As I entered my first year of graduate school, Dr. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, a brilliant intellect of the twentieth century, said to me, “John, your academic education has been based on the premise that you cannot be educated or be a true intellectual if you are a Christian who believes the Bible.” Most of us have felt the intimidation of that premise at every level of our educational process. We are tempted to think that the world’s assessment of Christians as ignorant and under-educated is a modern phenomenon. We are led to believe that the world has come of age and the enlightened elite have moved passed the archaic superstition of the ancients. As we continued our conversation, Dr. Hughes went on to demonstrate that the world in every age has claimed to be too “modern” to believe the gospel and God’s Word.

Paul, a first-century genius and scholar, observed, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing . . . we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). The gospel was folly to the “wise” of Paul’s day. The modern world that is too erudite for Christianity today is the same “modern” world that laughed at Paul on Mars Hill in Athens. It is also the same “modern” world that scorned Noah as he built the ark and preached to his contemporaries. But in every generation there have been great minds and scholars who were believers holding tenaciously to the truths set forth by God in His Word.

So why does the world deem the gospel foolish? The problem lies right at the nucleus of man’s being. Paul said in Romans 3:11: “No one understands; no one seeks for God.” Many Christians only stress the legal problem sinful mankind has before God. We are guilty in God’s cosmic courtroom and thus need a Savior to take away our transgressions and guilt. However, Paul also stressed the biblical truth that we have a spiritual debilitation in our souls. Every part of our being has been deadened to the will of God by this killing infection. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again” (John 3:3). He needed to be changed at the very core of
his existence.

There are two major characteristics of this God-rejecting nature. First, the sons of Adam desire autonomy. We want to throw off the will and ways of God. David wrote of this in Psalm 2 (and it was noted by the early Christians in Acts 4): “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (vv. 2–3). Man prefers self-governance over God-governance. He wants to throw off the chains of God’s law. Second, man desires to create his own gods — gods made in his image. John Calvin graphically depicted this when he wrote, “The human heart is a factory of idols....Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”

Thus, my non-Christian friend with his spiritually impaired sight and hearing cannot see and hear his dependence upon and responsibility to God. He sees himself as an “unlost” soul who has no need of salvation. The whole mission of Jesus is therefore foolishness to him. Very early in my ministry I was accosted by a music director who was also the wife of a deacon in the church where I was preaching. As we had come to the Lord’s Table I had spoken of the blood of Jesus given for the salvation of sinners, and she was livid. She thought such a concept and language were primitive. She was a religious moralist who had no respect or love for the cross. The biblical gospel was foolishness to her.

Imagine the scorn that Noah endured all the years he was building his ship. He warned his culture that judgment was coming, but they dismissed his warnings and went on with their lives. These were a self-ruled people who manufactured gods indulgent of their lifestyles. The “gospel” according to Noah was foolishness. Was Noah really the fool? Was his theology primitive? When the rain began to fall, Noah’s preaching and boat proved to be profound wisdom. That ark became the wisdom of God.

So it is with the cross. Like the ark, the crucified Christ is the shelter of salvation and the wisdom of God. It is important we grasp this, for too many of us think of Christianity as an irrational leap of faith. As a student I frequented a small Christian bookstore. The owner loved to speak using clichés. One of his favorites was “I may be a nut, but, praise the Lord, I am attached to the right bolt.” Many Christians think like that man. They have felt ostracized by the world so long that they see themselves as fools.  The book of Proverbs teaches us that the one who is truly godly is full of wisdom. Jesus said that it was the wise man who built his house on the rock.

Dear Christian, remember this: In every age, the gospel has been considered foolish by the world. But God has said that it is the wise of every age who seek salvation in His grace. Christ on the cross is not only a demonstration of the love of God, it is a demonstration of the wisdom of God.

For Further Study