Once again, I very much appreciate the work of Os Guinness – this time in his 2003 work, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to The Idol of Relevance. One of Guinness’ major themes of this short book is the following provocative phrase: “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant” (p. 12). Essentially, Guinness says that most “Christian” attempts at relevance end up being trivial, trite, and transient. This relevance is not based on truth but popularity, and thus Christianity today is largely irrelevant in the United States. How many non-Christians listen to Christian radio or watch Christian movies because they are so relevant to the deep and fundamental issues of life?
Here’s a synopsis of the book in Guinness’ own terms.
“By our uncritical pursuit of relevance we have actually courted irrelevance; by our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and relevance. Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant” (p. 15).
Those of you who are pastors or elders in churches that haven’t followed the winds of “pop” culture will want to get this book. It will encourage you to continue to pursue faithfulness and preach truth in a culture that values the fad and worships the trend. Or, if you are in a church that tries way too hard to be relevant, get this book for your pastor and elders/leaders. Finally, I’d recommend this book for any Christian who wonders how Christianity and culture should interact. It’s a great critique of evangelicalism’s idolatry of relevance, but it’s also a constructive way forward in faithfulness to the truth of the Word. As Guinness says, “Is the culture decisive and the audience sovereign for the Christian church? Not for one moment” (p. 66).
I’ll come back to this book, Prophetic Untimeliness, again later. For now let me say that it is one of my top 10 books for 2012. At the time of this post, you can get a used hardcover copy for well under $10.