The Invisible Things

Articles in Apologetics

Relevant to Whom?

with 8 comments

As often as I hear talk of the need for the Gospel, I also hear of the need for “relevance.” While it is true that the word can mean a variety of things depending upon the context in which it is used, there is one particular meaning (which I dare say is most frequent in my hearing) that I believe runs contrary to the very Gospel message itself.

(As a disclaimer, I would like to set aside an immediate issue that is likely to already be on the minds of many readers. I am not certain at this point if the meaning in which Relevant Media Group uses the word “relevant” is of the same concern, though I would venture to say that it is not. In fact, in stating the obvious, Relevant Media Group’s mission statement can hardly be disputed at face value: “Relevant Media Group is a multimedia company whose purpose is to impact culture and show that a relationship with God is relevant and essential to a fulfilled life.” Clearly, Relevant’s declared purpose is not to make the Gospel relevant, but to show the relevance of the Christian life by modeling an appropriately Godly perspective amidst current culture. I can’t really argue with that. However, I must admit at this point that I am not necessarily a fan of Relevant Magazine or the seemingly commoditized Christianity that it portrays. Truly, it is the “rebranding” and “packaging” of the church, and even of the Christian, that I fear is an already accepted result of the new concept of being relevant.)

Some may be asking, as I have also often asked, “What does relevant mean, anyway?” According to Webster, to be relevant is defined as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” Therefore, Relevant Media is right in declaring its mission to “show that a relationship with God” has significant and demonstrable bearing “to a fulfilled life.” So in this regard, there is nothing wrong with relevance.

Yet, this is not the context in which I often hear the word being used. I would argue that the word relevant is becoming a term descriptive of a movement, or a genre, or a flavor, within Christianity. Yet, as I discussed above, the word intends to relate the value of an idea to a particular context, not to convey a particular descriptive idea of its own. In other words, relevance means nothing if it does not objectively link an idea to the context in which it exists.

So, then, what is meant by such common phrases as, “looking for a church that’s relevant,” or “the church must become relevant,” or “we are a relevant church?” I hope, for our sake, that it does not mean a certain style of music in worship, or a certain casualness with which a service is delivered, or a lack of structure, or a focus on youth, or even an emphasis on certain doctrines. If a church affirms that which is true about God and the Gospel, worships God in Spirit and in truth, and seeks to fulfill the Great Commission, how could it possibly be irrelevant? What exactly is an irrelevant church or an irrelevant Christian? Can we really suggest that churches or individuals that do not operate or appear comfortably within the status quo of contemporary culture are “resisting relevance (another phrase I have heard often)?” Without knowing the mind of God through and through, any suggestion as to the relevance of a church or individual, especially on the basis of the fleeting and fickle trends of popular culture, would be a presumptuous and woeful error.

Frankly, the idea that we could possibly make Christianity relevant to culture through our own doing is shortsighted. How dare we assume that we have any power or influence to actually make God’s plan and work relevant to humankind? It is humankind that should seek to be conformed to the will of God, revealed by God through His Word and His Spirit, and not conformed to the world.

On a purely philosophical level, I am not very comfortable with even putting the words God and relevant in the same sentence; not even to say what seems to be harmless and obvious, that God is relevant. If God exists, and for the purposes of this argument I am assuming that He does, then created, contingent, mortal beings have no place to assign relevance to the eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent deity from who’s being the creation of the entire universe resulted. Rather, the simple but utterly profound statement, “God is,” is a more appropriate affirmation.

If God is, than what is relevant is relevant in relation to Him, not to that which He has created.

Written by Christopher Butler

August 10, 2006 at 8:12 am

8 Responses

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  1. Christianity always attracts controversy. It’s either you are for or against. Remember what the Bible says about lukewarmness? God will spit us out of his mouth. I am for Christianity. The word relevance? Everything about Christ is relevant. He died for my sins so that I may have eternal life. What is so irrelevant about that? Jesus loves me and that’s all I need to know.


    August 22, 2006 at 3:42 pm

  2. CB,
    What an accurate response to this idea of “relevance”. I have often wondered if it is because we are so torn between this world and the things of Christ. The culture we live in suggests to buy what you don’t have, while Christ has told us to “put down our nets” and follow Him. It is possible that those who have attached this “relevance” to Christianity believe they are somehow doing what Christ asked, and better. That they could have more of an understanding of the world so that they may better reach it, and without persecution.

    Able Parris

    August 22, 2006 at 9:49 pm

  3. Bravo! Terms like “being relevant” seem to be code for, “I don’t really like classical creeds, liturgies, and church structures” — a red-flag in my book. But to be as generous to the term as possible, I could use the example that it is “relevant” to share the Gospel in the language of the proselyte, or, for a more relevant example, it is “relevant” to present the Gospel in contrast to the cultural ideas and experiences of the hearer. This seems to me to be an obvious truth that any mature Christian would already understand. Hence, those who blather on about “relevance” tend to have ulterior motives, in my experience.

    Scott Pruett

    August 29, 2006 at 5:23 am

  4. let’s all judge books by their covers and totally miss the good content that exists within their pages, hey let’s do that to people too!


    October 6, 2006 at 6:01 am

  5. Hi “Someone,”

    I am not sure what you mean by your comment. If you care to elaborate or clarify, perhaps we can discuss it.



    October 6, 2006 at 7:12 am

  6. Scott,

    Good point on the “red flags.” I heard one recently that I am a bit skeptical of: “No creed but Christ” (which is, I suppose, a creed in and of itself). Had it been said sincerely, I would assume that what was meant was “no creed but that which is in accord with the teachings of Christ,” but even that could be ambiguous given the many interpretations of His words. No wonder the early church developed a catechism.



    October 6, 2006 at 7:15 am

  7. I think I blogged once on the “no creed but Christ” idea. Basically, my point was that if you ask them who Christ was and why you should care, then they end up feeding you their own personal theology that could theoretically be distilled down into a creed.

    Scott Pruett

    October 6, 2006 at 8:00 am

  8. The term “being relevant” is something that i have heard much, and use.
    reading this site i started to think what it means to me in my christian life and the place i worship.
    one thing for sure is this, God is, has been and always will be relevant to what ever time we live. his word is powerful and never changing and i am so thankful of that.
    In my experience people get stuck in a time warp and forget cultural changes that are constantly evolving. So for me being relevant means being aware of who your working with, witnessing to, leading in worship. as someone who God is leading in the area of worshipleading i know it would be stupid for me to lead young people in worship with 18th century hymns with an organ just as i know it would be wrong for me to lead people of an older age group with modern songs they don’t know.
    I realise these coments dont relate to all people as we have some wonderful mature rockers in our church and hymns are enjoyed by all age groups.
    relevence is very important to bringing people into the a place where they can meet god, this covers all areas of our life, our dress, our attitude etc…..
    Relevence is not get rid of the old bring in the new, its a spiritual awareness of how god is leading you in the place you find your self.

    God Bless


    November 16, 2006 at 5:41 pm

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