Romans 1:16 is the standard, apparently rebellious text to cite in contemporary social contexts increasingly ambivalent to Christianity:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Just a couple of days ago I read Romans again, as my interest has been piqued in reading through Cambridge Companion to St. Paul and preparing for my course in 1 Corinthians next semester. I don’t have access to commentaries at the moment but would like to ask: What reason did Paul have to be ashamed of the gospel in the first place? A few contributors to the Cambridge Companion have pointed out the significance of this passage Galatians 3:10-13:
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”.
Apart from the obvious audience of the Galatians, Paul’s critique here is probably guided by his own experience in Pharisaic Judaism. Jesus in many forms of 1st Century Judaism would have been rejected on the basis of God leaving him to die on a cross. The curses of the law were for those who transgressed it, so Pharisaic Judaism in this case would have found it difficult to accept him as Messiah. Hence Paul refers to the crucifixion as a “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23; cf. Rom 11:9ff).
Perhaps this is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, not so much because he and a bunch of his friends believed in six day creation, held off having sex until they were married, and tried not to say the f-word when they hurt themselves… but that God Almighty surrendered all power to become human and suffer and die as a criminal, calling rich pagans and righteous Jews to put aside their honour and religious achievements to share tables, suffer together, and live as the scum of the earth.
Against what reasons should we shamelessly embrace the gospel in our contemporary contexts?