“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
-1 Corinthians 1:20-25, NIV
As promised, blogging starts back up for 2018 with this post. I’ve been pondering preaching over the break seeing as Advent and Christmastide are about massive declarations of a very particular God, incarnating as a very specific human, who simultaneously reveals who God is and what it means to truly be human (an affront to our arrogance that we know what truly “human” really means.) The incarnation becomes a central logo of God’s brand promise and so my thoughts wander to the great marketers of the brand (for good or bad), preachers. As we live in ordinary time in the liturgical calendar and look to Lent and Easter, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the words of the Apostle Paul (mentioned above) on preaching.
If you study any memorable logo you will discover one important truth about them all—they’ve mastered ‘negative space.’ This is the white space, the blank space, the unused space that gives the logo its boundaries, structure…it’s very appearance. If you take away negative space, the colors all bleed together, letters lose shape, symbols lose their distinction—the logo becomes a mess and is ineffective.
I always read the Apostle Paul’s words as limiting. I never wanted to take away from the centrality of the cross and resurrection (after all, I call myself a ‘Christian’), but surely there are other preaching topics than the crucifixion. What about discipleship? The ever-popular marriage series that make single people feel awkward? Workplace ministry? Evangelism? For our scripture driven friends, what about preaching from the Old Testament? Do we only preach from the Gospels? [Sorry for the tongue and cheek parts of that paragraph.]
If all we preach is Christ crucified, why did Jesus need to live a life? Is the Apostle Paul guilty of being what the late theologian Dallas Willard called a “vampire Christian,” only wanting Jesus for his blood?
The Jews demanded signs that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah. Paul’s response, “What if the cross is the quintessential sign?” The Greeks wanted wisdom. Paul’s response, “If wisdom is ‘good judgment,’ what if the cross was, and is, the best judgment ever handed down?” The late preaching professor Fred Craddock wrote regarding the performance of preaching, “I’m crucified between the sky of what I intend to be and the earth of my performance.”
Why does the Apostle Paul call preaching back to Christ crucified? Preaching is a central symbol in the life of the church. The cross is the ‘logo’ of preaching (but don’t be like every church in America and put a cross in your church logo and think you’re unique). The preacher, standing up front, delivering the word, is a logo of the goodness and wisdom of God. The cross gives our words definition and power. The cross limits us to always call believers back to the way of Jesus. The cross is all we really have. It is what makes us unique from all other belief systems and philosophies on the planet.
The cross is a line in the sand. Christians remain open to the world’s ideas until those ideas ask us to give up the cross and resurrection. When we refuse to relent on that core truth of our existence we start speaking what author Os Guinness calls “fools’ talk.”
Preaching is fools’ talk. But it is a speech act that declares that the ways of the kingdom are not the same as the ways of this world. And just like we are instructed to take and eat the bread and drink from the cup at the Lord’s Supper, preaching asks us to take and eat the word of God, be empowered by the Spirit, and live lives of testimony, of preaching, to the reality of Christ and his kingdom.
So let’s recap:
- Why preach? Because we continually need reminded of Christ being crucified.
- Why do we need reminded? Because Christ makes us unique—not our programming, staffing, or building efforts.
- How does preaching accomplish this task? The cross becomes the negative space of our lives as a community. The horror and tragedy of Calvary allows for the positive expression of the Church to appear. We become logos for Christ.
Preaching continually reminds us “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). We receive the word and become the word to our community. In Eugene Peterson’s words, “We become what we eat.”
For the Apostle Paul the cross not only saves people it also creates a peculiar people who live sacrificial lives. Preaching becomes the communal habit whereby each time a church gathers we collectively receive the Word and are, as the Apostle Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).