The ‘March of Progress’ is the name given to an illustration (also called ‘The Road to Homo Sapiens’) which presents 25 million years of human evolution. It was created for the Early Man volume of the Life Nature Library, published in 1965, and is supposed to show us how mankind evolved from apes and the relentless progress of which man is capable.
The Bible does not subscribe to this view, telling us that man was created perfect and without sin by Almighty God, and that disobedience to God’s command led to his fall and banishment from the Garden of Eden, with the result of separation from God and the arrival of death in the world. (Gen 1-3, Rom 5) God’s plan of salvation, culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was made to reverse this dilemma and restore mankind to eternal life and relationship with God.
The context within which Paul preached to Jews focussed on Old Testament Scriptures: its history, prophecies, and law. But with the pagans in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20), he focussed not on a Scripture they did not know, but on the natural world around them, which they did know and could see. He begged them to turn from the vanity of idolatrous worship to the living and true God. He spoke of the living God as the Creator of heaven, earth and sea, and of everything in them. (Acts 14:15) He reminded them that God does not leave himself with testimony, a point developed later in Romans 1:20. God’s provision of rain from heaven and crops on earth in their seasons meant they already knew something of God’s generous nature, and this became the starting point for Paul’s exploration of the gospel with people who had no prior knowledge of God.
John Stott reminds us, ‘We need to learn from Paul’s flexibility, starting where people are, to find a point of contact with them. With secularised people today this might be what constitutes authentic humanness, the universal quest for freedom, or the longing for personal significance. Wherever we begin, however, we shall end with Jesus Christ, who is himself the good news, and who alone can fulfil all human aspirations.’ (John Stott, ‘Acts’, P 232) The march for progress – to which many people still aspire nowadays – can only truly be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and any gospel presentation must focus on Christ crucified, a message that will offend and shock today as it did in Paul’s time.