One of my students recently told me about the theme of a summer camp he was working for: The Holy Games. The concept is a one-off of the popular book (and now film) The Hunger Games. Essentially, this Christian camp is trying to be relevant to their culture. Everyone seems to be pretty into The Hunger Games, so how can we use this concept to relate to the younger generation? It’s a noble goal, but anyone familiar with The Hunger Games will see a problem here.
The plot of The Hunger Games centers an oppressive regime that forces its citizens to participate in an annual death match. Twenty-four teenagers are chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, where they are given a variety of weapons and forced to fight to the death. There can be only one victor.
Now, I don’t know exactly how this camp structured their Holy Games, but I’m told that the games featured a similar structure: a series of competitions in which there was a single victor. How they battled, what it meant to be the victor, and exactly what they were hoping to illustrate with the games all remain a mystery to me.
My goal is not to bash these undoubtedly well-intentioned people. I’m fairly confident that my description above is little more than a caricature, and if they could defend themselves here they would do a far better job than I am doing. But I still want to use this example to make a point.
Sometimes our desire to be relevant goes too far. We should indeed find ways to connect with our culture. But not at all costs. As I have explained in the past, The Hunger Games is a pretty chilling critique of our culture’s heartless pursuit of entertainment to the neglect of injustice. So while I think Christians can and should read such social critiques, I also believe that we need to show a little discernment in the way we interact with such things.
So let’s get out there and find the best that our culture has to offer. Let’s critically engage what is being produced and presented by the culture makers who shape our society. Let’s find ways to connect with the thoughts and longings of the people around us. But let’s avoid cheesy and insensitive imitations. Let’s exercise discernment in the ways we choose to engage the world. The pursuit of relevance is noble, but let’s never forget that the gospel message is both unique and subversive. It requires wisdom and discernment to properly relate the gospel to the culture we live in.
“But let’s avoid cheesy and insensitive imitations.”
Amen and amen. I would really like to see you explore this topic as it relates to creativity. It’s ironic that trying to appropriate what is popular makes us look completely out of touch. There seems to be a Christian version of everything trendy. I look forward to the day when Christians play a significant role in shaping what is popular instead of making cheeseball adaptations. Thankfully, it’s a least starting to happen within the web design community.
Good call, Matt. I’ve a got a few thoughts to that effect bouncing around, and I’m planning to get them down “on paper” before too long.
“The Gospel message is unique and SUBVERSIVE” I just wish that we a classs on this subject.My early education in christianity was supplimented by liberation theology indirectly. My class in new testament backgrounds-imperial cult/rome- by PS, brought back memories. Should we start a petition, Bro. Mark? 🙂
Hey Reggie! Good to see you on here. We actually have at least two classes that address this. One is Foundations, but that will take you five semesters. The other is Worldview & Apologetics. You’ll be eating that stuff for breakfast by the time you get there.
Or you can stick around next week (Wednesday and Thursday). I’m posting a two-parter on exactly that relationship.
It saddens me to think that the American Church, my self included, have bought into the lie that imitation for the sake of such a platform is God honoring and, more importantly, God glorifying.
We ought to agree with Irenaeus who understood that “The glory of God is a human fully alive”. The relevance of the church is found not in the imitation of culture but in the creation of it (this does not mean a Scripture themed weekend- teaching a kid to make a craft is far from teaching them the meaning of humility or of self sacrifice). I am thankful for theologians and Christian thinkers like Bonhoeffer and Willard who reject such a gross understanding of grace and demand not more disciples but better disciples of Jesus. Ultimately the consequences of such encouraged consumerism within the church has and will continue to detach Christianity from REAL life. Our culture is already engrossed into a mediated and inoculated existence. Could it be that the greatest need of the American Church isn’t fancy logos and catchy summer programs but a visible community committed to creating a crucifix culture? Otherwise Jesus will enter our Temple and kick out the consumers. Practically I believe that a response to such a culture is to seek clarity on the doctrines of Baptism, Communion and the Kingdom- it is here that the identities of the Church and her purpose in Christ are best practiced and experienced. Furthermore, we must reject the temptation of adolescence and practice the uncomfortable disciple of listening to the options of historical Christianity, most of which aren’t traditionally defined as Evangelical. Great post Mark! Would love to hear more dialogue along the lines of defining a “visible community”. Keep’em coming!