Ministry Today magazine cover

Is the Church Too Relevant





Os Guinness to pastors: Don't capitulate to culture.
Is the church's pursuit of cultural relevance ultimately detrimental to the cause of the gospel? Os Guinness, an Oxford-trained scholar who has written or edited more than 20 books, says yes.

"It's ironic that, in the very generation in which we've pursued relevance as never before we've become irrelevant like never before," says Guinness, author of

Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance (Baker). He adds that hip, appealing presentations of Christianity have not resulted in the secular world banging on the doors of churches in unrestrained interest.

In his 119-page book, Guinness questions the very foundation of the quest for relevance, suggesting that those who truly make a difference in the culture are those perceived as out of step with the conventional wisdom of the age-- aka, prophets.

When Guinness speaks of prophets, he's not referring to wandering ascetics obsessed with future events, but rather those who have a solid understanding of the past and "thoroughly understand where the modern world is at."

What are the ways in which a quest for relevance has weakened the church's authority?

Guinness argues that biblical Christianity has been replaced by a version of the gospel in which "marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfulness, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and a passion for missions is overpowered by a drive to sustain the booming evangelical subculture."

What are the results of this misled effort to trace the contours of culture and shape the gospel to fit them? "First, we lose authority," Guinness told Ministries Today. "Then we lose continuity with the past, and, eventually, we lose identity. The crisis in the Episcopal Church is an example of this."

What's the remedy? Guinness suggests that pastors must "become aware of the unfashionable--remember the parts of the gospel that are difficult or obscure or repulsive. If we're faithful to these parts, we'll be faithful to the whole gospel, and we'll be relevant to this generation and the next."

Although he admits he's not a preacher, Guinness says: "Preaching is the central conduit of the Word of God in all its authority and life-giving character. Without preaching we have no hope."

Beyond relevance, that's what Guinness believes the present generation is actually seeking--a return to "'Thus saith the Lord ...,' a sense of transcendence and awe in worship and clear, unashamed preaching of the Word of God. That's what we need, and that will keep us up-to-date."


Descending Like a Dove
By Clive Calver, Charisma House

"In some churches, spiritual worth is measured by whether or not you speak in tongues, raise your hands or dance! Such attitudes are dangerously immature," says Clive Calver in his book Descending Like a Dove.

Calver, a British evangelical and the president of World Relief, offers a balanced--yet sometimes unpredictable--perspective on the third member of the Trinity. He often expands the role of the Spirit beyond the commonly emphasized areas, discussing His activity in worship, spiritual warfare and social concern.

While he is not afraid to roast a few charismatic-Pentecostal sacred cows, Calver clearly reveals his respect for the movement as a whole, advocating a renewed recognition of the One whom he calls "the missing person of the Trinity."

"The Holy Spirit is no mere arm or leg of God," Calver says. "He is a person in His own right, yet He exists as part of the Godhead."

Drawing from sources as diverse as Tozer, Moody and Wesley, Calver calls for a deeper understanding of the Spirit's intimacy, and power for the Christian's life and work. He is at his best while drawing together the common beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit, held by evangelicals and charismatics alike.

For a fresh perspective on practical pneumatology from a voice across the pond, consider Descending Like a Dove for small-group studies, Sunday-school classes or the curious layperson.

The Sermon Maker: Tales of a Transformed Preacher
by Calvin Miller, Zondervan

In his trademark style, combining creative narrative with solid scholarship, communications expert Calvin Miller weaves a tale of woebegone Pastor Sam, whose sermons are as dry as dust, yet who sincerely longs to engage his yawning congregation. To the rescue flies Sermoniel, the Angel of Homiletics, who "goes around helping powerless preachers get it back." The heavenly pulpit coach leads Pastor Sam and the readers through a journey to learn how people listen and therefore to more effectively tell the timeless story of redemption. Don't let the style fool you. Miller's book is rich with theological depth--and it will challenge you to put your own sermons under the lens of scrutiny.

The Homosexual Agenda
by Alan Sears and Craig Osten, Broadman & Holman

If even a small percentage of Sears' and Osten's concerns are valid, all arenas of society--including the church--are vulnerable to the subversive values of the radical homosexual agenda. In their recent book, the two Alliance Defense Fund executives present a well-researched and chilling account of how the highly-motivated and well-funded homosexual movement has poised itself to influence six key sectors of society: church, government, education, business, entertainment and family. According to the authors, the members of the sometimes-unofficial movement have centered their efforts on swaying public opinion and legitimizing same-sex behavior, at the same time creating an atmosphere of intolerance toward those who oppose their lifestyles.

Lord Reign in Me
by various artists, Vineyard Music

With chord charts and lyrics, the enhanced-CD format of Lord Reign in Me may attract worship leaders who are already familiar with the 13 previously-released songs on the album. A collection of the best songs to come out of the United Kingdom in the last five years, the album features worship leaders Brian Doerksen, Kathryn Scott, Sam Lane and others.

The Heart of Worship
by various artists, Worship Together

The Heart of Worship combines some of today's and yesterday's most popular worship songs with some of today's most talented Christian artists. This two-disc, 22-song collection launches with Matt Redman's title track, performed by the harmonious trio Phillips, Craig and Dean. Highlights include three Keith Green favorites, "Create in Me a Clean Heart," "You Are the One" and "Make My Life a Prayer to You," repackaged, but still fresh after nearly three decades.

Sacred Revolution
by various artists, Sparrow

Last May more than 20,000 college students converged on Sherman, Texas, for OneDay03. Music from that weekend can be experienced on the live album Sacred Revolution or on the companion DVD--sold separately. Musicians such as Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall and others tag teamed leading the students in worship. The DVD includes more than three hours of songs as well as clips from speakers Beth Moore, Kirk Cameron, Joshua Harris and others.

When it comes to choosing a Bible dictionary, it helps to weigh your options--literally.

Holman Reference offers shoppers two options: a five-ounce, hand-held electronic Bible dictionary or a full-color, 1,700-page, hard-bound doorstop.

Both the electronic dictionary and the illustrated book version offer pronunciation guides, topical articles and Scripture cross references, but the electronic version--manufactured by Franklin--includes a complete, searchable NIV Bible (other versions are available).

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has a unique "quicktabs" topical locator system, more than 700 full-color photos, illustrations, charts, maps and a timeline of biblical, world and church history. Available for $35 or less, this affordable version would be an asset to any research library.

The electronic hand-held version--which sells for $89.95--includes a Rolodex organizer, local and world clock, calculator, and a converter for currency, temperature, weight, liquid and length.

Learning how to use the hand-held dictionary could be overwhelming at first, but the easy-to-follow instructions and simple layout make it well worth the time and effort.

Both dictionaries offer similar information and have features unique to each. Yet there is one major difference to consider: about 5 pounds.


Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Electronic Bible Dictionary
Holman Reference

When it comes to choosing Bible dictionary, it helps to weigh your options-literally.

Holman Reference offers shoppers two options: a five-ounce, hand-held electronic Bible dictionary or a full-color, 1,700-page, hard-bound doorstop.

Both the electronic dictionary and the illustrated book version offer pronunciation guides, topical articles and Scripture cross references, but the electronic version--manufactured by Franklin--includes a complete, searchable NIV Bible (other versions are available).

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has a unique "quicktabs" topical locator system, more than 700 full-color photos, illustrations, charts, maps and a timeline of biblical, world and church history. Available for $35 or less, this affordable version would be an asset to any research library.

The electronic hand-held version--which sells for $89.95--includes a Rolodex organizer, local and world clock, calculator, and a converter for currency, temperature, weight, liquid and length.

Learning how to use the hand-held dictionary could be overwhelming at first, but the easy-to-follow instructions and simple layout make it well worth the time and effort.

Both dictionaries offer similar information and have features unique to each. Yet there is one major difference to consider: about 5 pounds.

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