This past week I preached out of Acts 17, focusing on Paul's time in Athens. I believe Paul's engagement with the the people of Athens illustrates faithful presence (see James Davidson Hunter's book, To Save the World). His interaction with the leading thinkers of Athens serves as an example for the church in the west. More importantly, Paul illustrates Jesus' encouragement found in Matthew 10:16: Behold, I'm sending you out as sheep amongst wolves, so be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (ESV).
If the church takes up the worlds weapons of war in the culture wars, we are engaging issues on the world's terms; we will always lose. If we retreat for fear that we will be stained by the world's influence, then we are marginalized and muted. If we acquiesce in order to be open and affirming, we lose our distinct confession of faith and beg the question of our involvement in the church altogether.
When Paul entered Athens in Acts 17 he was sickened by by what he found: something akin to a forest of idols. He is provoked, irritated, and moved to action. One can only imagine what all Paul saw; I suspect that Luke's version in Acts is rated PG. Despite all of the offended him, however, he sees the heart of sin: idolatry. With that , Paul begins moving through he city streets with purpose. He reasoned with the believers there; he raised his voice in the marketplace, even as they called him names. Finally, he stands with the cultural elite, appealing to their leading thinkers in order to point to Jesus! I don't think the Aeropagus council intended to give Paul a platform upon which to proclaim Christ! Yet, that's exactly what God accomplished through Paul that day.
Was Paul safe for the Athenian culture? Ultimately they deemed him a peddler of ridiculous ideas. A babbler at best, an agitator at worst. They mocked him. To be sure, Paul was doing good according to the gospel. Some who heard him placed their faith in Jesus. He wasn't so much trying to win the debate with the Greeks as he was there to speak the truth about God and Jesus' resurrection.
The church in retreat; the church taking up arms in the culture wars; the church diluting the gospel in order to be open and affirming is safe but not good for this age. All three options fail the gospel.
The church that embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power of God for salvation will be seen as unsafe by the world but will always doing good for the glory of God.