But there’s another layer to what was going on at Corinth. From what Paul says in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 1, it’s clear that their divisiveness wasn’t solely a matter of trying to best their brother (or sister). They wanted their man to carry the day because they thought his style would be more impressive to the world. They thought it would give the gospel message the worldly wisdom it needed to qualify as cool.
I heard someone speak about churches/Christians trying to be cool. He made the observation that churches are by nature not trendsetters in cool, so that by the time they get around to adopting what is cool—it no longer is, and the church comes off looking lame (think of parents who try to dress and act like their teenage children). More importantly, he suggested that cool is an exclusive, elitist status—only a handful of people can only be cool and it is always at the expense of all others (the uncool). Believers should be in the business of bringing people together, not dividing them into cool and uncool.
Paul points out an even more obvious problem in their attempt at cool–the cross. Twenty centuries have muted our minds to how nonsensical it was to first century sensibilities. The Jewish Messiah was crucified by Rome? That sounded like more like comedic fodder for the theater than the message of a kingdom. Surely no one could be expected to embrace such foolishness (v. 22). The deliverance of God would be in the form of something more compatible with reason and expectation—wouldn’t it? To their credit, the church had embraced the message of the cross as preached by Apollos and Paul. To their deficit, they now thought it had to be embellished with rhetoric and wisdom in order to look wise by the world’s standards.
For the cross to become cool to the world, one of two things would have to happen. Either the cross would no longer be the cross, or the world would no longer be the world. The cross (and all that it stands for), is in opposition to the world and its values (Philippians 3:18-19). It is inherently uncool. The kingdom of God is by nature, counter-culture. By default, the Christian faith will never be cool and we make the same mistake the Corinthians did if we attempt to make it that way. We can and should be relevant, but if we go after cool in our attempt to share the message, we’ve made a wrong turn.
The difference? Relevant is sharing the word of God with people via a translation that doesn’t use archaic language of 400 years ago. Relevant is using culture as an entry point for talking about God (see Acts 17:22ff, 28, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Cool is when we cross the relevant line and start marketing the gospel. It’s when style becomes more important than substance, when method supplants the message. It is when something other than Christ crucified becomes primary. Church leaders need to spend time reflecting on this distinction. Churches that aren’t relevant will have no one to share their message with; churches that that chase trends lose their message.