Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Exo Day Part 2: Reflections upon 2006

This is the second in a series of three posts about Big Exo Day. You will find a description of Big Exo Day 2006 in Part 1.

The relationship between Christians and the culture they live in has been a tricky problem for the past 2000 years. Christian groups, such as some monastic orders, have attempted to separate themselves completely from the surrounding world. On the other hand, Christian groups, such as some Protestant Liberals, have integrated so closely with surrounding culture that there is little apparent difference. H. R. Niebuhr did some work categorising the different ways Christians have related to culture. The cultural stance of Big Exo Day most closely fits Niebuhr’s type of ‘Christ Transforming Culture’. The ‘Christ Transforming Culture’ type is characterised by the belief that the cultural world, or youth culture in the case of Big Exo Day, has been created good by God. This belief is justified by the observation that God first created humanity as cultural beings. That is, before the fall Adam and Eve engaged in cultural activities such as relating with one another, using language, working in the garden, and naming the animals. However, the ‘Christ Transforming Culture’ type does not believe culture is perfect now. Similar to the way sin has infected the lives of individuals, so too sin has infected culture. Therefore, the remedy is not to retreat from culture all together, for that is not possible, because we are inherently cultural beings. Rather, the cultural expression of Christians will bear resemblance to the surrounding age, but be transformed by the Lordship of Christ in the lives of believers.

The desire to see contemporary youth culture transformed by the Lordship of Christ is what I saw at Big Exo Day. Thus the song lyrics, the general behaviour of the crowd, and the attitude of the performers had all been clearly transformed by the desire to live with Christ as Lord.

Whilst the type of 'Christ Transforming Culture' is a valid way to relate Christianity and youth culture, the validity of this approach for evangelism must be weighed. On the positive side, a Christ transformed culture is ideally positioned to communicate, rather than simply proclaim the gospel. That is, as Christians we are called not only to proclaim the gospel, but to communicate the gospel in a manner that can be understood by the hearers. For example, Paul and the apostles were not ashamed, and therefore proclaimed the gospel fearlessly. However, they proclaimed in such a way that they communicated with their hearers. That is, the manner of their proclamation varied from audience to audience, be they Jews, Greeks, Corinthians, or Athenians, in order to communicate effectively. Due to their clear communication, some of their hearers responded with mocking, whilst others wanted to hear more, and some became believers. By partially adopting youth culture, the 'Christ Transforming Culture' type provides the language and environment for effective communication.

The weakness of the 'Christ Transforming Culture' type is its propensity to down-play the severity of the transformation Christ desires to work upon culture. That is, there is potential for the distinctiveness of Christ to be lost. Furthermore, the evangelistic call to be a new creation in submission to Christ's Lordship may loose impact. When following Christ appears to have little practical difference from following one’s own desires, pagan youth are right to ask the question, 'Why should I?'

In my opinion Big Exo Day partially succumbed to the weakness of the 'Christ Transforming Culture' approach, and failed to exploit the primary strength. In the end, the day spoke the language of young people, but didn't speak the language of Christ enough. Thus, in my opinion, the day failed to communicate the gospel with clarity.

At this point you may think I’ve written Big Exo Day off, but that’s not the case. There is one significant saving factor for Big Exo Day. No single evangelistic event ever happens in isolation. Before and after Big Exo Day there was a massive web of youth groups, schools, and personal relationships all seeking to communicate the gospel of Christ in partnership with Big Exo Day. Whilst the actual day could have done significantly better communicating the gospel, I am convinced the day did not hamper the growth of the kingdom among young people. Rather, it is my opinion that as a result of Big Exo Day the attitude of many teenagers toward Christianity may have been changed from apathy toward a readiness to listen. That is, Big Exo Day has enhanced opportunities for evangelism among a multiplicity of youth groups, schools and personal relationships since the event. Thus, Big Exo Day can be a helpful element in the broader evangelistic strategy of a youth group.

The third and final post about Big Exo Day will share some thoughts on preparing to take a youth group to Big Exo Day 2007.

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