Rational fools who worship an ass?

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

To say that the world will always consider us to be fools no matter what we say or do is not the same as saying it doesn’t matter what we say or do. No honest reading of 1Cor 1:18-31 can lead us to any other conclusion than that the world will consider us to be fools preaching foolishness but to acknowledge this fate is a far cry from suggesting that the mind is irrelevant in our witness. Our message may be ridiculed but that’s no excuse for abandoning the field of reason and persuasion.

The gospel is the power of salvation but God imparts the saving knowledge of that gospel through various means and methods. We need only look to Paul’s example in Acts to see that a self-identified “fool” will still reason from Scripture (Acts 17:2; 18:19) and attempt to persuade by argument (18:4; 28:23-24).

Fools need not be irrational fools.

Only fools worship an ass

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23a For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified…

Some think the earliest representation of worship involving a crucifix is contained in graffiti discovered in a guardroom near the Circus Maximus in Rome. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito and variously dated anywhere from the 1st to 3rd century, the graffiti is a crudely drawn picture with an inscription. The picture portrays a man standing at the foot of a cross with his hand raised in worship to the man hanging there. The man on the cross is drawn with the head of an ass and the inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

Jesus in 2D

In the course of a casual conversation a friend mentioned a book he was reading that had him rethinking his picture of Jesus [I haven’t read the book]. I don’t know how much my friend had read but at this particular point the projected image of Jesus was that of “playful”.

Certainly the author had read the Bible enough to know that no such description is applied to Jesus which is why, through a bit of spiritual extrapolation, he discovered “playful” Jesus by observing that Jesus spent most of His time with 12 other guys {exercise your sanctified imagination}. Along this line of thinking I would surmise other “proofs” could be found in Jesus’ love of children, his ability to tell a good story, and his use of sarcasm.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus smiled and laughed or that he was anything but a dour personality. However, I must admit a significant level of discomfort when I hear someone promoting a novel description of Jesus:

1. These new pictures of Jesus are akin to what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. That is, it gives the impression that previous generations of Christians were oblivious to some espoused truth that only now has come to light. Maybe there’s a reason why 1000s of years church teaching never saw fit to describe Jesus as “playful”. [just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how often reviews and blurbs of these novelty books invite the reader to “discover” this new truth which apparently had been hidden in previous generations]

2. New pictures frequently lack an appreciation for the distinction between the humiliated Son and the glorified Son. Consider that during the days of Jesus’ earthly humiliation John laid his head on Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23) but when he saw the glorified Jesus John fell to the ground in fear (Rev 1:17).

3. New pictures–especially those that emphasize Jesus’ humanity–are colored almost exclusively by the Gospels rather than a broad reading of Scripture. At the very least this risks an imbalance in which Jesus’ humanity overshadows his divinity [I don’t think this is the normative impression one gets from reading the Gospels]. A full reading of the NT just doesn’t seem to lead one to the impression that Jesus is primarily a comfortable friend.

4. New pictures often speak where Scripture is silent. Closely related to #3, this practice usually comes by a narrow or selective reading of the Gospels. As narrative literature, the Gospels are rarely explicit on subjective details like facial expressions, tone of voice, inner motivation, etc. Consequently, readers often feel a certain freedom in applying his/her own spin on the unmentioned details.

Purveyors of these novel depictions of Jesus promise to deepen our love and respect for Him but I suspect that in the long run such pictures will diminish Him. Rather than marvel at His majesty we settle for sentimentality that is more flat than full.

what am I to think of a gracious greeting to a disgraceful church?

Our adult Sunday school classes just started an 8-month study through 1Corinthians. No doubt the ensuing study & discussion will generate numerous posts of which today’s entry is the first.

If it’s possible for a church to live in infamy the Corinthian church would have to be exhibit A. Compile a list of the issues Paul was forced to correct in the letter you’ll find the Corinthians guilty of abrasive individualism, divisiveness, (one count of) incest, a disregard for corporate holiness, spiritual pride, shameful lawsuits against fellow church members, abusing Christian liberty, drunkenness at communion, disorderly worship services, a lack of love, the misuse/abuse of spiritual gifts, and a denial (by some) of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Now it’s one thing to recognize one or two of these sins in any given church, it’s quite another to find all of these failures in one church at one time!

What then are we to make of Paul’s absurd greeting to this misfit church in 1Cor 1:1-9 where he speaks of these people as saints and thanks God for the display of His grace(!?!) in their lives? I don’t have time to elaborate on the following “takeaways” but most should be self-explanatory.

When I read 1Corinthians and then re-read Paul’s greeting I…

…recall that apart from Christ there is none righteous, not even one.

…marvel that a holy God justifies the ungodly and declares me to be sanctified, a “holy one” in His sight.

…claim the title of “saint” on the basis of Christ’s finished cross-work yet I strive to live in light of my new name.

…feel ashamed to see how insensitive I am to sin’s corruption, how slow I am to repent, and how little zeal I have for God’s righteousness.

…remember that even God’s grace (whether in pardon or power for living) can be abused and perverted by pride.

…rejoice to think that God’s grace for today will be overtaken by a greater grace in a day to come.

…rest in the knowledge that God is faithful to fulfill all of His promises and that He is certain to finish the work He began.