“What the world dismisses as sheer foolishness, the foolishness of God, proves “wiser than man’s wisdom” (1:25). What the world writes off as hopeless weakness, the weakness of God, proves “stronger than man’s strength” (1:25). This is much more radical than saying that God has more wisdom than human beings, or that he is stronger than human beings—as if we are dealing with mere degrees of wisdom and power. No, we are dealing with polar opposites. Human “wisdom” and “strength” are, from God’s perspective, rebellious folly and moral weakness.
And the moment when God most dramatically discloses his own wisdom and strength, the moment when his own dear Son is crucified— although it is laughed out of court by the tawdry “wisdom” of this rebellious world, by the pathetic “strength” of the self-deceived— is nevertheless the moment of divine wisdom and divine power. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1:25).
For those of us in any form of Christian ministry, this lesson must constantly be reappropriated. Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how “vision” consists in clearly articulated “ministry goals,” how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages.
Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements—but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning.
Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry.”