Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wise Words about Relevance

Wise words from David Wayne, the "JollyBlogger," on relevance and the gospel:
All these years I have been in ministry and have been on a constant quest to make the gospel relevant to my hearers.  I now see that as misguided.  The question is not how we can make the gospel relevant to us, but how we can make ourselves relevant to God.  In other words, God defines reality and it is our task to conform our lives to reality as He defines it, not "make Him" relevant to us.  He is always relevant, but we are often irrelevant to Him.
So true.  Pray for David, who has been going through cancer treatments this past year, as well as for Michael Spencer, the iMonk, who has also been recently diagnosed with cancer.


  1. Relevant - Adj. Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand.

    All due respect to you and JollyBlogger, but I think this is a false dichotomy. Of course, we must make ourselves relevant to God and His unchanging reality. I don't think that changes the task of the preacher to explain the gospel in a way that brings it to bear on the hearer's "matters at hand." It is not an attempt to change God, it is an attempt to preach the gospel in such a way that the hearers recognize their need to change.

  2. Well, Bob, here's how I understood what David was saying:

    When we come to the task of preaching with the idea in mind of "making the gospel relevant," we are tacitly taking as given the idea that the important "matters at hand" are the concerns and felt needs of the congregation. This can lead to the Gospel being used as a manual for fixing one's marriage or straightening out one's finances. The Gospel can become a means to an end--the end being some effect desired by the hearer.

    If instead we take the approach that the all-too-oft ignored real "matter at hand" is God and His will for our lives, we recognize that He is calling us to nothing less than a radical reorientation of our whole being. Our job as preachers is to help people recognize and change as a result of this truth. As a result of that, they should also see some positive results in their marriages and finances, etc., but these are merely byproducts of the real and much more important work that God is doing in us.

    This doesn't mean that we don't contextualize the gospel in ways that are intelligible to our listeners; it is to say that the Gospel won't be made the servant of our desires. I have always felt this way about the issue of "making the Gospel relevant."

    I don't think our perspectives are truly very different here. I have heard you express things very similar, and your final line hits the nail on the head--in the end, it is the hearers who need to "recognize their need to change."

  3. If that's the working definition of "making the Gospel relevant" then (as you know) I agree. Whatever words you use (relevant, contextualize, etc.) the Gospel is the unchanging starting point, not "felt needs." I guess my definition of "making the Gospel relevant" has been "contextualizing the Gospel in ways that are intelligible to our listeners", hence my confusion. Carry on.

  4. From Dave Porter:

    Hi Guys,

    Good posts, interesting topic. I think I am on the same page as you both. "Making the gospel relevant" isn't changing the gospel to make it fit our lives, rather, it involves coming to an understanding that the gospel is the only relevant thing and that our lives must be molded around its reality. Thus, "making the gospel relevant to us today" is just verbiage that we use to describe a process whereby we- not the gospel- are changed; i.e. the renewing of the mind in Romans and the becoming a new creation in 1 Corinthians, yes?

    I have long been of the opinion that the best (human)way to facilitate the Spirit's accomplishing of this transformation is prayer, loving fellowship, and systematic exegesis of the scriptures. All three seem to have a necessary place, at least to me, and thus mirror the Trinity as well as the understanding of mankind as soul, body, and mind. Perhaps I'm overthinking or formulizing?

    Grace and Peace, Dave

  5. from Dave Porter, continued
    Should have put this in my previous comment...

    Given the above, it seems that many believers just don't give this subject all that much thought; they simply exercise the biblically applauded child-like faith that allows God to work in their lives without trying to figure out why or how. Therefore, the distinction that we who think too much make between "making the gospel relevant to us" vs "making us relevant to the gospel" is, to most, nothing of consequence. They say the former while actually doing the latter. Much like the distinction made between "God is my co-pilot" vs "God is the pilot, I'm just the co-pilot." Anyone who takes seriously the idea of God working in his/her life understands that the second statement is more accurate even though they are more likely to use the first in casual conversation.

    Once again, interesting discussion.