While the Board of Trustees were in town for the SBTS Heritage Week, Mark Dever held a IX Marks lecture in Broadus chapel in which he opened up by speaking to the issue of relevance in gospel ministry (I was in attendance). Writing for Baptist Press, Garrett Wishall quotes Dever who said,

“I would like to suggest that the most fundamental problem in the church is not that we are not relevant enough in relation to the world, but that the church is not distinct enough from the world. Our churches must reflect the character of God.”

I remember Dever also arguing that churches are becoming “culturally determined.” In light of this, Wishall notes,

The idea that the Gospel must be made relevant is a liberal assumption which, if taken to its end, can result in the theological liberalism of Friedreich Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant liberalism, Dever said, adding that numerous church models seek to be relevant and do not reach the unorthodox conclusions of liberalism but remain unhealthy because they are based on an unbiblical definition of success.

Dever then goes on to explain a little of what he means by “an unbiblical definition of success.”

“The problem with the seeker-sensitive model, emerging church model and even the traditional model that say, ‘Get as many people into a room as possible and share the Gospel with them,’ is that they view success in light of visible fruit,” he said. “All three of these approaches say, ‘Change your techniques and let’s get some numbers.’

“Instead of being directed by [visible] success, we should be directed by faithfulness. We should say, ‘If the Lord doesn’t like our product, we will change the product.’ We shouldn’t take the idea that if we don’t have X number of conversions in our church, then we must be doing something wrong. I am glad Jeremiah didn’t think that. And I am glad that Jesus Christ didn’t think that. Let us remember that we are following the One who was crucified as a revolutionary.”

So I am curious as to what you think. Is relevance inherently a theologically liberal idea? Is it possible to reflect both the character of God and the culture in which you live? Can churches be culturally engaging without being culturally determined? Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful?