There is nothing wrong with being relevant, of course, because the gospel is never out of date. We need to do the hard work communicating the gospel and using whatever means possible, particularly in ways that people are used to.
But in a world where the latest is greatest and the newer is truer, where to be truly human is to embrace every emerging trend and adopt all the latest technology, chasing relevancy can lead us astray. Relevancy can lead us into irrelevancy as far as the gospel is concerned.
Paul warns us in Romans 12 to be on guard and not allow the world to “squeeze us into its mould” (J.B. Phillips translation). If striving for relevancy becomes paramount this can be the result. We become slaves to the latest trends and fashions and allow the culture of the world around us to take the lead and to have an authority. God and the Bible lose their priority and we fall captive to the world’s narrative allowing it to dictate terms.
Years ago C. S. Lewis coined the phrase ‘resistance thinking.’ It was his way of describing the necessary balance between pursuing relevancy whilst holding on to the critical elements of the Gospel that will never fit in with contemporary society. His aim was to provide a way where the Church can aim to be relevant yet remain faithful at the same time.
This is where God calls us to live, in the world but not of it. This was Jesus’ request on our behalf. In John 17 we read how he asked Father not to take us out of the world, that’s because we have a job to do, yet that we would be protected from the evil one and guarded against the world.
May God grant us wisdom and grace so that we are alert, and not boil in the pot of striving to be relevant.
Stephen L Baxter