Just because something is true does not mean that it is of utmost importance. An idea must be both “true” and “relevant to the present time” to be worthy of our intense consideration.
This idea of relevance is an interesting one. Some people ignore it altogether and others place an intense amount of effort into showing the relevance of an idea or teaching. I am about to start a series that looks at four postures that preachers have taken to relevance and the demonstration of it.
The first way that we have demonstrated relevance is through “Brute Force.” Here is where we end up saying, “You better believe it or else!” The “or else part” could be “you will go to hell” or “you will be confused” or “you will be deceived.” Another softer approach is “you don’t really love Jesus unless you believe it.” Examples abound of this kind of preaching. I listened to the Bible Answer Man defending the trinity. He argued that if you don’t believe in the trinity then you are not a Christian. Here the argument is basically you must believe this or you are not in right relation with God and ultimately are lost. There was no attempt to demonstrate how the doctrine makes any difference in our living, just a statement “You Must Believe it or else!”
This kind of relevance, however, will not stand up in the real world. When I am dealing with real issues in my own life, these kinds of approaches to relevance makes me put this doctrine on the back burner. Even if I agree with the doctrine, I can’t use it, I can only “believe” it. I have to go to something else when I am hurting. I have to go to something else when I am in need of something.
Some think that most doctrines are only relevant in this perspective, however it is my contention that it is not that the doctrines are only relevant through brute force, it is that we have not thought through the practical ramifications of our doctrines.
I am not saying that there is never a place or time for the “Brute Force” method of relevance, but I think that it is used way too much and if not supplemented with something else turns “truth” into “irrelevant truth.”
Another approach to relevance in preaching is to present a “take it or leave it” approach. Here the preacher instead of simply saying the truth is relevant, as in the brute force method, the preacher assumes it is relevant by stating “here is the truth.” In fact relevance is not dealt with. The preacher takes a posture like “Here is the truth, what you do with it is on you.” The preacher often assumes that it is now up to the people. He or she has done the job and now must leave it to the people.
We often hear preachers say things like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” OR “God said it, I didn’t!” This kidn of verbiage promotes a kind of preaching that does not allow the truth to touch the ground. The truth need not come to terms with real life. In fact, there is nothing to keep the truths from being irrelevant. Simply put, just becuase “God said it” does not mean that I know how to fulfill what God said or even understand what God said. In short, “God said it” is not enough if we are seeking relevant preaching. When presented so unappetizingly, many when given the choice to “take it or leave it” will simply leave it.
Another approach to relevance that preachers use is the ignoring relevance approach. Here you don’t even worry about relevance. Instead of telling folks that something is relevant because you must believe it (brute force) or it is relevant because it is true (take it or leave it) you now assume it is relevant. In fact you may not even assume it is relevant you may simply attack the whole notion of relevancy.
Often these kinds of sermons are theoretical and way above the heads of the hearers. In addition, they usually simply inform the mind alone. Preachers who fall into this trap use a “classroom teacher” as the metaphor for a preacher rather than a “prophet” or even a “priest.” Their people go home with notebooks full of notes but no idea how to use it.
I remember when I was taking math in college. Because math was my minor I had to take many courses in math. I had all kinds of teachers. I can remember specifically one of my teachers who always applied everything. It was probability and statistics. He had an example for every concept he taught. Thus the points he presented were understandable and applicable to my life. And interestingly enough, I still use probability on occasion. However, I can remember another teacher who seemed to attack the very idea of relevance. He would drone on and one about rigor and theoretical purity. He had few examples. And in the end, I no longer can even remember his points let alone apply them.
We cannot simply ignore or attack relevance. In the end, great preaching will require it. The question is not whether you should be relevant to your people, the question is how. And that is our next post in this series.
To this point we have looked at poor methods of relevance. Now I want to look at a better method. This is where you take the doctrine and show its significance for our lives. Granted this significance may be today or tomorrow or even in the future. It may be fitting us for the coming kingdom. It may be helping us usher in the coming kingdom. Ultimately, I am not talking about only things that make us live better in the present dispensation. I am talking about how the doctrine either promotes or accomplishes a change in mindset that is necessary for Christians to be better citizens of God’s kingdom. The Bible says “be not conformed by this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It is our job to demonstrate how our doctrines do these things.
Note that we are not simply ignoring how the doctrine affects our living as one method does. Neither are we simply saying “You must believe the doctrine or else.” Finally, we are not saying “Hey I told you the doctrine, now it is on you.” No we go the extra mile and demonstrate how the doctrine promotes God’s coming kingdom in the lives of the people.
For example, let us take the trinity. Does the inner workings of the Godhead demonstrate something about how God’s people are to relate to one another? Does the harmonious unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit point towards something that the people of God should be working towards? Does the scriptures provide glimpses of how to get there?
Another example is the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Does the reality that Jesus is coming change the way we live? Do we live as if this present order is to continue forever? Do we simply follow the attitude of consumption that the present order seems to be pressing on our people?
Simply put, I believe that all of our doctrines are relevant. It is on us to demonstrate this relevance by hard work and a keen eye towards the lives of our people. When you do that, your people will leave not simply knowing something with their head, but they also leave ready to do something.