Reasonable or foolishness?

During a conversation with a Christian, I was reminded of a most excellent verse from the Bible:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In other words, the Christian gospel is purposely designed by its god to appear delusional to non-believers.  When Christians wonder why everyone else scoffs at their beliefs, they need only recall this verse.  The confusion is intentional.

I got to admit, this is a brilliant rejoinder to those who dismiss your message as crazy.  “You don’t understand what we’re saying?  That’s the way it should be!” For a long time, the looniness was touted as a point in the faith’s favor.  As early Christian apologist Tertullian put it, “I believe because it’s absurd.  It’s certain because it’s impossible.”

But then came the Age of Reason, and suddenly, being absurd wasn’t so great.  Ever since, Christianity has been forced to justify itself on rational and empiricist grounds.  Tract after apologetic tract has strived to demonstrate that the Christian faith is grounded in reason, science, and actual history.  As one of the more notable latest products of that endless stream, William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, states “…it will be apologetics which, by making the gospel a credible option for seeking people, gives them, as it were, the intellectual permission to believe.”

Unfortunately, “intellectual permission to believe” is precisely not what the Christian gospel is supposed to offer.  According to the apostle Paul, the message is unintellectual, unreasonable, irrational, i.e., foolishness.  That is its virtue, a sign to the growing believer that the “power of God” is at play.

But Christians can’t have it both ways.  Either their message is absurd, or it’s reasonable (unsurprisingly, Craig never mentions 1 Cor. 1:18 in his book).  If it’s reasonable, then Paul is wrong.  If Paul is wrong on this, what else is Paul wrong about?  Christians can’t argue their gospel is reasonable without fatally wounding their theology.  But if they argue it’s absurd, then welcome to the club of bizarre beliefs, of which this world is littered.  Christianity becomes no better than Scientology.  Such is Christianity’s conundrum, but it’s a bed of it’s own making.

6 thoughts on “Reasonable or foolishness?

  1. Well said !
    I’d wager such “our beliefs are unintelligent only to non-believers” clause is in many monotheistic religions. Such a list would be fascinating. The Jewish Bible calls non-believers fools too. I wonder what the Koran says?

    I think it is good to focus on the general principle when possible and not point out Christianity alone when possible. Then we learn more about the human mind.

    1. That’s a very valid point. I had intended to broaden the perspective to make the point that not only Christianity makes this claim, but I appeared to have forgotten. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. The underlying message of what Paul said is that those who live like Christ says seem foolish to those whose focus is inward or on worldly stuff. It’s all about turning conventional wisdom on its head.

    It was a dangerous message, and should still be today. It’s all about putting focus not on the things of this world (money, power, etc.), but focusing on something much larger than yourself. That’s why it was viewed as such a threat by the Romans.

    In another translation (The Message) 1Cor1:18-21 reads:

    The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

    I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
    I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
    So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

    Scripture is full of stories of the “least among us” being the hero. Moses stuttered, David was an adulterer…even Jesus was from Galilee, a population looked down upon by the rest of Israel because they were….gasp…interracial.

    It didn’t mean foolish in the Western post-Enlightenment sense as we understand it (silly, irrational, a waste of time), but it means something much deeper.

  3. I remember that verse being very irritating to me when I was coming out of Christianity. It’s like saying that the reason you don’t understand the gospel is because you are defective, wrong, perishing. Well, if God is not the author of confusion, why would his “word” be so confusing?

    Interesting blog you have here. I will check back often 🙂

  4. Hi Robert —
    Thank you for saying so well what I have been thinking for a very long time. I am a Christian and have no plans to become otherwise, but the whole message of the gospel is really illogical and as you said, was never meant to be otherwise. While I think there’s a place for apologetics, I do wish Christians everywhere would realize this.

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