By Daniel Rice
Five to ten seconds. After that, the filter kicks in.
In our day and age, five to ten seconds is usually all the time we’re given to persuade someone that what we have to say is worthy of their time. We live in a world suffering from a relentless bombardment of information. Television, social media, advertising, friends, and family all vie for time and an attentive ear. Is it relevant to me? Without realizing it, we ask ourselves this question countless times throughout the day. Do I want what this advertiser is selling? Will this be on the test? Is this conversation significant to my situation? Will this news affect my life at all?If we don’t adapt and learn to filter out what does not apply to us, we will quickly become overwhelmed. As our ways of communication and comprehension evolve, our presentation of the gospel needs to be adapted as well. If we want to effectively communicate truth, we must learn to do it in a way that can bypass the spam filters of the modern mind.
This idea of contextualization, or shaping the presentation of the gospel to fit the current sociological context, is nothing new. Communicating the good news of God’s rescue plan for humanity using the culture and customs of the day has been a powerful tool for thousands of years. In Acts 17:22-23, we find Paul in the height of Athenian society, surrounded by curious onlookers.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god’. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”
Paul basically says: Hey guys, do you see this statue of yours to the unknown god? Well I know Him. Let me tell you all about it! Paul does not shy away from the truth, but carefully tailors his message to the culture of his listeners (even quoting some well-known Greek poetry to reinforce his point). When we look at his messages in Jerusalem, Ephesus, or Corinth, it is clear that they not identical. Paul had taken the time to get to know the culture of his audience, and we would do well to do the same. If we launch into our presentation of the gospel without first taking the time to listen to the world around us, the most important message of all time may fall on deaf ears.
Even Christ, when explaining deep spiritual truths to the masses that flocked to hear Him, wove into His words stories of lost coins and wayward sons. He pulled back the curtain to the Infinite with a kind but, sometimes, painfully direct style that resonated with thousands searching for hope. His love for them was evident. If we want people to take what we say seriously, we must take the greatest commandment seriously. Genuine love opens ears and bypasses the filter of skepticism.
If the importance of a message determines the urgency to communicate it, the good news of God’s rescue plan for humanity should be right at the top of the list. From the printing press to radio broadcasting, the church has always reached for the most effective tools to share the gospel with a world that desperately needs it. Our current world of digital communication is no exception. We need to leverage every tool at our disposal to bring God’s plan of redemption to a generation that is grasping for truth.
The light of the gospel shines just as brightly now as it did 2,000 years ago. We need to search out altars “to the Unknown God” in our society today and use them as launch points into the message of hope that the gospel brings. Our culture and society are in a constant state of flux, but the news that a knowable God exists who loves us and will stop at nothing to repair our brokenness, is still the best news ever.
Daniel Rice is the author of #Gospel: Life, Hope and Truth for Generation Now. Join the conversation at HashtagGospel.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.