I feel like I’m so far away from “cultural relevance.” Here I sit in a small fishing village (OK, it’s pretty good-sized by Alaska standards but not having any stoplights has gotta’ imply something about our size) where many of the cultural norms take a little while longer to get here — even with high speed internet and streaming TV shows. But what we have around us is still a culture, even if it’s particularly “Alaskan.”
That said, I still engage this culture around us and struggle, at times, to do so in the most helpful ways. Plus, as part of a denomination that still looks back on a past heyday of cultural relevance, the pull to be be relevant can be great.
So, I liked reading Mark Sayers’ comments in an interview with David George Moore about the reasons behind a book he had written:
I was driven by a conviction that something radical was changing culturally, and that the Church was struggling to not just catch up but articulate this shift. For decades now the Church has relied on the strategy of cultural relevance to engage Western culture. The premise of this strategy was based on two great assumptions. First, that Western culture had entered a kind of post-Christian phase, and second that the best way to engage this post-Christian phase was through employing strategies and tactics learned on the mission field with pre-Christian cultures.
This was the strategy that ultimately created the contemporary church movement. I am not suggesting that the strategy of cultural relevance has not been fruitful nor that we should abandon it. The strategy of cultural relevance works well in pre-Christian or traditional cultures where the gospel can be communicated into and built around local symbols, stories, traditions, conventions and structures. However, the mood behind the post-Christian culture of the West ultimately seeks to deconstruct and contest all symbols, stories, traditions, conventions and structures. How do you apply a strategy of cultural relevance in a Western context which liquifies culture? Missiology emerged as a way of engaging non-Western traditional cultures without colonizing them. In our post-traditional West, the danger is that when the church engages the cultural solely with the strategy of cultural relevance, too often the church is colonized by the post-Christian mood. I am suggesting that alongside the strategy of relevance we need a strategy of resilience. Not retreat, but cultural engagement with robust resilience.
Too often I see folks trying to get a retreat from culture. But I don’t think that’s the best way. I’m just trying to figure out how to do this from the systems I have at my disposal.