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For Such a Time: Radical not Relevant

July 29, 2010

Christianity has made an attempt to be more relevant to people in our culture.  It has greatly been determined that our culture sees our faith as an “outdated” mode of existence.  So, the result has been the creation of a trendy, cool form of church.  There is no doubt that many in our culture have found this to be more appealing.  The question I have is whether it has been life changing, and if it has been then what role has it played in that change.  After all, the transformation of lives is what we are after, isn’t it?

Advocates of a more trendy sort of church must beware of the temptation to trust in our “style” for relevancy rather than our “content.”  Don’t get me wrong, I think we must choose a style that we believe will set an environment to best reach our lost world and many churches are hurting because they will not ever change a thing.  But we cannot put our faith in a style.  We cannot believe that technology and a speaker with ripped jeans will change anyone’s life.  Only the gospel can do that.  That’s why I am proposing that our churches need to be more radical in our teaching and mission even more than we need to be more relevant to reach a skeptical world.    Let me offer a couple of thoughts of explanation. 

First, we can’t “out-relevant” the world.  Can we be funnier than stand-up comedians?  Can we be sharper than TV networks?  Can we be slicker than professionally recorded music?  Even if we can equal the world in terms of production, the result is that we are simply one option of many forms of entertainment.   Let me make it clear that excellence is important for ministry.  However, there is a subtle but vital importance in realizing that we seek excellence because God deserves it and not because our performance has the power to change lives. 

Second, the gospel is itself relevant.  I am certainly not against presenting the gospel in ways that connect with people culturally.  I don’t believe we should put our heads in the sand and ignore culture.  But cultural relevancy is a vehicle, it is not the power to change lives.  Cultural relevancy gives you a hearing (Like Paul in Acts 17 when approaching the Athenians with relevancy), but the determining factor is the content, namely the preaching of Jesus Christ.  The gospel speaks to the greatest needs of humanity:  guilt, shame, forgiveness, redemption, hope, peace, joy, and salvation.  When we radically proclaim tha gospel of Jesus, it is relevant to the lives of people. 

Third, a call to radical discipleship will make Christianity more noticeable.  Postmodern culture blends religions together saying that they are all essentially the same.  Of course, this is not true.  It is the uniqueness of Christianity that will make it stand out from a  blend of “religious casserole.”  I believe that our skeptical world is sick of “blending” beliefs and is in search of something robust.  The gospel is more than robust – it is glorious.  It is the person of Jesus and the power of grace that differentiates Christianity.  We must present the gospel deeper and not only broader. 

Fourth, a church is relevant to the lives of people if it is useful.  When we feed, clothe, and listen to people we become relevant to their lives.  “Style” cannot compete with usefulness.   When our message transforms marriages, empowers personal mission, and creates a sense of significance in someone’s life, then we are relevant.  In fact, any time “style” becomes the main topic in a church, the gospel of Jesus and its mission have been diminished. 

In the end it is our message and our service that will compel a skeptical world.  When we preach a message of radical discipleship and live a radical mission then we will find that our unbelieving world will have to make a decision about our Lord and not about our relevancy.

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