6 Preaching and Apocalyptic Imagination

Dr. Charles L. Campbell

Portions of this lecture are taken from Charles L. Campbell and Johan Cilliers, Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012).

I’m a Presbyterian preacher so I must begin with a text. Hear now two readings from First Corinthians – a letter that is often not considered to be apocalyptic:

1:18-25: For the message about 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, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

4:9-10: “I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all,” he writes, “as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ …”

The seminary at which I used to teach has a beautiful campus. Surrounded by the main buildings is “the quad.” This space is landscaped with lovely green grass and trees and brick sidewalks and benches. And everything is immaculate. The grass is always nicely mowed. The sidewalks crisscross each other in perfectly symmetrical patterns. Even the benches are bolted down so they will remain in the appropriate, aesthetically pleasing places. And late in the afternoons out on the quad, students play Frisbee and Wiffle Ball. It is a beautiful, idyllic setting.

Ten years ago, some students at the school placed a cross at the center of the campus. The cross was not a nice, shiny gold or silver cross. Rather, it was a very large, rough, wooden cross. The year was 2003; it was the beginning of the Iraq war. The students felt they needed to do something, so they decided to set up a place for vigils and prayers – and resistance. They had heard about an old cross somewhere on the campus. So they went looking for it.

The students finally found that cross in a storage room on the third floor of the main administrative building. It was old and worn. The stand was in horrible shape, so the cross was always leaning to the side – cockeyed. But the students carried that old, cockeyed cross out to the center of the campus and set it up. They offered the power of the cross as a challenge to the power of the U.S. military. They proclaimed the cross as an alternative to the policy of “shock and awe.” Foolishness.

But there was something else odd about that cross. It not only seemed foolish in relation to the war. It also seemed foolish in the middle of the campus. It was out of place; it was an eyesore. It disturbed the beautiful symmetry and peacefulness and order of the campus. The cross got in the way; it interrupted business as usual. After all, it’s tough to play Wiffle Ball with a big cross out in right field. And do you really want to risk hitting the cross with a Frisbee?

Some students even complained about the cross in the middle of the campus: “How dare a small group of students take it upon themselves to disrupt our activities in this way!” After several weeks, however, the weather took its toll on the cross. The rickety stand gave out. And the old wooden cross fell to the ground, even as the war in Iraq raged on. The students hauled it away, and everything returned to normal.

Over those few weeks, the Columbia Seminary students invited everyone to a profound understanding of the cross. At the center of the campus, the cross was not a sacrifice or a word of forgiveness or a moral example. Nor was the cross a glorification of suffering or a call passively to endure abuse or violence.

Rather, the cross at the center of the campus was an interruption – an interruption that exposed the world’s assumptions about power and unsettled the symmetries and securities of the campus, including the theological symmetries and securities by which we often seek to “master” the cross. The cross was an interruption that recalled the disruptive way of Jesus, who in love challenged the powers of domination and violence and death, even though it cost him his life.

Moreover, the cross at the center of the campus also stood as a reminder of the hiddenness of Christ’s power in the world, the seeming foolishness of this power, the paradoxical character of this power, which the world perceives as weakness. The cross interrupted and unsettled, exposing the reality and consequences of war. But it also created a paradoxical space in which people had to discern in the seemingly powerless death of Jesus an alternative to the powers of death that dominate the world. People had to discern wisdom and power in the scandalously foolish, cockeyed cross at the center of the campus. And even at a seminary, not everyone did.

That cross at the center of the Columbia Seminary campus is, I think, the cross Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, Paul’s preaching is even more outlandish than the act of the seminary students. In the midst of the Roman Empire, which had its own “shock and awe” tactics (including crucifixion) to enforce the Pax Romana, Paul proclaims the cross. In the midst of a culture based on wisdom and honor and power, Paul proclaims the crucified Christ.

Theologically, it was unimaginable that the Messiah – the Christ – would be crucified. Philosophically, it was unthinkable that the divine could hang in the flesh on a cross. Politically, it was inconceivable that the Messiah would liberate Israel through crucifixion by the very Empire from which liberation was expected. And culturally, it was impossible that one shamed on the cross could be honored as the Christ.[1]

Messiah-Cross. These were incommensurable realities. Neither the theological nor philosophical nor political nor cultural imagination could entertain such an idea. It was a shocking, even blasphemous, paradox.[2] It was, in short, foolishness. Indeed, according to some scholars, the translation, “foolishness,” is actually too tame. It was, in fact, “madness.”[3]

For Paul, too, the cross is an interruption.[4] As many New Testament scholars are now arguing, the cross is an apocalyptic interruption or invasion of the old age – the old myths and conventions and rationalities of the world – by the new.[5] As such, the cross unmasks the powers of the old age for what they are: not the divine regents of life, but the agents of death.

And the cross inaugurates the new age or new creation right in the midst of the old. And in interrupting the old age with the new, the cross creates a space where we may be liberated from the powers of death, both to resist their deadly ways and to begin living in the new creation.[6]

As a result of this apocalyptic interruption, J. Louis Martyn and other New Testament scholars have noted, Christians stand at the “juncture of the ages” or the “turn of the ages.”[7] We stand “in between,” in a kind of liminal or threshold space where the two ages overlap, where the old is passing away while the new has not yet fully come. This space, like all liminal spaces, is a space of movement from one place to another, in this case movement from the old age to the new – a movement that is never complete until the final coming of the new creation.

Moreover, in this space, people have to learn to “look,” to discern the wisdom and power of God in the foolishness and weakness of the cross. In the midst of the old age, the power and wisdom of the cross remain hidden; the cross still appears as weakness and folly. In this threshold space, people of faith must discern with what Martyn calls a kind of “bifocal vision.”[8]

Believers must perceive the unmasked old age for what it is – the enslaving way of death opposed to God. And we must simultaneously perceive the inbreaking new age as the liberating, life-giving way of the future. Indeed, the interruption of the cross creates a crisis of perception, dividing those who discern with such bifocal vision from those who continue to perceive according to the ways of the world.[9]

What I’m describing here is “apocalyptic imagination.” Apocalyptic is not simply a literary genre with wild, spectacular imagery and trips to heaven guided by angels and visions of the future. Rather, apocalyptic is a theological orientation and perception that crosses many genres in Scripture. This apocalyptic imagination is shaped by a theology of interruption, to borrow a phrase from the Dutch theologian, Lieven Boeve.[10]

Apocalyptic imagination lives in the space where the new age interrupts old. It lives in that threshold space, in which the new age has broken in, but in which the old age continues aggressively to exist in tension with the new. Apocalyptic imagination lives in that space, to borrow the insight of Boeve, in which the new has interrupted the old, but not overcome it.

And in this space, apocalyptic imagination functions with bifocal vision – or bifocal discernment. Such discernment, again to borrow from Boeve, “holds continuity and discontinuity together in tense relationship.”[11] Such discernment simultaneously perceives both the old-age powers of death continuing their work in the world and the life of the new age, which has disrupted the world, but often remains hidden.

William Stringfellow, the Episcopal lay theologian and radical Christian, has put it this way: such discernment enables one “to see portents of death where others find progress or success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens of the reality of the Resurrection where others are consigned to confusion or despair”; it involves “comprehending the remarkable in common happenings; perceiving the saga of salvation within the era of the Fall.”[12]

Indeed, perception is at the heart of the word, “apocalyptic.” In Scripture, the Greek term for “reveal” is apocalypt, from which comes Apocalypse/Revelation. That’s what apocalypse means: an unveiling, an uncovering, an unmasking – a new kind of perception, a new kind of imagination. And in John’s Apocalpyse, that’s what the “seer” of Patmos offers us – a new kind of perception.

Empire is perceived to be a beast. Martyrs are triumphant worshipers of God. The slaughtered Lamb is the one who reigns. And Paul in 1 Corinthians preaches with this same kind of apocalyptic imagination. He’s uncovering, unveiling God’s hidden interruption of the old age in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The crucified one is the Messiah. Folly is wisdom. Weakness is power.

Poets, I think, are often agents of this kind of apocalyptic imagination, though they may not use this terminology. They often interrupt our normal perception in order to help us perceive the world in new, often surprising, ways. We preachers need to read poetry! Paul, however, chooses a different figure as the agent of apocalyptic imagination, a different figure to serve as the image of the preacher. This character is the fool.

In the very places in which Paul interrupts the world and invites us to new perception and discernment, he not only speaks of the Gospel as foolishness, but he himself adopts the role of the fool: “We have become fools for the sake of Christ,” he writes.

And Paul’s choice of the fool is no accident. For the figure of the fool provides the perfect lens for thinking about preaching and the apocalyptic imagination. Paul invites us preachers to take seriously the various traditions of the fool – whether it be the fool in the theater or the “jester” in the court, whether it be the trickster who appears in tales around the world or the holy fools in the Christian tradition.

And this evening, I want to suggest three connections between the fool and apocalyptic imagination: 1) fools interrupt; 2) fools are agents of perception; 3) the rhetoric of the fool lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Gospel.

First of all, fools interrupt. They interrupt our taken-for granted myths, rationalities, and presuppositions of the world, which so often hold people captive and keep them from new life. At the deepest levels, fools do not simply seek to entertain or be funny, though often they do work through these means. Rather, they seek to interrupt business as usual. As Enid Welsford has written, fools “melt the solidity of the world.”[13] They interrupt the truths and assumptions that are supposedly “written in stone.”

A theologian, Conrad Hyers, has described the role of the fool:

The neat patterns of rationality and value and order with which we organize and solidify our experience are confused and garbled by the fool. Sense is turned into nonsense, order into disarray, the unquestionable into the doubtful. The fool does not fit into, indeed refuses to fit into, the sacred conventions and hallowed structures of the human world …. Instead everything comes out wrong: the speech, the logic, the gestures, the decorum. Yet in this wrongness is rightness of another sort. In this foolishness is another level of wisdom.[14]

Paul intentionally and specifically adopts and enacts the role of the fool.[15] It’s the appropriate role for him at the juncture of the ages. As Paul writes of the apostles, “we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:9-10). The Greek word translated “spectacle,” placed parallel to “fools,” is theatron, which means a theater-act.[16] Paul thus declares that, in preaching the cross, he plays a role similar to the spectacle enacted by the fool in the Roman theater.

As is the case in later theatrical forms through the centuries, in the Roman theater the fool is a lower-class buffoon, who is identified with the poor and engages in transgressive, disruptive behavior. He mocks the words and deeds of the serious and honorable characters; he resists privilege and authority, and gives voice to what no one else dares to say.[17] As a result of this disruptive behavior, the fool often suffers both verbal and physical abuse.

It is precisely this role that Paul assumes. He should be imagined as a theatrical fool, dashing unexpectedly onto the stage and disrupting the entire play with his shocking words and antics. Like the theatrical fool, Paul engages in transgressive behavior. Through the proclamation of the cross, he disrupts the world’s understandings of power and wisdom. He interrupts all the serious and honorable characters on the world’s stage.

He says things that no one else dares to say. He proclaims his foolish gospel: the crucified Christ is the wisdom and power of God. Indeed, by depicting God on the cross, Paul engages in the most extreme form of folly imaginable. He proclaims a paradoxical, even blasphemous, word in mind-bogglingly transgressive speech: a “gallows-bird” embodies the divine.[18]

Fools interrupt. And Paul, through his preaching, plays this disruptive role.

But, second, as I have suggested, fools interrupt with a purpose. At the deepest level, they interrupt in order to change perspective, in order to create a space where the new might break in, where new ways of perceiving and living might happen. They interrupt in order to “reframe” reality, in order to open up the possibility for “another level of wisdom” and another way of life. They seek to change the world by first changing our perception of the world.

Jesters, for example, are often paired with persons in power, whether kings or emperors or archbishops or professors. And they interrupt the myopic and oppressive assumptions of those in power, usually on behalf of the common people. In so doing, they challenge these powerful people to see the world differently and exercise their power differently.

Indeed, one scholar has suggested that court jesters were often physically different from others for precisely this reason. A jester might be a short person or a hunchbacked person not simply for the purpose of entertainment or ridicule, and not simply because such people were no threat to the ruler.

Rather, such jesters physically embodied a different perspective on the world. A short person saw the world differently from a person of more common stature. Similarly, a hunchback literally had a different perspective on the world from those who stood up straight. Such people embodied in a physical way the central purpose of the fool – to interrupt in order to challenge and reframe perspective.[19]

Similarly, “holy fools” interrupt in order to change perception. As Wendy Wright has described them, holy fools are persons who, for the sake of the Gospel, appear “quite insane or bizarrely eccentric to the point of lunacy, idiocy, or buffoonery.”[20] This holy foolishness has taken a variety of forms. Some holy fools wandered the streets like madmen/madwomen. Others have appeared as anti social eccentrics or as simpleminded. Others as jesters, both pleasant or very unpleasant.[21] Many of them went around unclean, even unclothed. Some wore chains or iron collars. And they engaged in all kinds of bizarre and often offensive behavior.

Throughout Church history, these characters come along when the Church has grown complacent or when the Church has accommodated itself too fully to the culture.[22] And in those contexts, holy fools interrupt the presuppositions and rationalities that can stifle the life of God’s people. And through their scandalous gospel, they seek to change perception. Through their crazy and at times obscene antics, the holy fools, one scholar notes, provoked people to learn to “look.”

Their words and deeds challenged people to discern the gospel within the scandal – the holiness within the foolishness. Their antics were carefully staged to provoke a kind of looking, a way of “seeing.” Like Paul, the holy fools created a crisis of recognition, a crisis of decision. And usually, like Paul, they were abused and ridiculed because most people never discerned the holiness within the madness. Others, however, did discern the gospel within the scandal, and they were converted or edified.[23] In short, the holy fools interrupted business as usual with the scandalous gospel, and they provoked people to see the world in new ways.

In playing the fool, Paul likewise seeks to change our perception of the world. Paul, as I noted a moment ago, took up the role of the theatrical fool. In taking on this role and making a “spectacle” of himself (4:10), Paul actually invites people to a new kind of perception. Theatron, the word translated “spectacle,” is a cognate of the word theaomai, which means “to see, to look at, to behold.”[24]

Theatron involves a kind of attentive looking or beholding, as the English word, “spectacle,” actually suggests. As the foolish theater act, Paul invites an attentive looking, just as the audience in the theater must attend to the spectacle of the play. He invites people to perceive in his folly the inbreaking of the new age. As a spectacle, that is, Paul the fool interrupts in order to facilitate a new and different perception.

Paul seeks what New Testament scholar Alexandra Brown calls a “perceptual transformation” among his hearers. He seeks to move them from the perspective of the old age, in which the cross is a “symbol of suffering, weakness, folly, and death,” to the perspective of the new creation, in which the cross is “the transforming symbol of power and life.”[25]

Through his disruptive preaching, Paul intentionally leaves his hearers “perceptually unbalanced.”[26] He places believers in an unsettled, liminal space on the threshold between the old age and the new, where they might move, even if at times uncertainly, from one perspective to the other. And that is the work of the apocalyptic imagination.

So Paul takes up the role of the fool in interrupting the world and seeking to change perception. As he himself affirms, his preaching is foolishness; it is the work of the fool.

Finally, Paul’s rhetoric is the rhetoric of the fool. His language is transgressive and disruptive. As has already been suggested, his rhetoric is shaped by shocking, unsettling paradoxes: foolishness is wisdom and wisdom is foolishness. Weakness is power and power is weakness. And, most centrally, the cross is the power of God – foolishness is power.

Paul’s rhetoric is crazy; it is nonsensical and disorienting. He takes common assumptions and subverts them by holding together “unconventional and destabilizing pairings of opposites.”[27] It is as if one is left standing in the middle of a carnival house of mirrors, disoriented and off balance, having to discern what is truth and what is illusion.

We could examine many rhetorical forms that Paul uses, from irony and sarcasm to hyperbole and parody. This evening, however, I want to suggest that one classical rhetorical trick of the fool – ironic literalism – lies at the very heart of Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel. A closer look at the cultural context of crucifixion will enable us to discern Paul’s daring rhetorical move.

According to New Testament scholar Joel Marcus, crucifixion was intentionally a parody; it was a form of “parodic exaltation.”[28] Crucifixion occurred in a culture that was fixated on matters of hierarchical rank. The wealthy and powerful elites were considered to be “high”; the poor, the slaves and the marginalized were viewed as “low.” Maintaining these hierarchical rankings, along with the honor and shame associated with them, was central to the ordering of the culture.

If the “low and despised” overstepped their bounds and got “above themselves,” crucifixion was the appropriate punishment. For crucifixion intentionally served as a grotesque parody of this inappropriate breach of the hierarchy by those, such as rebellious slaves, who would not stay in their place.

In this form of punishment, the crucified one is “lifted up” on the cross in a form of mocking exaltation. In this way, crucifixion unmasked, in a deliberately grotesque manner, the pretension and arrogance of those who had dared to “raise themselves” above their station. Crucifixion mocked the victims’ pretensions by raising and fixing them in a tortuously elevated state until they died – driving the last nail (and a pun is actually appropriate here) into their lofty pretensions. This parodic raising up of the crucified was the intention of crucifixion; the cross “was designed to mimic, parody, and puncture the pretensions of insubordinate transgressors by displaying a deliberately horrible mirror of their self-elevation.”[29]

As a form of parodic exaltation, crucifixion was often linked with a kind of mock kingship. A common understanding of crucifixion was “enthronement,” and the connection between raising up the crucified and raising up the king made for a good joke. Mocking the crucified as a kind of royal figure was often part of the crucifixion itself. Jesus himself was mocked by the soldiers as a king; they put a robe and crown on him and saluted him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they knelt down in homage to him (Mk. 15:17-20).

At the cross, a sign was placed above his head reading, “King of the Jews” (Mk. 15:26). And while on the cross, Jesus was mocked by the passersby, as well as by the religious leaders: “Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe” (Mk. 15:32). Such mockery was not only directly related to the charge against Jesus; it was intrinsic to the act of crucifixion itself. The mocking crowd enacted the gallows humor; they were part of the public performance. The soldiers and the crowds all participated in the parody.

This is the context of Jesus’ crucifixion. However, according to the New Testament writers, the crucifixion of Jesus interrupts this parodic exaltation and calls people to discern something more happening on this particular cross. Moreover, Jesus’ crucifixion interrupts his parodic exaltation, not with an act of worldly power, but in the way of the fool – that is, with irony. The parody of the mock enthronement, intrinsic to crucifixion, is itself ironically mocked. The one who is parodied as “King of the Jews” in his crucifixion is, according to the New Testament witness, in fact, the Royal Figure. And his crucifixion, ironically, is his “enthronement.”

While the degrading death of crucifixion seems to be the decisive contradiction of the claim that Jesus is king (indeed, a parodic mockery of that claim), the opposite is, in fact, true. Jesus’ crucifixion is his coronation. The “low and despised” one actually reigns. For those who discern with apocalyptic imagination, the real joke is on the “powers of this age,” who mocked and crucified Jesus (1 Cor. 2:8), but who have unwittingly become participants in his enthronement. Foolishness is wisdom and weakness is power.

At the heart of this proclamation of the cross is a classic rhetorical trick of the fool: ironic literalism. This evening I’m going to be a bit foolish myself and claim that the very Gospel itself turns on this rhetorical trick. Let me explain. Through ironic literalism, the fool (a jester, for example) adheres to the letter of a statement and ignores the spirit. And by taking the words literally, the fool actually turns the intended meaning on its head – the meaning can even become the opposite of what was intended.

Fools engage in this rhetorical maneuver all the time. One of the masters of ironic literalism was the German jester/trickster, Till Eulenspiegel. Time and time again in the Eulenspiegel tales, as numerous scholars have noted, Eulenspiegel’s tricks simply involve taking language literally when other people were using it figuratively or idiomatically. Even Goethe noted this characteristic of the Eulenspiegel tales; Goethe wrote, “all the chief jests of the book depend on this: that everybody speaks figuratively and Eulenspiegel takes it literally.”[30]

Here is one example: A king once rewarded Eulenspiegel for a trick by telling him he could get his horse “the very best horseshoes.” Eulenspiegel then went to the goldsmith and had his horse shod with gold shoes and silver nails. As you might imagine, the price was exorbitant, and the shocked king objected strongly to the cost. But Eulenspiegel replied, “Gracious Sire, you said they were to be the best horseshoes, and that I ought to take you at your word.”[31]

A few weeks ago, some former students pointed me to the children’s stories about a housekeeper named Amelia Bedelia. Amelia constantly does the same thing. Her employer tells her to “dust the furniture.” So Amelia gets some powder and throws dust all over the furniture. Or Amelia is told to “draw the drapes,” so she takes out a pencil and sketchpad and draws them. On and on it goes.[32]

Now, we don’t normally connect preaching to Eulenspiegel or Amelia Bedelia, much less place their rhetorical tricks at the very heart of the Gospel. But this rhetorical move is precisely what shapes Paul’s proclamation of the cross, as well as that of the Gospel writers. The empire intends the crucifixion to be a parody of exaltation, a parody of power and wisdom. But Paul takes the parody literally. And the meaning of the cross becomes the opposite of what the empire intended.

The parodic crucifixion of empire proclaimed in a figurative way that Jesus was not in any way a royal figure worthy of enthronement – no one shamed on the cross could be such a figure. That was impossible. Paul, however, like the Gospel writers, takes the parody of exaltation literally and proclaims Jesus’ crucifixion as the wisdom and power of God. Indeed, Paul’s proclamation takes ironic literalism to its extreme limits: the crucified one is the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:8). Paul thus interrupts and seeks to change perception by using the rhetoric of the fool.

Let me briefly try to pull all of this together. Preaching with apocalyptic imagination is the work of the fool. Such preaching, first of all, interrupts. It employs transgressive rhetoric that disrupts the myths and conventions and rationalities of the old age, which lead to death. Such preaching engages in creative resistance to the principalities and powers that hold people captive and often prevent them from even imagining alternatives to the ways of the world.

Second, through these interruptions, such preaching creates an unsettled, liminal space, in which people may move – and always keep moving – from the old age to the new. Preaching with apocalyptic imagination does not shut down or tie up or close off, but rather instigates and sustains liminality, that threshold space between the ages. Such preaching seeks to set believers and keep believers “on the Way.”

Third, this kind of preaching is concerned with perception and discernment. The preacher is an apocalyptic figure, who simply seeks to unmask the deadly ways of the old age and help people discern the inbreaking new creation. God has already invaded and changed the world through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apocalyptic imagination seeks to create the space where new perception becomes possible.

Finally, such preaching does not take itself too seriously. It is content with the role of the lower class buffoon – the ridiculous, ridiculed character in the drama who can always be dismissed as a moron. For apocalyptic imagination is the gift of the Spirit. No eloquent words of wisdom can give the mind of Christ, but only the power of the cross through the movement of the Spirit.

So preachers are content to play the fool and proclaim the odd, disruptive promise: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). What happens next is left to God.

  1. For a concise description of these issues, see Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 6-7.
  2. L. L. Welborn, Paul, the Fool of Christ: A Study of 1 Corinthians 1-4 in the Comic-Philosophic Tradition, Early Christianity in Context (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 23.
  3. Hengel, Crucifixion.
  4. Roy Harrisville speaks of the cross as a “fracture” of all the paradigms through which even the New Testament writers themselves sought to depict it. As he writes of Paul, “The apostle could not master his theology in any ultimate way because it never existed as a system; in fact, it could not, since the event at its core spelled the death of system.” See Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 108.
  5. Though their work contains different nuances, see, for example, J. Christian Beker, Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel: The Coming Triumph of God (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982); J. Louis Martyn, “Epistemology at the Turn of the Ages” and “From Paul to Flannery O’Connor with the Power of Grace,” in Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 89-110 and 279- 297; and Alexandra Brown, The Cross and Human Transformation: Paul’s Apocalyptic Word in 1 Corinthians (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
  6. For a more thorough discussion of the principalities and powers, which is not possible here, see Charles L. Campbell, The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002). Also Walter Wink, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1998). The phrase, “the powers of death,” used as an all-encompassing summary of the character of the “principalities and powers” of the old age, is taken from William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1973; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004).
  7. Martyn, “Epistemology,” 89, 92; Brown, Cross and Human Transformation, 124.
  8. See, for example, Martyn, “From Paul to Flannery O’Connor,” 284.
  9. Martyn, “From Paul to Flannery O’Connor,” 284.
  10. See Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval (New York: Continuum, 2007).
  11. Boeve, God Interrupts History, 42.
  12. Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, 138-139.
  13. Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (1935; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1966), 223.
  14. Conrad Hyers, The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith: A Celebration of Life and Laughter (New York: Pilgrim, 1981), 53.
  15. See Welborn, Fool of Christ.
  16. Welborn, Fool of Christ, 50-51. See also “theatron,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 42-43.
  17. Welborn, Fool of Christ, 32, 36-37, 149.
  18. Welborn, Fool of Christ, 180, 146-47.
  19. Otto, Fools are Everywhere, 27, 31.
  20. Wendy Wright, “Fools for Christ,” Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual (November/December, 1994), 25.
  21. Wright, “Fools for Christ.”
  22. John Saward, Perfect Fools: Folly for Christ’s Sake in Catholic and Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 215.
  23. Harriet Murav, Holy Foolishness: Dostoevsky’s Novels and the Poetics of Cultural Critique (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 96-97.
  24. “theaomai,” in William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 353. See also “theaomai,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 5, 317-18.
  25. Brown, Cross and Human Transformation, xii, 14.
  26. Brown, Cross and Human Transformation, 158.
  27. Brown, Cross and Human Transformation, 30.
  28. Joel Marcus, “Crucifixion as Parodic Exaltation,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125, no. 1 (2006): 73-87. The following discussion of the parodic character of crucifixion relies on Marcus’s work.
  29. Marcus, “Parodic Exaltation,” 78.
  30. Paul Oppenheimer, ed. and trans., Till Eulenspiegel: His Adventures (New York: Routledge, 2001), lxiv.
  31. Oppenheimer, Eulenspiegel, 43-45.
  32. See “Amelia Bedelia (book),” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Bedelia_(book), accessed January 20, 2014.