Preaching with Pagan Texts — Practicing Acts 17

Paul did not say what the Athenians believe in was wrong. He merely pointed them to the true nature of God.

We live in a world that is lost and broken. And even though we celebrate a diverse variety of religious and cultural traditions, we realise that the bulk of humanity is lost.

As I studied the diverse riches of cultural and religious traditions of Asia, I am fascinated by the similarities Taoism have with Christianity. In my reading of Taoist scriptures and in my limited understanding of Taoist deities, I come to realise that their highest God, the Jade Emperor, isn’t quite the highest in terms of rank. Worse, it isn’t he who created the universe in Taoist mythology too. Sure, the Jade Emperor governs all of creation in Taoist mythology, but he did not create. He is not the reason why the universe exists in Taoist mythology.

Most Taoist practitioners do not know that.


While waiting for my gramps to come home for a family gathering, I ventured into a Temple of the Jade Emperor near their home. Within the temple, there are many statues. So I spoke to the people working within the temple, asking them to tell me more about the gods that they worship. Almost all of them told me that they do not know the gods inside the temple. They just worshipped. I asked if they knew what they were doing. They said they do. They were just following the instruction of worship.


After talking to a few of them, they brought me to the Temple Owner (庙主). I asked him to share with me about the gods. He briefly pointed some slightly prominent ones to me. He stood in the distance, far from the statues. He doesn’t seem too passionate in sharing about his faith, though. So I asked again.

“Who is the Jade Emperor?” I asked.

“That one in the centre,” he replied.

“There’s quite a few in the centre.”

“The highest one.”

“The biggest one is a thousand hands guanyin… No?”

“No, above her.”

“That small one?”

“What small, he’s the largest.”

“Ya, smaller in terms of size?”

I walked towards the statue and saw a plague. It reads “The Jade Emperor of Heaven governs all of the Mortal and the other Realms, but ranks below the Three Pure Ones (三清道神)”.


Because of my reading, I know who is this Three Pure Ones. But because I did not see the statue(s) of the Three Pure Ones, I asked, “where is the statue of the Three Pure Ones”?

He looked at me with disbelief.

“What Three Pure Ones? The Jade Emperor ranks lower than them? Can’t be!” he exclaimed as he walks towards the plague and takes a closer look.

“This is wrong! I need to tape this up!”

I looked at him and asked, “but the plague says so?”

“Wrong! Can’t be! I’ve not heard of the Three Pure Ones!”

At this moment, I have that conflict within me. To preach or not to preach? I chose to keep my cool and trust that the Lord will show Himself to the temple owner. Ultimately, the Three Pure Ones in Taoist mythology is the Trinity of Taoism, the Creator of the universe.

My heart conflicted within me as I pondered on the Taoist verses that the Holy Spirit brought to my attention.

(The Dao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced all things.”
— Daodejing Chapter 42.

(I do not know whose Son it is. It might appear to have been like God.)
— Daodejing Chapter 5.

(The Dao which originated all under the sky is to be considered as the mother of them all. When the mother is found, we know what her children should be. When one knows that he is his mother’s child, and proceeds to guard (the qualities of) the mother that belong to him, to the end of his life he will be free from all peril.)
— Daodejing Chapter 52.

Within these verses alone, we see the creation of the universe, the mystery of the Trinity, the relationship between the Son and the Father, and the adoption of all humanity to sonship.

The points mentioned above is similar to what Paul used when he preached to the people of Athens. He used their philosophical and religious texts to proclaim the mysteries of God. First, he pointed out that God created the universe and hence do not need to be served (Acts 17:24-25). Second, he pointed out that we are God’s offspring (Acts 17:28-29).

Paul did not tell them that what they believe is wrong. Paul however told them that they “ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29, ESV). He pointed them to the true nature of God and all that the Lord had done for them.

I think this is our calling. We are not called to rebuke the people from their beliefs. We are called to point them to the truth hidden beneath their beliefs. We are called to point them to the true nature of God that has been lost through ages of misunderstanding and ritualistic traditions. Through having a proper understanding of the truth of God, nations will walk in the light of God, and the kings of the earth bring their respective glory into the kingdom of God (Revelations 21:24, ESV).

The Kingdom of God is truly rich in cultural diversity. Now, it is up to us to uproot eons of ritualistic legalism and to point people to the glory of the God of all creation and to help them see the riches of God’s mysteries.

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One thought on “Preaching with Pagan Texts — Practicing Acts 17”

  1. The Creator God has chosen to keep himself hidden from our natural senses. We cannot see him. We cannot hear him or touch him or taste him or smell him. We cannot build any scientific instrument that is capable of detecting him. God is truly invisible to our natural selves. But Man is more than his natural body. Man was created in the image and likeness of the Creator.
    Genesis 1:26–27
    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
    27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (NIV84)
    It is interesting that we should be created in the image of an invisible God. What this means is that our true natures are invisible too. We are spirit beings, just like God, that have been hidden within animal bodies. We do not know this fact because of religion. We know this fact because God revealed it to us through the writings of Moses, the Man of God. Moses’ words can be read to this day because they are recorded in the Holy Bible. The Holy Bible is the Rock that does not change. The Holy Bible is the Rock that came from God to be the light of the World, that is, the unchanging revelation of God about what is true in the world. I want to point out something concerning the Word of God, and that is that it did not come from the West. Neither did it come from the East; no, it came from what the people of the West call the Middle East. The people of the West embraced the truths in the Bible before the people of the East did, but now peoples of the East are alive with the true Word of God. I say this about the origin of the Bible because many critics of the East say that the Holy Scriptures are from the West and are used to enslave the people of the East. Many evil people have misused the Scriptures and continue to do so to this day, but the Rock that came from God is unchanging and enslaves no one. It only informs those that will look into the Scriptures the truth that comes from God. The truth that comes from God knows no national boundaries and should never be used for personal gain.
    Many traditions have evolved in the world throughout the ages. But each of them must be checked for truthfulness by the revealed truth that comes from God. As this article says, the truth can be seen in many religions, but the Word of God is used to see what is actually the truth from what has been changed over time.
    Christianity, true Christianity, is not a religion. It is the body of people, from the East and from the West and from the South and North that all seek to know the Creator through the revelations that he gave us for that purpose.
    As a young man, before I came to know Jesus Christ, I was fascinated by the ancient writings of the people of the East. There was a popular show on the TV called Kung Fu, and it was my favorite. I still like the messages that are displayed in the show. I now evaluate them by way of the Bible and find many of them to be very enlightening. The truth knows no culture. The truth is the truth, and it always agrees with whatever God says is true. I, by the way, am from California in the USA.
    The Bible is not an easy book to understand because before it can be understood, it must be lived in your life. As you read the Bible and let it transform you, you become more like God in your understanding and then you can see the truth in all sorts of places and in all sorts of cultures.

    May the God of Heaven and Earth, the Creator, guide you into all spiritual truth.


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