I’m reposting a short series of reflections on Paul’s ministry in the pagan metropolis of Corinth and how he went about proclaiming the gospel and making disciples in a very unbelieving culture.
The apostle Paul writes (using The Message paraphrase):
“The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.
22-25While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.” (1 Cor 1:18-25)
How many of our current evangelistic and apologetic approaches today have as their main goal to make the Christian faith rational, sensible and culturally respectable? When Paul settled into the busy, hustle and bustle pagan metropolis of Corinth in ancient Greece to begin sharing the message of Christ he seems to have taken a different approach.
Paul recognized that many would find his message of the crucified savior sheer silliness. For various reasons — pride, spiritual blindness, over-rationality, prejudice, etc. — many of those reputed to be “wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age” would never grasp the truth of the gospel. In fact, from God’s radically inverted point of view “human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God.”
Even today, in our own world that similarly prides itself in it’s sophisticated, scientifically enlightened understanding of reality, God is in the business of “turning conventional wisdom on it’s head” and “exposing so-called experts as crackpots.” Do we believe this? Do we believe that there is something inherently crazy sounding about the message of the gospel, of God reconciling all things to himself through the crucifixion and resurrection of a first century Jewish preacher from Nazareth? Are we trusting the power of God at work through the preaching of the “absurdity of God” to do the work of convicting hearts and awakening spirits to the saving work of God through Jesus Christ?
Speaking of the “oddness of God” and those who follow Him, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon remind us that, “Whenever a people are bound together in loyalty to a story that includes something as strange as the Sermon on the Mount, we are put at odds with the world” (From Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, 94).
Just as he did in Corinth 2,000 years ago through Paul, God is through us today “using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.” Let’s not waste too much time reframing and buttering up a message that will always be “foolishness” to those not yet able to receive it.