10 May 2013

Preaching: God's "foolish strategy"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in December 2007.  Phil draws out the implications of 1 Corinthians 1:21-22.

As usual, the comments are closed.

The gospel is an announcement that seems foolish and naive to the fallen human mind. What is it?

According to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, it's the news that Christ died for our sins and then rose from the dead. That, of course, is shorthand which Paul develops more thoroughly throughout his epistles. But notice that even the Cliffs-Notes version is full of ideas like propitiation, justification, and resurrection—and it culminates in a demand for repentance and a call for faith. So it's nothing the typical person wants to hear, and in the mouth of a determined preacher or Bullhorn Guy who persists in proclaiming it anyway, it sounds like sheer foolishness.

But Paul says this supposed "foolishness" is actually the wisdom of God, which is wiser than men. It's the most potent weapon we could unleash against the sin and darkness that holds people in bondage: the gospel, a message worldly people will always and invariably deem absolute foolishness, until the Lord opens their hearts to receive it.

Paul is directly arguing against the mindset that prevails in most of modern evangelicalism. The driving concept behind church growth and church marketing today begins with the idea that we need to find out what people want and adapt both our message and our delivery accordingly in order to reach them effectively. Pastors expend great amounts of energy taking opinion polls and canvassing their communities to find out people's tastes and preferences (especially with regard to style and subject matter). Then they make it their main object to reach those "felt needs."

Now there's no question such an approach has sometimes been effective in drawing huge crowds. You can see it in several of the largest churches in the country. But can it be effective in the long-term? Is it more effective in reaching people for Christ, so that their lives are transformed and they truly live for him?

The answer to that question is clearly no. It is not a biblical strategy. It is precisely the thing Paul says not to do.

Does anyone seriously think Paul would have passed muster with any of the self-styled experts giving pastors marketing advice these days? No wonder he died virtually alone, after reporting to Timothy, "All who are in Asia turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15). Paul made the biggest marketing blunder of all: he failed to deliver what his "customers" wanted. In fact, he knew full well what people's preferences were, and he flatly refused to cater to them.


But notice what strategy Paul actually followed instead: "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (v. 23). The Jews want a sign; we give them a stumblingblock. The Greeks want wisdom, we give them foolishness.

Now, why did he do that? Did Paul just want to be perverse? No. Keep reading: "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."


What seems mere foolishness to the worldly mind is actually the only thing that can reach sinners because it is the true wisdom and power of God.