Relevance

Today we are so fluent in being fashionable. Why does our impact for Christ often seem so elusive?

In his book, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, Os Guiness makes us squirm by saying, “Are we trusting in a culturally relevant gospel? After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted with an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant… by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance… marketing triumphs over mission, reference to opinion polls outweighs reliance on biblical exposition, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival… Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant.”

The need is great. Every socioeconomic indicator tells the same story. The church is haemorrhaging (we lost a million in a decade) and too few have experienced first-hand someone who truly follows Jesus. Still, many Laodicean-like Christians pat themselves on the back, proud of their postmodern savvy and ‘culturally relevant’ ministries.

Am I arguing, then, for irrelevance? No. There is nothing wrong with being relevant. True relevance brings the biblical worldview to bear on the whole of life with weight and consequence, but today’s relevance airbrushes everything offensive about the gospel and denudes it in the process.

CS Lewis said, “A Christianity which considers itself free to alter the faith whenever the faith looks perplexing or repellent must be completely stagnant.” Culture rather than scripture becomes our authority. 2 Timothy 2:2 tells us that we are to pass down the message to faithful men and women who should be very careful to pass on the same message they received. If we adapt the gospel to fit our times, we’ll have a comfortable, convenient gospel. And it’ll be irrelevant to the next generation.

As an old saint used to tell me, “You want New Testament results? Get a New Testament gospel.” The early church was not persecuted because it worshipped Jesus, but because it worshipped only Jesus. In our day of relativism, we need to be willing to speak about hell. When we’re true to the unfashionable parts of the gospel, the power of the gospel will be on us.
We have a tendency to be historically myopic, failing to learn from the past, and becoming prey to the passing fads of the present.

We will inevitably be maladjusted in this age. We are called to be both for the world and against it, not accommodating culture, but resisting it. Jesus broke through cultural paradigms daily. So must we. This is how the gospel spreads. Being relevant in an age of confusion means wrapping ourselves around the gospel’s timeless message and allowing it to wrap itself around us. We don’t need to make the gospel relevant. We need to reveal its relevance, recovering our confidence in it as the power of God to transform our lives.

4 thoughts on “Relevance

  1. Funny, but I’ve got the same quote from Os Guiness posted up on my noticeboard in front of me on my desk!! Whilst wanting to agree with much of what you say, I would want to argue that perhaps we can use culturally ‘relevant’ tools, such as music form, multimedia etc. without seeking to change the message of the gospel. I feel that the important word, much more so than ‘relevant’, is ‘authentic’ – authentically Christian – whatever that means.Just some thoughts!

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