What then does it mean to be culturally relevant? The primary drive of culturally relevant teaching is to be able to relate material and content in one's cultural setting. This has to do primarily with an issue of context. Context is something that is very important to Christians, especially in their reading of the Scriptures. However, the context we are speaking of when we discuss cultural relevance is one's societal context. Societal context can mean something as basic as using language that your hearers can understand, to respecting traditions and customs, all the way to complex ideas of morality and perceived intentions. Being culturally relevant means communicating in a meaningful way to your hearers and respecting the customs that are in place in your context.
In this understanding or sense of the term, the Bible explicitly promotes being culturally relevant. Paul discusses communication and others understanding what you are saying in 1 Corinthians 14 when he talks about the gift of tongues. People being able to understand what is being communicated is primary for Paul. He also discusses not putting unnecessary stumbling blocks before hearers of the gospel in the same book. Additionally, he describes becoming "all things to all men" in 1 Corinthians 9, which obviously has relevance for respecting societal customs.
However, some take the issue of cultural relevance too far. Some say that when cultural morality and the Bible meet, it is the Bible that must give way - in the name of cultural relevance. This is simply the seed of postmodernism in the thinking of many professing believers. It is clear that in the same letter that Paul so promoted cultural relevance, he also condemned rampant immorality. In chapter 5 he promotes excommunication for those in the church committing adultery. In chapter 6 he lists off many vices and practices that are not appropriate at all for people to engage in and asserts that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What then is the proper balance for us when it comes to being culturally relevant? The answer is really quite simple for us. There are certain areas that are described in the Bible as non-essentials. Paul speaks to the idea of eating food from the marketplace that had been sacrificed to idols. He says that you should not worry about such things because idols are not real and the food can be received with thanksgiving. At the same time however, Paul declares emphatically that he would not partake if it placed an unnecessary stumbling block in front of others. The key is that where the Bible says we should draw the line, like issues of morality and the gospel, then we do. Where the Bible leaves things open, we do as well, but always with an attitude of love.
However, this topic drives at something much deeper, something that betrays the overwhelming relevance of the Christian worldview. A culturally relevant message is one that means something and makes a difference for the society at which it is directed. The Bible's central theme and message is emphatically relevant because it deals with the most fundamental problems with mankind. You want to know a religion that fails the relevance test? Look at Islam. Far from being focused upon overarching truth that addresses man's fundamental issues and problems regardless of his age or society, Islam is obsessed with imposing 6th and 7th century Middle Eastern culture on a 21st century world. Sure, the Bible has descriptions of similar laws and practices for it's society, but such practices are overtly NOT normative for all time. Rather, Jesus himself makes a sharp distinction between those biblical issues that are traditionally and culturally driven, and those issues that are from God himself. The Qur'an's insistence on the establishment of Sharia Law even centuries later betrays the fact that the book is not divine. It does not speak to all men for all time the way that only God can speak.
Instead, the Bible is primarily wrapped up with one theme: how can man be right with God? Every book and chapter in some way seeks to drive at this problem. The answer is foreshadowed, hinted at, and expressly declared to be Jesus Christ. Christianity is overwhelmingly relevant because men are still sinners that need a Savior. We do not have to tone down our message or sugar-coat the truth. In fact we ought NOT to do so! To engage in such behavior perverts the message and actually takes the power from it. Nothing could be more relevant for our society than the simple preaching of the gospel, and the imposition of the Christian worldview into all areas of life. We need to get back to the Bible. Then we will find that we are more relevant to our culture than we ever could have imagined ourselves to be in our own wisdom and planning.