The Mars Hill Forum Series

Among Believers and Skeptics Alike – the Questions are the Same


John C. Rankin

The Mars Hill Forum series is a modest enterprise I began after nearly a decade on the college campuses debating the theology and politics of human abortion. I found, in the face of such a controversial and painful issue, that communication is possible through an honest embrace of those who disagree with me, with a hospitality to their toughest questions. This is rooted in the essence of the Gospel.

Any and all questions at the interface of biblical theology and politics were in view. My first invitation was extended to Dr. Carl Sagan, professor at Cornell University, and well known for his very popular Cosmos series on Public Television. He was interested and pleased that I put no restrictions on his questions as we would talk about God and science, but then cancer intervened, from which he subsequently died. He sent me a copy of his last book with a kind inscription. The purpose of the Mars Hill Forum series is not to win a debate, but to win an honest friendship with people of different positions on a range of debated topics, all in service to the Gospel and a healthy social order.

The term “Mars Hill” is the Latin reference to the place in ancient Athens that was the center of political authority and philosophical debate in its golden age. After the Roman conquest, political authority was stripped from Mars Hill, but philosophical debate remained and flourished. In Acts 17, the apostle Paul is invited spontaneously to address a meeting of the “Areopagus,” the original Greek term for “Mars Hill” (both references to the god of war). Paul appeals to the God of creation and unity of the human race, even citing Greek poets who are yearning for the same, and proclaims the resurrection of Jesus in the presence of hundreds of skeptical philosophers who had rejected Greek polytheism. From many angles, therefore, Mars Hill is an apt metaphor for good public thinking on all matters theological and political.


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House of Lords 17 October 2017

Text of John Rankin’s address on the occasion of the 500th annive5rsary of the Reformation.