Every couple of years newspapers will run a feature article on hip young Christians and the rise of megachurches. Alas, today’s story, "JC and the Cool Gang", in the Weekend Australian Magazine, doesn’t break much new ground. It stays at the level of amazement or amusement that there are Christians who have combined mainstream youth culture with pentecostalism/ evangelicalism. The focus of the story is a young couple, Erica and Jim Bartle, he an extreme sports evangelist (‘extreme sports are an excellent way of capturing kids’ attention’) and she a former fashion journalist for a ‘glossy young women magazine’.
Some critiques of a ‘cool’ gospel are briefly offered, but I would have liked to have seen more. The public might be interested by an exploration of some of the challenges facing the evangelical church today – the tension between faithfulness and contextualisation; the polarisation between three broad factions: conservatives who reject postmodernism and doctrinal shifts to the ‘left’; the postconservatives who are theologically left; and the ‘mainstream’ who are theologically pragmatic and culturally corporate.
One could read the story and come away thinking that evangelicalism was a new phenomenon of the last twenty years, and that before that there were only old-fashioned Anglican and Catholic churches. The transformation of Baptists and Assemblies of God (to name just two) from old-fashioned evangelical to a mix of the factions I mentioned is a more nuanced and interested story. And Anglicans and Catholics have never been uniform. A discussion of the strength of Sydney Anglicanism would have complicated her story in a good way.
But I’m hoping for too much – journalists have to try to get on top of a new topic each story and they’re never going to please people on the ‘inside’ of those stories.