In this age of information overload, what do we honestly know? The answers to our questions are at our fingertips, but are our questions worth asking? American Christianity may well be crumbling beneath the weight of our quest for convenience and relevance. As our Wikipedia wisdom sinks in we fail to realize that our wisdom is sinking. Os Guinness succinctly pointed out this irony: “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.” There are several reasons for our church culture’s obsolescence.
1. We fail to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom.
Knowledge is not a virtue since it can puff up, as Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke has noted. Satan himself is a storehouse of Theology; however, he is not wise. When the truth is known, treasured, and obeyed it culminates in wisdom. When the truth is known but relegated, then knowledge is listless.
The availability of information is undeniable. We too often deny the analysis, affirmation, and application of that information. Christian truth was never meant to be merely recited facts. If we fail to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom, then we will be continuously comprehending but never changing.
2. We value relevance more than significance.
Our culture is continually evaluating all ideas by what it esteems as the final criterion of acceptance: How does this benefit me? We offer eternity a customary nod while readily embracing personal relevance. Our local churches can too easily fall victim to this flawed philosophical outlook. As congregations seek to minister in their cultural contexts, they desire to maximize their effectiveness, which is noble and dangerous.
Our outlook may lean more towards entertaining people into loving the church and its programs rather than sharing the Gospel and seeing the spirit transform people into loving God. Is it possible for churches to cause spiritual disillusionment when the Christian life lacks the blockbuster elements they set forth as customary? If we value relevance more than significance, we may think that question is ludicrous. If we are objective, then we likely find the question intriguing. If we appreciate significance more than relevance, then we probably see it as haunting. Either way, we would do well to ask and answer it.
3. We lean toward sensationalism or rationalism.
What happens if we lean too far toward sensationalism? We have a perspective of religion that emphasizes our personal experiences. Our senses and emotions lead us. Everything involving God has to be stimulating, exciting, and relevant, but what about the God who speaks in a still small voice? What about loving God with all your mind? What about the dull and dreary seasons of life? How does sensationalism account for the well-articulated doctrines of Paul? These questions beg a more profound question. If the Christian faith were meant to exclude reason, then why did God create us as creatures of reason and reveal himself to us in a book?
What happens if we lean too far toward rationalism? We have an intellectual affirmation of ideas disconnected from our lives. Our minds may affirm the love commandment of Jesus as we neglect our neighbors in real life. We may even vehemently articulate the great commission as we hesitantly share the gospel in our daily encounters. Paul articulated great doctrines of the faith; however, he also did so while on missionary journeys or in prison for that faith.
What is the underlying cause? We can trace the underlying cause to unbelief. If we do not believe that God is enough, then we will have to assist him in some way. Our assistance may take the form of intellectualism, entertainment, or practicality. If we do not believe that the gospel is sufficient, then we will attempt to modify it. Either through cultural synthesis or pop-psychology analysis, our adjustment of the gospel is ultimately due to unbelief. This unbelief drives us to extremes as we grasp for relevance.
What is the overarching cure? Dare to believe that God, his revealed word, his spirit, and his Gospel are enough. Believe! As we move forward in belief, we may find that we’ve traded relevance for obedience. One makes us feel successful, and the other produces fruit.