Most helpful positive review
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on March 25, 2004
This book has an interesting way of making its point. The flaps and back jacket of the book advertise this as a critique of the modern church's mad rush to be relevant. However, he begins with an interesting description of our slavery to time - he calls watches "the gods on our wrists." This obsession with time has translated itself into an obsession with being "timely," i.e. current and up to date and relevant to the culture around us. And the downside is that in our obsession to be relevant, we have become irrelevant. He says this:
"After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted with an embarassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant."
He is correct - even in this era of the megachurch, where the advocates of relevance champion their methods because of the size of their churches, the fact of the matter is that the church is, and has been, losing its saltiness. Most church growth is the result of professing Christians transferring churches. Also, because of the watered down "relevant" gospel that is preached in our day, most of those who profess faith probably don't possess it.
Guiness makes a case, and I think a good case, that true progress doesn't come from accomodating to the culture, but through resisting the culture. He quotes C. S. Lewis who says that "progress is made only into resisting material."
Among other things he points out that our quest for relevance is fueled by our fascination with futurism. We are always trying to construct a church for the next generation. However, as Orwell says "futurism is the major mental disease of our time." Guiness points out that futurism is "a quack science, it picks up current trends, projects them into the future, and then pretends that results are predictions."
In fact, history is a better guide to our future than relying on the study of current trends. History gives a broader understanding of humanity than does science, so it behooves us to pay greater attention the past than to the current.
It has often been said, and Guiness reiterates it here, that the only way to be always timely, is to always focus on the eternal. One of the things I have noticed about those on the mad quest for relevance is that they are constantly having to re-invent themselves with every changing wind of the culture. It seems to me that this would wear you out. It also seems to me to be patently obvious from Scripture, that this world is hostile to the things of Christ - culture is not neutral. Therefore, trying to stay current with the culture may mean we are accomodating our persecutors. As John MacArthur said in a recent sermon - "unbelievers have become the number one church consultants in our world today." Or, as Guiness quoted in a prior book "He who sups with the devil had better use a long spoon."
I can't recommend this book too highly. Guiness is not calling for irrelevance, he is just saying that the gospel is eternally relevant, it doesn't have to be "made relevant." The Biblical view is that the gospel evaluates and critiques culture, it doesn't accomodate itself to culture. This book is a welcome defense of that notion.