I'm all in favor of communicating the Christian gospel as intelligibly as possible in cultures where the gospel may appear exceedingly foreign. We certainly do not want the gospel to come across that way at the cultural level. However, the rush and push to be "relevant" may possess a counter-productive force to it we're overlooking.
Much of this is rooted in fear. We have a fear the people we’re trying to reach will think we’re strange or weirdos. So we work hard to show them we’re not wacko. We dress in similar clothes. Eat the same food. Listen to the same music and watch the same movies. But there is a danger in this pursuit of relevance.
If we begin to reflect the culture too much, we will have nothing unique to offer it. "If church is just like the culture, why would I want to be a part of it? The culture already gives me what I’m looking for and the church doesn’t offer anything unique." If the church is going to offer something the culture doesn’t, it needs to be distinguishable from it. The church can become so relevant it actually becomes irrelevant.
We tend to think insightful people have all the answers. They have the “tweet-able” quotes, the sticky one-liners, and penetrating analysis. But the more conversations I have, the more people I talk to, there is one interesting attribute characteristic of the most insightful people I’ve known: they ask questions.
The best thinkers among us like to walk around a topic and look at it from all angles. They ask questions no one else is asking. They ask new questions and old questions in new ways. They avoid the pitfall of making uncorroborated assumptions. They don’t make the mistake of believing they know everything there is to know about a topic or circumstance.
As a brief aside, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that an inability to ask questions or enough questions is a character flaw. When someone is prone to making exponentially more statements than they ask questions, the engine of hubris is likely driving that. For what it’s worth, Jesus asked 307 questions in the gospels. He was asked just 183. He asked more questions than were asked of him. And he was the most insightful human being ever to live. Interesting.
You don’t have to make statements in order to give understanding to dull minds. You can encourage a listless soul or soften a hardened heart through questions. Questions build a platform for the work of God in someone’s life. So don’t stress about making the right statement. Work to ask more questions.
These days I’m itching quite a bit. I’ve battled eczema for 30+ years and winter is particularly troublesome. Even though scratching ceaselessly is terrible for my skin, scratching the itch is satisfying. It feels good. C.S. Lewis uses this imagery to describe pride. He writes:
“The pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch; but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard, we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither but have everything else (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky).”
The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval.
Self-regard, or the “look at me” mentality, is something we probably associate with boasting. We’ve all encountered it and we’ve all done it: “I deserve applause because I’ve accomplished so much.” The itch of pride needs the scratch of admiration.
But self-regard isn’t just on display through boasting; it’s on display through self-pity. Self-pity says, “I deserve applause because I’ve suffered so much.” The itch of pride needs the scratch of admiration.
Boasting is easier to label as “sin.” Self-pity…not so much. Why? Self-pity sounds like self-sacrificing. And self-sacrificing is pious, right? Not so fast.
The need self-pity feels doesn’t come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. In essence self-pity says, “Look at all I’ve endured; consider how much I’ve suffered; listen to my list of grievances experienced; and give me my due. I deserve better.” Self-pity is boasting’s sibling. They both originate from the same source: pride.
Jesus shows us how to suffer unjustly. Throughout the torment of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus never once uttered words that smacked of self-pity. His demonstration of humility was astounding. He was holy throughout the totality of the injustice. Let’s look to him and learn from him.