In church ministry a constant adage encourages us to “make the gospel relevant to people living in today’s culture.” Being culturally relevant could be likened to a sacred badge of honor we all seek. I think we believe that as we “get relevant” the masses will flock to our church because they will finally be able to understand who Jesus is, and they will die to know Him and His relevance in their lives.
One thing I remember picking up in seminary, I’m not sure when or where, is that it is not our job to “make” the gospel relevant, but to “show” the relevance of the gospel to our lives. Jesus is so much more relevant than any method we could conceive. He is The Truth. What could ever be more relevant than that?
I read a great book a few years back by Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Other Gods. On page 100 he made a statement that reminded me of this perspective. “The task of the Church is not so much to make God relevant to people, as much as it is to make people relevant to God.” At first glance this statement shocked me a bit. Could people actually be irrelevant to God? Do we need to do something to form in people certain characteristics that are worth God’s time?
I think the way to answer these questions is to remember the truth about God and the truth about people. God is the Creator, the Originator of all things, the eternal initiator and sustainer. People are created, clay, things formed by One who formed them.
My knee jerk reaction is hesitancy toward a statement like “we need to make people relevant to God,” because it feels “insensitive” or “unloving” or “not gentle enough.” But therein lies the problem. We need to remember that people, including you and me, aren’t God. God is God. He is ultimate reality, and indeed, ultimate relevance. He is the definition of relevance.
I don’t think “to make people relevant to God” means forming worth in them that motivates God’s love for them. God created humanity in His image, and ascribes a high level of worth to us. We know that God loves the world, so much that He sent His own Son Jesus to die for it. Relevance is not a matter of love, I think it’s a matter of reality.
I take the quote from Zacharias this way: “Don’t try to fit God into people’s reality, work to fit people into God’s reality (true reality).” I heard someone say recently, “I’m trying to follow God, but it doesn’t feel like He’s following me.” You better believe He’s not following you! He’s God! He is ultimate reality. Romans 1 says that our propensity is to re-craft His true image into an image that looks like ours. This is the height of idolatry.
The job of the Church is to reveal the true God to people, the God revealed in Scripture. We are to challenge each one to experience transformation in pursuit of His glory. That, my friend, is true relevance.