When I first arrived at the United States, I was rather anxious with respect to the high educational levels (Bachelors, Masters and Ph D’s), and the professions (medical doctors, engineers, accountants etc.) of the congregation. I felt that my preaching would need to be backed up with many references and that I would have to refer to the original text of Scripture passages in order to convince them. But over the years I have found that this was not so. Rather, it was like Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 1:22-24 : “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
There was a long historical background to the Jews seeking for miracles. Those who read the Old Testament can immediately appreciate this, and it was also a question often asked of Jesus: “Give us proof”. They looked for a miracle or a sign to verify His message, but to them a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. That the Greeks sought after wisdom was also well known in Paul’s day. When he arrived in Athens, he was very conscious of their desire to hear some new doctrine or theory. They responded in different ways to Paul’s message. Some believed, while some mocked him (Acts Chapter 17). Thus it was in accordance with his own experience that Paul stated that the Greeks seek only after wisdom.
Paul did not present miracles just because the Jews wanted miracles. Nor did he present wisdom just because the Greeks wanted wisdom. The fact was that Paul was well able to perform miracles and discuss scholarship, yet his aim was to present the crucified Jesus Christ. In Paul’s view, it was more important to uplift the crucified Christ than to perform miracles or to talk wisely. God had become flesh, died for mankind, had been raised from the dead and exalted to Heaven. What greater miracle was there than that ? Christ Himself is the wisdom of God, because “in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossian 2:3) In Christ one has both miracle and wisdom. It is not secular knowledge, but true wisdom, that causes one to know God. Nor is it acts of supernatural power to satisfy one’s curiosity, but miracles, that transform lives.
In the church I pastored the gospel was preached to Mainland Chinese overseas students. Because of the presence of world class universities such as Caltech, USC and UCLA, there were many overseas students, especially those who were government-funded.
One year we held a pre-Christmas meeting and invited many of them to a meal. We invited a scientist from Caltech with a Ph. D degree in engineering to talk about space science and to share his faith. Thirty-some students came, in addition to the other Christians. After the talk, some questions were asked about the relationship of science and faith. Afterwards I questioned them privately and found that they had not been so interested in hearing about science, but they were curious to know what Christianity was all about. For our next event we invited a preacher to discuss the true nature of Christianity from the story of the good Samaritan. They were deeply interested by the story and asked many gospel questions. This experience left me with a deep impression that when we drop our ‘wise’ and ‘pleasing’ language but rather speak in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will realize the truth of Jesus’ statement, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32)
The author is a professor in the Taiwan Theological Seminary.