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.