John Stott argues from Paul’s celebrated Areopagus speech in Acts 17.
First, Paul affirmed the unity of the human race, or the God of creation. For God had “made from one every nation of men” (v. 26), and all human beings are therefore his “offspring” (28, 29). We evangelicals rightly reject the concept of “the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of men” if it is used to deny the special fatherhood and fellowship God gives to his redeemed people. But we should acknowledge the truth about creation it expresses. All men and women, having been created in God’s image, are equal before him in worth, and therefore have an equal right to respect…
Second, Paul affirmed the diversity of ethnic cultures, or the God of history. For the “periods and the boundaries” of the nations are in God’s hand (26). The apostle was probably alluding to the primeval command to multiply and fill the earth. It was certainly this human dispersal that inevitably resulted in the development of distinctive cultures. Now culture is the complement of nature. What is “natural” is God-given and inherited; what is “cultural” is manmade and learned. Culture is an amalgam of the beliefs, values, customs, and institutions every society develops and transmits to the following generation. Scripture celebrates the colorful mosaic of human cultures, and even declares that their “glory” will be brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24). This being so, we should seek to ensure that human society remains multicultural, and does not become monocultural. For cultural diversity is a source of human enrichment.
Third, Paul affirmed the finality of Jesus Christ, or the God of revelation. For “now he commands all men everywhere to repent,” having raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him the universal Judge (30, 31). The apostle refuses to acquiesce in the multireligious condition of Athens. He does not hail the city as a living museum of religions. No, its idolatry was abhorrent to him. We learn, therefore, that to welcome the diversity of cultures does not imply an acquiescence in the diversity of religions. On the contrary, Christians who appreciate cultural achievement must at the same time resist the idolatry which lies at the heart of many cultures. We cannot tolerate any rivals to Jesus Christ. They “provoke” us, as they did Paul (16). We must therefore proclaim to all mankind that the God they may “worship as unknown” (23) has actually made himself known, uniquely and decisively, in Jesus Christ.
Fourth, Paul affirmed the glory of the Christian community, or the God of redemption. For God acted through Jesus Christ to abolish the barriers which divide human beings from one another and to create a single new humanity. His fullest exposition of this theme is in Ephesians. Luke only hints at it in Acts 17 by mentioning two converts by name, “Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris” (34). Here was the nucleus of the new society of Jesus, in which men and women of all social, racial, and cultural origins are reconciled to each other through him.
Whatever policies a country may develop for racial integration, they must reflect and not compromise these four theological truths.
- Because of the unity of the human race we must demand equal rights for racial minorities.
- Because of the diversity of ethnic cultures, we must renounce cultural imperialism and seek to preserve the riches of every culture.
- Because of the finality of Jesus Christ, we must insist that religious freedom includes the right of Christians to propagate their faith, and we must not deny this right to others.
- Because of the glory of the new community in Christ, we must rid it of all lingering racism and strive to make it a model of multiracial harmony.
Jesus calls all his followers to be peacemakers. We must pray, witness, and work, to the end that the multiracial dream may come true.
Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essays of John Stott, ch 43. Emphasis and formatting added