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Is cultural-relevance relevant?

Welcome back! So did you give yourself brain cramps on that little homework assignment I left you? I’m a little disappointed no one mentioned wanting to know more about me and my embarrassing habit of talking to myself. No interesting thoughts to share? No potentially inflammatory and embarrassing topics to suggest? You must all be sleeping off that holiday hangover, huh?

At any rate, Susan Meissner wins the prize for my first topic in the New Year. Here’s the winning suggestion:

“…to explore ways we Christian worldview writers can become responders instead of reactors, how to take a less defensive role and a more deliberate, active role in proclaiming truth. I want to know how to write to people (and for people) outside the pews in ways that still encourage and edify the body but draws the seeker, the doubter, the unconvinced. I want to find ways to not step outside the box so much as to make the box such a wondrous thing, the ABA readers on the outside want to step in.”

Well here you go Susan. Some validation. As you’ll know, one of the many perks of my job as general irritant at WaterBrook is visiting with authors. For example, Len Sweet (a guy who’s ideas I think explain his surname) dropped in this afternoon to chat and upload some recent thinks on us. I’m afraid I had to duck a few times: this guy swings high. Unfortunately, I also had to duck out early (sorry, Len), though not before catching the fire of a particularly crackling thought: something along the lines of Susan’s suggestion here: We bring them to us.

Some have criticized the emergent church for being too “relevant” and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Some accuse the postmoderns of placing too high a premium on engaging the culture at the expense of the historical faith, missing the deeper meaning behind the baubles and glittery knock-offs to appropriate the trappings of our consumer culture. Frankly, at times I wish emergents had a more defensible argument.

My supposition for tonight is that if we’d only get out of the way, experience God as we long to, and share of our experience to draw others in, all attempts at “cultural-relevance” might become obsolete. I believe this has become a very relevant discussion for us as writers attempting to attract a broad audience, not to mention its implications for evangelism and the church. Maybe the question comes down to how do we experience what God is doing as human beings, rather than as “Christians” or as “writers” or whatever other label precedes our experience?

I love the relevants. The emergents. The post-everything, tech-savvy, uber-lovely Christians with their shabby chic deconstruction and messiness and discontent. Like, I mean, how could I not? Gosh! But there’s something so yesterday about it all that belies a similar problem as the one they’re supposedly discarding. Adopting the culture’s look and sensibilities to be relevant will not attract anyone to the real, uncontrollable God.

So let’s hear from some more of you on this one. Should we be pursuing anything less than authentic encounters with God to win the attention of our culture?

12 Responses to “Is cultural-relevance relevant?”

  1. “Should we be pursuing anything less than authentic encounters with God to win the attention of our culture?”
    Now you’re talkin’! Our associate pastor was saying Sunday that we present a wimpy Jesus — no wonder people aren’t attracted to the church. But if we show Christ as he truly is — awesome God, mighty, powerful, truly human and truly God — people will be drawn to him.

  2. Good show, old bean! What a refreshing idea.
    There’s nothing more convincing than someone who’s in love. She can’t help but magnify her Beloved. He is dazzling and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. She not only adores Him, she naturally assumes everyone else will see Him as she does. We, on the other hand, try to camouflage Christianity–as though we’re ashamed of our God and assured no one will want Him unless we dress Him up like a rock star.
    As Cole Porter (tortured soul, but great lyricist) said, “Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.”

  3. dee says:

    I’ve read this post twice and read the comments, but I haven’t read what an “authentic encounter with God” mean? And how will an unbeliever know that this event is God?
    Right now I’m working on a short story about a woman in love with an effeminate church piano player. When I came up with this story I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 and I was stuck on this idea of long suffering. And then I thought about my girlfriends and our mishaps with romance and our foolish notion of what it is. I wanted the Dark Moment to reveal some of our troubles with men and this desperation to indentify ourselves by the men we involve ourselves with instead of what we are to Christ. But I don’t want to lose unbelievers from the story, because its Christian. Because I know that real romance must include Christ in it. I thought I had it figured out until I read this post, because I don’t want to be on the wrong track and I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I usually don’t write romances, but it has been sitting on my heart for the past two weeks.

  4. Deborah says:

    Great question, Mick, and for me the answer is no. And,having done the cafeteria Christian thing, and been through the seeker friendly church thing and probably being of too old a demographic for the emergent, I’m loving being traditional, with all the strictures, voluntary of course, of daily readings and prayers, fasting during Lent, observing the whole church calendar instead of just C & E.
    I love what you wrote Mary, about being caught between modernism and postmodernism and your quick analysis. You are definitely onto something and I can’t wait to see what you do with it. Radical obedience. And rebellion is the stronghold of this age. “I want to do it my way.”
    And Dee, I want to read the story about the woman in love with the effeminate piano player!!!!!
    Write the story that’s sitting on your heart and leave the consequences of it to God.
    If you’re on the right track with God, then it’s probably pretty unlikely that anything you write, no matter how raw, or real, will knock anyone else off track, and could be just what’s needed to get someone’s life turned around.

  5. siouxsiepoet says:

    i think the fact that we’re trying to “win attention” is the problem right there. God doesn’t need our help. we have made a patsy out of Him and i think He would rather not have that kind of “attention.”
    if the church could be half as loving as most of the cults and many of the unsaved, we’d get all the attention we’d need, the right kind that is. so as far as i see it, which is likely just two feet in front of me, is we just need to get to know God. i mean not about Him. not his favorite color. but Him. intimately. livingly. wildly. lose ourselves in love with Him get to know Him. remember how enthusiastic the first love season was? (sickening to those who have lost it, granted), but we’ve gotten so far away from just plain loving Him and others that i think we’re not even living gospelly. i’m making up words all over the place.
    my part, for what it’s worth. perhaps nothing. suz.

  6. Judith says:

    Wow, I was just looking for a writer’s group to submit a call to & I found you guys – I can’t tell you how cool this is! (I’ll be subscribing soon…)
    But to stay on subject, God will use any artist on any subject to His glory, whether you’re trying to gain attention or not. And usually trying too hard will only hurt the work. Try reading Madeline L’Engle’s “Walking on Water” to get a much clearer picture of what I’m saying…
    And let me know how I can submit a call for stories. ;)

  7. I’m starting to believe that the drawback to all of our cultural rhetoric, from whatever camp it comes, is that we continue to conceive of ourselves as outside the culture. We say we’re in the world, not of it — but we act as if we’re “in” it the way Scotland is in the United Kingdom: a nice border, a different accent and a parliament of our own. And we congratulate ourselves for not being separatists like the Irish. As long as we conceive of the Christian artist’s job as basically sending missionaries “south” in hopes of luring folks north of the border — or worse, sending books south while keeping their authors locked up in the Tollbooth — the only culture we’ll ever be relevant to is the Christian subculture. This is true whether our enclaves are in the suburbs or the inner city.
    Of course, it’s a lot easy to say this than to know what it means or how to live in consequence of it. I find myself more puzzled than ever.

  8. In the World Like Scotland’s in the UK

    The inimitable Mick Silva asks whether cultural relevance is relevant, prompting me to tilt at my latest windmill.

  9. siouxsiepoet says:

    sending books south while keeping their authors locked up in the Tollbooth
    well said.

  10. What a good question!
    Christmas Eve eve, we visited a church that warmed up by singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The “three French hens” group shouted the loudest.
    It ended with Celine Dion’s song about loving everyone, sung by a talented woman soloist.
    In the middle, another woman sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and the worship leader slow-danced with her in the interlude.
    It was actually jarring when we sang Christmas hymns in the middle of all that.
    We did hear a good message about coming home, including the Prodigal Son. Not much on Luke 2.
    We felt like we had mostly wasted our time.
    The whole service was like church camp. It reminded me of an old Gaither song which says, “I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord.”
    Next night, Christmas Eve, we visited two more services with praise songs and carols and children singing and Luke 2 taught, and felt like we were in church at Christmas.
    I grew up in a rather boring mainline church, and married a nice man who chose another boring church. Then I started slipping away to visit the church “Christianity Today” called the fastest growing church in the country.
    We sang wonderful praise songs that made our spirits soar and heard from the Word about life in the Kingdom of God, with Jesus forgiving sins and the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us toward victory over the enemy.
    And when the invitation was given to receive Jesus and enter the Kingdom and have sins forgiven, people went forward in droves.
    Jesus said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.”
    The other day, we passed by the first church and my husband commented on all the ducks in the pond. I said, “I think they’re French hens.”
    We really don’t need three French hens to make our churches grow! I understand that the song represents some symbolism, itself, and that three French hens are the Trinity. That, we need!
    In fact, a book, _Hell’s Best-Kept Secret_, by Ray Comfort, says these lite churches will probably end up with a great falling-away.
    I want to go where the sheep are fed and the Spirit has His way and Jesus is lifted up in power, like at that wonderful church. I didn’t know what I was missing before finding that worship and teaching.
    Now, anything else, to me, is just a waste of time. And the lite church was a waste of time, even to my husband, who chooses boring churches!
    I’m very concerned about the trend. I think it’s very Laodicean, as where the Spirit wrote and scolded the lukewarm church of Revelation 3.
    So glad you asked! You rattled my cage!
    Margo Carmichael

  11. Susan Meissner says:

    Thanks, Mick, for picking my question. Can’t wait for my prize.
    I’ve been thinking on all this heady stuff and wondering what to make of all of it. I am crunching Numbers right now (I am on a read-the-Bible-in-90-days journey with a bunch of writer friends) and am finding as I wade through the Pentateuch that God was always finding creative ways to draw attention to Himself. Sometimes He used lovely things like manna and water; sometimes powerful things like fire and clouds, sometimes strange things like blood on a big toe and a bronze snake on a pole.
    When I look at His example of making Himself known, I see that He did it by meeting His people at the absolute center of their need, at the place where they would see Him best despite their limited vision.
    That’s where I want to be as a writer who wants to proclaim Truth in every sentence. I want to be at that place where the need begins and the vision of who God is begins to get cloudy. An authentic encounter with God has to mean you’ve seen Him. Met Him in the Word and in worship. That can happen in an emerging church or at a Catholic mass, but it has to happen or it’s all been for nothing. Serve the espresso, set up the art tables, pray prostrate, dance with scarves, just let’s keep in mind it’s as meaningless as genuflecting and crossing yourself if you haven’t met God in the process.
    So yeah, I guess I want an authenic ancounter with God. The thought of the opposite, a fake one, scares me.
    Susan, who is moving on to Deut.

  12. kele says:

    to be honest a have read all the comment but i never found one that really explain the culture thing. when a man is born again all things are new that mean you have the culture of God. the holy spirit lives in you that is your culture for now you dwell in Zion. know yourself stop on your track and let go of everything and let God show you the way that you should live on this world. for Jesus said he will not live us alone but he will sent live us with the comforter which is the holy spirit in you which many people don’t understand. just let God control your life and you will know…..and see….

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