Monday, August 3, 2009

The Irrelevance of Relevance

The title here is section sub-title from a recent excerpt of the book Unfashionable.  You should have a look for yourself, but here are some selected highlights and my (inevitable) comments:

If you stop and listen, you’ll hear that the cry of our times is for something completely otherworldly. People are up to their necks in up-to-date structures and cutting-edge methodologies. They’re beginning to understand that modern capabilities cannot make us better and more satisfied people nor make this world a better, more satisfying place. They seem desperate to recover a world that once was, a world that allows for mystery, miracle, and wonder—a world with windows to somewhere else.

Many church leaders have been telling us for a long time that the church’s cultural significance ultimately depends on its ability to keep up either with changing structures and environments (innovative technology, for instance) or with the latest intellectual fad (such as postmodernism).

All this comes at precisely the time when our culture is growing weary of slick production and whatever’s new and is growing hungry for authentic presence and historical rootedness. Younger generations don’t want trendy engagement from the church; in fact, they’re suspicious of it. Instead they want truthful engagement with historical and theological solidity that enables meaningful interaction with transcendent reality. They want desperately to invest their lives in something worth dying for, not some here-today gone-tomorrow fad.

We need to remember that God has established his church as an alternative society, not to compete with or copy this world, but to offer a refreshing alternative to it. When we forget this, we inadvertently communicate to our culture that we have nothing unique to offer, nothing deeply spiritual or profoundly transforming. Tragically, this leaves many in our world looking elsewhere for the difference they crave.

Kent comments:

Many Christians and churches I know have no clue about this.  It is more than a bit amusing that there are still some little churches out there in the wildwood somewhere who have recently, or hope to very soon, get a projector installed in the church building.  They want to finally get that ultimate connection to God, PowerPoint.  They have seen it when visiting other churches, and they now know the wonder of its true POWER to help people connect to the divine – or so they seem to think.

But there are others who are aware of the points made in the excerpt above.  They say they understand this completely and they agree.  But everything they DO says that they are unable or unwilling to wean themselves from the ‘up-to-date structures and cutting-edge methodologies’ and ‘innovative technology and latest fad’ approach to the Christian faith and the church.

Here is one small example:  when I tell many of my minister friends that many of the college-age people I know greatly enjoy older church music, they seem not to believe me.  This is especially true of baby-boomer age church leaders.

But even if people did want the latest fad, the church should not be the place where it is found.  The church should never have to be urged to offer ‘truthful engagement with historical and theological solidity’ for though the phrase is perhaps a bit pretentious, it does identify what the church should always be about.

The church will never be able to compete with the world in regard to ‘the latest thing.’  That doesn’t mean we cannot use technology or methodology.  But we do need to move those things several notches down the priority list to make room for the important things that belong at the top of the list.

In very practical terms this means at least being able to imagine what your church would be without Twitter, without TV screens, without computers or PowerPoint, without projectors, without electronic amplification, with no mention of the latest ‘ism’ or method, and without anything connected to ‘contemporary Christian music.’  Because if you think that if you had to do without any of these there would be nothing left, then the thing you are practicing if NOT the Christian faith.

No comments: