Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Irrelevance of Making God Relevant

I am often with fellow clergy who emphasize the importance of making scripture/God/theology relevant to the everyday person. It is such a commonly held view that few would dare to question the accuracy of the core assumption...

When we believe our task as people who interpret scripture is to make it relevant to life today, we assume the scripture to be something that is inherently irrelevant to us. And because the scripture is so irrelevant, it is in need of a biblical interpreter, ideally a person with an advanced education in Theology and or Bible, to do the work of making it relevant.

It seems that when our lives and the biblical narrative do not mesh, we feel the need to change something in order to make it mesh. And being modern, advanced people who are not inclined to have our way of thinking and living impeded by some ancient archaic text, we have decided that the thing that needs to change is the interpretation of the scripture--we must make it relevant.

I reject this assumption. A fundamental Christian belief is that our scripture is the revelation of God. Whether we emphasize it as the infallible direct word of God or as something written by fallible people but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; either way the scripture is God's self-revelation to us. In other words, it is not inherently irrelevant, rather it is revelatory in its very nature. It is not a mysteriously masked treasure to be uncovered--it is that which unmasks the otherwise hidden and mysterious nature of God. If it were not for the Word of God, God would be entirely a mystery to us; but in scripture, we find the unveiling of a God who so desires to be relevant that God became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

To consider Jesus to be a mysterious being that must be made relevant is ultimately blasphemous. It makes God's self-revelation irrelevant until we, the ones who needed that revelation, unveil and make relevant the very revelation of God--thus putting ourselves in the position of Messiah, Jesus in the position of a mysterious God, and God the Father in the position of... well... irrelevance.

Rather than assuming God and scripture are essentially irrelevant and in need of being made relevant to our lives as we live them today, we would do better to assume that the scriptures are God's living word, and if we listen carefully reveal God to us. If anything needs to be "made relevant" it is the story of our lives, which we would do well to make relevant to the scriptures.


How is your life relevant to the scriptures? Are you suffering--does your life experience resonate with the Book of Job, Lamentations, or perhaps one of the psalms? Are you rejoicing--do you resonate with the psalms of praise, the stories of the apostles bringing in the harvest in the book of Acts, the Israelite's as they entered into the Land God had given them? Are you enjoying the beauty of nature, resonating with Genesis or Psalm 8? Are you up against insurmountable odds--not unlike Joshua standing outside of Jericho or David looking up at Goliath? Are you trying to be faithful in the midst of difficult circumstances like Daniel, or Peter who cut off the ear of an enemy only to see his Lord restore the ear and offer himself for arrest...

These are not mysterious stories in need of being made relevant. They are the revelatory gift of God. We need not reinterpret the scripture to make it relevant to our lives--rather let us reinterpret our lives that we might find ourselves relevant to the Word of God.


  1. Thank you SO much for this post. I have been thinking about writing one on virtually the same topic for some time.

    As a retired pastor, I have been attending a UM mega-church for about 10 years now. The pastor works hard to develop sermon series that are "relevant" to the congregation. As he plans his work, he asks a handful of trusted parishioners for advice about the topics he should address.

    About a year ago, I noticed that he seldom mentions Jesus with more than a passing nod. And frankly, it bothers me. In a culture where Jesus is becoming taboo, "relevant" sermons banish Him as well.

    I honestly wish the pastor would stretch his own thinking by engaging with scriptures that are challenging. Lectionary preaching would be a refreshing change for my congregation.

    I am weary of "relevance". I want mystery; I want transcendence; and I want to be in a church that proclaims Christ, crucified and risen.

    1. Hi Holly,
      Of course topical preaching and series preaching does not necessarily worship at the "altar of relevance." But you offer an important reminder that we cannot intentionally or accidentally ignore parts of the gospel. The challenge becomes balancing our series and topics so that the fullness of the gospel is represented--and to be sure that just because we may begin where people are we do not stay there. It is doing the work of interpreting our lives into the gospel that cannot be ignored.