The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas

Article by   December 2014
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Paul Copan and Kenneth D. Litwak. The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas: Paul's Mars Hill Experience for Our Pluralistic World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 201 pp. $18.00.


Paul Copan and Kenneth Litwak have provided Christians with an interesting book describing the apostle Paul's Mars Hill experience in Acts 17. The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas focuses on how believers should evangelize and defend the Christian faith in a pluralistic world. By paying particular attention to how Paul evangelized in a multicultural setting in the first century, Copan and Litwak present readers with timeless wisdom on how to preach the gospel to today's "Athenians" (p.16). 

In chapter 2, Copan and Litwak explore the idea that perhaps Paul's approach in Athens was all wrong (p.20). They confront this idea because there have been various biblical scholars over the years who have questioned whether or not Paul's speech at the Areopagus was actually an effective means of evangelization. In chapters 3 and 4, Copan and Litwak discuss the Athens that Paul encountered in the first century, and also the Athens that Christians must evangelize within in today's world. According to Copan and Litwak, "the word Athens brought to mind several things for most people, much like Cambridge or Berkeley might for people today" (p.27).

Chapter 5 deals with Paul's speeches in Acts. This chapter is very helpful because it identifies various elements and forms that Paul used in his discourses. Copan and Litwak conclude this chapter by stating that, "There is no reason within Luke's two-volume narrative to think that Paul failed at Athens" (p.73). Chapter 6 discusses the different groups of people that were in Athens during the time that Paul gave his speech.

Chapter 7 discusses how Paul communicated the gospel to the educated. It is clear that Paul did not water down the gospel message to simply seem relevant. Paul based his presentation of the gospel on Scripture. He openly spoke about how God had resurrected Jesus and how God had a plan for history (pp.110-11). In chapter 8, Copan and Litwak discuss the art of persuasion. In Athens, it is clear that the apostle Paul demonstrated his knowledge of rhetoric.

In chapter 9 Copan and Litwak challenge the Christian anti-intellectualism mentality that is held to in some quarters of the church (p.135). Christians can learn from the apostle Paul and try to find common cultural ground that will help assist them in understanding the different worldview perspectives that today's Athenians hold. In chapter 10, Copan and Litwak discuss how we should all approach our own Mars Hill. We must remember that there are a lot seekers out there, and we are all called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the marketplace of ideas as we evangelize in today's pluralistic world. 

Paul Copan and Kenneth Litwak have provided Christians with a great starting point on how to build bridges with unbelievers in the marketplace of ideas. Copan and Litwak do an excellent job of showing theism's greater explanatory power over naturalism (p.41), and it is clear that many will benefit from this section simply because of how Copan and Litwak point out the fatal flaws in the naturalistic worldview. Another helpful section is when Copan and Litwak explain the differences between the biblical and secular outlooks (p.152). There is no doubt that Copan and Litwak do an excellent job of showing the superiority of the Christian worldview in both of these sections. 

While this book presents a clear and concise message, I fear that some will struggle with understanding how the message of Acts 17 is supposed to be applied in today's world. Obviously, not many of us will consider ourselves to be on the same level as the apostle Paul. There will also be others who perhaps do not understand the prevalent philosophical worldviews that are held by cultural elitists, and feel somewhat unqualified to challenge these worldviews. So how are these people supposed to contend for the gospel in the marketplace of ideas? How are they supposed to evangelize in today's pluralistic world? These are some of the questions that I believe Copan and Litwak could have answered more thoroughly in their book. 

I also believe that many in the Presuppositional apologetic camp will disagree with some of what Copan and Litwak suggest when it comes to trying to find a neutral ground with today's Athenians. Of course it is beneficial to build bridges with non-believers. However, these bridges should be built to simply expose the flaws in the unbelievers' worldview. By doing this, the Christian does not have to sacrifice his biblical convictions to try and find a common ground. Christian theism is the superior worldview, and believers should always rely on the power of the gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God to express this truth. 

However, it must be noted though that Paul Copan would disagree with this critique due to the fact that he is an evidentialist, and believes that Presuppositional apologetics begs the question. And there will be many who agree with him. It seems to me that the questions that need to be asked are the following: Should natural theology (cosmological arguments, moral arguments, and ontological arguments) be used in our evangelistic methods in the marketplace of ideas? How does the doctrine of sin play a role in our apologetic discourse? Is there really a neutral ground where believers and unbelievers can meet and discuss their beliefs without presuppositions having an impact on the discussion? The way that you answer these questions will perhaps show you what apologetic camp you are currently residing in. 

While I believe that Copan and Litwak have written a very interesting book on Paul's Mars Hill experience, I believe that many may struggle with how to practically apply the central thesis of the author's argument in their everyday lives. Of course, there will be others who will perhaps strongly benefit from this book because of their philosophical background. All in all I believe that Copan and Litwak offer readers a very helpful book on contending for the gospel in today's pluralistic world, even though it is a text probably best utilized in an academic setting. 

Matt Manry is the Director of Discipleship at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He is also an editor for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship 
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