Relevant to what?
Everybody talking about the decline of Christianity in the Western world says that it is because the faith preached over the pulpit is no longer relevant to our society. What they cannot agree on is in what way it is no longer relevant.
For over a century now, many churches have struggled to become more relevant by espousing the social gospel, incorporating psychological insights, adopting a contemporary style of music, applying marketing techniques to evangelism, becoming more seeker friendly and so on. You name it; someone has tried it. And people keep dropping out of the churches.
The social gospel is godless socialism wearing the clothes and using the language of Christianity. Psychology says our problems are found in the subconscious, not the heart. All the new styles and techniques miss the mark by thinking the old-fashioned gospel is, well, too old-fashioned for a modern society.
The problem is that churches are trying to make the gospel relevant to the zeitgeist, rather than to the real needs of mankind. What they are doing is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us not to do in Romans 10:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” “This world” translates the Greek word “aion,” which does not refer to the physical world or the things of the world. It rather refers to the way of thinking of the time in which we live. In French it is translated by words meaning “this present age.” Nowadays a better word would be zeitgeist, meaning the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a period of time.
Can we see the problem here? In trying to be relevant to the zeitgeist the churches have been trying to conform themselves to a moving target. The defining characteristic of the zeitgeist is that it is ever changing. That which seemed totally modern and “with it” twenty-five years ago is passé today. All attempts to be relevant by conforming to the zeitgeist are doomed to failure.
The Word of God needs no adaptation to make it relevant to our needs. However, we may need to learn how to apply it in ways that people of today will understand. If our mind set and our methods are still geared to the1950’s we need not expect a lot of success in 2013. In fact, the use of pat answers and Christian clichés is always apt to arouse resistance to the message.
We do not need a new translation of the Bible. The constant churning out of new translations creates the impression that the old is not reliable. This comes across as another attempt to conform to the zeitgeist. Let us make ourselves thoroughly familiar with the Bible we use and put it into practice. Let us show the world by our lives that we find the teachings of the Bible to be totally relevant to our own innermost needs. Then we will be more convincing when we tell them that the gospel is relevant to them, too.