"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

The Relephant in the Room

Posted in Day-To-Day, Theological by matt on Thursday, June 4, 2009

In a recent staff meeting at Newsong (the church we go to) we discussed this word “relevant” that gets tossed around in Christian circles. Now, I’m no expert, but it seems like this little buzzword is a result of the younger generation’s discontent with a church that they perceive to be going the way of the dinosaur.  Most western countries report a significant decline in church attendance, and people often attribute it to churches being out of touch, or irrelevant. I’m not bashing church-styles, I’m just giving a little background on the recent usage of “relevant” by a lot of Christians.

So we discussed a lot of this and I took quite a few mental notes that I wrote down later. Cayla wasn’t there and I had to give her an account of everything we talked about, so here are the notes I made. I’d also like to preface this by saying that the first two points are things the group talked about, but the third point is a conclusion I came to and didn’t bring up in the group – so I guess everything but the last paragraph is quasi-libel, but what can ya do?

Relevant is relative
So here’s the first kicker: the way we use this word, relevant, seems pretty relative. One of my favorite things about Newsong is how globally minded they are in their mission. They have church-plants in Bangkok, Mexico City, Los Angeles, New York, London, and a few others in process. Peter (our head pastor) pointed out, though, that in each place being relevant is different. If we tried to do church here in Bangkok the same way Newsong London does it we’d have some serious problems.

So relevance is relative to the cultural context, but it’s also relative to each specific interaction with people. There isn’t a magic song and dance that will always apply to any person worldwide.

Important Side Note: The Gospel is absolute in its relevance in the sense that it is good for everyone, in any context, at any time, so please don’t hear me saying that God’s plan to save the world is relative in its usefulness because it’s not – period. It’s the method that I’m considering, not the means.

Relevant is selfless
At the meeting my friend Ryan also pointed out that being relevant to people is about selflessness. My generation – whether they’ll admit it or not – usually considers relevance as being more about entertainment, technology, and comfort than selflessness. And can anyone really deny this? Each week is a new attempt at making a Christianized, overblown music video with all the lights, fog, dancing girls, and loud music so that people will be drawn to our fun.

Jesus never said they’d know we were His followers because of our sweet parties, he said people would know by our love. And I think God’s all for parties – he even commands the Jews to have them. All I’m saying is the most relevant thing in the world is serving other people in a personal way and at our own expense.

Relevant is dangerous
I think this third point is what’ll brand me as a little old school in my thinking, but I’m really OK with that.

The above already points out some concerns with the issue of cultural relevance, but I thought I’d elaborate a little more – particularly on the issue of identity.

If we’re not careful in our attempts at being relevant to the people around us, we could sell our identity as Christ-followers. Paul said, “I become all things to all men that I might win some.” But we can take that too far! Paul was talking about the silly, open-handed issues and rituals that people in Corinth (and many other places) were arguing about.

What I’m talking about is the closed-handed issues of identity. Being free does not mean we neglect getting together to hang out, eat, worship, and learn about/live God’s Word, it doesn’t mean we forget our individual relationship with God, and it especially doesn’t mean that we only package Truth in a way that is non-offensive because then we’d barely be packaging it at all and that’s not relevant.

The Gospel is scandalous to human reason and offensive to the foolish notion that we’re good, moral people.

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