Friday, December 19, 2008

Relevance - How Utterly Irrelevant

Those of you who don't read Al Mohler's blog really need to. Just go subscribe right now. It's OK, I freely admit that everything he writes is better than this stuff. Go subscribe, then maybe come back.

Back? OK, good. The most recent entry there is describes the outrage directed at The Obama because of a truly despicable act - he invited Rick Warren to pray at his coronation. The horror! Turns out the anger is primarily from gay groups, who despise Warren because he has the audacity to be a pastor who believes what the Bible says regarding many things, including homosexuality. It seems nothing is more infuriating to them than an actual, practicing Christian.

Now, what's really interesting to me is that this "controversy" is surrounding Rick Warren. Because he's also been criticized, often quite harshly, by the more conservative (i.e. Biblical) Christian camp. Warren is the face of evangelicalism to reprobate world, their idea of how far someone can actually follow that Christian stuff without going too far (at least not very often). At the same time, to Biblically-faithful evangelicals, Warren is the face of the compromise camp, those who are so "seeker-sensitive" they take the edge off the gospel and make it more palatable to the unsaved.

The idea is to make the message more 'appealing' to sinful ears; the basics of the gospel are there in a sense, but with plenty of padding on the rough parts and some candy thrown on top. One of the main buzzwords you hear from that group is relevant - how can we make the gospel relevant to the unsaved around us? How can we keep the church relevant? How can we provide relevant help to the felt needs (another buzzword) they have? Warren has made quite a name for himself leading the relevance movement and soft-selling the gospel for years - and as Mohler pointed out, all that relevant goodwill amounts to less than a hill of beans as soon as he takes a stance on sin. The gospel of relevance, the gospel of being liked by the world, the gospel of having the world think you're cool and with it and not so bad after all - as soon as you take an actual fully-Biblical stance on one of someone's pet sins, all that relevance and coolness and he's-not-so-bad-after-all-ness goes right out the window.

So that's the first problem with the gospel of relevance. To those still in full rebellion against God, the gospel is the most offensive message imaginable. "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (2 Cor 2:15-16). If your ministry is based on getting people to like you, and hoping that because of how much they like you they'll just naturally embrace the gospel, you are sadly, horribly mistaken. When you finally get to the gospel - or as in this case, even in the same ballpark - your likability is gone. Either you will offend them to the core at some point, or you perpetually compromise the message to make sure that doesn't happen.

The second, funnier issue with trying to be relevant comes from attempts to dress up the gospel in pop culture (often with justification found from a terrible point-missing reference to Acts 17). You know what I'm talking about - looking for 'creative' ways to 'witness' through showing that we Christians can do the pop culture just the same as everyone else. The problem with this approach is perhaps best explained by (warning: pop-culture reference) Abraham Simpson: "I used to be with it, but then they changed what 'it' was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's 'it' seems weird and scary to me." As the culture continually changes, attempts to make the gospel "cool" inevitably end up... Well, I suppose the best way to explain it is to just show some examples. Take a few minutes and look through the Graveyard of Relevance. Then when you're done laughing, take a few minutes to think how ridiculous that "The Day the Earth Stood Still" Jesus-y T-shirt is going to look in a few years (as if it doesn't look ridiculous already).

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fundamental problem with attempts to make the gospel 'relevant'. Namely, what could ever possibly be more relevant than the gospel? What 'felt need' could ever be more urgent than the need to be reconciled to the sovereign creator and lord of the universe? What felt need is stronger than the need to be forgiven and made righteous? What could ever be more relevant than a message that applies urgently to every person who has ever been and ever will be?

The entire idea of 'relevance' is at its core a lack of faith. Trying to make the gospel relevant says you don't believe God when he commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), or maybe you think we're really not all that bad and won't be judged, or maybe that Jesus isn't really for everyone. Or for some, you don't believe that the gospel is powerful enough on its own, and we need to help it along by dressing it up in cultural trends. The Word of God - which, mind you, only created the entire universe out of nothing - apparently needs help from a Billy Idol song or a Ben Affleck movie if it's ever going to reach people. Right.

1 comment:

Tha Deuce said...

"The Word of God is living and active; sharper than any two-edged sword. Able to separate bone from marrow and soul from spirit..."

It's funny how no matter how much society changes; the Word never has to change and it seems more relevant every day... True Biblical relevance comes from understanding the Word; not changing the word to try to become relevant.