The cleverness of the clever I will set aside. (1 Corinthians 1:19)
In a church world enamoured with technology, strategy, personality, and hyper-contextualization we would do well to take seriously Paul’s marvellous declaration in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16. Paul, without question, was a massive intellect, one of the brightest men to ever live, yet he tells us that he intentionally, purposefully, and deliberately refused to use the wisdom of the world in gospel proclamation. Keep in mind that the Greeks of his day prided themselves on their intellect, on learning new things (Acts 17:21). The Jews were also quite proud of their religious heritage. Paul clearly knew both the Jewish world (Phil. 3:3-6) and the fine points of the Greek philosophers (he makes direct and indirect reference to a number of their poets and philosophers, Acts 17:27-28), yet he tells the Corinthians that when he came to them he determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and him crucified. To put this in a modern context, that would be like Paul today saying, ‘Americans search for science, Asians search for technology, Europeans search for art and culture, but I preach none of these to them. I committed myself to preach only the mystery of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ He goes on to say that he does in fact preach wisdom, but it is not a wisdom of this world, rather it is God’s wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory (1 Cor. 2:7).
We have a long history, especially in the last five hundred years, of wanting, perhaps even aching for the approval of the world. We saw it in the sixteenth century with Erasmus who battled Martin Luther for the minds and hearts of the Europeans. Erasmus argued for the freedom of the will, knowing that Luther’s emphasis on man’s total inability to believe the gospel was insulting to the intelligentsia of their day. Many of the Presbyterians in Scotland in the 18th century, in a desire to gain a hearing among those with whom David Hume was winning the day, began to put science before Scripture, resulting in the general wasteland that is now Scottish Presbyterianism.2 In a desire to reach the cultured despisers of the gospel in his day, Friedrich Schleiermacher taught that one need not necessarily believe in the miracles of Scripture in order sincerely to follow Christ. The departure of Fuller Seminary from biblical inerrancy in the 1960s can be traced to the desire of some of her professors to ‘gain a place at the academic table’ of the day.<3 And today the exegetical gymnastics of men like Peter Enns4 and Francis Collins of Bio Logos5 in order to soften the straightforward account of six day creationism in Genesis 1-2 in hopes of winning a hearing in the secular cosmological and biological world is another example of denying the straightforward preaching of the mystery of the cross. Simply put – any time we try to explain our Christian faith apart from the mystery of regenerating grace through preaching the supernatural work of the Spirit in imparting new life to the sinner, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. When we try to use any scientific, philosophical, moral, or historical argument to prove the validity of the Christian faith, we must realize others may refute our arguments (at the end of the day we can no more prove six day creation than the evolutionist can prove the earth is billions of years old; none of us was there and the ‘experiment’ cannot be repeated and therefore cannot be observed), and cast doubt in the minds of some weaker Christians. Has this not repeatedly happened on the college campus with unsuspecting college freshmen who encounter a hostile, atheistic professor in Biology 101!
What, therefore, does this have to do with proclamation of the gospel? We make gospel proclamation to the lost far more complicated than it really is. Bottom line – every unbeliever, regardless of his philosophical or biological training, is a blind rebel who cannot see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above (John 3:3). She is a hell bound adulteress (John 3:36, 4:15-18) and a child of the devil (John 8:44). He suppresses, or purposely puts down, the truth of God in unrighteousness, the ample knowledge of the existence of God (Rom. 1:18). He has a cobra heart that loves sin and hates God, and he has no intention of being convinced by logic of the validity of the Christian faith. He cannot and will not believe the gospel, no matter how sharp your arguments may be (Rom. 3:10ff).
What, then, does this mean for gospel proclamation? You have the Holy Spirit indwelling you. You are a co-labourer with God (1 Cor. 3:9). You are an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). You are an instrument of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:3). You also are a fool (the Greek word is moron) for Christ’s sake and the world considers your gospel as utter and complete foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14, 3:18-19, 4:10). By virtue of your union with Christ you also have authority, power, and love. You therefore ought simply to challenge people to listen to the gospel. Now, you must, of course, be gentle and respectful; but you should not give an inch. You have the truth. They do not. You have the mystery of the cross, working through the application of the Holy Spirit to the preaching of the gospel. You have everything going for you. All they have is their philosophical speculations, founded on nothing but thin air. You have the historical Christian faith, made known by the work of the Holy Spirit. So go forth with the gospel, acknowledging your dependence upon the Spirit, accepting the fact that the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing but is the power of God to those who are being saved. Expect God to save people as you present the simple, straightforward gospel which exalts Christ, debases man, and brings salvation to all who humbly bow before him.
- The seventh of eight core values for life and ministry. The first six are Scripture saturation and meditation, adoration, supplication, sanctification and propagation.
- This is clearly put forth in How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman, who shows how the Scottish Enlightenment adversely affected the church.
- See George Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism.
- The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. For example, Enns writes, ‘Attempts to reconcile Genesis and evolution are understandable, but they invariably lead to making some adjustments in the biblical story, and these adjustments always move us away from a strictly literal/historical reading of Genesis toward something else – call it symbolic or metaphorical or some other term’ (page xv).
- See Socrates in the City, edited by Eric Metaxas and Collins’ article entitled ‘The Language of God’ in which he says that Darwin was right, that common ancestry is correct, page 314.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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