What is the Gospel?: Part 4, The Shape of Reality

So, the gospel is an epistemological crisis. A Copernican revolution. What we once knew of ourselves and the world has been wiped away and replaced.

Replaced by what? What is the exact nature of the crisis the gospel creates upon our hearing the News?

To return to Part 2, the gospel is news about the crucified Messiah and risen Lord. But what is it about this news that creates an epistemological crisis?

The crisis has to do with the shape of reality. In the crucified Messiah and risen Lord the shape of reality is revealed to be cruciform. And it's this cruciformity which creates the crisis. The cross puts a question mark next to everything.

It might be helpful to see this at work. A great case study is found in 1 Corinthians 1: 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
In the last two posts I noted how the news of the crucified Messiah and risen Lord created a crisis in how Paul understood the Law and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. As I mentioned, we see in both Romans and Galatians Paul working through that crisis, rethinking the world in light of the gospel. But here in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians we see a different epistemological crisis, how the gospel puts a question mark next to the philosophical tradition of the Greco-Roman world, question marks against "the philosophers of this age." Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans. The gospel puts a question mark next to all of them. The News of the crucified Messiah and risen Lord creates an epistemological crisis for the entire philosophical tradition of Athens and Rome. What we once thought was wisdom is now, in light of the News, revealed to be foolishness. 

And note that the crisis is produced by the cruciform shape of reality. Greek and Roman wisdom is foolish because it gets reality wrong. The "preaching of Christ crucified" is less about atonement than ontology. The Lord and Judge of all Reality, the Logos holding all things in being, has nail scars. That's a crisis for a world that thinks reality is otherwise. 

And the importance here concerns navigation. Where are we? What sort of world are we living in? We need answers to these descriptive questions before we can locate ourselves and plot a course for our lives. Right living flows out of right description. And it's the News about the true shape of reality that gives us this right description. To continue with the case study of 1 Corinthians, after Paul points to the epistemological crisis created by the cross for the wisdom of the age, Paul goes on to make navigational comments:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Given the shape of reality, revealed by the News, Paul describes a community striving to navigate its life by conforming to the shape of the Crucified. Because reality has a cruciform shape so does the community. Ethics and ontology go hand in hand. A cruciform community navigates life by rejecting the honor/shame codes of the world. In a cruciform community the weak and powerless have status and honor. Because Jesus is Lord. Because of the News.

All this illustrates how the gospel "does its work" in the world. The News communicates the cruciform shape of reality. This creates a crisis for the world, calling for a response. With the News comes truthful description, and that map provides us a means of navigation. 

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply