Paul the evangelist had to be converted.
When he arrived in Athens, Paul’s first response was anger.
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
He deep in his soul detested idolatry. As a son of the Covenant, he know the command of God against idolatry. He knew the history of his people with idolatry and the dislocations that it brought. He was actually part of the diaspora, having been raised in Tarsus, outside of the land of promise. He knew the immorality often associated with idol worship, from drunkenness to human sacrifice. So seeing a city filled with shrines to the deities on the nations, he had a visceral reaction.
Yet, when he got to speak, as is recorded in v. 22ff, what was his source of anger, became his bridge to common ground.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…
Paul was not a finger pointer like some outdoor preachers. His method was to reason in the synagogue from scripture that Jesus is the Messiah, and to reason in the marketplace that Jesus is the Christ. He took as his starting point the very thing about Athens that would cause him to churn with anger.
You might wonder how you could accomplish this trick. Perhaps you are incensed at the others on a social question such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, or economic policy. Those “others” on the issue get your blood to boil.
Can you, like Paul, listen, observe and see how to find common ground?
23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…
Paul did not convert to idol worship or to the tolerance of it. But he brought himself to see that the Athenians, in their own way, were seekers of God, and were open to what they did not know (v. 21, 22). It was a conversion of attitude. It was a conversion from “us vs. them” to “we all are seekers…”