Rob Bell was only pointing out what so many think is obvious in remarks that have caused Christians of all stripes to hurry to their ramparts. He offered his opinion on the Church’s “inevitable” about face on homosexuality. Then he said something about the Church getting more irrelevant if it keeps quoting letters written 2,000 years ago. Lots could be said (and has been said) in response. The thing that got me thinking the most, however, isn’t what he says about homosexuality or the Bible; it’s the word relevance.

At first we may be tempted to say the Church doesn’t have to be relevant to culture; it only needs to be relevant to God. We may ask, “Was Jesus of Nazareth really relevant to Rome during his lifetime?” or “Are modern Christians in minority populations in the Middle East and Asia relevant in their own politics and culture?” Perhaps Christians in the Americas are unique in that we have been relevant in our societies for much of our history.

But then we must think better and harder than that.

Whenever we ask, “Does the Church need to be relevant?” the answer must be an unequivocal “Yes!”

Look at Paul. This is how far he went to be relevant:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Look at Christian scholars, activists, servants, who do not run away from the broken world, but toward it.

Look at the very magazine where this issue was raised for so many. Its name is RELEVANT, and it has become one of the most popular — and relevant — pages among young evangelicals not because it bows down to the world, but because it bows to Christ from within the world.

The real question we need to ask isn’t, “Does the Church need to be relevant?” It’s this: “Does the Church need to agree with the culture to be relevant?”

The answer there is more pertinent, and the answer is clearly “No!”

Relevance must be a goal of the Christian, but that does not mean the goal is to go with the flow. Christians don’t need to — in fact, should not — fit in with culture. That’s not how we stay relevant.

We stay relevant by living truth and speaking truth to power. We stay relevant by offering grace and forgiveness, love and hope.

If we follow Bell’s logic, it seems Jesus should have started worshiping Athena and Zeus and Caesar in order to stay relevant. That’s what the Romans were doing. It seems today’s Christian minorities in Mesopotamia and the rest of Asia should resort to nationalism and legalism to stay relevant. That’s what culture would have them (and us) do.

But no. We stay relevant not by conforming, but by reforming.

We stay relevant not by agreeing with wrong ideas, but by bringing a gospel perspective to the table. We stay relevant by not being in a bubble, but by having unbelieving friends, going where they go, talking about what they talk about, but doing it as Jesus would. He sat down with the world and dined, but he prayed before he broke bread and he did not condone sin even as he ate with sinners.

We stay relevant by going to the bar, but not getting drunk. Going to our jobs, but not becoming greedy or lazy. Going to public schools, but growing in our faith. Hanging out with the least of these, but not becoming hopeless or bitter. Hanging out with the popular crowd, but not becoming judges or resentful.

We stay relevant not by being of the world, but by being in the world. By engaging the culture, shaping it, letting the Kingdom take it, not running from it. We stay relevant not by making light of sin, but by bringing sin to Light.

So Rob Bell was right that the Church needs to stay relevant. But he was wrong that we need to snuff the wick of our ancient Light to do it.

For the world may not recognize the Light, but the Light is always relevant.

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson


  1. I like how you emphasized “having unbelieving friends”. God has put each of us in our unique circumstances, and it is important for us to think proactively about every person with whom we have regular contact. It’s asking Jesus to give us the fierce love for them that He has for us: accepting them exactly as they are now, while at the same time yearning for them to know this love of Jesus directly; not thinking of them as a soul-winning project, but yet always being mindful of their precious eternal souls living in this fragile life.


    1. to continue on valuing our dear friends’ eternal souls: caring enough about their souls to at some point be brave and speak the truth gently in love; being willing to risk losing their friendship over this, because there is ultimately no way of getting around the offense of the cross–it is a stumbling block, and strikes at the heart of man’s pride.


    2. Griffin Paul Jackson February 24, 2015 at 1:52 am

      I hear you on this, Linda. I don’t think most Christians are intentional about isolating themselves from deep relationships with unbelievers, but it tends to happen all on its own. You’re right that people are not “soul-winning projects.” At the same time, there should be some intentionality on our part to keep ourselves out of a bubble — and keep ourselves living out the role of salt and light we’re called to.


  2. This is such a gift, friend. Thank you for these words. This is certainly the truth that I’ve felt God growing me into in my walk with him, and I just appreciate your profound articulation of such. Jesus’ relevance was found in the humble strength by which he met each person where they were in an open expression of compassion, light, hope, and love. But lest we think that this deep human understanding bent him into a mold of the world, we should remember that Jesus’ way was radical, far-surpassing any love or truth the world could ever achieve. Taking up the call to follow in this radical way, indeed to be able to meet others where they are, requires of us a deep surrendering of our own prejudices, preconceived notions, and pronouncements of the sins of others for the purpose of (as your friend above has said so well) “soul-winning projects.” To walk in the way of Jesus, we must allow ourselves to be liberated (or perhaps its more a consciousness of and belief in the liberation already won for us) from our own dehumanization to ever be able to bring light and hope and truth to transforming the dehumanization of others.

    A question I’ve asked myself is: do I really and truly believe that the Greatest Commandment — to love God — and the following — to love all of God’s creation — is enough? Do I believe Jesus has overcome the law and that everything is fulfilled in this love? Or do I refuse to actually believe this and, rather, do I want there to be more? I choose to focus on love as enough. I know that even when I put my full self and focus and intention into loving, I still often fail miserably. Clearly, I need not add more to my plate. Indeed, in hating the sin of others (or even of myself), I’m still spending time and energy on hate — time and energy that could be spent learning more about the lessons of love, since I have so much more to learn. I believe this is how we reform and radically bring alive the Kingdom of God in this world. Thanks for expressing this truth Griffin!


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson February 24, 2015 at 1:55 am

      Good words, Maggie. It is amazing to me that, as you say, Jesus was so completely invested in the world, and yet was not infected by it. He sought out people — the worst of the worst, in fact — and still he maintained his radical perfection. During his incarnation, he was relevant not only because he was God and because of the words he brought with him, but simply because he was present with people.


  3. Tyler Slamkowski February 23, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Still impressed by the clarity and power of what you write, Griffin. Thank you for that excellent encouragement!


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson February 24, 2015 at 1:56 am

      And to you, Tyler, your words are greatly appreciated.


  4. Hey Griffin, just saw this post and it is very powerful and very relevant hehe. But in all seriousness I want to point out one thing most people do not fully comprehend or notice – something that will make or break our walk as Christians.

    As you and many commenters already noted, we should love our “non-believing” friends and be in the world even if we are not of the world. I wholeheartedly agree, however that is only HALF of what Jesus did.

    I will go so far to say if Jesus did not do the second part that most people do not see or value highly enough, He will have fallen into sin and become just like the world, or just like Rob Bell, believing the world’s ways are not so bad after all. How can I say this? Because the second thing Jesus did EVERY NIGHT was pray to his Father.

    As a man of flesh He knew he was not strong enough to go into the world and be radical and hold true to all his teachings and avoid sin and love all people without strengthening his spirit every night.

    The principle is simple and our Mother’s all told us this: who you hang out with is who you become.

    I’m not saying that with the Holy Spirit you can’t be the only one in the bar not drinking and change people. Of course if God wants that to happen and uses you as his tool to accomplish it, it will. But in reality what you listen to, who you associate with, and what you watch determine who you are. Not only your morals, but also your financial success or lack thereof, your vision for life, what you drive, where you live, how you raise your children, etc, etc.

    The power of association is SO HUGE and if we simply dance into the world expecting our Christian holiness to “rub off” on people we are being deceived. Jesus was only successful doing this because he Associated with his Father just as much as with the sinners of the world. He spent so much time with God that he was not affected by the sin surrounding him. If he did not do this, he would not have been successful.

    We MUST spend as much time with God or truly Godly friends as we do with worldly friends. It is imperative if we wish to impact our world and our surroundings, if we want the Church to be relevant – to associate with God and become like him as much as possible.

    This world CRAVES real Christians to show what it means to be a follower of God even if they do not know it. It is programmed in our DNA to look for leadership and someone to follow or believe in, why else would we have heroes or love action movies so much? The truth is the leader and hero we should look up to is God, but so many people do not reflect Him that the world doesn’t know how awesome He truly is. If we can reflect God appropriately we will win the hearts of EVERYONE. The only way to reflect our Father however, is to associate with him and seek him and ask him questions and learn from His word and the Holy Spirit. If we are the average of the 5 people we surround ourselves with make sure the number one person in your life is the Holy Spirit.

    How many times do we not pray enough and wonder why our thoughts stray toward sin. The easiest way to defeat temptation is to sing worship music or to pray. Ever wonder why that is? Truly seek association with God and the Church will become relevant and powerful naturally as it is our calling to expand the Kingdom and we will follow our calling unashamedly when we are in close fellowship with our Father. We will reflect who God truly is and the world will seek us like the light on the hill that we were supposed to be!


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson May 14, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      The Holy Spirit must pervade all our interactions with everyone else. It’s because of the Holy Spirit that we’re able to imitated Christ at the same time as we break bread with all people. I agree with you, and Linda, that this emphasis on the Holy Spirit is exactly the thing that is so badly needed. We cannot — are not — Christians without the Spirit. So too, prayer, Christian community, being in the Word, the sacraments, service, praise, all these things are prompted by the Spirit and strengthen us not only to be in the Church, but also to be in the world.


  5. I really like Ben’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit. So many times I hear preachers talk about how the Holy Spirit will teach us or lead us, which is true, but they don’t say that the Holy Spirit is the One who transforms us. We are helpless in ourselves to change ourselves–we need to ask the Holy Spirit to change us, and He will!


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