It is a great article. I was invited to write a follow up post for their online journal. Here is the "going deeper" post featured on immersejournal.com. Last year the play Wicked rolled through our town. It is an amazing and clever musical about all the unseen parts of the Wizard of Oz. Growing up, the Wizard of Oz was one of our family’s staple movies, and because of that, I am well versed in the story, the characters and the songs of this old movie, so I was able to fully enjoy the clever inferences and humor Wicked uses.
I found it interesting that, while many of our students went to see the musical and enjoyed it as a play, they had almost zero understanding of the backstory of the Wizard of Oz. Because the musical was produced so well, anyone would enjoy it. But only those with a firm understanding of the original story would enjoy the depth and complexity and wit of the musical.
When I think of trying to communicate the gospel to our students, I often reflect on some conversations I had with my students about the play Wicked. The more I try to be clever, artistic and rely on inference to communicate the spiritual realities found in Scripture, the more I find that my students are lost.
Our students have fewer and fewer touch points with biblical stories and Judeo-Christian ethics and morals and therefore need fresh stories that point clearly to Scripture in order to make the gospel more understandable to this increasingly post-Christian generation.
I once heard a story about some missionaries who entered an area where the gospel had never been preached. The local people raised and sacrificed pigs as part of their worship practice. The missionaries were excited to see that the idea of sacrifice was already part of their culture. But while “Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” is a meaningful statement for those who understand the backstory of Scripture, sacrifice, Passover and the atonement, it’s meaningless in a culture that sacrifices pigs and has no understanding or knowledge of goats or lambs. In a bold and scandalous move, these missionaries chose to use the unclean animal, the pig, as the foundation to point this culture toward Jesus. The translation became a culturally significant, “Behold, Jesus, the Pig of God.”
As our cultural context becomes increasingly post Christian, we too must become cross-cultural missionaries and find relevant translations and applications to help our students understand the spiritual realities presented in Scripture. Tripp Fuller’s article might be one of the best representations of this need. His article “Zombies Are Among Us” offers a relevant paradigm in which to communicate the spiritual realities of sin and death.
Zombies make sense to students, and Tripp was able to engage his group in deep conversation as they drew parallel after parallel of how we are like zombies. Tripp’s article was so compelling that I tried with my students. And sure enough, the conversation was rich and meaningful, and it allowed all of us to wrestle with the impact and consequences of sin and the solution God has provided for it through Jesus.
Those of us who continue to work with students are finding that we can’t simply rely on classical biblical illustrations and stories to communicate biblical truth. We must continually seek those thin places in our culture where we can point to the spiritual truths we find in Scripture so Jesus Christ can truly be good news to this new generation.
Since our students have little biblical background to draw on, we need to have many different stories and strategies to communicate the gospel. The apostle Paul is amazing at this. In one context he uses the entire history of Israel (Acts 13:13-39); in another he performs a miracle (Acts 19:11); in still another he uses a secular poet to point to the things of God (Acts 17:22-24).
The truth is, simply talking about zombies to gain street cred or as a clever hook is a cheap way to approach ministry. Being culturally relevant is far more than having a faux hawk and knowing who Miike Snow is. It means we understand culture well enough to find those places where pop culture reveals a deeper spiritual reality and allows students an engaging way to enter the gospel story.
Karl Barth said, “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” While it may be true that no one reads newspapers anymore, the principle still holds true. We must be firmly planted in Scripture and in culture so we can present the gospel always.
When we use stories that matter and make sense in the lives of our students, they have a much better chance of connecting the dots to see how the greater gospel story matters and makes sense to them in their real lives. Whether it is zombies, the Avengers, Harry Potter, Coldplay or even Justin Bieber, your students have stories that engage them and shape them. It is on us to seek out and use these hooks to help them understand and participate in the gospel.
So, where are the thin places in culture where you can find common ground with culture and Scripture so students can engage Scripture in a way that is meaningful to them?