For some reason, in many people’s minds (and practice), relevance has been divorced from faithfulness. Somehow people think that if someone makes a move toward being more relevant to the culture, they are necessarily abandoning the gospel. On the other hand, many in the relevance camp see any call to be faithful to the gospel as a call to return to the 1950s. Why can’t relevance and faithfulness just get along? In Jon Stewart’s words, "Why do we have to fight?"
I want to see relevance and faithfulness get married again, because I think they belong together. I actually think they are equally important for missional living.
The ditches are obvious. On one hand we can become so concerned about being relevant that we
water down the gospel out of a fear of offending. On the other hand we can become so jaded about "relevance" that we assume that faithfulness to the gospel means offending people, and we make no effort to translate the message so it’s meaningful to people. People stay in their ditches out of fear of falling into the opposite one.
But "ditch" is perhaps a bad metaphor, because it implies that we sacrifice faithfulness to move toward relevance, and vice versa. That simply isn’t true. I actually think that in order to be truly faithful to the gospel, we need to be radically relevant, and in order to be truly relevant, we need to be radically faithful to the gospel. So faithfulness and relevance actually work together to catalyze a kingdom "reaction", and if you remove either element from the equation, the strength of the whole reaction is weakened. If we abandon relevance to the culture, our faithfulness to the gospel is actually half-baked. In turn, if we shy away from a gutsy faithfulness to the gospel, our relevance is only half-relevant.
Faithfulness to the gospel demands relevance to the culture, because of what the gospel is. It’s the proclamation and demonstration that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all that implies. If people can’t understand the gospel we’re preaching, we’re not preaching it very well. Likewise, if people understand us perfectly, but our words and actions don’t represent the gospel, we fail just as badly.
We need to be faithful to the gospel. We need to be relevant to the culture. Both are equally important. Our message must be both true and captivating. Faithfulness and relevance need to get back together for the missional church’s sake.
I heard someone asked in a recent interview why the stories of poverty and genocide in Africa aren’t reported in world media outlets. The response was, ‘Media responds to the public interest.’ I think this is similar for the gospel. The Gospel must not change to FIT public interest, but it must respond to the public interest via a culture current medium. In fact, if we really understood the gospel and implemented what Jesus accomplished through the cross, wouldn’t our embodied witness PROVOKE a response from the culture?