St Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34 NIV):
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
Praising pagans? St Paul actually affirms Hellenistic paganism. What kind of real saint does that? Oh, they may be cultured and educated pagans, but make no mistake, this is superstitious claptrap for intellectual titillation; it is atomic-theory idolatry parading as enlightened philosophy, and ‘St’ Paul gives Hermes his imprimatur. It’s just appalling populism; scratching itching ears. The Epicureans loved it: they don’t need to seek God because there is no Day of Judgment; everything is pleasure and tranquility. The Stoics rejoiced: God is in all and within everything; Zeno is vindicated. This is self-sufficient materialistic pantheistic religiosity pure and simple: a Hindu could have preached it. Still, it’s good that he promises to proclaim some truth about the true God.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Now we get the unity of mankind pap, which isn’t really any kind of truth at all. We’re all children of God – sons of one man called Adam and one woman called Eve (though she doesn’t get a mention) – so let’s just love one another, because poets tell us to. Whoopie Doo. God is Lord of the Earth. Zeus? Brahma? Krishna? Allah? Our kinship with the God of the world transcends all divine boundaries, man-made temples and cultic rituals: all that matters is that God is the Creator. We all need God because God and man are intimately related: He is the source of life, and our task is to search for what is true and divine. Who could argue with that?
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Idolatry is foolish, but nobody really worships false icons and statues, do they? They all have some deep, inner meaning, and are worthy of reverence. Oh, sure, he calls on people to repent, but nowhere does he define ‘repent’. Most people think it’s just saying sorry. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that he’d have expounded this very important soteriological concept upon which the whole of our eternity hangs. And he doesn’t mention sin! What a careless omission. And worse, he doesn’t mention the Cross. Oh, it might be implied (for to be resurrected, one must have died), but it’s just not good enough to omit the wondrous crux of salvation. And what’s this ‘raising him from the dead’? What’s this ‘by the man he has appointed’? He didn’t mention Jesus! This wasn’t just the ‘wrong’ Jesus; it was no Jesus at all. What a spectacularly missed opportunity to proclaim the name of the Messiah! This wasn’t the full gospel, the real gospel, the true gospel, for Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt because he brought Hippolytus back from the dead: St Paul could have been talking about Lazarus, for all this crowd knew. What kind of saint preaches about repentance and resurrection without mentioning sin, the cross and the glorious name of their saviour?
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”
So very many Christians are sneering at Bishop Michael Curry for his Royal Wedding homily: he is either a ‘false teacher’ or a ‘false prophet’ for preaching a ‘false gospel’ about the ‘wrong Jesus’ wrapped up in the ‘wrong love’. How many hundreds, thousands, millions are saying or thinking: “We want to hear you again…”?