges and make points of contact, but not at the risk of hiding God’s light under that basket for fear of scaring them away.


              For a corresponding concept in writing a novel, consider Dean Wesley’s words from a couple days ago:



              That’s a dreaded word in writing for most long term editors and writers. I call it “the polished rock syndrome.” It’s where everyone wants to polish their story down so that it’s just like everyone else’s story. Not sure why anyone wants to do that, but sadly it’s the case.

              Polished stories have no uniqueness, no originality, and they don’t sell much at all.


              Translated, it means we have to be who we are, don’t pretend to be someone we’re not in order to impress or relate to others. Be real. For Christians, that means be a Christian, let that shine through your mind, your heart, your writing, and your life. If Christ’s culture isn’t there, we either don’t have it ourselves or we’re hiding it for fear of what people will think of us. Neither is a good option.


              • notleia says:


                My problem with just assuming that we’re already Super Snowflakey by Means of Jesus enough to attract attention from the mainstream culture is that it assumes that most non-Christian Americans don’t already have a decent idea of what Christian culture is like, and that comes off as either oblivious or naive. Paul had the advantage over us in that he really did have something new to introduce to the Athenians, et al.

              • R. L. Copple says:

                The idea of who Jesus is certainly isn’t new anymore like Paul experienced, true. Biblical Christian culture, however, I’d say is strange to them. Like I mentioned in the article, I’m not talking about the Christian sub-culture we’ve created, but the Kingdom’s culture God created.


    • Agreed with Rick. Paul affirmed that the Greeks were onto something with their “unknown god” notion, along with some truths about God that Greek poets had falsely ascribed to the made-up god Zeus. But Paul also clearly subverted and contradicted their false notions. I hasten to add that Paul was doing this as a missionary out in the “secular” spheres. If you’re a pastor exploring Scripture in a church full of Christians, or an individual Christian seeking to participate in culture as a human, receiving this gift with prayer and thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4), then your actions will look a bit different.

What do you think?