Is Relevance and Understanding the Point?
I have been reading a challenging book titled The Intrusive Word, by United Methodist Bishop William H. Willimon. He argues that being understood is not the ultimate goal of our ministry or our preaching. The ultimate goal is to be true to the gospel that we preach. He says:
Can we preachers respect the gospel enough to allow people not to understand it? (page 19)
Can we give too much to the culture in trying to be “relevant” or even “understood”? Too often in the evangelical world, there is an assumption that we can go to the people and find what they want and then give that to them. This approach, sometimes called “seeker-sensitive,” comes from a mindset that seems to believe that placating to the culture and promoting the status quo is the way to further the kingdom of God. For example, the so-called prosperity gospel places the gospel in the context of American middle-class values and confuses the American dream for the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)
If we go to those intoxicated on American middle-class values and ask them what they want and desire, we end up with things that don’t deal with the fundamental problems of our society. Neither does it deal with the fundamental problems of our soul. We end up with teachings that don’t change us but make us more comfortable in our current lives.
Gospel Must Confront
I agree that the gospel must confront us if it is to change us. It must do more than ask me what I want, it must go to my real needs even if I don’t understand them. And if I don’t want to live in line with God’s coming kingdom, yes it will be misunderstood.
Today we preachers have the prophetic imperative. We must preach for change of structures, we must preach for change of individuals, we must preach for change. … To do this, we must, as Willimon reminds us, be willing to be misunderstood.