In Defense of Irony

Nevertheless, the example of the biblical writers tells us that we have the obligation to use every literary and rhetorical weapon in our arsenal to preserve the health of the gospel and the church. For us to refuse to ridicule the ridiculous is to be guilty of false modesty, and probably faithlessness.

“You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.” (1 Cor 4:8)

“For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” (2 Cor 11:4)

The post-modern world recognizes no truth, only perspective, no morality, only preference. Consequently the ethos of the post-modern world (in which we are immersed) frowns upon truth claims, or assertions of right and wrong, all such being seen as arrogant. As for criticism of the beliefs and practices of others, that is seen as absolutely beyond the pale. It’s bad enough that one might claim to have the truth when all right thinking people know that truth doesn’t exist. But actually to criticize, correct, and heaven forbid, mock others’ beliefs on the basis of one’s truth claims? This is the height of naiveté and bad manners, and not to be done.

Yet Jesus said that He is the truth and that we can know God and know the truth (Jn 14:6, 17:3, 8:32). The biblical writers are sharply critical of the prophets of error, both within and outside the church, on the basis of their confidence in certain, infallible, and absolute truths. At times they even employ irony, ridiculing the opposition.

Take for instance Isaiah’s scathing critique of idolatry. Idolaters take a block of wood. Part of it they use to build a fire and bake their bread, part of it they fashion into an idol and bow down and worship (Isa 44:9-20, cf. Isa 40:18-20, 41:6,7, 46:1,2). Isaiah draws out his description of the process to establish the absurdity of it, no doubt wounding the feelings of those who worshipped idols.

The New Testament joins in this critique saying that the things that the Corinthians offer to their gods they offer to demons and not to God (1 Cor 10:20)! The Bible shows little respect for the sincerely held religious beliefs of pagans.

Jesus was severe when dealing with Pharisees, the most earnest professing believers of His day. He calls them hypocrites, blind guides, and a brood of vipers. He uses irony, likening them to “white washed tombs” and accuses them of straining out gnats while swallowing camels (Mt 23:13-28). These are vivid, ironic word pictures that heap scorn and derision on His critics.
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