Monday, September 27, 2010

Culturally Relevant

Mission statements are extremely important for any organization or ministry. Here at Southeastern Bible College we endeavor to put everything we do through the grid of our mission statement:

            The mission of Southeastern Bible College is to produce graduates who are biblically grounded, spiritually mature, and culturally relevant.

While most in our Southeastern family understand the concepts of biblically grounded and spiritually mature, lately we have had a significant amount of discussion of the third “outcome” we seek to produce in our Southeastern graduates. What exactly does it mean to be culturally relevant? For some, the phrase is an enigma.

Perhaps the best place to start is by considering what culturally relevant does not mean. It certainly does not indicate a compromise with current cultural values that would dilute our Biblical values or standards. As Jesus told His disciples, we are in the world but not of the world. (see John 15:19)

Often I found it helpful to understand a concept by defining its terms. According to the Random House online dictionary (, relevant means “Bearing upon or connected with the matter at hand, pertinent.”   The operative word in this definition, as I see it, is connected.

 Culturally is a term that means “Of or pertaining to culture”, which is defined as “…a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation, or the behaviors and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.”  Another definition of culture is “The sum total of the ways of living built up by human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.”   In short, culture involves the world of mankind, including values, beliefs and practices.

So what we are talking about when we use the phrase culturally relevant is an ability to connect with mankind, including people’s values beliefs and practices, from our biblical perspective.

Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” He certainly wasn’t surrendering his Christian beliefs and distinctives. Rather, he was seeking a way to connect with a culture he perceived as hostile to his faith in order to bring individuals to Christ.

Peter provides a perspective on this in 1 Peter 3:15, as he urges his readers to “… be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”   Peter’s concern was that first century Christians—and by application, those of us in the 21st century—be prepared to give a reasoned, logical response to those in our hostile culture who just don’t get it when it comes to our Christian faith.

  In short, “culturally relevant” as we use it at Southeastern, means “able to adapt to the culture without compromising convictions, and to communicate with clarity for maximum impact.” That’s precisely what we are endeavoring to equip our Southeastern students to be able to do.