Blue Like Jazz and my thoughts on “relevance”

If youre a Christian under the age of 25, you’ve heard of “Blue Like Jazz”, a book that promises to open your mind and challenge your views on Jesus and Christianity. A book that forces you to “take God out of the box”. After reading it, (finally) i have to say, i agree with this review. This review was written by someone who was once a part of the “Christian lifestyle” and chose against continuing on that path. His point of view is fascinating in regards to this book. Its sad that whatever he was looking for, (a true, living, Christ), he did not find in this book, and I encourage you to sincerely pray for him and others who are searching for the Truth. Here is the review.

http://de-conversion.com/2008/08/09/blue-like-jazz/#comment-25683

It’s safe to say I did not like this book. Its not that I didnt agree with some of the things in the book. I just do not like the movement it so clearly represents. Whats my problem? Being made to feel as if my view of Christ is outdated is really getting under my skin. My relationship with Jesus Christ is personal and alive and something that is extremely real. Every day I learn something new and interesting about His personality and His love and grace and mercy and sense of humor. Every day I come up with more questions, and every day I get answers to questions previousely inquired. Jesus Christ is my best friend. I have had doubts about Him, I have pushed Him away and built walls I didnt think He would care enough to get through. But He did, and He has my whole heart. I love Him more than anything, and there is no question in my mind he is the one and only true, living, God.

It seems to me that this movement prioritizes relationships with others, over your own relationship with Christ. The basic view is, ” do good works and have good relationshps with non-believers and then when people ask why youre so different, tell them about Jesus”. I agree with living out your faith by doing works. I dont think that doing works is limited to a conscious effort that must be orchestrated and carried out in an organized, pre-determined manner.  I agree with having good relationships… but I feel as if this is where the whole relevance thing gets out of control.

Relevance, or the pressure to be relevant is the new epidemic sweeping young Chrstians right now. The focus is bridging the gap between church, and the world so that people in the world wont be afraid to come to church. We are trying to prove that we are regular people, living regular lives and dealing with every day issues. . . but how far do you go to prove such a thing? We are re-doing church services, turning up the amps for the worship band, adding comfy couches and a coffee bar and orchestrating light shows all for the sake of being culturally relevant. Why? Because the more we appear to be like the world, the more the world will accept what we are doing and think its cool enough to be a part of.  Its not a horrible idea, unless the message of Christ is comprimised – which in most cases, it is.  I once heard a pastor say that the attention span of young people are so limited, that he often will only prepare lessons 20 minutes or less…. usually consisting of a life experience leading to a moral lesson backed by a verse or passage. the worship band is onstage for twice the amount of time.

Call me old fashioned, but I enjoy hearing God’s word. The many people who worship to blaring rock music and raise their hands at the climax  of “awesome God” for hours but fall asleep or have trouble sitting still when God’s word is being taught, worry me.  So what do you do when people are falling asleep in their chairs?? shorten the sermon! of course! It keeps people interested and happy and coming back for more. Basically, we are just allowing the Holy Spirit to move during worship! What, Jess has a problem with this? Jessica, stop being so old fashioned. Allow God to move in this place!  We dont need a routine, take God out of the box Jess!

But why? So when you bring your friend who doesnt believe in Jesus to the “concert” which is actually a church service, they can just ignore the morality stuff and get into the music and the coffee! And hang out with Christians who are ALSO into the music and the coffee! Then they will ask you… “wow this is church??” and you say, “yeah isnt it neat-o?” and they say “hell yeah!”

This is the problem I have though. For someone to tell me that I have to “update” the way I relate to Him, in order for others to notice and inquire is frustrating. Im still trying to wrap my head around the concept.I cant tell you how many times Ive heard that “relevant Christianity” is necessary to reach this generation and just because i think its crap, it must mean im “not taking God out of the box?”  or, my favorite was when a leader in a church I previousely attended told me I was “spiritually proud” because i said i would never set foot in a church that considers itself “emergent”, after doing research on the subject.

He argued that the social aspect of the emergent church was where the fundamentalists are lacking. Helping the homeless, frequenting soup kitchens, freely giving away possessions are all things the emergent church smiles upon. This is great!! I think a church based on Acts 2 is wonderful. I think we are all called to interact generously and unselfishly wiht others… but the aspects of universalism and the idea of creating heaven on earth is where the emergents lose me, (and the Bible).

Social gospel is fine, if youre actually preaching the gospel! We are called not only to feed the poor and comfort the  widows, but to make desciples. How can you do that if you dont preach the gospel? Well many have made the proposition that you simply live out your Christian life. As you live out your Christian life, people are going to naturally want to know what makes you so different from everyone else. Why youre so happy, and giving and why your eyes twinkle in the moonlight. and your answer? “Because Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and was sacrificed for the sin of the world. On the third day, He rose again and joined the Father in heaven, where you will go if you repent, turn away from your sin, and put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ!” Hm. thats not cool. Its the truth, but its not cool. maybe… MAYBE people will THINK its cool, if they think YOURE cool…. so youve got to find a way to be relevant!!! yes!! be relevant so that when you share the gospel, people will respect what you have to say.

Being “relevant” means I have to relate to this generation, speak the same language. So now for the sake of being relevant, I can go to bars, maybe take a few shots (its ok as long as I dont get drunk, right?), actively listen to inappropriate conversations(im just listing!), maybe throw around a few curse words. Im just connecting with this generation, theres nothing wrong with that! It makes it easier to talk about Jesus! This way, when all my friends go out and get trashed at the bar, they wont think im stuck up because ill be right next to em drinkin a fuzzy navel. Only one. Ok, maybe two, because even if i do get trashed, God will forgive me. Ive got grace, man!  I can build trust and a deep fulfilling relationships with people, and then when they ask about what makes me diff- wait a second. uh oh. What makes me different? I feed people and stuff! oh wait, so does angelina jolie…

now we have a dilema. This, ladies and gentlemen is how being “relevant” can be taken to a dangerous level.

If you are concentrating so hard to “bridge the gap” between you and the world, more likely than not… its the world that affects you. Your life looks less like Christ, and more like your friend Diane. Diane doesnt believe in Jesus. Diane thinks she knows the whole story of Jesus, but she doesnt. Diane drinks her doubts and self esteem issues away 3 times a week.  Her good Christian friend drives her to all the bars, only having a drink or two herself, cause shes driving. Her friend is the only person Diane can think of who goes to church every sunday. Diane even goes with her Christian friend on some saturdays to feed the homeless. It makes her feel really good to know that she can help someone out. Diane knows theres something else out there. . . but cant figure out what it is.

Maybe if Diane saw change in her Christian friend, she would see that Christ is the “something else” she is looking for.  If Dianes friend stopped trying to be cool, and stopped supporting her destructive behavior, it may give her reason to look at her own actions and see her own need for a savior.

Its ok to be separate from the world. If you have a true relationship with Christ, people are probably going to think youre insane. Its ok for people to think negative thoughts about you and think that youre weird for not getting drunk with them. Its ok to order a water when at the bar. And if you cant go to a bar without drinking, its ok to not go!! Its ok to not go see R rated movies if you dont want to. Its ok to enjoy a church service centered around verse-by-verse study of the Bible.

I mean, when paul was traveling around to the greeks who were swamped with philosophy and substitutes for the gospel, did he go drink and fornicate with them? No! He told them what they were doing was wrong, and that they should turn away from it.

In conclusion,

make disciples. “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

It is more important to preach the gospel than it is to be considered relevant.

Christ is never going to be “cool”. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” I Corinthians 1:18

People will not be saved until they realize their need for a savior.

Lets focus less on relevance and more on learning God’s word, so we can accurately share the Gospel with those who need to hear it. Reading God’s word will lead to living God’s word, but we cant just hope people notice how “good” we are, or how “cool” we are, or how much we love one another.  We have got to stand strong and proud upon the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and actively share it with others. Thats what Jesus did, and thats what we ought to do as well.

7 Responses to “Blue Like Jazz and my thoughts on “relevance””

  1. You might want to check out this excellent review on this un-Christian book:

    http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/08/nathan/green_like_envy.htm

    Also, I tried to respond to your last comment on our interchange, but it wouldn’t post. I’d like to be able to chat wit you if possible on my e-mail (on my blog)

    Glenn

  2. Kate O'Connor Says:

    if i may suggest a (long and perhaps rather stream-of-consciousness style) thought…
    as i’m watching Christians today suffer with “relavance” issues i am inclined to think that Emergent churches are not the only ones suffering or at fault with the consequenses. Now before conclusions are jumped to, this is why:
    -We are called to make disciples. To make disciples, you have to reach out to people. A lot of “Bible-believing, Gospel-focused” churches have had and are continuing to have a difficult time reaching the younger generation. Sensing their own awkwardness, they usually follow one of two trends.
    1. Stick to what you know: The church does little to nothing to impact the culture of the younger generation and dies.
    2. Try something new: the church uses it’s youth and young adults ministries to be culturally significant.
    Now, consider the second scenario. The church raises the volume, separates contemporary from traditional services, starts coffee houses, sponsors events such as concerts for big-name Christian bands, etc. all in an endeavor to reach out to youth/young adults. Give the ministries time, let them flourish, and see what happens– The “bible believing” church has gained popularity but has (often, not always) lost purpose, and the people who they reach out to do, in fact, find culture, but not (always) community. The Gospel-focused, bible-believing church has fallen into a relavance trap. How? They lost their focus. In other words, it’s not just the “Emergent Church” (in the strictest sense) that has a focus problem.
    Is the Emergent Church excessively other-focued? In many cases, yes. They sacrifice the words of the Bible for words that they, perhaps, find more pertenant. But many “bible believing” churches are not off the hook here. In case 1, you have a church that is so set in it’s ways that when the Holy Spirit moves in a radical way, they label the suggestion of movement as “liberal…insane…impossible” or even “ungodly”. But isn’t that how the Pharisees viewed Jesus?
    In case two, you have a church who has comprimised to fit in to culture, and the result, instead of deep community, is superficiality.
    So where can the Church be found in the midst of relevance, legalism, and superficiality?
    The answer of course is: in the Person of Jesus Christ.
    But that begs the question, “well, now, what does that look like?” And nobody likes the answer.
    The answer is: The Church is everything that the Bible says it is AND whatever Christ wants it to be at any given moment in time– Meaning, though the properties of the Church should remain the same as Jesus delinated in the Bible, the “look” of the Church is going to change with the passage of time. We don’t like that answer because it is far too vague for our structured minds and may be subject to *gasp* “Faith” :)

    I said all of that to say that we often spend a lot of time casting vision or speculating on how things should be in the Church and not enough time working with how things are. I can guarantee you that, insofar as witnessing goes, me as a part of the body of Christ chilling out with “Sue” is not going to be the same as me as a part of the body of Christ chilling out with “Rachel”. Why? because Sue and Rachel are two completely different people and Christ may use me to impact their lives in two completely different ways. So while things with Rachel may go smoothly (I’m able to get the Gospel message out in complete, cohearant sentences), things with Sue may not (it’s just, well, awkward). Christ is still using me in both situations…in the one He’s using my mouth, but in the other He’s using my weakness.

    Before judging how the Church should look, or what the witness of others should be, I need to remember to be mindful of who people are: that they are imperfect, sinful, people who will never stop working out their own salvation before God, nevermind anyone elses. Sometimes our witness will range from unshakable to mildly comprimising depending on where God has our hearts and the hearts of those we are talking to. Doesn’t mean God can’t use it. We just have to wait to see how the whole thing plays out (I’m not patient, by nature, so i hate that part) and pray (pray, pray, pray, pray) for Grace.

    I’m not saying that we should comprimise God’s Word. I’m saying we should preach it, but suggesting that we do it in a way that’s honest and shows vulnerability. People need to read the Bible we read, but they need to see how we live what we read. This tension, between reading and teaching God and truly experiencing God-through good times and bad- is, I think, the balance between these “strict biblical” and “emergent” philosophies. We need BOTH, not one or the other– otherwise we risk falling into an extreme.

    Next, some thoughts/updates regarding a few mutually known references in the blog:

    In the story of the chronically-sleepy and short attention spaned church-goers, the future looks bright. They are finding their focus, but it’s taking time, and it’s also taking the care and patience of others who believe that these people deserve the time to work their stuff out. The caring and patient are not aiming to be “culturally relevant” (though it’s been confused for that), they are aiming to be human- real, honest, willing to preach the Gospel, but also willing to admit to their struggles. They are sitting with the sleep-deprived and ill-focused in the midst of their struggle and are representing Jesus for them, step by slow step. The results have not been perfect or instantaneous but they have been promising.

    The Pastor, as the story goes, is planning to teach and disciple in the way that he’s always wanted to (i.e. in a deep, meaningful, way for longer than 20 minutes). For more details on that update, well, ask him :)

    In living out these stories with their respective characters, it’s important for me to remember that the above stories are still being written. They will take on many forms; some more “favorable” than others. They will, at times, be subject to labels. But they are not set in stone and they are certainly not over. The Author can do immeasurably more with these stories than we can ever imagine.

    …Okay, I’m done thinking…for a little while :) hope it all makes sense…

  3. That does make sense, but I think you may be thinking I am limiting my comments on an experience with specific people at a specific time when this is untrue. I am responding to wishy-washy books, and the pressure from all angles to be culturally relevant. The pastor I was referring to was someone who leads a youth group in GA, I heard on Serius satalite radio… and I found it increadible that for the sake of not “boring” people, he was going to shorten and “rework” sermons to keep people interested. I wish i COULD ask him why he would do such a thing for the sake of attendance. You can have the whole world sitting in your sanctuary, but what good is that if God’s word is not revered?

    What I am saying is that relevance has too much of an impact on churches today. If the majority of people in your congregation are not interested in anything but drinking coffee, singing worship songs, and having good friends then something vital is lost. I believe it is a pastors responsibility to teach the word of God accurately and unapologetically.

    Let me clarify what I mean when I say “emergent” im not talking about the mark driscolls (theology wise), im talking more about the brian mcclarens. I hope that makes sense. Im all for relational evangelism to an extent. I dont believe the “sit back and wait” approach should always be one taken. With the emergents the focus is NOT salvation and making deciples, its creating heaven on earth and working with all religions to make that happen. You can not make desciples without reading the Bible. You cant do it.

    The danger is that because God’s word isnt really taught in a lot of these churches, New age stuff slips in, and suddenly people start believing theres more than one way to heaven, and we can achieve heaven on earth, and theres no such thing as hell. They stray, because pastors are not stressing the importance of the Word of God. They are only interested in what the Bible has to say about things relationally. Yes, it is the individual person’s responsibilty to feed themselves, but the pastor has gotta lead them to the buffet. “Christians” dont even know the things the Bible teaches, because they are never being taught. It is sad.

    By no means am I saying that a Bible based church is perfect. As long as people are running any church, there will be problems. I am saying that for me, especially in these days where warped theology is becoming more and more mainstream, you will find me in a church that leans heavily on the Bible.

    And many young people when they hear that from my mouth, may crinkle their face. Thats what Im responding to. My view of Jesus Christ is not outdated, just because the church I go to doesnt offer a “contemporary” service. Also the attitude that many people have about the church in the past, is sad. Again, the church has had its problems, it is not perfect, but Jesus loves us and God has used us in magnificent ways. To isolate one’s self with a congregation as “those who eally seek after God” is a little dangerous.

    The problem I see is this:
    in most cases, as far as a church service goes, theres not a balance.
    Either youre being taught that relationships are the foundation of Christianity at the expense of teaching of the word of God, or the Word of God is the foundation at the expense of forming lasting relationships.

    Both are up to the individual, as both are stressed as important in the Bible. For me personally, I believe I can be left to form relationships and friendships without much guidence and programs telling me how to go about doing that. I can have intimite prayer and worship in song and experience the Holy Spirit without services and gatherings designed specifically for that purpose. So, I enjoy a church that focuses on reading through and thoroughly teaching the Bible. I dont think that developing relationships need to be taught, whereas the word of God should.

    Yes, the church is not a building, I understand that. So being looked down upon because its assumed i “dont take God out of the box” is frustrating. Especially when those complaining about the God/box problem has theology that isnt right! and are leading people away from the truth! and dont hold the Bible as inerrant and relevant IN ITSELF! Skipping over it to have coffee is not going to make desciples.

    thanks for your reply though, I really appreciate the time it took to think that out and write it down. :)

  4. P.S.

    I dont really completly understand the whole “letting the Spirit move” thing. There is a misconception that the Spirit only moves during the music portion of a service, and that somehow, WE have control over how much it moves…

    Yes, the Holy Spirit does move during songs and worship, but it is not limited to that. As long as people are getting saved, it is evidence the Spirit is moving. The Holy Spirit moves during the reading of the Bible… so to say that the Bible based church doesnt let the Spirit move, is not entirely true. They just rely on the Holy Spirit to move through the word being taught. Which lines up with what the Bible says about the word of God. “it does not come back void.” There are many verses indicating the Spirit moving through nothing more than preaching the word of God.

    Please understand, I am not coming down on people who decide to do church differently, who stand strongly upon the word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am coming down on those in that category who see people like me, in a church thats not “post modern”, and label me as someone who “doesnt let the spirit move, and refuses to change, needing to let God out of the box”. More than that, Im coming down on those who hold that view but are not even theologically sound to begin with. Those who teach people Jesus is not the only way, and those who say He is, are outdated in their views.

    In almost no way was I ever referring to a specific ministry, or people (besides the leader I had the discussion with who Im still friendly with) but rather an extremely popular trend I am seeing and hearing about all around me.

  5. Kate O'Connor Says:

    okay, i’m gonna tackle one thing at a time here (lol) so…yeah…i’ll answer your P.S. first, and then i’ll get to writing another response for everything else…it’ll be exciting…like a cliff-hanger…i dunno (haha)

    I agree that i didn’t adequately flesh out what i meant when i said that the “bible-beleiving” church, in my original example, was not letting the Spirit move. So i’ll explain:

    In my quest to figure out what i meant to say when i said what i said in response to you (I confuse even myself), I looked first to John.

    In John 12:26 Jesus says, “All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me, because my servants must be where I am.”
    …okay, I thought…i mean, i like the verse, but it’s a bit non-specific….sooo what does this look like for real?

    I then turned to Acts, figuring the Apostles must have done something that would fit Jesus statement in John (hahaha)…In Acts 16:6-8 it says this:

    “Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had told them not to go into the province of Asia at that time” [this province, consequently, is where the Ephesians were located...apparently it was not their time]

    “Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not let them go. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the city of Troas.” [after looking at a map, i realized that this meant that Paul and Silas, originally heading Northeast, would have had to re-route a bit and turn themselves Northwest to be heading in the right direction. Mildly frustrating, I assume.]

    This was a bit more like what i was thinking when i gave my original response.

    In case 1 (verse 6) Paul and Silas travel to one area and not another because Jesus said “no”. Now, common sense reasons that both people groups need Jesus, but Jesus said “no” to one (for a time…till the next missionary journey), and “yes” to another. I don’t know why Jesus did this. The Bible gives no reason, it just says that that’s the way things played out. And I’m sure that if Paul searched the Scriptures wanting to know why Jesus directed he and Silas to one place and not another, he may not have found a very specific answer. Paul and Silas had to be in tune to where the Spirit was going to know where they, in turn, should go.

    Case 2 (verses 7 and 8) is far more interesting to me. In this case Paul and Silas were already heading in a particular direction before Jesus said “no” (a direction that, at the time, i’m sure made a whole lot of sense to them). As I stated above, this must have been somewhat irritating. Imagine yourself going the way you believe God wants you to go. Suddenly, you get the distinct impression that Jesus is putting the kibosh on all your best laid plans. So you literally have to turn around and go the opposite direction of where you were originally heading. Ouch. Paul and Silas had to submit to the Spirit, even if it meant putting a well intentioned missionary journey on hiatus.

    This is the kind of stuff that i was referring to when i was talking about the Spirit moving and the Church listening and obeying. I think often…too often…well intentioned Bible-believing Churches play out Cases 1 and 2 (especially Case 2) over and over again. Obviously Emergent-type churches do the same thing. But when i think of Paul and Silas, I think of Bible-believing churches, because these men knew their Bible forward, backward, and inside out. Yet they still had to be in tune to the movement of the Spirit of Jesus.

    I have grown up in Bible-believing churches. And i have seen a lot of them shrink, and a lot of them die. And the common-denominator is the Spirit of Jesus vs. the Will of Man. I think that a lot of well-intentioned Bible-believing Churches, at the end of the day, prefer to fall back on what is comfortable, what is traditional, what is already set in motion, as opposed to doing something different or re-directing their movement as a congregation.

    I think that a part of the Emergent movement is fueled by the errors of churches-past (hense why the movement is so wrapped up in chucking religious traditions and just “being like Jesus”). They are all about “re-directing” and “doing something different”. So i am inclined to hear them out to a point. But when they start moving away from the Absolute Truth of the Bible, that’s where i stop. Just like i stop listening to “Bible-believing” churches that refuse to listen to what the Spirit says.

    Now, one could argue that if these bible-churches are not listening to the Spirit, then they are not truly Bible believing. To that I say– how easy is it for the average congregent of one of these churches to figure that out? It’s not always that cut and dry. These churches, by and large, DO preach God’s Word and follow it in many ways. But I truly believe that this was the intention of Paul and Silas in Case 2 when they wanted to head East. They wanted to preach and follow God’s Word in the area that they wanted to go. But the Spirit of God was moving elsewhere.

    You made the point that God’s Word does not return void, and this is absolutely true. By God’s own word, His Word would NOT have returned void if Paul and Silas continued to move Eastward. But I know it wouldn’t have yielded as much fruit as it did when Paul and Silas, in submission to Jesus, went West. I don’t understand it, but West was where Jesus was going, and West is where Paul and Silas had to follow.

    Churches are faced with an “East or West?” decision everyday. The question is, will they yield to the movement of the Spirit of Jesus?

  6. Kate O'Connor Says:

    …so one of the above paragraphs is supposed to say “verses 7 and 8″
    …and i’m wondering how the “8” turned into a smily face with sunglasses…oh well…a mystery to be solved another day…
    :)

  7. hahahahaha i am cracking up about the sunglasses thing. HAHAHA.

    oh and also, I now understand what you meant about the Spirit moving, and I totally agree.

    i basically agree with everything you said, and now im reflecting on many “east vs west” moments ive had in my life.

    but thats a whole other post :P

    lookin forward to the cliff hanger! :)

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