“The line from an ancient poet is not quoted to show that the Greeks had already anticipated a large part of the revelation which it was St. Paul’s commission to make known to mankind; it was quoted with the express object of attacking the whole system of idolatry: “Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” This was St. Paul’s method of meeting unbelievers on their own ground. He found his way into their fortifications to turn their own guns upon them. He exploded their whole system from within. He quoted the inscription on one of their own altars in order to suggest that neither their philosophy nor the traditions of their ancestors had given them any knowledge of the true God. He quoted Aratus or Kleanthes in order to expose the ignorance of the Divine greatness which was illustrated by the temples and statues which they had erected in honour of their divinities.
“Nor – though this was the first discourse that he delivered to them – did he keep within the limits of philosophical discussion about the nature of God, and the true method of worshipping Him. He went on at once to speak about judgment to come, and about Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He might, had he chosen, have said many things to which the Epicureans and Stoics would have listened with interest, and even with respect. He might have discussed questions of morals. He might have compared or contrasted the ethical teachings of Christ with their own. But all this would have been to no purpose. The resurrection of Christ might provoke their mockery, but to have been silent about it would have given them a false conception of the gospel. It was more important that the Athenians should know the truth – whether they received it or not – than that St. Paul should conciliate their respect.
“The principle on which I am insisting is a very simple one: whether true or false, it is intelligible. We shall never make men Christians by suppressing and throwing into the shade those parts of the Christian revelation which especially provoke their hostility. Truth which men regard as incredible, truth which men resent – we must be sure, first of all, that it is truth, and truth of an important kind – is precisely the truth which men most need to hear , and which is most likely to produce the deepest moral impression.”