Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Eugene Peterson: Spirituality for the Wrong Reasons

I ran across this great interview with Eugene Peterson in Christianity Today, and I think it is worth the time to read and reflect upon. Thanks to Steve at Out In The Sticks for the link!

In the interview, Peterson reflects on the “daliyness” of Christian spirituality and the hollowness of relevance. As Steve points out in his post, it is interesting that the editor of The Message decries relevance so quickly. A couple of snippets:

I have a friend who is an expert at this sort of thing. He's always saying, "You've got to identify people's felt needs. Then you construct a program to meet the felt needs." It's pretty easy to manipulate people. We're so used to being manipulated by the image industry, the publicity industry, and the politicians that we hardly know we're being manipulated.

This impatience to leave the methods of Jesus in order to get the work of Jesus done is what destroys spirituality, because we're using a non-biblical, non-Jesus way to do what Jesus did. That's why spirituality is in such a mess as it is today….

How do we meet the need? Do we do it in Jesus' way or do we do it the Wal-Mart way?

And then the quote in Steve’s post is great:

I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.

Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it's destroying our church.

Os Guinness has made the point well that relevance is not only an idol that diverts our attention from God, but it is a fickle idol as well. As soon as we catch up with the latest cultural wave, the leading edge has passed us by and we are left looking old.

In the balance between communicating the Gospel to a culture in ways it can understand and holding to the everlasting principles of the faith, there is a wrong way to go. If we were to err in one direction or the other, there is an error with more inherent danger than the other. And too often, it is the direction a lot of evangelicals take in their insatiable pursuit for relevance.


Steve said...

Hey Phil-

Peterson is one of my heros as a pastor and I continue to wrestle with the concept of relevance. My churches are far from relevant in the traditional sense of the word (praise and worship songs, multi-media, etc.) but we continue to present the gospel in love to whoever God brings and they connect with our "irrelevant" churches! Sometimes I ask new, young people who come and put up with the hymns, "why are you here?" And many times they don't really have a good answer. At least not one that a marketing survey would appreciate.

Grace and peace,

jpu said...

great post. i arrived at the same point of tension in yesterday's post at my blog

Phil Steiger said...

Steve-Great to hear from you and to catch up with you on your blog. I think it is funny you ask some of the younger kids that question! I have often stood in a church service thinking the same kind of thing, "why are all of these people here-to listen to a 30 minute lecture and mediocre music?"

The Gospel has power we know not of...

Callmeteem said...

Great post. Maybe we need to seek and serve and honor the Living God in scriptural, Spirit-led ways and let Him sort out the relevance of it all to the hearts of people.
There is nothing more relevant than pointing people to the Living God.

Alexander M Jordan said...

Yeah, relevance, shcmelavence! I guess relvance is fine so long as it isn't pursued via worldly methods and watering down the truth.

Interesting that it's Peterson, author of The Message, making this point. I found the CT article quite interesting. Thanks!

P.S. I'm a fellow blogger- check out "Jordan's View" some time.