Relevance… innocent adjective or license?

Relevant bible teaching.  It’s a phrase that I see come up in church core value statements ‘…We are committed to consistent relevant Bible teaching’.  It’s the domain name of a web site.  It’s a distinctive that gets used to qualify one teaching above another or in place of another.  It sounds good, perhaps even right… maybe it is and maybe it’s not. 

Relevance requires a value judgement.  ‘Let me show you the best way to spit-polish your boots’.  Okay…  Who determined it’s the ‘best’ way?  Who determined a spit-polish is all that is required?  Do you even own a pair of boots?

Value judgements are important and so is relevance, but who is making those judgement calls when it comes to bible teaching?  If relevance becomes the ‘qualifier’ and ‘end’ of how we teach/preach the Bible and what we teach from the Bible…be watchful for all that gets left out and ignored.  We’ve all seen the guy with the bulging biceps walking around on gimpy legs…we know with too little vitamin C we can get ‘scurvy’ and too much just becomes body waste…how about the detective that misses too many clues and comes up with the wrong conclusion?  Here are a few relevant things to be reminded of…

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desparately sick; who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9

‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.’   Joshua 1:8

‘…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.   Acts20:26-32

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5 Responses to Relevance… innocent adjective or license?

  1. mlsmyth63 says:

    Relevance… a critical part of preaching the Gospel or a slippery slope of tickling ears? I guess the key is to balance the whole counsel of Scripture with relevance. I know we struggle with relevance in my own work – do we use a metaphor that has no relevance to people and teach them to understand it, or do we change the metaphor to make it RELEVANT. I guess the difference for us is that we are not just working on parts of the whole, but giving them the entire package, huh? The other thing that gets me wondering is, does the teaching always have to relate to ME? It seems to me we get to be navel gazers in the Church – it needs to relevant, I need to grow, talk to me about what relates to ME. Sometimes it’s about what’s going on in the C in other places, and sometimes it’s just not about US! Sometimes… 🙂 j/k

  2. TimWitten says:

    chuckling…as I am reminded just how often it is about US and how plain that may be to others…the issues that I wrestle through may seem totally ‘irrelevant’ to someone in the C elsewhere. But how do we respond to the basic question – is the whole Bible relevant? If it is and we acknowledge that it is breathed out by God and that there was no mistake that the Book we read and meditate on has 66 books and not – say 30; and that the events and illustrations recorded there are eternal and so must have relevance then and now in the hands of the Author. If we are to ‘teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’, what would we leave out today as irrelevant? What would we change or say differently or would we exchange illustrations or would we stress certain things and ignore others? True, we may in the unfolding of the Word, use ‘relevant’ illustrations to help the understanding, but that’s a big difference from changing the Word itself or only considering certain parts of the Word as relevant. An example of the first would be the ‘The Message’ and an example of the second you are likely to find practiced in many churches, especially those that have raised the ‘relevance standard’ to the top of the flagpole and so subjected the teaching and preaching of the whole counsel of scripture to man’s estimation of what the culture will find pallatable and perhaps what might keep them coming back to fill the pew on sunday. For me, over the past two years, the relevance of the Word has been revealed as I have come to it and submitted to it; word after word, line after line, story after story, conversation after conversation, letter after letter. And yes…that takes time, effort, desire, hunger – which I didn’t have before, but by His grace I do now!

  3. cavman says:

    As it was given it was relevant to the original audience. It addressed their particular set of issues.
    Properly, relevence is showing how that applies to us upon whom the end of the age has come (1 Cor. 10). The condition of their hearts are like the condition of our hearts. Our circumstances are often similar to theirs. The Scriptures are relevent.
    What some react against is preaching in which doctrine is divorced from life. Such teaching is sinfully irrelelvent.
    What others react against is doctrine, period, such that truth is reduced to that which is pragmatic. People lapse into moralism because it becomes about what I should/can do rather than what has been done for me.
    One of the things that made “revivalism” so popular was the lack of doctrine among an increasingly pragmatic & self-reliant culture. Culture, theology & practice converged to create a massive departure from the truth.
    Relevence is good and important when it seeks to explain and apply the truth in terms we can understand (otherwise known as contextualization). It is wrong and dangerous when used to avoid truth, or re-cast it in terms unrecognizable to the original meaning (moralism, religiosity, nationalism etc.).

  4. TimWitten says:

    I’m thinking through your thought that ‘preaching in which doctrine is divorced from life’ is sinfully irrelevant. That would be consistent with scripture being ‘profitable’ in its affect and effect in our life. But it seems more than ever that the doctrines of God and His character are left to gather dust on the shelf behind the pulpit rather than being the doctrines that properly understood and preached would ravish our souls with delightful awe in God. So relevant doctrine is practically confined to the preaching of ‘life lessons’ and ‘how to fix what’s broke’ in twenty-five minutes or less. (read that as spoken with true sorrow, rather than the anger it quickly diffuses…I am learning to rest in Him a bit more each day). I am thankful to be learning today about the wonders of His grace and who HE is. And it is a difficult thing sometimes to know whether to pray for the revival of or the removal of some who would keep my eyes on the kingdom of me rather than the kingdom of God.

  5. cavman says:

    Doctrine is so rarely preached today that we need to take the pains to explain how it matters to daily life. The average Christian is immature spiritually and can’t make those connections themselves. In a very spiritually mature congregation you don’t have to make those connections.

    But sadly relevence tends to mean “life lessons”, “7 steps to” and other such decided adoctrinal or anti-doctrinal messages that lead people to think they are living the Christian life. But … they are just avoiding the Savior thru religion. Yes, a lamentable situation.

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