Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Returning to the Headwaters

am sitting here in the airport at Athens. It is actually quite impressive,
though I am finding most airports feel the same anymore. The same smells, the
same music track, the same public announcements, and the same security. I could
be in Chicago or Amsterdam, for all I know. That is, until I walk by the kiosk
with the freshly made baklava. Then I know I am still in Greece. But not for
long. The study tour heads for Rome, where we will follow Paul’s journey all
the way to his death.

has been seven days here in Greece, and my brain is stuffed. Each day we have
crammed our minds with new insights, much like a first time tourist squeezes
every last bit of space in a suitcase with trinkets. My eyes are overworked
from the constant images. My memory is near capacity, thinking about Socrates
and Aristotle, Macedonian and Mycenaean cultures, Roman military buildings in
Philippi and Greek theatres in Corinth, orthodox monasteries on towering rocks
and underground tombs in Berea, Zeus and Athena, and Paul and Luke.  I hope I can contain what Rome has to teach

am convinced that visiting Greece is just as valuable as a journey to Israel.
Gaining an understanding of the Biblical text by seeing through a Hellenistic
lens makes a significant difference in how one reads John 1, Acts 17, or I Corinthians
11. It’s only when you stand at the bema in Corinth do you begin to get a sense
of final judgment. Looking at how the Jewish people lived in Berea explains why
the Bereans were more noble minded. Sitting at Delphi, where the world came to
get an oracle from a priestess (inspired by the holy waters and the strange
vapors she inhaled from the center of the earth) suddenly makes Proverbs 9 come
to life. Standing at the harbor of Crenchrea, one can more fully imagine Paul’s
formidable journeys at sea. Exploring ancient hospitals in Greece which
included a theatre, a temple, and a gymnasium, you realize an ancient
philosophy of healing that was ahead of our time. When people needed repair, it
was holistic in every way.

are mere snippets. What you begin to see is that so much of the culture we live
in today is rooted in a Grecian setting. Not only was democracy birthed here.
Theatre had its beginning in this place. Tragedy and comedy find their roots in
the Greek stage (only they weren’t for amusement as much as to provoke thought
and teach virtue). The philosophies that explain so much of our worldview came
to life in this region of the world. Europe was birthed in Mycenae.

part of the reason for so much spiritual deadness in this part of the world is
explained here as well. The early emperors of Christendom decreed that citizens
come to Christ or have their heads cut off. It’s little wonder the vast number
of people today are Christians in name only. Thanks to those rulers who
followed Constantine, all too many in Europe embraced Jesus only to keep their
jobs or their lives, and this kind of minimalist faith has passed from one
generation to the next.

is not an overstatement to say that Greece served as a kind of John the
Baptist. Much of what the philosophers wrote laid the foundation for Jesus.
Many of the stories in Greek myth prefigured the stories in the Scriptures. The
idea that God came to release us from death was already told with the gods
going to Hades to release the prisoners. The idea of God as the “I
am”, as the living water, the king priest–each was fully in force here.
The belief that God lives within us was already espoused in Corinth, where men engaged
in intercourse with temple prostitutes, believing that to enter their bodies
was to enter into the temple of Aphrodite.

difference is that the biblical text brings all of these to full and ultimate
expression.  Jesus is the ultimate answer
to the philosophical question, the ultimate experience of God. By His grace, He
has removed the times of ignorance.

  • Gerry Breshears
    9:13 AM, 30 March 2013

    We’re people in Europe ever forced to accept Christianity or be executed? I don’t know about that. Heretics were executed sometimes, but that is different

  • Ron Laeger
    4:44 PM, 28 April 2013

    Hello Dr. J.This is Ron Laeger, a former Western Seminary student and Senior Pastor of a CB church in Roseburg, Wellsprng Bible Fellowship. Just a quick question if you would mind sharing your travel group or agency that led the Greece tour?
    We’re looking at Greece & Turkey next year and I need a solid referral.
    Thanks for your expertise, marking my life as a seminary student and great blog. I check it frequently for your reports from afar and superb insights into our brothers and sisters suffering abroad.
    Gripped by His Extravagent Grace,

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