Driving back from a business meeting in Glasgow today I was listening to Laurie Taylor’s programme on Radio 4, Thinking Allowed. He was in discussion with a couple of academics on what it is that makes societies more or less religious. I’m afraid that I didn’t find the discussion particularly illuminating, which is unusual as I normally find it a very thought provoking programme (I have even subscribed to the podcast). The underlying proposition was that in general more ‘advanced’ societies seem to be less religious than developing ones – except that the USA is an obvious and glaring exception to this rule. The sociologists debated various reasons why this should be the case – without coming to any conclusions that I found particularly satisfying.
I have no great light to shine on the debate other than that it chimed with something I have been thinking about since Sunday night. At the gospel service I attended on Sunday night the preacher spoke from 1 Corinthians 1 vs 22-24, “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The ‘Jew’ in the context is the religious individual and the ‘Greek’ is the intellectual. It struck me that despite the fact that Paul wrote this the best part of two millenia ago we have essentially these same categories today. There are the religious individuals who cannot accept that something as simple as faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus could possibly be sufficient in God’s sight and look for something more dramatic, something more sensually satisfying. To the intellectual (civilised, western, cosmopolitan?) on the other hand, the whole idea that a relationship with a divine being could be based on such an act of apparent failure and weakness is foolish beyond comprehension. Yet the Bible makes it clear that this is God’s only way of salvation!
So much time is expended in worrying about how popular Christianity is, yet the above passage makes it clear that God never expected the Gospel to be a universally popular message. The question is not ‘how religious is society?’ but rather ‘what do you make of Christ?’. Is his death a meaningless footnote in the history of a minor outpost of the Roman Empire or is it the most profound event ever to have taken place in this world? This is the wisdom of God and it would be well to take Him at His word.