The Gospel Remains Foolish

A student once asked Karl Barth if he could summarise his whole life’s work in theology in one sentence. Famously, Barth replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”[1] The beauty of such a response is that it nicely captures what the bible says about its central and ultimate message, the gospel. The gospel is so otherworldly that by our standards it can only ever be seen as foolish (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Of course for those God has called, Christ (upon whom the gospel message centres) is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). But this does not mean that to those who are called the gospel message suddenly becomes something that can be shown to be wise by worldly standards. The defining feature of gospel wisdom is that unlike any so-called ‘wisdom’ that this world can afford us, it is spiritually discerned. The wisdom that is of the Spirit is clearly and deliberately juxtaposed with the wisdom that is of the world (1 Cor 2:12-14, c.f. Jas 3:15!). Given that Christians are to live and be taught by the Spirit (Rom 8:13, Gal 3:3, 1 Jn 2:27), it follows that Christian maturity does not rely upon worldly wisdom.

This doesn’t mean that there is no point of connection between the world’s wisdom and the gospel message (which is grounded in real time and place). The omnipotent, omniscient God the Son limited himself by adding human flesh and being born into the created world. Evidence cited for the resurrected Christ is often physical, and persuasion toward Christian maturity is certainly rational and intelligible. Yet at no point do the Scriptures ever suggest that the gap can be fully bridged. The world remains ultimately hostile to the risen Christ, and God’s calling invariably brings people into a dissonant relationship with the fallen world (1 Pet 4:1-6, Rom 12:2, 1 Cor 7:31, 11:32, 2 Cor 4:3-4, Gal 4:3-9). The renowned bible scholar, if he/she is a Christian, will therefore know that genuine spiritual wisdom is ultimately as ‘foolish’ as “Jesus loves me, this I know…” To put it another way, even for the seasoned preacher, the learned scholar, or the elderly saint, the gospel remains foolish.

Our world is quick to ascribe power where academic achievement is evident. At one level this is entirely appropriate. The bible strongly promotes the gaining of wisdom and credits the wise with honour. Simply put, biblical wisdom is about living in the created world in the way intended by the Creator (Ecc 12:11-14). This is why the greatest of follies is to either reject the Creator (Ps 14:1, 53:1), or to substitute him with a false god (Isa 44:12-20). The ultimate expression of biblical wisdom is found in the person and work of Jesus (Col 2:2-3), which is why being outside of Christ can be spoken of as ‘foolishness’ (Tit 3:3). But whilst the wisdom afforded by human academic institutions overlaps with the wisdom from above, it can never equate it, for what stands at the centre of true wisdom is a transcendent divine being; the crucified and risen Son of God, who is the eternal God the Son. It was therefore fitting that the bible scholar with such great academic credentials would express the sum total of his life’s work with a simple biblical teaching intended for a child. No matter how long we’ve been in God’s kingdom; and no matter how much we’ve learned from his Word, we must remember that the eternal and unchanging gospel is foolishly simple, and that along with the Apostle, we should be unashamed of being ‘fools for Christ’s sake’ (1 Cor 4:10).

[1] And no, this isn’t a fable, but a verifiable historic truth. See:

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