A while ago, we wrote about relevance. We wanted to do so again in order to discuss it a little bit more and find out a little bit more regarding this enigmatic relevance idea. Why talk about relevance? Because relevance seems to be sorely misunderstood, especially among Christians who crave the sensation of “relevance,” yet possess a muddled view of what it is and what it means for their life and ministry. This muddled view has gone beyond a benign fascination with cool, and has plunged some into a destructive vortex of a compromised orthodoxy.

Would Someone Please Define Relevance?

The problem with relevance is pretty basic. We have trouble just finding a definition. Logicians, epistemologists, and philosophers have been baffled by the concept of “relevance” for a long time. Thus, an understandable definition is pretty hard to come by.

“In formal reasoning, relevance has proved an important but elusive concept. It is important because the solution of any problem requires the prior identification of the relevant elements from which a solution can be constructed. It is elusive, because the meaning of relevance appears to be difficult or impossible to capture within conventional logical systems. The obvious suggestion that q is relevant to p if q is implied by p breaks down because under standard definitions of material implication, a false proposition implies all other propositions.”

And if you didn’t understand that paragraph, it’s fine. Here’s a translation: “We don’t know exactly what relevance is.” Despite the popular excitement about relevance, few people grasp what it is. Let’s turn to a dictionary definition to see if we can understand (at least the adjective form of relevance) in very simple terms:

Relevance – “Closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.”

Right Relevance. Wrong Relevance.

That definition is helpful, because it provides insight into the type of relevance that much of contemporary Christianity is pursuing. They are trying to be “closely connected…to the matter at hand.” And what is the matter at hand? Well, of course, it’s the culture, this society, the standards, the mores, the philosophy, and the worldview of today. And in order to be “closely connected…to the matter at hand,” Christians must exhibit a similarity to the culture. They must adopt their philosophy, their worldview, their standards, their practices, habits, language, dress, and entertainment. If we don’t, then we’re ‘out of touch.’ If we don’t, then the world won’t be attracted to Jesus.

I hope you can see the desperate problem with that view. It draws us away from the locus of truth–the Bible. It pulls our minds in a direction that is more world-like, than Christlike.

When Relevance is Irrelevant.

The problem with these efforts to be “relevant” is that they are actually irrelevant to the true need of the world. We’re trying to be relevant, but sidling up with the world in order to make Christianity look a little more like the culture, especially its less-than-wholesome features, is not just irrelevant; it’s downright dangerous. Can it be that efforts at “relevance” are actually destructive? Indeed, yes.

Wrong Relevance. Right Relevance.

Pursuing relevance has proved to be a distraction to today’s church–a harmful distraction. Do we need to talk about The Expendables or Inception, or play clips from other movies in order to be relevant? No. Although that may be a form of relevance, it is not the kind of relevance that the church ought to pursue. It gets worse. The rabid race for relevance has caused some erstwhile evangelicals to jettison some core truths. Perhaps these poignant aspects of our gospel don’t ring with ‘relevance’ for a culture that cries “wolf” at the slightest intimation of intolerance and exclusivity. Perhaps the message of God’s Son dying on the cross sounds like “cosmic child abuse.” Come to think of it, the atonement smacks of a “bloody religion.” And c’mon; a fair God wouldn’t actually send real people to a real burning hell. And a God who knows everything (even stuff that hasn’t happened yet) is kind of sketchy. We want to be relevant, so we tone it back a bit.

And we lose the gospel. And this religion we’ve created with our own relevance is flaccid, powerless, and godless. In other words, we believe–and teach–heresy. How did we get here?

Christ never commands the church to pursue relevance with the world. Instead, Christ tells the church to proclaim the gospel to the world–all of the gospel. And that’s the only right kind of “relevance” we ought to pursue. If, according to our definition, relevance is “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand,” consider what is the most appropriate and most important matter at hand. It’s eternity. It’s heaven or hell. It’s the Kingdom of God. It’s the Sovereignty of God. It’s the Lordship of Jesus. It’s the truths of the Bible. It’s the Deity of Christ. It’s the message of the gospel. It’s the message of salvation.

There is nothing more relevant that the core truths of the Bible. There is nothing more relevant than the Bible. There is nothing more relevant than a Christian announcing Jesus Christ and Him crucified to a world standing in need of a savior. Sure, it may not be as hip as getting a cross tattoo or having a youth group trip to a Justin Bieber concert. But who are we really trying to please, anyway? Be relevant: believe, live, and proclaim the gospel of Jesus.

About The Author

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall has been writing church ministry articles for more than 10 years. With his background and training (M.A., M.Div.), Daniel is passionate about inspiring pastors and volunteers in their service to the King. Daniel is devoted to his family, nerdy about SEO, and drinks coffee with no cream or sugar. Learn more about Daniel at his blog and twitter.

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2 Responses

  1. Eric Davis

    I couldn’t agree more. In this day and age, we have elevated both relevance and tradition to doctrinal status. There are extremes on both sides and both ideas make us irrelevant in our pursuit or the lost.

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