Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection
Acts 17:16-18

It has been almost two weeks now since I wrote my article “Go and Sin Some More: The Life and Death of Anna Nicole Smith.”  When the news first crossed the wire that Anna Nicole Smith collapsed and died, I began listening to the accounts of her life story and tragic death.  Hour after hour of reports, I began to ponder the significance of her life upon our culture and just how I could relate to it from a Christian perspective, biblical wordview, and gospel-centered life.  Needless to say I have been overwhelmed by the response it received, both good and bad.  From my blog alone, it has been read by over 5,000 people.  I have found it posted on blogs, discussion forums, and radio station websites.  I have printed it out and given it to my coworkers, though I gave to them in anonymity.  There have been comments on my blog from Christians and non-Christians alike, including Muslims an atheists.  Interestingly enough, some of the harshest comments came from other Christians criticizing me of being too gracious and loving.  Non-Christians told me that her spiritual destiny is none of my business.  Others said that my article was not culturally relevant enough.  In any case, over the last two or three days I have lurked around to find what others were saying about what has become the most widely read article I have ever written.

Recently, I have been thinking about Paul’s ministry and in particular how he minstered in Jewish synagogues as well as Gentile marketplaces.  The passage above has settled quite heavily in my thoughts.  Here is a man who, regardless of the cultural context, preached Jesus and His resurrection everywhere he went.  The synagogues were the centers for Jewish culture, and the marketplace were the centers for Greek culture.  It has been noted that such marketplace was the economic, political, and cultural heart of the city (Ajith Fernando, Sharing the Truth in Love, 55).  He could communicate the gospel to various cultures and point people to Christ while taking hits from audience.  These “strange things” (Jesus Christ and His resurrection) caused a varied response, and Acts 17 concludes with this very telling commentary:

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17: 32-34)

Some mocked.  Some wanted to hear more.  Some joined him and believed.  Isn’t that what we should expect when we engage our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ?  Let me insert some of the type of responses my article received on the Internet.

(Negative)

How do you know that Anna Nicole (or anyone else for that matter) didn’t know Jesus? How can you know another’s heart? Knowing Jesus doesn’t make us sinless. Churches are full of sinners. Do you think your sins are somehow better or less hurtful than hers? . . . It is not ours to say that a person did not know Jesus. The scripture also says, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” . . . Maybe if those of us who claim to be Christian could stop pointing our fingers and judging others, true non-believers may want to know more about Christ and the salvation He gave us.

“He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.”  We are all created weak, capable of commiting wrong. God knows it. we will err at some point in our lives. This is why there is forgiveness.  “Indeed, those who fear their Lord without seeing Him. There is forgiveness and a great reward for them.”  A good deed erases an bad deed. (Muslim)

The very base on which the American society is thriving has gone wrong. There is no need of Jesus, if he was in need, then he should have descended long back to control the opulence under which this society lives. An opulence which only a very few have to share; which makes other to dream and vie for it. Some achieve it, some don’t. Anna Nicole smith had all the factors working in favour for her to realise this fallacy called ‘American dream’ . If Jesus was the answer, he should be for all those vying for this particular American dream. This is a very cynical writing; without touching the base on which, how these people become prominent in society. Hooker and whores and porn is sufficiently available, maybe I will sound like this retrograde pooh, but in a society which allows to trade your flesh and make money, where does Jesus stand? I wonder. There will be more and more Anna Nicole. No Jesus can save her. Neither do I believe in such a society Jesus will be there to save anyone. No wonder that all you people believe in this imminent ‘Armageddon’.

There are no good whores in heaven. Just as there are no orgies taking place in heaven with 72 virgins for handing out death to others. And this Monday morning quarterbacking about the stenchy path she sowed: Making her seem like she was innocent because she knew not who Jesus Christ was. At her age? Ridiculous and laughable. To believe this woman never saw a cross on a Church or came across a Christian sermon while channel surfing, or a Christian here in the states, is stretching it out beyond exaggeration. ( way out there ) Why is it that when the worse of the worse, scumbags die: We always say, he was all that was good? Let the Truth be heard. May they rest in peace or may they rot in pits of hell. God be our judge… Why are we producing all these limp wristed wimpy voiced Christians? It is really embarrassing: And shameful… No wonder the Bible says, many are called but few are chosen.

Eventually I got bored with the article but in all of your judgment of her, all I want to know was did she hurt a lot of people?  Who did she hurt (herself doesn’t count, it’s her life, her decision, etc..)?  Just tell me that.  If you can’t offer that then you can keep all your sins to your self. She doesn’t live by your make believe sins.

Snip most of condescending, drooling, holier – than – thou and sickening drivel.  You think Anna died young because she was a sinner?  What about all of those thousands of non- “sinners” who died younger than her, and in even more tragic circumstances?  How do you account for that, you disgusting little freak? (atheist)

Take it from me, this freak actually believes God had her die and sent to hell for her “sinful” ways. I doubt if the woman ever did any real harm to anyone except herself in her entire life.

“I hearkened back to Scripture and more specifically to the life of Jesus Christ.” But then again, you’re a drooling idiot, so who cares? 

(Positive)

Great post! I think Anna Nicole’s death made a lot of people think, but of course Christians will analyze the tragedy from a theological point of view. For me, an ex-exotic dancer who almost died of alcoholism prior to coming to the Lord, this truly made me praise Him for His merciful goodness.

In tragedies such as this, and many others that occur, I rest in the FACT that God is sovereign over His creation. Though I may not understand the “whys,” I know that He is indeed in control. And I do not merely give lip service to the word, ‘control.’ God is in His heaven, sovereignly orchestrating the events of this world in order to bring glory to Himself and to draw men to the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you again.

Would that we all could be so broken hearted over the sin we see in the world. Rather than just laughing at the over the top exploits of another Hollywood bimbo and her tragic end, Timmy reminds us of the ‘bimbo’ with the Alabaster box who annointed Jesus for his death.  Good words to all of us. Especially the reminder that we are no different–save for the Grace of God. And that is all the difference there is, friends, when it comes down to it.

Wow.  The Lord has graced Mr. Brister with the ability to put it to words in a most loving fashion. I covet that ability. Far too often while aching inside for people the words of my mouth sound harsh and unloving. To a fellow Christian it would not sound so, but to the lost thinking about how the wages of sin is death ect. just isn’t going to ring with the compassion I hear from it.  I pray this as with all such sad situations might be used to draw some other lost person to Him in desperation.

An excellent and thought provoking post, indeed. Thank you for pointing it out to me. His grieving over a lost soul in evident in his writing.

I have to admit I was hesitant to read the post. I’m glad I did,though. This is a very sad story and I appreciate Timmy reminding us that we need to be faithful in challenging those around us with the gospel.  

Now these are but a random sampling of some of the varied responses from my feeble attempt to do the Paul thing in the cultural context of pop-America.  While there aren’t any Jewish synagogues or Greek marketplaces today, the Internet has become a place where anyone from any cultural background and ideological commitment (such as atheist and Muslim) can read and respond to the gospel message.  Jews and Greeks, atheists and Muslims, conservative and liberal Christians, all are found in the marketplace of the 21st century called the Internet.  My hope and earnest desire is that this little corner could be a place where our culture is impacted with my Savior’s love and gospel truths. 

It is interesting to note that the same chapter which the secular audience called Paul “a babbler” also said of him,

“These men who have turned the whole world upside down have come here also . . .” (Acts 17:6)

How could this be, that a babbler with stange things to say could turn the world upside down? 

I believe it was because he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). 

I believe it was because Paul was a missionary who was boasting in the cross such that the world was crucified to him and he to the world (Gal. 6:17). 

I believe it was because Paul had so lived his life, that he was doing “all things for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:24). 

I believe it was because Paul had “counted all things as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7) such that whether by life or by death, Jesus Christ would be magnified (Phil. 1:20-21). 

Indeed, Christ was the sum of his life. 

What I have come to realize is how scandalous it is to take the gospel to our culture with an humble attempt to communicate the life and message of Jesus Christ to our world.  Indeed, the cross is folly to some, a stumbling stone and rock of offense to others (1 Cor. 1:18-25).  I am far from being the kind of Christian who can communicate the gospel like Paul in any cultural context and engage it with the mission and message of Jesus Christ.  I have a lot to learn from that first century babbler.  But if I can, by the grace of God, carry that same message he carried though it seem “strange” to some, I am convinced that there will be some who will believe.  As I consider my calling, how weak, base, and foolish I am (1 Cor. 1:26-29), I want to make my boast in Jesus Christ and his cross and be a fool for his sake (1 Cor. 4:10), a bondslave (Gal. 1:10), and yes, a babbler for the glory of God.