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When cultures collide

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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view of the Acropolis from street near Starbucks (Credit: Jeff Byrd of Denison Forum on Truth and Culture)

The Athenian Acropolis was completed in 415 B.C.  The first Starbucks opened as a narrow Seattle storefront in 1971.  But as you can see, the two cohabit Athens today.

Our study tour departed Dallas Sunday morning, flying through JFK Airport in New York City and on to Athens.  We arrived at 9 AM local time (1 AM to our bodies) and have been struggling to stay awake ever since.  Janet and I spent the afternoon with Jeff and Billie Byrd in the Plaka, the historic outdoor shopping district of the city.  Along the way Jeff took the picture I’ve posted beside this blog.

This juxtaposition of ancient history and contemporary culture fascinates me.  Both are places to gather–the Acropolis originally for worshippers and now for tourists, Starbucks for friends.  Both are highly visible–no skyscrapers exist in Athens because all Athenians have the right to view the Acropolis from their rooftop; there seems to be a Starbucks on every city block on the planet.

Both were built by forward thinkers–the Acropolis by Phidias, Starbucks by Howard Schultz.  The Acropolis is still a world-class destination 24 centuries after it was built; whether Starbucks will still be thriving in a decade remains to be seen.

Visiting the Acropolis is a deeply moving experience for me every time I come here.  To think that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle walked these same stones–that Paul the Apostle interacted with worshipers crowding these avenues–is a staggering thought.  When I visit, I am always impressed by the architectural genius who designed these structures and the sacrifice of those who built them.  And I remember that they are still alive.  Millennia after our planet vanishes, every human being will either be with God or separated from him for eternity.

We are visiting some of the greatest achievements in human history, but the people we meet are more valuable than anything they can make.  We make gods in our image, but God made us in his: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  C. S. Lewis was right: You never met a mortal.  Not on an Athenian sidewalk, or in your mirror.