In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens discussing an altar to an ”unknown God.” He recognized the people of Athens acknowledged the existence of a higher power far above their own Roman deities. As a result, he used their culture to share the gospel and to further God’s Kingdom.
Based on this biblical account, Mars Hill, as an event, was created in Stoa. With an emphasis on shining the Truth of Christ (John 14:6), students must use common aspects of culture like songs, books, movies, and art to springboard into Gospel conversation.
Imagine yourself at a coffee shop with a friend and you hear your favorite Mars Hill song start to play. Your friend asks if you have previously heard the song. How would you respond? How could you bring to light God’s Truth?
Mars Hill is a style of speech in which conversation is key. Relating with the human experience to connect human flaws, pitfalls, brokenness, pain, and suffering to the Gospel Truth is central to a successful Mars Hill speech (and conversation outside of competition).
I would highly recommend a book called “Gospel Fluency.” Author Jeff Vanderstelt communicates how important the Gospel is to everyday life and how to engage in Gospel conversations. The book is a practice guide to real world Mars Hill outside of a formal and competitive setting.
Shameless plug aside, why is Mars Hill an event to invest your time and effort into? It’s the most practical and realistic preparation you can have for sharing the Gospel. Learning to listen for hurt, brokenness, and longing within every aspect of culture leads to the promotion and recognition of Christ as the solution in such a way that you, yourself, will never lose hope and confidence in your faith.
Here are some superb reasons to begin/continue/respark your Mars Hill journey.
1. Matures your Faith: Learning specifically how the Gospel is counter-cultural in ALL aspects of secular views in the Eastern, and especially in, Western society. Asking questions and challenging the preconceptions of society is a great way to mature your faith. Yes! There is nothing wrong with “wrestling” your faith and challenging yourself to seek answers to tough questions (like the reason for evil and suffering). Curiosity is necessary for growth. Without a desire to question, challenge, and think critically, maturity will not result.
2. Incentivizes Initiative: Learning how to dive deep into context, interpretations, and opinions on Mars Hill topics promotes academic skills like research and reasoning. A part of learning to ask questions involves learning to investigate the topic and to seek the Truth. Not only does Mars Hill promote investigating the given topics, it also promotes an investigation into our faith. Sometimes taking just a few minutes to research the topic will reveal a deeper meaning, opening up a new avenue of discussion and understanding of Christianity.
3. Encourages Evangelism: Participating in Mars Hill should not be with the intent to speak well and to try and win. The purpose of Mars Hill is to develop a critical eye seeing the need for the Gospel, ears open to hearing the need for the Gospel, and a mind equipped to speak the Truth of the Gospel. Your intentions show in competition. Judges will detect your heart’s intentions. Learn to enter competition with love and confidence seeking challenge and growth in faith, communication skills, and critical thinking.
If maturing, taking initiative, and living out your faith is not enough to begin your Mars Hill journey, then I don’t know what will! Allow me this food for thought (and possibly a hot take): Mars Hill as an event is more practical than the event of Apologetics. Don’t get me wrong, Apologetics as an idea for believers is essential for strengthening our faith. However, it is easy to become like the Pharisees knowing the Christian answers and missing the offer of a relationship with God. Mars Hill as an event is focusing on the relationship and interactions between a believer and culture. When this occurs face to face in conversion between a believer and a non-believer, Christ’s Truth provides both endless hope, security, belonging, fulfillment, purpose, love, peace, patience, kindness, etc. In college, I have proclaimed, seen, and experienced the value of Mars Hill in a fallen, broken world in search of that which can only be redeemed by God.
This side of heaven, nothing will be perfect. Advocating for the perfect, flawless, never-failing love of God is the only solution to the “God-shaped hole” in society (credit to C.S. Lewis) and the means by which God’s restoration continues. I hope that you will join me in affirming the significance and cruciality of Mars Hill, both as an event and a lifestyle. The common saying “you do not appreciate what you have until it’s gone” holds true for competing in Mars Hill. You will not regret investing yourself into the event. It will revolutionize your faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13).