1 Corinthians and “Binaries”
A close reading of 1 Corinthians 1-2 will show that it’s composed of several binaries. ‘Binaries’ is a term often used in postmodern literature to speak of pairs of concepts often described in opposing ways. Some examples would be inside/outside, knowledge/opinion, us/them, etc. Really it’s just a fancy way of speaking of two-fold distinctions (the key term is ‘bi’ meaning two). What triggered my own observation of this were: 1) a Bible study I gave on 1 Cor.1-2 in relationship to evangelism, and 2) an article I wrote on the topic of postmodernism.
Now, when we get to 1 Cor. 1-2 we find several key distinctions, binaries, that Paul asserts are crucial for understanding the difference between Christian and non-Christian thought. They effect our discipleship and should inform our evangelism. Paul speaks of “those that are perishing,” and “us that are being saved,” and the “wisdom of God” over against the “wisdom of the world,” etc. Paul claims that the Christian vision of life, presented in weakness and trembling, and highlighted in the power of the cross, is completely at odds with its “binary” of worldly (so-called) wisdom, nobility (or as I like to call it, celebrity) and power.
Christ’s kingdom is completely counter-cultural when compared with the values of unbelief. This is why Paul says, “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For in the wisdom of God, the world would not know him by it’s wisdom…” (1:18)
In evangelism, this is a huge relief. My job isn’t merely to convey information and convince the unbeliever of the gospel. In fact this will never happen because the gospel runs against the very grain of unbelief. In order to accept the gospel the non-Christian would have to renounce their view of who they are (i.e. their spiritual and moral independence from God). As Paul says in chapter 2, “The natural man does not accept the things of God, for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And it’s this last point that balances out what I said earlier. While I may not be able to convince the unbeliever of the truth, the Spirit of God may use my words (if I’m being faithful to present the true gospel) to grant them a spiritual appetite.
This is all the fuel I need to be gracious, loving, and patient with the non-believer, knowing that the Lord may be pleased to use me as a conduit of his grace.