On one hand, the children (and adults) were being encouraged to live in a way that is separate and distinct from the world. The worship music in the conference, however, was rock based contemporary praise music. Joel Harris led with a strong voice on guitar accompanied by a youth praise band. Before the conference I had anticipated that the worship would not be traditional, but I did not know how loud and driving the music would be. Here is where the problem of a mixed message arises. The rock musical style includes a non-verbal level of communication, even when the lyrics are "Christian." It communicates sensuality and an anti-authoritarianism, precisely the opposite messages that stressed purity and submission (to God). For more reading on this, see Dan Lucarini’s Why I Left Contemporary Christian Music (Evangelical Press, 2002), and the book he co-wrote with Don Blanchard, Can We Rock the Gospel? Rock Music’s Impact on Worship and Evangelism (Evangelical Press, 2006).
This is a difficult issue for any Christian whose ministry achieves notoriety. Alex and Brett were presented as teen heartthrobs. At each break, teens (primarily girls) mobbed them seeking autographs. Again, there is a mixed message. How do we tell Christian children to resist the "Teen Beat" style worship of celebrity when we seem to be creating an eerie "Christian" alternative?
Again, on one hand the twins presented criticism of the jaded culture’s marketing to teenagers as consumers. On the other hand, there was an overemphasis on promotion of t-shirts and books. Every break between sessions featured extended give-aways of one or two items that were available at book tables in the auditorium lobby. Sometimes these book promotions seemed longer than the plenary sessions themselves. Granted, it was fun to see a room full of children jumping up and down hoping to "win" a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology! Still, the book promotion undercut the sincerity of the event. Though there was an offer of a pay-what-you-can policy on the books for those who could not afford them, it seemed unlikely that many (if any) in the auditorium would take them up on the offer.
This was the most troubling part of the meeting and one I had not anticipated. In the third session, Gregg Harris preached a gospel message. Though it started slow, by the end Harris was giving an engaging presentation of the gospel. He spoke clearly about sin, God’s wrath, Christ’s cross, grace, and faith. The trouble came at the end when Harris offered an altar call that raised ethical and spiritual questions. He asked the students to respond to a series of interactive questions with responses displayed on the screen. It concluded by recording that c. 200 of the students present were either not believers or were uncertain of their beliefs. He first urged those students to believe in Christ. Next he asked those who had done so to stand. When a few scattered individuals stood, he poured on the guilt telling them that if they could not stand in a room full of people who would applause their actions, how could they stand for Christ in the world. With substantially more standing he then invited them all to come to the front of the auditorium. Several hundred youth walked forward. The speakers gave a book from the book table to each (not a Bible as one of the parents in our group pointed out!) and sent them back to their seats.
In conclusion, the conference had many notable and laudable aspects. It has provided plenty of material and opportunity for fruitful conversation with my daughter, who generally enjoyed the event. If only the messages had not been so mixed.