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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Results from Pursuing Relevance

A couple of days ago I provided some quotes on culture, relevance, and faithfulness. I am concluding with this post and a third for this discussion on the issue of relevance and the gospel.

Os Guinness, in his book Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, asks the question, “What are some of the effects of our unthinking pursuit of relevance?” Guinness reveals five effects from this pursuit which I would like to share with you.

  1. Much Christian pursuit of timeliness has become trivial. Following trends passionately but promiscuously, many Christian leaders have become trendy. Obsessed with the new, they have produced only novelty. Staggering from one high of excitement to another, they have become jaded. Evangelicals were once known as the “serious people." It is sad to note that today many evangelicals are the most superficial of religious believers—lightweight in thinking, gossamer-thin in theology, and avid proponents of spirituality-lite in terms of preaching and response to life. What started out as breathless and excited is ending as exhausted and out-of-breath.
  1. In the pursuit of timeliness some Christian spokespersons have become deceptive—or at least have promised far more than they have delivered. As George Orwell said, futurism is “the major mental disease of our time.” A quack science, it picks up current trends, projects them into the future, and then pretends that the results are predictions.
  1. The recent Christian pursuit of relevance has all too often led to transience. . . .He [Nietzsche] realize that with this modern obsession for change, the traditional human perspective of “under the aspect of eternity” (sub specie aeternitatis) had become “under the aspect of two hours.” . . . “He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.” – Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
  1. The Christian pursuit of relevance is so commercially profitable in the short term that we would be wise to look out for the salesman’s agenda and his bottom line. . . . In other words, in a world of experts, specialists, and consultants, pundits have become the prime idea-mongers and secular prophets of our day. Once they achieve celebrity, they pronounce on all subjects and are quoted on all occasions. . . . Forgive me, but has no one noticed that trendspotting itself has become a trend? And that trendspotters tell our fortunes, they make theirs?
  1. The recent Christian obsession with relevance and the future ideals all too often to moral and intellectual cowardice. Afraid to challenge the power of progress and the lure of the latest, or to delay the arrival of the brave, new future, we bite our lips and cave in weakly to what we know in our hearts is neither right, nor wise, nor lasting.

(these passages can be found on pages 77-79 in Prophetic Untimeliness).

I think Guinness has made some good points here, especially number 1 and 5 IMO. Concerning 1, the quick and easy mentality has encouraged a plastic Christianity with half-baked disciples. Concerning 5, the pressure to conform to popular opinion and what is acceptable or considered the norm is immense, and to stand on conviction and conscience with integrity and fortitude requires a type of courage which will demand that one appraise faithfulness over relevance, allegiance to Christ over allegiance to man, and a passion for the truth over the appeal to be popular. I have experienced this in my own life lately and really appreciate the encouragement I have found from Guinness. I hope you have too. One more to come . . .


Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Excellent post.

Total reliance on trendiness and gimmicks by the church leads to event-driven ministry (which often is not ministry at all) and the desire to find the "next big thing." I've been in churches like that in the past, and after a while it's tiring. I would prefer the church be a "gimmick-free" zone.

Relevance by itself shouldn't be a dirty word. I remember sitting in services years and years ago in which a preacher would read a Bible verse that acted as a theme verse, then give a topical sermon with no effort to bridge the words of Scripture to the hearers. There were never any "so what" moments. And the same sermon could have been delivered 50, maybe 100 years ago. These sermons failed to connect.

Whether I'm teaching or listening to someone else, I want the "so what" moment to take place. I want to bridge the gap between the Scriptures and the hearers and show them how it must make a difference in their lives. That's a kind of relevance that supercedes the latest trend or gimmick

7/15/2006 05:25:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Thanks Rick for the comment. :)

I totally agree that relevance should not be a dirty word lest we turn ourselves into isolationists. I think most intelligent Christians who want to reach their culture want to be relevant. I think the rub comes in how one chooses to accomplish that lofty goal.

If a am not mistaken, Justin Taylor mentioned that he would like to see the T4G guys take the flip-side of the issue and discuss contextualization. I think this issue needs to be addressed more today than ever before, but I don't see many speaking/writing about it apart from the expected missiologists.

Tomorrow I hope to provide a few more quotes by Guinness that might speak to this a little bit.

I also like your "so what" question in that relevance takes footing when application is appropriately emphasized. I think this is one pointn where the Puritans were par excellence. No matter how great the truth may be, unless it hits and sticks, I am afraid that it will be no more than (at least functionally) a fine collections of words.

7/15/2006 06:17:00 PM

Blogger Broadstone said...


Good quotes...and I agree with Guinness and you.

Simply trying to obey and live by faith in the words of Scripture is enough to be "new" to our pagan culture...which is to say, the pagans usually see only a diet-coke version of their own culture out of culture-driven Christianity...and reject it because it is so pathetically silly.

When I am faithful to Christ in my living and speak what Scripture speaks I am instantly the smell of death or life. Either way the smell is distinguishable...another word might be "authentic."

As much as I like books (but I am picky)I wonder at times if it is not simply a matter of Christians who are relying too much on the "Christian Bestseller" list, the newest coolest display at LifeWay...and become an odd offspring of those who are Wild At Heart because of Purpose Driven living for their Best Life Now. Their efforts at sharing the gospel are reduced to parroting the most saleint(?) quotes of the Jazziest Blue thing.

At best Christians are learning to refute the Davinci Code which is all over the top seller list...the only problem with the Davinci code is that it is already "old" culturally...so we are only chasing that particular wind now. See ECPA.org for bestseller list.

In a recent conversation where a brother was singing a very sexual rap song...it was Scripture alone, Eph.5:4, which convicted the heart. It was John 14:6 in describing the exclusivity of Christ that set off a hail storm of response on the work van two weeks ago. It was Philippians 2:15 in which we talked about how real authentic Christians WILL shine like stars in a sinfully dark world and the unbelievers on the van agreed!

I could go on, but the point is the same, we are not trusting in the power of God's word, Heb.4:12, to do business in peoples hearts. It is lack of faith. Many seem embarrassed to open a Bible in the presence of pagans...to which I reply, I have had more conversations started from this practice than by any other practice..."What are you reading?"

Anyway, sorry to hog your comment space.

grace and peace,


7/15/2006 06:47:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


No worries about hogging comment space! That was quite the witty comment there. Me likey.

Seriously, your point is well taken. Not only have we tried alternative methods in place of Scripture, we have tried to portray Christianity in less "offensive" ways as well. For example, consider the churches who have removed crosses from their sanctuaries, repentance from their sermons, and the blood of Jesus from their hymns, or should I say, praise ditties.

In all of this, I believe there is a subtle yet serious dismissal of the transcendence of God. We have made him in our image and have tried to make the holiness of God palatable to unregenerate, rebellious sinners. In effect, we have neutered the gospel and misreprensented the God whom we have sought to proclaim.

One particular Scripture which comes to my mind is 2 Corintians 2:15-17:

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. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Who is sufficient for these things? Yea, but we are the aroma of Christ to both the saved and the perishing. Let us be faithful and sincere professors of God's Word and not peddlers who "tamper with God's Word" (2 Cor. 4:2).

7/15/2006 07:23:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Oh and BTW Kelly,

I have been working on developing a SS for 3rd shifters on Sunday nights. As you probably have figured out, those who are unbelievers and have an interest in the gospel or church rarely ever consider changing their schedule on the weekends. Therefore, the chance of getting them to show up at 9:00 in the morning (when they are usually asleep) is almost impossible.

Therefore, I am working on developing a Bible study/SS specifically geared for 3rd shifters (which would be folks like us at UPS as well as the Ford plants and other night owls). As far as I can tell, and from the number of folks I have talked to at UPS, I don't know of a church who has attempted to tap into the outreach possibilities here.

Do you think you would be interetested in helping out with this? If so, I can tell you more about it later. At this point, I have around 10 coworkers (most unbelievers) interested in coming. I have three I think coming tomorrow night.

To me, I think this is (in a small way) part of what it means to be relevant to our culture and contextualizing the gospel to them. Here is Louisville, there are over 30,000 people who work 3rd shift. I wonder, just wonder, how many will never be reached because we have not creatively thought of ways of taking the gospel to them. If there is one thing I leave behind in Louisville, I don't want it to be erudite papers in upper level theological classes but transformed lives by the gospel which I hopefully preached and lived out before my coworkers and friends.

7/15/2006 07:33:00 PM

Blogger Broadstone said...


Yes and Yes and Yes.

So there, I would like to help.

I have written out some ideas previous to our conversation, especially regarding topics and the weekly sequence for such a thing. WE NEED TO GET TOGETHER FOR BREAKFAST...HOW ABOUT SHONEY'S TUESDAY MORNING?

I agree completely with your last paragraph.

This is really good stuff.

7/16/2006 01:49:00 AM

Blogger Timmy said...


How about Thursday? I am currently in "crunch time" with a paper which is due Wednesday. I am a little behind on it, so outside of church and work and minimal sleep, I will be devoting my time to the completion of that work.

The fellowship that I am looking to start has tentatively been called "Protos" which is the Greek word "first used in 1 Cor. 15:1-4. The whole focus is "matters of first importance" - namely the gospel of Jesus Christ shared to the lost and lived out in the believer. So of first importance (in terms of priority and passion) is my goal of presenting the gospel through loving relationships with unbelievers and encouraging Christians to build relationships and use their workplace to reach their world. That's the short gist of it. I have been developing an extensive and more elaborated form of this project which I can share with you later.

2;49 a.m. eh? I hear you. I stayed up to work on the paper last night as well.

7/16/2006 11:53:00 AM

Blogger Broadstone said...

That'll do...

Shoot me an email or call and we'll work out the details of where and when.

Yes, 2:49 am, I was considering Christ with a back beat with some others. You should read the chat I had...and give me some thoughts...it is especially relevant to our discussion of relevance. I think Ligon Duncan would be helpful on this given his onstage rap experience.


7/16/2006 04:09:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Yeah, I read your post earlier today. Sermon Jams is a hoot isn't it?

I will call you about Thursday soon.

Oh, and I never thought my pic of the Duncan brothers would be so popular! I can't tell you how many times I have seen that on the internet or on someone's blog. It was definitely a classic moment.

Have you checked out "Voice" who is with Sovereign Grace? JT just recenlty intereviewd him at his blog. I have not heard him before but have only listened to projects by the Cross Movement.

7/16/2006 09:35:00 PM


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