I recently had a debate with a friend, regarding sharing the gospel and cultural relevance. He asked me, "What's the worst that could happen if you unwaveringly shared the gospel with someone, not caring about being sensitive to their situation or culturally relevant?"
His reasoning was sound, and it challenged me. I had grown up in an irreligious home where we were skeptical of "Jesus freaks" and people who took religion and the Bible too seriously. When I became a Christian, I was passionate about telling everyone I knew about heaven, hell, and salvation. After I didn't see anyone responding to my clarion call to repent, I wondered if something was wrong with me, or if it was the message I was presenting.
For awhile, I dismissed it with the fact that Jesus said just as the world hated him, it would hate us. Then, I read what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Cor. 2:14-17)
Let's be honest -- the gospel of Jesus is offensive. It tells the most religious that even on their best days, they're just whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones. It calls both the morally corrupt and seemingly morally elite to a place of humility and dependence on God. It equates lust with adultery and hate with murder. It says that no one is good, except for God, and that those with the best intentions of following God's will have murdered his very messengers.On top of that, this "good news" of Christ says that the only way to be saved from such depravity is to die. In a pluralistic, increasingly secular culture, it's a tough sell.
But I've seen something happening lately in the church that disturbs me. In reaction to the more theologically-liberal attempts to make the gospel more appealing, many evangelical fundamentalists are going to the extreme, in my opinion, of discarding cultural relvance for sake the message. The medium, they argue, is unimportant. The gospel has been, and always will be, offensive. It is simply our duty to tell the truth. This attitude has the best of intentions, but, I believe, is still misguided.
Nowadays, the gospel and elements of it -- namely, mentioning words like "God," "Jesus," "heaven," and "hell" -- are laden with cultural stigma in America. To say, "Jesus loves you" to a person is a very good thing, but that may not be what the person hears. They may hear that they're being judged or that they're not good enough or that they need to go to church to be a good person. Is it our responsibility to know everything about a person's past and insecurities before sharing the hope of Christ with that person? Of course not, but we should do our best to be aware and sensitive.
What's the worst that could happen if we do not do our best to appeal to cultural relevance? We may become someone's stumbling block, instead of Jesus. Frankly, I don't want to have to make an account to God for that.
This certainly does not mean walking on eggshells around non-Christians or being reserved in sharing our faith. It simply means that we must be aware, that we should be open to hearing people's stories, and seeing what God is already doing in a person's life. Listening can be a simple door into a person's life to share the good news of eternal life. Failing to do this will not only cost a relationship, but it will also contribute to a person's false perception of God and the gospel.
While we certainly cannot compromise the integrity of Christ's message, it is encumbent upon us to, as Paul said to the Colossians, "be wise in the way [we] act toward outsiders" (4:5a). Yes, historically, Bible-believing Christians have been hated, burnt at the stake for heresy, fed to lions, and worse. However, they have also won the favor of entire communities, been responsible for rescuring abandoned orphans, and been credited for rescuing Western civilization.
There is much riding on your decision to be, or not be, a stumbling block for an unbeliever. Don't try to be a people pleaser or lose sleep over keeping up with pop culture. Rather, "make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Col. 4:5b-6). It is not an "either-or" matter, but more precisely, a "both-and."
We are to unwaveringly share the gospel message with the world, regardless of whom it offends, and we are also to be aware of our culture, sensitive to its needs, and gracious in how we defend our faith and share it with others. Jesus did both, and so should we.