As academics, we don’t like looking foolish. We are trained to provide evidence for assertions, and refrain from making them if we can’t provide justification for what we think and believe. But as I have been working through 1 Corinthians over the past few months, I have been convicted and encouraged by Paul’s call to ‘foolishness’.
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, the church had begun to value rhetoric and personalities over the truth of the Gospel. It wanted great speakers and rhetoricians who could ‘sell’ Christianity in an over-saturated philosophical marketplace: it wanted competitive and convincing salesmen. The Corinthians didn’t want to seem foolish and naïve when compared to the followers of other belief systems in the city. After all, they were followers of a man whose chief triumph was being tortured and killed (at best, pitiable, at worst, humiliating) and then being bodily resurrected (an idea which many contemporaries found repulsive, not glorious). The Corinthians thought that if they could get the best orator and leader, they could make their faith look a little less…well, foolish.
Paul responds by telling them that the Gospel is foolish to those who don’t believe it. The historical events of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection form a strange story any way you look at it, miraculous and completely unexpected! It doesn’t follow worldly logic or abide by earthly laws. It does make sense, but Paul warns that Christians shouldn’t be surprised when they find that not everyone thinks so.
This sits uncomfortably with me as an academic because I have been trained to ‘prove’ points and defend myself. But when it comes to the Gospel, I need to remember two things. Firstly, that it wasn’t my bold reasoning or brains that led me into relationship with God: it was his grace working in my heart. Apologetics are great tools for witnessing for Christ in the academy as they speak its ‘language’, appealing to reason and evidence. But while I can point to historical evidence and reasoning to justify to others why the Gospel is true, I shouldn’t expect these things themselves to change people’s hearts because they didn’t change mine. I love Him because He first loved me. It’s not my point to win.
Secondly, I don’t need to defend the Gospel with wise words. It doesn’t need them. God is I AM. If I am depending on fine arguments, it’s probably because I am trying to look enlightened rather than be enlightened. I know the Gospel is true and my conviction of that should not depend on prevailing opinions. At the end of the day, my faith is just that…faith. And I shouldn’t be ashamed of that. God chose foolish things to humble the wise: and while I want to be taken seriously by my colleagues in the academy, I know I definitely want to stay in the former rather than the latter category!
Having hope and faith in Christ might make me look foolish in the academy. But when others look at me and think ‘how could she believe that crazy old myth?’ I take encouragement from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church to joyfully accept being a ‘fool’ for Christ.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.1 Corinthians 1:8-25