Mavuno Church certainly started a lot of conversation around their controversial teens poster. In addition to the obvious one of modesty and appropriateness, here are three other conversations that it would be very useful to have:
- What is our angle of approach? What is the right way to engage youth / society? The argument is that society has moved on, that the youth are heavily involved in promiscuity and in a sexualised culture far beyond what we have seen before, so the church must be ‘relevant’ to that and ‘speak their language’ so as to attract them into church. However, there are assumptions that need questioning here. It could be argued that the ancient Greco-Roman world was far more sexualised and extreme than anything we have today. A wide range of sexual activity that is currently illegal or strongly taboo across most cultures was then legal, common, promoted and even institutionalised. When the apostle Paul walked around Athens and Corinth he would have seen things that would make Nairobi look pretty tame. And yet how does he engage with these cultures? Well notice first that Paul’s approach is not to ‘attract people into church’ but to go out to where they are (Acts 17:17-22). Then, as he speaks he does quote their media (Acts 17:28) but not the erotic poetry of Catullus, rather the philosophy of Epimenides and Aratus. His entry point is theological not moral. He does not talk to the Athenians about their sexuality or condemn the red light district but goes for the root sin (cf. Rom. 1:18-23), that they have got God completely wrong .
- What is our method? 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is cutting on this: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning…” What then is our method? “We refuse to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth… we proclaim not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” The question we have to face is: Have we lost our confidence in the Word? Do we think God is no longer in the business of opening the eyes of the blind to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the pages of Scripture? Have we forgotten that it is a spiritual battle (2 Cor. 4:3) not primarily a problem of packaging, image and language.
- What is our mission? Finally, going a bit deeper still, what do we think is the mission of the church? Is it to ‘turn ordinary people into fearless influencers of society’? Surely a secular NGO could claim to be doing that. Have we lost our focus on eternity? Have we lost our focus on the big problems of sin and wrath? Have we lost our focus on the historical, dying, rising, ascended, returning Jesus Christ? As Paul ministered in the hyper-sexualised city of Corinth, what was his mission statement? “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). Certainly the preaching of Christ has very real, practical, earthy implications for sexuality (1 Cor. 6:13-20) but the core mission for Paul and his co-workers seems to have been “God making his appeal through us”, preaching the gospel of the Christ who was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:20-21).
(And look out for more engagement with the Mavuno ad debate in the current issue of Conversation with a call to media literacy from blogger, journalist, analyst and trainer Jesse Masai.)