Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Relevant" - The Great Nonsense Word of Our Time


This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;

    ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

    and you will find rest for your souls.

    But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

- Jeremiah 6:6
A church that spends time and resources trying to be "relevant" has chosen the wrong path. "Relevant" is the wrong word to describe Jesus. Better to call him the Way, or the Truth, or the Life. Jesus is someone far higher, and deeper, than the spatially and temporally localized word "relevant." To call him such is to choose the wrong path.

"Relevant" is hip nonsense. See, for example, this essay in The Smithsonian: "What Does It Mean for Art to Be "Relevant"?

Art must be great. To be great often means being irrelevant. Relevancy is irrelevant to the great artist, who creates because he must, not because he's trying to fit in. 

In the Smithsonian interview music critic Jay Nordliner says:

"That’s the buzzword of the day, “relevant.” I think it’s one of the great nonsense words of our time. What does it mean? The Bach B Minor Mass is great. Is it relevant? I don’t know. It’s great. Is greatness relevant? Relevant to what? I think art can be liked and loved and appreciated. It instructs us and consoles us and thrills us and lifts us up. But this mania, this fashion, this fad for relevance is bizarre. 
It’s a perversion of art. I think it goes hand in hand with attempts to politicize art. A lot of people think that if something isn’t political, it doesn’t really matter. I suppose that’s what they mean by “relevant.” What’s the relevance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Brotherhood? Well, that symphony is a lot more than that – beyond our power to put into words."

The great artist is not trying to speak for today. "The best art speaks for all time and is timeless. It's beyond time and place." 

Jesus, and the Church, are more like great art than great science. That's why Jesus, and the Real Church, will be triumphant. Science is amazing, but Real Church is beyond our power to put into words, and cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. Being beyond time and place, it cannot be diminished to time and place. This is why Jesus spoke in parables, with some syllogisms thrown in. (See Chapter 9 in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church, on the metaphysical impulse that will not go away, and my writing on non-discursiveness.)

Pouring time, energy, and money into striving to make the Church "relevant" is the politicization of the Church. That is, it tends towards the politically correct as a justification for attracting people. It is reductionistic, desacralizing, and disenchanting. It leads people away from the ancient paths. It's a perversion of Church. It is idolatry.

Greatness, when it arrives on the scene, is usually misunderstood, and felt as culturally irrelevant and out of place. Like Jesus. Like his people.

How, then, shall we tap into the greatness of God and his Church? Lay relevancy down by the rivers of Babylon, and be faithful.

(Note: I see being "incarnational" as different, and more powerful, than being "relevant.")