Tag Archives: Christian gospel

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NRSV) – “For the message about 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, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

 

Understanding the Cross involves understanding that God’s plan for humanity is not something that humans designed or engineered. For one thing, the fall of humanity into sin and mortality was not something that any of us had personal involvement in. Nevertheless, despite humanity’s problems after Adam’s transgression, humans still had a conscience that knew what was right according to God (Romans 2:14-15). It was there, ultimately, because of God, not human ability to determine what was right. Because of mortality, nobody can follow the conscience perfectly, which is why, through the Cross and Resurrection, God created a new humanity. Again, that work was done without our involvement. That’s our story; it was just something that happened to us.

Why does Paul call it “foolishness to those who are perishing?” He continues, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24)

When relating Paul’s writing about “Jews” and “Greeks” to the contemporary world, I think it is helpful to think of “Jews” as people associated with the Judeo-Christian culture, and “Greeks” as people outside of that culture.

Some people in the Judeo-Christian culture stumble over the Gospel because, while they may accept the concept of being a sinner and needing a Savior, they are simultaneous fixated on their choice to believe and their works to prove salvation. But these people’s spiritual zeal can burn out and then their faith is derailed. On the other hand, if our faith in salvation is rooted in Christ’s transformative work and His calling to us, then we have a foundation that stands whether or not we are feeling the zeal.

For those outside the Judeo-Christian culture, the Gospel message does not jive with the prominent philosophical schools of thought, political ideologies, or popular worldviews. All of these systems, despite sometimes having legitimate merits, are focused on what humanity can do to engineer a better future. The idea of mankind going from an old creation to a new creation, apart from individuals’ involvement, does not necessarily fit into these systems, and is thus often disregarded by those who build their lives around these systems.

Paul says the Gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” On one hand, both believers and unbelievers are perishing because of mortality. But believers, who will be vivified at Christ’s return and fully experience the new humanity in the coming eons, have this vision for their future as a guiding faith that brings inspiration and energy to their present lives. Not having this inspiration in the midst of mortality, or this future with regards to the eons, is what Paul refers to as perishing.

Paul continues, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

I do not want for people to get the idea that intelligence is a hindrance to faith. Believers can be intellectually brilliant and successful in many ways, including philosophy on life, science, finance, and creative pursuits. And these talents can get attention and respect from people in the world, including nonbelievers who have a healthy appreciation of life and the individuality of others. But you may be opposed by the established systems out there, potentially both secular and religious ones. You might be told that you do not have the right priorities and attitudes, or that you are not proficient or knowledgeable enough, simply because you do not fit in with the worldviews and values systems that are popular at your time of history.

We know, however, that we have some deficiencies. If we really think about how we accomplish everything that we do despite these deficiencies, it reminds us of the wisdom of God, and this is His design so that we admire His working rather than boasting in ourselves.

Lack of Cohesion in Modern Evangelicalism

Many people today are talking about why many Christians seem to lack devotion to their faith. It has been said that a lot of Christians are “Christian in name only,” in the sense that they claim to be Christian but, other than that, Christianity does not seem to have a big presence in their lives. It has also been noted that people of other religions seem to be more devoted to their faith than many Christians are.

Obviously, there is not a single answer to this dilemma, given that everyone has their own personal circumstances affecting their devotion or lack thereof. But from my consideration of the testimonies, experiences, and teachings of Christians, both in past eras and the present, I would like to share my thoughts on why we are seeing some of the reported characteristics within the church today.

Many Evangelicals believe Christians are overall less devout today than in past eras. In some sense, I can accept that assessment (I say “in some sense” because I’m not sure that claim is absolutely true, for reasons I’ll discuss later). So, if it appears that Christians are less devout today, to explain why, a reasonable approach would be to compare what modern Christianity teaches to what Christianity taught in past eras.

In terms of what Christianity teaches today, there is not much difference since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. However, regarding the presentation and delivery of the message, there is a major difference.

Modern Evangelicals are really trying to emphasize God as a God of Love. They emphasize that God desires the best for everybody, and that what God wants from us is not religious devotion, but rather, a relationship with Him. They seek to make their message more inclusive and less judgmental.

However, while modern Evangelicals present their message of God’s benevolence, there are other issues they have to deal with, such as, how to talk about sin, judgment, or hell. And this is where the modern Evangelical gospel faces some tensions. For instance, Evangelicals are usually adamant that they are not promoting religious regulations, but rather, relationship with God. But then they are confronted with Scriptures that condemn certain things which conventional, secular morality does not necessarily believe to be immoral. This creates a tension because blanket prohibition of those activities very much appears to be religious regulation, something that many Evangelicals supposedly do not believe in.

So, on one hand, Evangelicals feel bound to condemning those activities because they see them as a real danger, morally and spiritually, and they believe that those who live in sin are going to face judgment in some form or another. However, at the same time, they do not want to talk about these issues too much; otherwise, Christianity would become about rules and regulations, which they do not want to happen. So, they try to minimize the tension by talking about these hot button issues just enough to get the point across, but keeping the main focus on love, forgiveness, and relationship with God.

Topics such as judgment and hell are also recast in modern Evangelicalism. Judgment is viewed as what happens when people separate themselves from God, thus separating themselves from His protection, and facing the consequences of their sins. God is not portrayed as actively causing harm to anybody, but rather, allowing them to face the consequences of their actions so that they may be led to repentance. On the issue of hell, modern Evangelicals still preach eternal punishment in the afterlife, but instead of fire and brimstone, they tend to portray hell as isolation from God.

However, I sense that in the minds of the audiences, these concepts create tensions. If God is loving and benevolent, and Christianity is not about rules and regulations, then it does not seem to naturally follow to say that people will face judgment or isolation from God if they don’t believe in Him, or if they live certain lifestyles that do not seem to be immoral apart from Christian teaching. These tensions prevent a lot of Christians from really connecting with their faith. And since the teachings against sin and warnings of judgment are given a comparatively small share of teaching material, many Christians tend to resolve the tensions by just focusing on the positive aspects of the teachings and very much disregarding the more “serious” parts.

But concepts like sin and judgment have to be regarded in some way or another in order for salvation to be meaningful in one’s mind and one’s life. We learn a lot of things by contrast. Thus, modern Evangelicalism’s tendency to deemphasize the “negative” aspects has the consequence of reducing the power of the redemptive aspects in the lives of the audience.

Prior to the past couple centuries, God was often viewed as a righteous judge who actively punished sinners. If the Bible condemned a certain activity, you were going to obey because God said so, and if you didn’t obey, He would be coming after you!

Some of you may know about Jonathan Edwards, a famous preacher during the Great Awakening revival of the early-mid 1700s. His sermons (most famously “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) had graphic depictions of hell that frightened many people into repentance. The Great Awakening era, which Edward’s preaching came to symbolize, was a time in which there did appear to be a surge in real devotion to the Christian faith.

I believe that what made the Great Awakening preaching effective was its inward cohesion. Hell was terrifying, sin was gravely serious, and God was just as intimidating to sinners. The whole package worked together. Preachers were not trying to juggle a lovey-dovely message with warnings about sin. Furthermore, for those who were saved, there was an extra degree of appreciation to Christ for one’s salvation, which I believe led to the apparent changes in the lives of Christians in that era.

Now, I’m not saying that I personally recommend that kind of preaching. However, it had a kind of inward cohesion that got apparent results. However, it is hard to know what was really going on in people’s hearts long after their conversion experiences. If people have the conception of God in their minds that was prominent in that era, they will try to live right. They will put on an appearance of morality (especially in public). They will acknowledge God in their lives. But their deeper attitudes or secret thoughts inside, and what they do behind closed doors, could be a very different story. After all, sin is stimulated by Law (Rom. 7:11).

Nevertheless, if we look at the kind of preaching that got results in the past, it seems apparent to me why modern Evangelicalism is not getting the kind of results that its proponents desire. So, what should we say?

Well, first, I should say that God can work through many types of preaching, including that of the Great Awakening and that of modern Evangelicalism. I am not trying to say that there is a definitively “right” or “wrong” way to present the Gospel message. However, when we’re on the subject of why many Christians seem to lack devotion in their faith today, I believe that the lack of cohesion in modern Evangelicalism is a problem.

I believe that Christians should seek a way to present the Gospel in which various themes are integrated together, such that to talk about one subject is to talk about another. As an example of this paradigm, the truth of redemption is revealed by talking about sin and judgment, and the truth of judgment is revealed by talking about redemption. Under this paradigm, you are no longer trying to balance various themes. You cannot talk about one subject more than the other, because to talk about one theme is to talk about another.

There is more than one way that this can be done. As long as the message is Christ-centered, the specific teachings being presented are not my main concerns here. For example, there is a lot of debate between Christians over whether people can lose their salvation. The doctrine of Eternal Security (“once saved always saved”) is viewed by some as a cause of the lack of devotion today, but it is viewed by others as the way to teach a consistent message of grace. However, I do not believe that Eternal Security necessarily resolves the tensions discussed earlier. In many cases, I feel that the doctrine of Eternal Security is just a screen to hide the incoherence under the surface. In fact, some of the most bewildering websites I have EVER encountered are teaching Eternal Security.

So, my main concern here does not involve the specific doctrines being preached. Instead, what I encourage is that, regardless of what doctrines are being taught, the principles of the teaching have internal cohesion and are not creating the need for awkward attempts to balance various themes.