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Preach the foolishness of the cross
February 07, 2005
By Jeff Robinson
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. leads the seminary community in prayer during opening convocation Jan. 26. Mohler urged students to be "agents of scandal" and to proclaim the "foolishness of the cross" to a world that would view them as fools. Photo by David Merrifield
A genuine Gospel minister will receive the world's scorn and not its praise by preaching the cross of Jesus Christ, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during the annual spring convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Jan. 26.
Preaching from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, the Southern Seminary president pointed out that the cross of Jesus Christ is nonsense to those who reject it in favor of human wisdom. Mohler said today's "worldly-wise" view the cross similarly to 19th century "death of god" philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who called the notion of following a crucified Savior imbecilic and the apex of madness.
Ministers who preach the scandal of the cross of Christ without compromise should expect a similar reaction from the elite shapers of contemporary thought, Mohler said.
"We are to be agents of scandal," Mohler said. "The foolishness of the cross means that the ministry is essentially and irreducibly scandalous and there is nothing we can do about that [and] there is nothing we should try to do about that. We can't manage scandal. We must bear it."
Mohler said there are two kinds of persons, both of whom Scripture calls "fools": those who follow human wisdom which leads to eternal destruction and those who follow the wisdom of Christ which leads to eternal life.
Ministers who would be faithful to Christ and the proclamation of His redeeming grace have no alternative but to sound forth "the foolishness of the cross," he said. The minister has no other message because God will destroy the wisdom of the wise, Mohler said.
"We are going to be one variety of fool: [either] the fool who is foolish because of the rejection of the knowledge of God or the fool who is foolish before the world because of allegiance to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ," Mohler said.
"Which is better: to bear the scorn of the world as a fool and to know the wisdom of the cross or to embrace worldly wisdom and to be shown to be a fool on that day when every act and deed and thought will be revealed and all things will be made known to all?"
Ministers empty the cross of its power when they sidestep its central message of sin and grace in favor of an ear-tickling discourse, Mohler said. He reminded students that it is God who called them both to faith in Christ and to the ministry. Therefore, a minister may boast only in Christ and not in his own genius, he said.
"One of the most dangerous and besetting sins that can fall upon a Christian is the belief is that he or she is clever," he said. "Cleverness is a danger. Cleverness is a trap because we can be clever enough to get ourselves out of almost any trouble, including theological trouble. We can re-translate the cross into something a little less offensive, a little more sophisticated, and rob it of its power."
God has not chosen the brilliant, the bright and the best to be His people, Mohler said. Rather, God has called ordinary people — "fools" in the eyes of the world — to confound the wisdom of the self-appointed wise, he said.
The existence of the church demonstrates the power of the wisdom from above that runs counter to the conventional thought of modern culture, he said.
"What but the Gospel could explain how we got there?" Mohler said. "What but the Gospel can explain anything about who we are?
"The church is a witness in a very strange way because according to worldly wisdom, if you want to do something great, if you want to transform the world, you had better go after the 'A' list; you had better go after the rich and the powerful and the beautiful; you had better go after those with social status and standing; you had better go after people who have a constituency, a following, who are celebrities."
Contemporary society is precisely like the first-century culture to which Paul preached, Mohler said. Jews expected a messiah who would come in political power and military might, and Greeks exalted human philosophy.
In the same way, contemporary culture despises the message of the Gospel because of its apparent weakness. This is the scandal of the cross, he said. Mohler exhorted students to reflect on their motives for entering the Gospel ministry.
"If you are unwilling to bear this scandal for the rest of your earthly lives, if this is not what you think you signed up for — then go home," he said. "If you are looking for something that is not scandalous, if you have followed a calling that you think has no scandal, you are in the wrong place.
"Paul was called an 'idle babbler' in Acts 17:18 and he was called worse and he was treated worse. And if you do what God has called you to do, you are going to be called worse and treated worse.
"We can address ourselves to the cultured despisers of religion or we can preach the Gospel, [but] we cannot do both. We can negotiate the faith or we can proclaim the faith — those are the choices. We can try to maneuver our way through doctrine or we can simply teach the faith once for all delivered to the saints -— those are the choices. The Christian ministry is a scandalous business. It always has been, it always will be. If you're looking for a non-scandalous life, if you hope to preach a non-scandalous message, you're in the wrong place. You've heard the wrong call."