Monday, January 28, 2008

Trinitarian skylarking

The cross is foolishness. Of all the aspects of the gospel message to pick as the summary word the cross is nuts. It's weak and unimpressive. Yet, Paul summarises his message as "Christ Crucified" but we know he says all the other stuff too about God's promises to Abraham, about him being king over all, about us inheriting all things with him, about wrath and resurrection etc.

The cross makes an idiot of the world who thought they'd beaten Jesus by the cross. It also stops us being proud because no one looks big when they say that Jesus on a tree is where our hope comes from. The cross is the Bible's gospel-code. When we talk about being cross-centred we mean being about the gospel of salvation history from Genesis to Revelation.

Likewise look at Esther. Purim is the festival to celebrate the victory over the Amalekites. You'd think GALLOWS would be the symbol cos they hang their enemy and his sons on Gallows (Haman the Amalekite from the family of Agag). What do they pick as the symbol - PUR - because their enemy thought that by casting lots (pur) and trusting in chance he could beat the Jews. The symbol mocks the enemy. Luckyman lost and it's celebrated by building Vegas. It's comedy as God tramples his enemies under foot without being mentioned.

You'd think that an empty tomb or a throne would be the best symbol of Christianity but that's a power statement. The cross makes a fool of the watching world but it's everything to us. No one looks clever when they they sing of the wondrous cross where Jesus was cursed to bring us blessing. There is comedy as God mocks the world and wins the victory.

See also: Watch Mark Driscoll making some similar points about humour/satire in the Bible, Read a outline of main points of Mark Driscoll on Humour by Brian Lair.


  1. We really have to nail this subject properly. I would like to see you being much, much clearer on this Mr Bish.

    The cross seems like foolishness to the world. It is not actually foolishness. Therefore find that faith and reason come together. And it makes sense to give a reason for the hope we have.

    The other way around - the cross is seen as actually foolish, and this leads to faith and reason being divorced. This supports the simple gospel evangelistic approach that is in my view the biggest obstacle to coherent and biblical gospel proclamation that we face in student missions.

  2. Um. Ok. I agree the cross isn't foolish - it's God's wisdom, the point is that it doesn't pander to human proud thinking that wants to say I figured out something phenomenal.

    That said, that is never opposed to persuasive, reasonable, well argued, proof of the gospel. Paul himself in writing the opening of 1 Corinthians puts together a cogent argument. We need to argue as carefully, rigorously and thoroughly as we can (and maybe the above post isn't brilliant writing), but it will still require humility to respond to it.

    Repentance and faith is never "that impresses me so I'll believe it" but it can be "that is a compelling portrayal of Jesus that makes sense so I must believe"

    I see plenty of coherent, well argued, persausive proclamation. We can all learn to do it better but it is happening.

    Please demonstrate what persuasive preaching of the cross looks like, without having to be hyper-intellectual or 'simple-gospel'.

    I suspect what you critique as simple gospel is less simple gospel and more lazy preaching that is under prepared (a risk all of us face), but the opposite danger is playing to peoples intellects to impress them.

    This is a conversation that needs to be had, though not the one I thought this post would produce.

  3. I also appreciate the symbolism of the cross as it applies to human mortality - as Wordsworth said, "the faith that looks through death" rather than around it. I feel our culture is almost in denial about death - the topics of illness and mortality are almost taboo.

    So the cross as front and center in Christian symbolism provides, in this sense, a reality check on the larger culture.

  4. PS, Tom: My reading of Paul on the cross as foolishness is neither that he thinks it squares with reason nor that he actually thinks it's foolishness; his repeated pronouncements of its foolishness are clearly ironic.

    I read Paul as essentially saying: "Although the resurrection appears contrary to reason, hey - it happened."

  5. Actually, I think Paul does divorce "faith" and "reason", or rather he divorces divine reason from human reason. The cross does seem like foolishness to the world - and always will do - and therefore if we are intent on appearing "reasonable" we will always miss the cross.

    This goes much deeper. It's about whether we're prepared to identify with Christ in looking weak (at all levels, including the intellectual) or whether we have to look strong to ourselves and to the world. The message of the cross forces me to crucify my proud reason and recognise that God doesn't work the way *I* think he should, but the way he sees fit to work. And it humbles me by showing that Almighty God humbles himself.

    Perhaps the worry is that if we can't show that the gospel is "reasonable" then people won't believe? But that is to succumb to a kind of deism in evangelism... God actively shows the truth of his word by the work of his Spirit, not by clever argument...

  6. Mm, 'divorce' is a little strong. I assume Paul's trembling words were uttered in sentences that made grammatical sense, for example.

    Big difference between the faculty of human reason used as a servant-tool of either gospel apprehension or gospel proclamation, and human reason fighting against God.

    Since God made the world, the latter is not actually reasonable at all. It is insanity. And of course we shouldn't pander to it.

    The former however, is true reason. Hence, we ought to lay bare the reasonableness, the logic, and the explanatory power of the gospel of Christ crucified in our evangelism. But unless the Holy Spirit works to undo the blinding insanity all sinful human beings inherited from the fall, then people won't get it.

    Btw Dave, love the way you expressed the idea of the cross mocking the enemies of God.

  7. Daniel,

    Rationalism and rational are different things.

    Did the Holy Spirit give up thinking after supervising and inspiring Paul to write Romans..?