The Relevance of Irrelevance

Chapter 2 of Stellman’s book was also quite good. It is entitled “The Irrelevance of Relevance.” The problems I would have with it are, I suspect, still in the background. But here he says a number of things I agree with wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. He doesn’t quote C.S. Lewis’ great line — “whatever is not eternal is eternally out of date” — but he certainly could have. He dings the lust for relevance that plagues the contemporary church, and shows how, in the end, it results in the life of the church, within the church, looking an awful lot like the world outside. And on this, which is his main point in the chapter, I agree with him entirely.

But let’s take his chapter title one step further. If relevance is irrelevance, and I agree that it is, what is the right kind of irrelevance? Right . . . it is relevant. Preachers of the Word who don’t care what the world thinks of them find that they are enabled by the Spirit to speak to that world with spiritual authority. Preachers who are huffing and puffing to keep up with with the world’s latest dictates and decrees find they are just earning contempt. Salt that loses its savor is good for nothing but to be trampled on by men. There are two kinds of contempt that the world has — one is for the spiritual man they respect, and the other is for the spiritual man they don’t respect. Contempt is present in both cases, but there is a world of difference between them.

And this is the thing that I would like to see Stellman acknowledge. There are two kinds of irrelevance. There is the kind that John the Baptist had, out in the wilderness. He was out there being irrelevant, and all Judea emptied out in order to go look for him. And then there is the kind of irrelevance that savorless salt has, the kind that nobody wants and nobody is looking for.

Whatever biblical emphasis you seek to apply, there will be a corresponding temptation. For every virtue there is a corresponding vice. If someone seeks to speak the Word in a way understandable by his generation (nothing wrong with that), there will be a temptation to sell out — to deck the gospel out with worldly tinsel in the hope that it will attract unbelievers somehow. But if you eschew this, and go into exile in the opposite direction, there is a way to sell out there too. There is always a way to sell out.

So I agree that relevance is irrelevant. And I would want to add — because I want a relevant ministry — that it is necessary to seek out and cultivate the right kind of relevance. The kind of relevance that comes from the gospel, and not from country club attire, and not from street cred tattoos.

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