Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas: Paul’s Mars Hill Experience for Our Pluralistic World (IVP Academic, 2014). Paperback – Kindle 

Gospel in Marketplace of Ideas

I remember hearing as a young Christian that the Apostle Paul made one glaring mistake in his ministry and that was his sermon on Mars Hill in Athens. Even though that seemed to be the majority opinion of Christians I knew at the time, I had a hard time understanding how a man chosen by Jesus Christ as the Apostle to the Gentiles and called and sent out by and filled with the Holy Spirit would have made such an error.

Drs. Copan and Litwak make the point very well that what Paul did was approach the philosophers in Athens on their own turf, using their rules, and demonstrated the superiority of the Christian worldview. Isn’t that what every Christian is called to do?

I love the way the authors use Paul’s experience in Athens to demonstrate both the need for meeting non-believers in the marketplace and God’s supply of wisdom for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

 When I received my copy of The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, I expected it to contain great ideas and be a work of high quality writing. That’s because I’ve read other books by the authors and I was not disappointed in their new book together.

Dr. Copan is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida and is the author of True for You, But Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith (Bethany House, 2009), When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics (Baker, 2008), Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker, 2011), “How do you know you’re not wrong?”: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless (Baker, 2005), to name some of his wonderful books. Dr. Copan also contributed articles to and helped edit one of my favorite resources, The Apologetics Study Bible (Holman, 2007).

Dr. Litwak is an adjunct professor of New Testament studies at Azusa Pacific University and Asbury Seminary and is the author of Echoes of Scripture in Luke-Acts: Telling the History of God’s People Intertextually (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2005).

Welcome To Athens

The authors bring a wealth of academic and practical knowledge to print for Christians to consider, absorb and use for the glory of God. One reason why this book is so important and timely is that we are living in a world similar in makeup and structure to the Athens that Paul visited in the 1st Century AD.

Drs. Copan and Litwak make ancient Athens come alive with their description of the vast mixture of races and ethnic groups who lived there. They demonstrated that the Apostle Paul was a man well acquainted with the many different worldviews represented in the ancient world and prepared to address them lovingly and powerfully. Paul had the ability to present the Christian worldview to anyone he met in Athens and other cities of the Greek and Roman world. That included people in the marketplace and the philosophers on Mars Hill.

The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas does an excellent job explaining the primary philosophical systems of Athens in a way that will satisfy both the serious student of philosophy and the Christian interested in sharing Christ with family and friends. I appreciate how the authors described the dominant schools of thought in Paul’s day and how they continue to influence Western culture to the present day.

Was Paul’s Speech at Athens a Mistake?

Drs. Copan and Litwak address an important issue in the modern Church concerning whether Paul’s ministry in Athens was a success or a failure. The way Christians view Acts 17:16-34 can have a profound effect on their personal and corporate ministries.

I remember enjoying many of the writings of New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce when I was a young Christian, but his comments about Paul’s ministry in Athens concerned me. Bruce believed that Paul’s strategic failure in Athens caused him to reevaluate his ministry to Gentiles and change his approach after that time. Another great Christian writer who has taught me much about Paul’s ministry is Dr. William Ramsay. However, he also believed Paul’s experience in Athens caused him to question his methodology.

That led the authors to address something I’ve witnessed – “Typically, those who oppose Christian apologetics today are more likely to be inside the church than outside. And even if they do not consider Paul’s approach wrong-headed, they often consider attempts at cross-worldview communications or apologetics to be detracting from the gospel or somehow adding works to grace.” (p 21-22)

Apologetics has been a somewhat lonely ministry through the years because Christians didn’t see the reason for it. I remember one pastor telling me how dangerous apologetics is to preaching the Gospel. However, as Drs. Copan and Litwak describe in their book, apologetics was a primary method the Apostle Paul used in preaching the Gospel of Christ.

Paul’s Athens – Our Athens

In chapters 3 and 4 of The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, the authors show how alike the Athens of Paul’s day was to the cities of Western cultures today. Chapter 3 about Paul’s Athens is a wonderful tour of what the ancient city was like and the various religious and philosophical beliefs held by the citizens. Chapter 4 about Our Athens looks at how important it is for Christians to understand their own setting “in order to communicate the good news of Jesus effectively and relevantly.”

Hearkening back to the question about whether Paul made a mistake in his strategy in Athens, the authors wrote that if “Paul was actually making a wise use of philosophical and cultural resources to build bridges for the gospel, then we should pay close attention to how we can do this in our own day.”

The authors made good use throughout the book of tables (charts) that helped focus on important issues for Christians to consider. Two of the tables in chapter 4 that the reader will find most helpful are: Comparison of Paul’s Language in Acts 17 and Plato’s Report of Socrates in The Apology of Socrates … and … Theism’s Greater Explanatory Power over Naturalism.

Chapter 4, Our Athens, includes the apologetic perspectives of leading early Church fathers (e.g. Justin Martyr, Augustine), great insights into how to use science and history to build bridges with non-believers and how to engage some of the most influential ideas of our day (e.g. postmodernism, relativism, emotivism, religious pluralism and syncretism, naturalism and scientism). The authors point to the importance of Christians being well grounded in their faith and astute observers of the culture so they can be prepared “to better articulate the gospel for today’s Athenians.”

In the next part of our review of The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, we’ll look at the second half of the book and how the authors help prepare readers for the real work of ministry.