Every year, millions of devoted fans travel to our nation’s largest cities to play unreleased video and board games, meet the stars of their favorite sci-fi shows, and attend panel discussions on fantasy worlds. Last year, 150,000 people attended New York City Comic Con, 130,000 people attended San Diego Comic Con, and more than 200,000 people attended one of the three Penny Arcade Expos located in Seattle, Boston, and San Antonio. These are just a small sampling. There are literally hundreds of “nerd” or “geek” conventions, and these terms are no longer pejorative.
About 65 percent of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly.1 Board game sales are rapidly rising,2 and cafés and bookstores dedicated to tabletop gaming are springing up all over.3 Sci-fi, superhero, and fantasy are among the most widely loved and successful film genres. And yet, the church’s default reaction to geek culture in recent history has ranged somewhere between guarded skepticism and ignorance.
As has been documented, evangelical preachers commonly assume that video games are at best a waste of time4 and at worst destructive to spiritual health.5 It has been documented, however, that playing video games in moderation relieves stress, improves brain function, and boosts creativity.6 While video games and geek culture certainly contain their share of graphic violence, sexual objectification, and addictive qualities, much good can be found in these mediums as well.7 Nerd culture has a strong penchant for celebrating heroism and cultivating community. Its artifacts, like all other pieces of entertainment, are created by people who are both marred by sin and created in the image of God. Comic con are filled with media that reflect simultaneously God’s goodness, truth, and beauty as well as humanity’s sinful excesses.8 Our affection for goodness, truth, and beauty should compel us to investigate geek culture with careful discernment. However, the ultimate reason we should care about Comic Cons is much simpler. I am convinced that, given the opportunity, Jesus would attend many of the gaming and nerd conventions across our country.
The Mission of Jesus. When we talk about the mission of the church, it’s important to have a clear sense of Jesus’ mission. According to Jesus, He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10), “to preach” (Luke 4:43), “to serve and give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), “to cast fire on the earth,” and “to eat and drink” (Luke 7:34).9 Does that last one surprise you?
In Luke 7:34, Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (ESV). “Son of Man” is a title found in Daniel 7:13–14 for the promised Messiah who would reign over all people for all eternity. Jesus is the rightful king of the world, and part of His method of establishing His rule was to eat and drink. In his book A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester says Jesus “spent his time eating and drinking — a lot of His time.”10 Jesus was sinless: He never actually overindulged; and yet, He ate and drank enough that His enemies sought to make something of it.
Biblical scholar and author of Eating Your Way through Luke’s Gospel, Robert J. Karis says, “In the gospels Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, coming from a meal, or teaching about a meal.”11 Most of His parables are about food. He turns water into wine to prolong a dying party, commands us to commemorate His death through a meal of bread and wine, and one of His greatest parables (the parable of the Prodigal Son) ends with a glorious feast.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day heavily criticized Him for His approach to meals: “The disciples of John the Baptist fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (Luke 5:33 ESV). Jesus was not merely criticized for the frequency of His meals but also because of the people in attendance: “sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 7:34). It’s hard to overstate the radical nature of Jesus’ choice of dinner guests. Tax collectors were traitors working for Rome, Israel’s oppressors. In the eyes of most Israelites, they were God’s enemies. Jesus ate with God’s enemies.
Table fellowship in the first century was a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy, and unity.12 Meals were opportunities to make lasting friendships, and Jesus did not waste His meals but filled them with missional purpose. He did this by meeting lost people where they were at and eating with them in their homes (Mark 2:14–17).
A Massive Neglected Mission Field. Most Christians probably don’t think of the people at Comic Cons as their enemies, but when we default to ignoring or looking derisively on geeks and geek culture, something is amiss. Chris Gwaltney, director of Gamechurch, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to bridging the gap between the gospel and the gamer, believes we’re neglecting a massive mission field. At Comic Cons, “you have a large concentration of people who are not likely to ever visit your church because, as gamers and nerds, they don’t feel welcome there. Many have even been hurt by the church.”
Chad Snyder was one such person. Most of his life, he had been told his hobbies were demonic. Chad and his wife were going through a rough time in their marriage and were talking about divorce. Chad’s wife had recently come to know Christ and was willing to work things out. Chad, however, wanted nothing to do with God or Jesus. Around this same time, he was wandering the show floor of Penny Arcade East in Boston, Massachusetts, when he saw the Gamechurch booth. Chad picked up a copy of Jesus for the Win13 (a book Gamechurch hands out that contains the Gospel of John with some contextualized commentary for gamers) and began reading. He assumed it was a joke until Gwaltney looked him in the eye and said, “Jesus loves you.” Those words stuck with Chad as he continued reading through Jesus for the Win. Chad soon gave his life to Christ, was baptized, and began serving in his wife’s local church. Chad said, “I truly believe I would not be where I am if I hadn’t walked up to the Gamechurch booth.” Chad has now served as a missionary with Gamechurch at numerous conventions.
Chad isn’t the only person who met Christ at a nerd convention. Each year, Gamechurch raises up missionaries to attend thirteen to fourteen conventions across the country. Each year, the missionaries pass out more than 30,000 Gamer Bibles and point thousands of geeks to the hope that is found in Christ.
Jameela Cameron and her husband were two such people who stumbled on Gamechurch at C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. Jameela grew up in a conservative Muslim home. Like Chad, she initially thought Gamechurch was amusing, but took a copy of Jesus for the Win anyway. A year later, Jameela was going through a difficult time and had this overwhelming sense that she was worthless and didn’t mean anything to anyone. One night, she went down to her basement to get some alcohol to self-medicate and unexpectedly found Jesus for the Win on top of one of many sealed moving boxes. She picked it up instead of the alcohol and started reading. She soon began to weep as she realized that she meant something to someone — Jesus. This moment started her and her husband on their journey toward Christ. They have both now been baptized and serve in a local church. Jameela and her husband recently attended C2E2 as missionaries, where they pointed countless people to Christ.
Gamechurch is not the only Christian organization that attends geek culture events. It’s not uncommon to find professing Christians outside conventions condemning people for their hobbies. Recently at Dragon Con in Atlanta, one Christian organization used megaphones to shout angrily at people arriving for the event. They even stopped a mom and her two kids to tell her that she was damning her kids to hell by bringing them. That same mom wound up at Gamechurch’s booth, quietly reading Jesus for the Win while her kids played board games with Gamechurch missionaries.
Why Conventions Matter. Matt Warmbier, missions coordinator of Gamechurch, said, “At conventions, nerds can feel like they aren’t outsiders. It sounds silly to say this because there are 80,000+ people at these events, but Jesus went to the outcasts and the people that were looked down upon in society. The convention they attend each year is one of the few places they feel welcome. Christians should go because we care about people and we should engage culture. We need to be where the people are.”
Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunk because He was intentional about spending time with lost people so that He might radically transform them. Gaming and nerd conventions represent a tremendous opportunity to “eat and drink with sinners and tax collectors” (Luke 7:34), but we will be accused of associating too closely with people who don’t align with the cloistered values of many Christians. We are a nation of geeks and gamers. It’s time to count the cost and prayerfully consider what we, as Christians, are going to do about that.
Drew Dixon is the editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com and editor of LifeWay’s Explore the Bible: Students. He has written for Christianity Today, WORLD, Paste, and Relevant magazines, and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82.
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith