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Should Sermons Be “Relevant”?

Is relevance good, a necessary evil, or altogether abominable? Based on the proliferation of sermons that are not based on what the Bible actually says, some preachers would say that relevance is altogether abominable. But relevance is not the problem; it is not inherently bad. Rather, relevance must be determined by the Bible. As Graeme Goldsworthy writes in his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: “Since it is the gospel that, by revelation, shows us the real nature of our human problem as well as God’s answer to it, relevance has to be assessed by the gospel” (61). Goldsworthy later concedes, “There is nothing wrong” with addressing commonly felt needs, but “unless the felt problem is then redefined by the gospel, we are in danger of reducing the Christian message to a pragmatic one of helping us feel better or make the world a better place to live in” (62). Some may take umbrage at Goldsworthy’s words, objecting, “Shouldn’t we want people to feel better? Shouldn’t we want the world to be a better place to live in?” The answer to these questions is yes, but as Goldsworthy notes, such goals must be worked toward under the greater and dominant goal of faithfully proclaiming the gospel.

Even those who object to Goldsworthy’s comments must admit that the gospel makes people feel better in an ultimate way; a saved person, by the gospel, knows that he or she is a child of God for all eternity! What can make a person feel better than the grace that God offers in Christ? Likewise, the gospel makes the world a much better place to live in, not by magically suddenly erasing all the world’s ills the moment a person is converted, but by giving the converted person hope in a renewed world that will come at the end of time. Unsaved people have no hope of ever making the world truly better; any solution for the “betterment” of the world apart from the gospel is actually hopeless; man-made solutions will only perish. In fact, the redemption of creation cannot happen until the end of time. As Paul writes in Romans 8:20-21, “For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Creation will be recreated as our bodies are raised immortal, at the return of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

So, from Goldsworthy’s analysis, in what way should sermons be relevant? Sermons should show people “the real nature of our human problem as well as God’s answer to it.” In short, a relevant sermon shows from Scripture that people need salvation and that this salvation is found only in the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord. Should sermons be relevant? Yes. Sermons should be relevant by presenting the gospel and by showing how the gospel affects every aspects of a Christian’s life. Relevance is not achieved by preaching to felt needs; relevance is achieved by preaching the gospel to people and showing them from Scripture how the gospel answers their every need.

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