In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a cultural storm taking place that’s got its share of 30-foot waves, hurricane-force winds and blinding rain. As issues like “gay marriage,” abortion, the place of religion in political life, widespread gang rape and human trafficking, and restrictive gun legislation have all come to the fore, the waves of society have grown, crashed and risen again to soaring heights.
What’s alarming, though, is not that these things are taking place, but that so many Christians have absolutely nothing to say beyond what’s already being said on TV by the crony marionettes of the powers that be, or from the soap boxes of political stump speeches. Teddy Roosevelt’s pithy lament about the climate of politics is just as appropriate for a great number of Christian voices today: “A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”
The most recent example has been the “gay marriage” debacle in the Supreme Court and the discussion it’s sparked among the masses. While there have been a handful of pastors and public figures to speak clairvoyantly about the heart of the problem at hand, the overall message from “evangelicals” (which appears now more than ever to be a rather slimy, jellyfish-like term) has been weak sauce: We either chide other Christians for using the wrong tone or being “judgmental” (code word: saying things that others will think Christians are uncool for saying), we keep repeating the utterly incomprehensible refrain that our “religious views” don’t need to be legislated, or we avoid the issue altogether, treating religion as a matter of mere personal conviction and private devotion which has nothing to say to others about social or moral issues.
The question is, why do so many Christians have nothing to say? Why when we need the voice of God’s prophets—clarity in the midst of all this cultural fog—do we hear instead only the drivel of the “cultural surfers,” those who change their message to ride the waves of whatever is cool and trendy? You know the ones I’m talking about. The Christians who could give you 50 ways to properly brand yourself or create a winning social media platform, or who talk your ear off about why Mumford & Sons is a model of great “Christian music” despite the fact that Marcus Mumford refuses to call himself a “Christian.” All this maneuvering in the name of trying to make Christians seem like the kind of people you want at your next shindig. Yet these same figures give you the blank stare when it comes to applying God’s law to, say, “gay marriage.” How uncool that would make us seem, after all.
The truth is, it’s because being relevant is the only law they know. Ironically, so many of these voices end up in the pages of Relevant Magazine, which is regrettably one of the most popular publications within the mainstream evangelical current. The reason people like this are chiding you about your tone or your “critical spirit” is because they’re obsessed with being cool in the eyes of the culture and they’re worried you’re going to ruin things for them. That’s why writers for World Magazine are saying things like “yes, I believe you can be in favor of legalizing gay marriage and still be a Christian. Just like you can be in favor of legalizing gay marriage and not believe it is the way God intended marriage to be, that it is a sin.” (Source)
Seeking the glory of men, they are unable to receive the glory of God (John 5:44). The reason we have so little to say to the major issues of our day and to society at large—or we think the Bible doesn’t have anything to say to those things—is because we are so unfamiliar with the Scriptures in the first place. We simply don’t know what God’s Word actually says, so we assume it doesn’t.
Broader evangelicalism is 1,000 miles wide with vague notions of biblical commands and emotional nonsense (“don’t judge me” or “love your neighbor”), and about an inch deep with any actual theological understanding of how to apply those principles. There is a widespread bankruptcy of knowing and obeying God’s law, which is actually a sign of judgment (Amos 8:11). The cultural leaders who are supposed to act as a head directing the body instead act like the tail, following the court of public opinion wherever it goes. The counselors are all fools (Isaiah 19:11-15), and so we reap what we sow in a society whose god is public opinion, and “the consent of the governed” takes precedent over the law of the eternal God.
When Jesus spoke people were amazed by his authoritative message, while the Pharisees’ message was passed over. It’s because Jesus came to speak on the authority of his Father, not to tickle the ears of the fickle mob. In the same way, if we are to regain an authoritative voice in the midst of the rotting carcass called America, our minds, hearts and souls have got to first be rooted deeply in the law of God (Psalm 1)—the same law that reigns over all spheres of Creation, not merely private and personal but public, political and economic as well.
Be a prophet, not a relevance junkie.
This is when the danger grows severe. Love of relevance can blind us to things we ought to critique and numb us to things from which we ought to recoil. It can stand as our primary measure of success, often subconsciously, replacing the cultivation of deeper virtues. Its pursuit can consume vast time and resources that God may have given us for other purposes. And once possessed, relevance can prompt us to sacrifice almost anything rather than part with it.
Because relevance tends to mirror the trends and values of its culture, it can rarely offer society anything that it doesn’t already have—including its prejudices, excesses, and mistaken assumptions.
The polar opposite of relevant, in this sense, is prophetic. Prophets receive insight from beyond the echo chamber of their own culture, and then stand willing to share that truth regardless of consequence. Thus, the prophetic impulse is concerned little with the surface of things. Instead, it thrusts toward an issue’s heart, to the deeper need, the real matter at hand. Its objective is not to appear aligned with cultural trends, but to live and speak with integrity to standards that transcend its culture, even if that means loss of perceived relevance. Because it is not intent on mirroring the things society most values, a prophetic voice can offer the things society most lacks (Source).