Tuesday 30 March 2010

Jason Gardner on Reading Youth Culture through Biblical Lenses

Notes from a seminar at the London launch of Biblefresh (30 March 2010):

Jason’s topic was helping young people critique the world around them from a biblical perspective.

He began by talking about the recent proliferation of Vampire films, TV series, Sephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, etc., showing the impact of this in youth culture, and raising the question, From a biblical perspective, where would we go to deal with ghosts, werewolfs, and vampires?

Taking his cue from Clifford Geertz’ definition of culture as ‘the ensemble of stories we tell each other about ourselves’, he made three points (I think) about stories:

1. Stories connect us
What TV series did you have to watch as a teenager in order to be able to chat in the playground the next day? What stories are young people telling us today? What stories are they telling each other?

2. Stories shape us
Big stories impact our lives, forming a worldview that drives attitudes, behaviour, values, approaches, and beliefs – and there are powerful stories being told in contemporary culture, such as secularism, which clashes with the biblical worldview – sometimes leading to an ‘enthusiastic dualism’ in young people, where two contradictory stories impact and affect their lifestyle in different ways.

What channels are our young people absorbing the story of God through? What channels are they absorbing secularuism through? Where are the stories in conflict, where are they overlapping?

How do we help our young people to be active critics, not just passive recipients, of the stories that shape their lives? How do we help them understand their story through the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, future hope? And how do we help them understand how that story engages with the stories around them?

In exploring the relationship between Christainity and culture, Jason referred to the work of H. Richard Niebuhr (reducing his fivefold typology to three):

• Christ against culture – Christ and culture as a radical either-or choice.

• Christ of culture – where Christians find their culture compatible with the surrounding culture, and perhaps even cut off bits of the biblical story that don’t quite fit.

• Christ the transformer of culture – not opposition or agreement but transforming. Cultures can be converted; the fall only corrupted and misdirected culture, and improvement, even redemption, is possible.

Jason here referred to LICC’s use of the ‘10-110’ model. If our young people spend (no more than) 10 hours a week in church and 110 hours elsewhere, how much of that 10 hours is spent equipping them for the 110, in their mission to redeem every area of society.

We use the Bible to critique, affirm, and transform what’s in the stories in society and culture.

3. Help them understand how stories shape them
Jason finished with two ways to read culture, one simple and one profound.

The simple one comes from Paul Tillich, focusing on hopes, fears, and enduring stories. What are the stories that keep getting repeated – such as told in Pride and Prejudice, for instance? What does it say about the hopes and fears of the culture?

And think about Star Wars, the Harry Potter movies, and the Lord of the Rings saga, each with main characters who are orphans living with their uncle, who go on a journey, who are nurtured by sage warriors – perhaps showing the ‘orphan’ heart of people everywhere. What are the core elements of these stories?

The more profound way comes from Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, asking the question, What does culture make possible, and what does it make more difficult or impossible? Jason used the examples of motorways and mobile phones.

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