WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–My mother taught me that if what I had to say was foolish, then I ought to keep my mouth shut. At the time, I didn’t realize that she was teaching me the simple wisdom of Proverbs, that foolishness is to be avoided and wisdom is to be embraced.
So it is in the Scriptures that foolishness is to be left unspoken and left undone. That is, not only are Christians to avoid speaking foolishness, they are also to avoid doing foolishness. The man who hears God’s Word and does not obey it is a foolish man (Matthew 7:26). Jesus contrasts the way of wise living with the way of foolish living in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.
But there is a foolishness that demands to be spoken. It is not a foolishness associated with the wisdom of the world, rather it is the foolishness associated with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:21-22). This is “the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). It is “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1:25) that is rooted in the cross of Jesus Christ and the “weakness of God” that comes “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4) whenever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is faithfully preached. It is a foolishness “wiser than men” and a weakness “stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Christians must speak about such foolishness, about the “foolishness of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18), which utterly confounds the foolish wisdom of men. The problem is that too often the church creates its own “foolishness,” which obscures the divine word that the world desperately needs to hear.
Last spring the Glassport Assembly of God, located near Pittsburgh, Pa., put on an Easter program in which the Easter bunny was whipped in an attempt to show how Jesus was crucified. The show attracted not only the ire of several parents who attended with their children, but also the attention of national media.
Patty Bickerton, the youth minister at the Glassport church, who portrayed the bunny in question, answered critics, “The program was for all ages, not just the kids. We wanted to convey that Easter is not just about the Easter bunny, it is about Jesus Christ.”
Whatever the intentions of the church, and it seems they were good, this all comes off as so much, well, foolishness. But it is foolishness of the wrong kind. Now we have the world objecting not to the foolishness of the cross but clamoring about the foolishness of the church.
If the Apostle Paul came to Corinth without “lofty speech or wisdom,” can we not see the wisdom of coming to the world without such sorry attempts at cleverness and entertainment? Are the Gospel and the Holy Spirit so powerless that we need to put off the simple preaching of the cross and to put on such ridiculous affairs?
This isn’t engaging with our culture, it is capitulating to our culture. And I fear that it’s happening far too often in churches that rightly wish to communicate the saving message of the Good News about Christ and the cross.
The Easter bunny whipping may be an extreme example, but it reflects the too frequent use of silly promotions and kitsch programs that appear foolish to the world not because of the cross, but because they are indeed foolish, reliant on human wisdom to the betrayal of the divine.
I understand my mother’s advice about foolishness in the right context now that I am older. I understand that human foolishness ought to be kept quiet, whether it’s my own personal foolish thinking or whipping the Easter bunny in a passion “show.” But I also understand that divine foolishness must be spoken.
I pray that during the season in which we focus especially on the passion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that we discern the distinction between different kinds of foolishness. And I hope we resolve to be known not for our own foolishness, but to be known for God’s foolishness, the foolishness of the cross.
David Nelson is associate professor of theology and senior associate dean at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.