How relevant is the gospel in North American culture?
We sometimes hear people use the language of making the gospel relevant. Christians know already that the gospel is relevant to all people whether they realize it or not. Evangelism is not making the gospel relevant, but rather showing people how the gospel is already relevant to their lives. There’s no debating this.
So the challenge of evangelism is not in making Christian truths seem more important, but instead helping a person see how these truths are important specifically for them. In other words, the evangelism battle in not fought in the arena of truth, but in the arena of culture.
What this means practically is that Christians must be students of culture; or, at the very least, not naive of it. We should have a basic understanding of who people are around us, what they struggle with, what influences and inspires them, what strikes fear into their hearts, what their thoughts are like in quiet moments. When we understand people (ie. culture) this way, it becomes easier to show the relevance of Jesus to them.
This has been on my mind recently, especially in light of music and movies. If you are familiar at all with either of these media outlets, it should be fairly simple to profile out the North American culture. Follow the lyrics of music or basic storylines of movies and they lead you right to what makes people tick. Armed with that kind of knowledge, it should make our task as gospel-sharers that much easier.
As the risk of making it too simple, I see the same basic theme crop up in music and movies: Life sucks, so do what you gotta do to make it better. Of course, this exists in many forms. The “life sucks” side of this equation might look like any of the following:
- I’m a loner / I’m irrelevant
- Life seems empty
- No one cares about me
- The world is not fair
- I’ve experienced tragic loss
- I’ve been abused
- My life has no purpose
Of course, all of these feelings/thoughts are a result of the fall. Sin has caused God’s perfect creation to be tainted. Life was never meant to be this way, and so that inner feeling of “it shouldn’t be like this” that most everyone has is bang on. However, now these problems must be dealt with. This is the “do what you gotta do to make it better” portion, which often looks a lot like this:
- Do something ridiculous, dangerous, or illogical to make yourself famous
- Party hard / have fun
- Get rich
- Numb the pain (ie. distract yourself)
- Have lots of sex
Again, this may be oversimplifying it, but the basic point can’t be missed. Our world is broken, people know it, and they want relief. This is the perfect setting for the gospel! How much more relevant can the Saviour be? What is terribly sad is that our culture keeps doing all the wrong things to fix the problem, somehow hoping that this time it will work. Yet it only makes things worse. People are stuck on a downward spiral of misery that they can’t escape, and in trying only get themselves deeper still.
Even worse, movies and music conveniently overlook the negative consequences of trying to make life better with solutions that don’t work. So what we have is modern-day youth culture. One big party on the surface, but deep pain underneath. And the places they look to for guidance – namely, movies and music – aren’t offering them much long-term hope.
Add to this bleak situation the shallowness of relationships thanks to social media, and it’s easy to get pessimistic. People are more connected than ever, yet often feel more alone than ever.
Friends, let’s show them a better way. Let’s show them Jesus! Though Jesus does not fix every problem in life, he does promise the be there, to help us make it through, and offers a tangible promise of a future hope that you can take to the bank. Christians, I encourage you to listen to people around you. There are more opportunities to share the gospel with people than we think, if we would only listen to the subtle hints that “life sucks”. It’s moments like those that are open doors for the gospel.