I Chronicles 29:11 "Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What is Cultural Relevance, Anyway?

Have you gotten tired of hearing this term yet? It's everywhere. Everyone is trying to be "culturally relevant". The 'emerging church' seems to be clamoring to be the most "culturally relevant" place in society today.

But what does it all mean?

Well, relevance is basically 'having to do with something at hand'. Suppose you're having a conversation about sports, and someone intrudes with a comment about the weather. Or cooking. Their comment is not relevant, because you're talking about sports.

Being culturally relevant means that people are trying to fit into today's culture in order to reach people with the truth of the Bible.

I mean, I guess that's what they're doing.

It's not really clear. But from what I've read online, it seems that this movement of cultural relevance focuses on studying the current culture, and adapting to meet their needs. There was also an article (please forgive me if I can't find the link again) I read that said Jesus was totally culturally relevant; that the things He taught (meaning his parables) fit so well into the culture of the day.

To my way of thinking, if Jesus' teachings were perfect for the Jews long ago in Bible times, does that mean they are NOT culturally relevant now? Are the things Jesus taught eternal and timeless truths, or not? How does this idea fit into the culturally relevant train of thought?

Maybe I have misread the Bible, but I believe that Jesus taught counter-culturally. He was tired of them just going through the motions of their 'religion', and not really worshiping God.

For the Jews, their religion defined much of their culture. The reasons they lived the way they did were because of their relationship to God. They didn't just suddenly throw Him into the picture. He was the Creator and Definer of the Jews. Their feasts and celebrations were direct results of miraculous events between them and God. These two things (religion and culture) were inextricably combined. If you were a Jew, you worshiped Jehovah. End of story.

[And I am not saying here that all the Jews of the day practiced heartfelt worship either. I think that's pretty obvious. Just wanted to be clear.]

Today's popular culture in America, however, does not know God. There is not a general celebration of events that remind us of God's power and goodness in our lives. People are disgusted with the phrase "Christmas", praying in Jesus' name in the military is no longer allowed, and were are encouraged (very strongly I might add) to be tolerant. Even if my neighbor wants to watch my small children take their baths, that is his right. [Yes, that's an extreme example, but I bet anything there will be laws protecting this 'choice' in the future...]

Our culture has no formal religion. America has rejected God, and has embraced 'freedom of everything' as their religion. Americans desire freedom above all else. Try to convince me otherwise. So, how does this fit into the church? How can realistically adapt the truth of the Bible to reach the people who want nothing to do with God?

I understand the concept of reaching out to people where they are. I get the "love thy neighbor as thyself" statement. I know God wants us to be open-hearted and merciful toward others in order for them to truly see Him. That's how I want to be treated as well. We all sin, we all have the opportunity for redemption. No one has "arrived" spiritually, and we all fail every day. We are to show love and understanding (be longsuffering, if you will).

I get it. Be like Jesus.

In order to live like Christ, we must know Christ. Studying American culture is not going to help me learn about Christ. As I mentioned above, our culture is far away from God. However, the truth will be the truth no matter what happens in culture. I'm not against using new methods or ideas to reach people, but when we focus so much of our time in studying culture and trying to gauge people's reactions to what will be presented, we have less time to study God's Word, and devoting ourselves to prayer.

Do we really think that studying the culture and adapting to it will make our churches successful? It may fill the pews, certainly [or chairs or stools or whatever] but will it make lasting disciples? Are we more concerned with what society wants than with what God's Word has to say?

The 'culturally relevant' church takes into consideration the reaction of the popular culture to what is being represented and shared. Words like 'edgy' and 'cool' are commonly used to describe these places. The pastors are non-traditional (many even women) and the worship is what I would call 'extreme'. Meaning, there are often colored lights, rock instruments and an atmosphere of 'electricity' in the air.

People can worship however they want. God receives praise in all forms. I know that. My worship style is certainly not the only acceptable style. However, I ask you: where do we draw the line in being 'in the world but not of the world'? How is worshiping in a rock concert atmosphere in church being apart from the world? Is this cultural relevance wearing down our discernment?

Hasn't the church figured out yet that the world is not satisfied with the things of the world? That's why there's always a race for bigger and better and more exciting. How can we think that bringing the world into the church will make people want to stay? Where does it end? What lengths will the church eventually have to resort to, just to keep people coming? When did good Bible preaching, solid fellowship, unity in prayer, and encouragement from like-minded believers cease being enough?

Our church back home has had people leave. I am not there so I don't know exactly why, but I do know our church still preaches the truth. The pastors are still dedicated to reaching the lost with the Gospel, and they do a lot of good in our community. Worship is edifying, but more traditional. We don't only sing hymns, but there are no lights and smoke, if you know what I mean.

There is another church in the area, a new and 'culturally relevant' church, that people have started attending instead. The pastor is a young and vibrant man who uses interesting things in his messages (fire, paint, headstands, 300 jars of honey, explosives, mousetraps- all examples taken from their website) to draw people in. There are women pastors there. They believe you are not filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation, but rather receive a later baptism in the Holy Spirit which will allow you to speak in tongues, etc.

Will this satisfy those who have left our church? Will the 'cultural relevance' (if that's what you call it) be enough to keep people attending? How can an acceptance of such a change in doctrine be explained?

I don't know. I hope they are truly cultivating their relationship with Christ, getting to know Him better, and seeking to do His will. And not just being carried along on the wave of 'cultural relevance'.

Cultural relevance, to me, is teaching the truth of the Gospel of Christ, discipling people in the Word, in spite of what is going on in the culture around me. I live in South Africa. Culture here is different. I am not trying to make Americans of those around me, I promise. I am simply teaching them Christian culture. It's up to them how they live it out in their individual lives. They must learn, as must each person professing Christ, how to reach those around them with the truth.

What's your take on all of this?


  • Terry @ Breathing Grace

    Excellent examination of a troubling trend in the Western (mostly American) church!

    I added it to my delicious links list.

  • JulieMom

    Thanks Terry! The Emerging Church is next on my list to tackle...trying to understand it all...

  • karly

    This: "Hasn't the church figured out yet that the world is not satisfied with the things of the world?"

    ... and this: "When did good Bible preaching, solid fellowship, unity in prayer, and encouragement from like-minded believers cease being enough?"

    ... were spot on. You have given me much to ponder. Thanks for your insightful investigative writing, Julie!

    P.S. While our church doesn't use the words "culturally relevant", we attend such a church. We have the rock concert atmosphere with smoke and lights and catchy "messages" (not sermons.) Interestingly enough, they added two more "small church" services to the weekend for those that like a more acoustic (read: traditional) worship time as well as smaller church feel (we have around 3000 that attend each weekend, I believe.) I wonder if there are those that are no longer interested in being "culturally relevant" that our church created these services to cater to them. Just thinking out loud....

  • Craig and Heather

    Terry referred me to this post.

    Wonderful observations!

    I once heard a wise woman say (concerning the building of a healthy family)

    "If you don't have meaningful relationships, the best you can hope for is a series of great 'experiences' as a substitute".

    Eventually, the modern church experience will fail to satisfy those who are designed to have a relationship with Christ. Some will walk away completely while others will fall on their knees, begging for God to give them the real thing.


  • JulieMom

    Karly- At least they are thinking of the people who aren't really into all that other stuff. Hopefully the sermons will get back on track. Praying for you!

    Craig and Heather- Hey, thanks for stopping by! I too believe what you said about the relationship with Christ. If our 'relevance' is about anything other than Christ, then we are totally ineffective.

  • Hindsey

    Hey, Julie, I've thought on this subject quite a bit, and don't claim to have all the answers. The only thing that isn't considered much in our conservative circles, is Paul's example of becoming all things to all men. To me, that is the biblical support for being "culturally relevant." However, it doesn't define specifics of how to do that. Great post though.
    - Andy

  • Herding Grasshoppers

    Kinda funny how those folks who want to be "culturally relevant" only want to be relevant to edgy, hip 20-somethings.

    Relevant, my patootie.

    Give me truth, any day.

    (another) Julie

  • Momsense3

    Well said...

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