So Wednesday night was Burn Your Plastic Jesus at the Entertainment Centre with Mark Driscoll from Seattle’s Mars Hill Church. This won’t mean much to the non-Christians among you, but take it from me, Driscoll is the hot ticket amongst the uni-age set in terms of speakers you have to go and hear preach. He’s been in Australia for almost a month holidaying with his family, who have now returned home to the US to leave Driscoll to work. And he works hard! Seems he’s speaking just about every day/night at various places in Sydney, the Central Coast and Brisbane until he goes home next week.
Anyway, back to Wednesday. I hadn’t planned to go to this event because I’m going to the Engage conference this weekend and a Ministry Intensive next week that both Driscoll and Don Carson are speaking at, and I didn’t know that I needed another dose. But Mark and Lu had a spare ticket and I thought ‘why not?’
I’m glad I went!
As Mark and I bussed into town, went to King’s Comics and wandered down to Dixon St to meet the other Wild St Church people for dinner, we played Spot the Church Group. They just stand out so much from everyone else! We couldn’t really work out why, but you just knew which ones were Christians. By the time we left the food court and the place had filled up, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a non-Christian (and the food court staff seemed a little bemused by it). But it’s not surprising, as there were reportedly 10,000 people converging on the Entertainment Centre for this event. I enjoyed the chance to hang out with church people (especially the nutty youth groupers), and at dinner I had a whole plate of dumplings to myself, which was great.
As for the event itself, the staging was slick as a rock concert with the difference being that the house lights stayed up the whole time. The Engage band was full of familiar faces, and they did a great job – there is nothing quite like singing to God with 10,000 people! Though I was surprised at the amount of singing we did; I’m sure the non-Christians in the audience wouldn’t have been too comfortable about it, and perhaps this could have been offset by someone from the front saying something like “One of the things we do when we gather together is sing praise to God – we’d love you to join in, but if you don’t feel comfortable you don’t have to”. Anyway that’s a minor gripe – from my point of view, the music was excellent. Nathan Tasker played a couple of songs with his band, but I didn’t think that added a great deal to the night.
There was the obligatory screening of videoed vox pops, people saying what they thought of Jesus – if they thought of him at all. I was especially saddened by the young mother who was quite defensive about it and said basically her world was her children and family and she’d never thought about Jesus before so why should she bother now? He didn’t have anything to do with her.
Then Mark Driscoll came out and spoke for about an hour and a half. As a speaker, he is a friendly, funny man with a relaxed style and an easy-to-listen-to voice. He dissects and critiques culture especially well, and he is not at all ashamed or timid about what he believes. He spent the first chunk of his talk tearing down seven versions of Jesus he thinks people hold up that have nothing much to do with the actual Jesus (though he never referred to the passage from Revelation 19 that had been read beforehand, which I thought was a little odd). In the process he challenged and rebuked us, but also made us laugh a lot. The pitch was a little hard to work out initially, but he had something to say to the committed Christians, the fringe Christians and the non-Christians, and I thought he covered his bases well. He then took questions (via SMS!), and answered them gently but forthrightly. Then in the last section he talked about the real Jesus that we see in the Bible and why we should have relationship with him. If you’re interested, you can download the talk for $2 at KCC – it’s funny, engaging, challenging and well worth a listen. You can watch the clip below from Sydney Anglicans for a taste:
At the end of the night, he invited people to stand if they had decided to become Christians, or if they wanted prayer for something, and he asked the Christians sitting around them to pray. I had expected something like this to happen, as it’s a fairly common end to a big event like this (they used to do ‘altar calls’ where they’d get people to go up the front, which is even more confronting), but it did take a while for people to start moving. It would have taken a lot of courage for people to stand up in full view of the entire Entertainment Centre, but gradually, as he spoke and kept encouraging people to stand, people started getting up. I don’t know how many there were altogether, it wasn’t a huge number, but there were a fair few. And then as the musos played quietly, we were asked to pray. I found it incredibly moving, looking around the room at this sea of people sitting, and here and there clumps of people standing together, praying. Gaz said it reminded him of white blood cells grouping together. I was so struck by the face of this one girl standing near us, her eyes closed, tears on her face, and a look of utter conviction.
It’s a hard thing if you’ve made such a life-changing decision to go from a context like that back into the hard, gritty world. I really hope and pray that those people who decided to become Christians on Wednesday keep exploring God’s word, that they are supported and loved by the friends who took them along to the event, and that God would continue to grow them in the knowledge and love of him.
And now I have to finish packing to go off to the mountains for Engage. Should be a great weekend!