Is Our World Ready for Christianity?

Through the years I’ve heard a great deal of conversation about the state of affairs in the first century world which impacted the initial spread of the Gospel. One line of reasoning that has been suggested by historians and theologians that I have read goes something like this: The reason the Gospel spread like wildfire amongst the first-century pagans is the people were ready for something different, something new.

This idea is often brought into discussions about efforts to share the Good News with people today. I’ve heard it suggested that one of the reasons the American mission field is not as fertile as other places in the world has to do with the fact that cultural conditions are not “right”. Conversely, I have heard others suggest the reason a certain segment of the American population is currently open to the Gospel is due to cultural conditions making this group “ready” to hear the Gospel.

Maybe you’re sitting there looking at your screen saying, “Huh? What’s the point of this?”

Well, I read something recently that really made me think about this. In his signature, penetrating fashion N.T. “Tom” Wright speaks with precise scholarship to a long-held, but misguided, view. In “What Saint Paul Really Said” he writes the following:

People have often attempted to explain the rapid growth of Christianity by arguing that the first-century pagan world was, so to speak, ‘ready for Christianity’. I am not so sure. The Athenians were not ready to hear about ‘Jesus and resurrection’ (Acts 17:18, 32). I don’t think the Corinthians were particularly ready to be told about a new way of being human which involved chastity and the renunciation of party spirit. The Philippians….will have been radically challenged by hearing that Jesus was the one true kyrios, the lord of all the world. It may be true that people were tired of Stoicism, though Epictetus, Paul’s near-contemporary, gives no sign of it. It may be true that people were tired of Epicureanism, though Paul addresses it as a live option in Athens. It may be true that people were fed up with the ordinary pagan cult, and indeed Pliny, writing in the early second century, suggests that it was hounoured as much in the breach as in the observance in his day. But the basic features of paganism were deeply engrained in the lives and habits of mystery-cults, and a good deal else besides were part of the daily world of Paul’s audience. My sense is that the pagan world was no more ‘ready for the gospel’, in that sense, than the Jewish world was ready to hear the news of a crucified Messiah.

This seems to be one of those debates about the quantifiable difference between six of one thing and one half dozen of another. This is a distinction without a difference. So, how do we know who is ‘ready’ for Christianity? How could we know?

I believe that Jesus said the secret is in the soil! At least, that seems to be the message of the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15). Here Jesus described four types of soil which signified four conditions of the heart. One type of soil, the good soil, “stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Here’s the key: In Jesus’ parable the sower didn’t debate, deliberate or discriminate. He just sowed the seed. When you think about it, our task isn’t to somehow determine whether or not our world is ready for Christianity any more than it is to determine whether or not another person has a noble and good heart. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time fancy-footin’ it around this topic when we just need to sling our seed bags over our shoulders and go to work. What do you think?

© Bill Williams, September 21, 2006

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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5 Responses to Is Our World Ready for Christianity?

  1. Mag says:

    Bill, well thought, as usual.

    My thoughts? That I usually experience the overwhemling presence and power fo God when i can really wait on Him long enough to let Him get past all my defenses and guilt and let him love me the way he wants and needs to. When I can lay down all my excuses, crutches, dreams, desires, thoughts, and feelings…my expectations, goals, the promises I thought he made to me, my disappointments, hurts, fears, and truly just say, “I want You right now. I will wait. And I want more and more…and I know you will come to me in a fresh sense revealed to me…if I want it with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength”, he will come.

    In that moment (as in times past), my heart will be so full, my zeal so intense, my mind so enriched, my spirit so overwhelmed, my smile so big, my eyes so bright, my love so intense…that the world will take notice.

    I think this “filling of the Spirit” is what I miss most often when my tank is low, my stress is high, my plate is full, and my reserve is spent. I need him. Just like I do right now.

    I think we have to learn, as people, that it’s okay to need. It’s okay to want. It’s okay to be passionate in this sense with the Lord. There are great outlets for all those things God gave us. Until we learn the balance of discipline, wisdom, self-control, prudence and grace with passion, purpose, zeal, and emotion…I’m not sure how far we are going to get with the world.

    That’s how I am surmissing my own plight at the moment anyway…

  2. Greg England says:

    I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. Much of the sowing we do needs to be seen in our behavior and attitudes toward one another as well as other believers … wherein may be the problem! The crop we’re selling doesn’t always reflect the seed we’re sowing. Well, at least that sounded good when it first shot through the old synaptic relays.

  3. In this world of uncertainty and instability we can only pray the world is ready for Christianity. That is true devoted to the kingdom followers of Jesus. Perhaps when the community “restores” that passion for the kingdom we will yet again spread like wildfire.

    Bobby Valentine

  4. We were instructed to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” He did not say “if you think they’re ready to hear it.” That’s for the Holy Spirit to decide. And if a seed is planted then it’s God’s job to grow it. We just need to be obedient to what we’ve been called to do and God will the the rest.

    Also, I want to thank you so much for your prayers, thoughts, and kind words of encouragement in my moment of “crisis”. I appreciate how quickly other bloggers really lift up one another in times of need. It’s just so amazing to me.

    God bless you.

  5. Pingback: Of Parodies and Realities « SPIRITUAL OASIS By Bill Williams

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