Can Genuine Christians Learn From the Pagans?

From “Beyond Evangelical” blog by Frank Viola

Welcome to another Thursday UNFILTERED blog post, the only blog that isn’t ashamed to spend Friday nights at home.

Quick history lesson on the word “pagan” since I’m using it in the article title.

The term pagan was used by the early Christian apologists to group non-Christians into a convenient package. At its root, a pagan is a country dweller, an inhabitant of the pagus or the heath (the rural district).

Because Christianity primarily spread in the cities, the country bumpkins, i.e., the pagans or heathens, were regarded as those who believed in the old gods.

So “pagan” is a synonym for people who do not follow Jesus.

Now that we have that cleared up, that’s NOT the point of this article.

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a friend who has been heavily influenced by the teachings of several high-level entrepreneurs.

My friend is a committed believer. But these entrepreneurs are not. They don’t follow Jesus. They are (for a better word) pagans.

Right now, at least.

Yet some of what they offer is wise from a practical standpoint.

Our discussion revolved around how to navigate what “successful” unbelievers can teach us along with what to guard against in their teachings.

The following is an email I sent to my friend which summarizes my thoughts on the subject.

I hope you find it valuable. Oh, read carefully lest you miss the nuance and send me a flaming email. (Yea, I occasionally get those from professing Christians. Nice, right?)

[Name of my friend]

I’m aware that some of the Wisdom literature in the Bible is not special or unique revelation from God, but rather a collection of truths that humans have discovered as they’ve reflected rationally on the human experience within the created order.

Consequently, universal observations are contained within that literature AS WELL AS special revelation from God.

There are timeless truths wired into the universe that don’t require divine revelation to uncover. This is why followers of Jesus can learn from atheists, agnostics, and people who are following false religions.

For example, some Egyptian influences are embedded within Proverbs. And that wisdom transcends empires, cultures, languages, and continents.

King Lemuel apparently wasn’t an Israelite, yet he (per his mother) authored a poem in Proverbs.

Even Paul quoted unbelievers in the New Testament. Example:

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

~ Acts 17:28

Human wisdom, however, is grossly limited in what it can impart. So something more is needed in order to be fully human and fulfill the mission for which God designed us.

This, I believe, is one of the perils that face the high-level entrepreneurs of this world (many of whom are Buddhists, Stoics, existentialists, or atheists).

Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes teach us the following.

1. Universal wisdom derived from observation is limited.

2. The fear of God is the beginning of real wisdom.

3. Human wisdom can never help us understand the mysteries of life or God.

So all earthly wisdom must be filtered by and be subordinated to the unique revelation that God has provided in Jesus Christ, the One who is the incarnation of Wisdom.

In my observation, some of the high-level entrepreneurs today are merely adapting biblical principles wittingly or unwittingly. Hence, why they “work.”

Personally, I have no problem learning valuable things from worldings. And I’m not beyond quoting them.

I’ve also made the observation that there has been far more co-working and cross-pollinating in the world of heathen musicians than in the world of Christian leaders as well as far more creativity, both of which are tragic.

The same is true in the world of entrepreneurship at the highest levels. The biggest “hitters” attend each other’s seminars and promote each other’s work.

So we can learn from their example (as ironic as it is).

(See Why Christian Leaders Don’t Work Together.)

On the other hand, I’ve watched the pursuit of money that seeps through the teachings of unregenerate entrepreneurs destroy some of my friends’ spiritual lives and/or sidetrack them from pursuing the kingdom of God.

Therefore, a strong caution is in order whenever a believer touches that world.

These friends of mine spent virtually all of their time learning from these people and little to no time learning the deep things of God from those whom the Lord has called to dispense them.

The desire for it simply wasn’t present.

“Success” was what they were passionate about. Jesus Christ and His kingdom were just a footnote in their lives.

To my mind, the body of Christ ought to be leading in the area of practical guidance, nuts-and-bolts wisdom, life skills, business ideas, and creativity since all wisdom and creativity is found in Christ.

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

~ 1 Corinthians 1:24

in whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

~ Colossians 2:3

Yet because “the church” of our time is so weak and anemic, many Christians are compelled to go to the world for these things. So it’s really an indictment against the Christian camp of our day.

The valuable teachings these entrepreneurs give are often laced with the spirit of Mammon, which is easy for all of us to be captured by.

So my conclusion is to filter all worldly wisdom through Christ and His kingdom and be vigilant in guarding against the contaminating elements that are attached to these men and their teachings.

In addition, give more time to learning the deeper matters of the Spirit, i.e., the eternal purpose of God, the gospel of the kingdom, living by the indwelling life of Christ, discovering and enjoying the unsearchable riches of Christ, etc.

Those are the things that have eternal value and they are what God’s people — including leaders — desperately need today.

So it seems to me.