Is a transcendent gospel necessarily distinct from ministering to the present age? Absolutely not. The question is not whether to present the gospel transcendently or minister contemporarily. The question is how must the gospel be presented? Must we, yea, can we, make the gospel “more relevant” to this age? We cannot. The gospel message is powerful in itself.
The gospel does not need to be made relevant–it is already relevant by the Spirit of God. Those who think that the only way to minister to contemporary culture is with some kind of “relevantized gospel” error on this point. When we believe that we must somehow change our presentation of the gospel to make it relevant, we err. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians,
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Cor 2:1-5, ESV).
God is glorified when He, by his Spirit, uses the gospel in all its offensiveness and counter-cultural impact to save sinful men. We, unfortunately, do not often believe that this power is present to really save men. The sovereignty of God has not fully gripped us yet. So we try to add to it, or try to make it more “relevant,” as if it somehow needed our help. But God has not asked us to make the gospel more appealing. He has asked to proclaim it, and then be astounded when God has powerfully saved this sinner by our simple proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then God is truly glorified, because our flashy words or slick presentations were not the instrument bringing this person to God, but He himself was the saving force. He opened the once blind eyes. The message was proclaimed truthfully and forthrightly, and he saw fit to use it.
And here is the most important point. Making the gospel relevant changes the gospel. The gospel of the death, resurrection, and coming Lord Jesus truthfully proclaimed, of course, glorifies Christ and God and this gospel. But efforts to relevantize the gospel alter the message of the gospel. If this were not true, there would be no desire for some to make it relevant. We would not hear the demands for a more relevant gospel were this “more relevant gospel,” really, in the end a different gospel. The gospel forthrightly proclaimed in all its offensiveness should be adequate for all believers seeking to evangelize. The fact that we deceive ourselves into thinking that we should make it more relevant shows that the “more relevant” gospel is a different gospel. We are ashamed of the gospel as it is, and we are not convinced that is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. In the end, the true, unfiltered, unwatered down, undistilled, forthright gospel as recorded in Scriptures is the relevant gospel, for it is the one the Lord uses powerfully to save sinners by his Spirit.