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A Youth Pastor Speaks Out on the Playboy Theology
Bruce Winter  

It is an enormous responsibility to direct a youth group or to supervise the direction of such a group. As well as the clear directives of the Word of God, we need a proper understanding of those significant influences which contemporary society brings to bear on young people. It is possible, in fact quite probable, that your young people's group has adopted the standards of contemporary society rather than those of the Word of God.

The purpose of this article is (1) to look carefully at what is perhaps the most significant influence upon young people in the second half of the twentieth century, and (2) to then ascertain the extent to which this has affected our youth evangelism and youth work in the church. To this writer, it appears that it is this influence that is at the root of problems in youth work.

The Playboy Philosophy

The present generation of young people is firmly committed to the "playboy" philosophy, with its goal of pleasure. This is not a new philosophy. The ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, enunciated the ethical philosophy called "hedonism" (the word is the transliteration of the Greek word for pleasure). Hedonism commits its followers to the goal of pleasure. It believes that pleasure is the sole good. Pursuit of pleasure is the guiding star for most young people in the Western world—freedom to pursue the doing of "one's own thing." Our affluent society affords this opportunity to larger numbers of young people than ever before in the history of Western civilization.

This philosophy has two forms: psychological and ethical hedonism. The former states that men really pursue pleasure and only pleasure in their lives. The latter argues that not only do men seek pleasure, but they ought to do so since pleasure alone is good. Most young people are committed to both of these forms.

The revival of this ancient philosophy came with the production of John Millington Synge's play, "The Playboy of the Western World," in 1907. Hugh M. Hefner is the philosophy's most popular contemporary exponent in the latter half of this century. Hefner is the editor of Playboy magazine, which has seen an astronomical increase in circulation, reaching almost twenty million readers each month. While many people may not have read Playboy or even heard of the editor's name, their lives tend to confirm that they themselves are committed to the playboy philosophy.

The Playboy Theology

But how does all this affect the local church's youth group? Surely our young people in the church do not espouse the playboy philosophy as the guiding star in their choices and attitudes!

Firstly, let us look at the young people who, having been committed to the playboy philosophy, espouse Christianity. Much contemporary evangelism is done in the atmosphere of a "Christian" rock concert, with all its accompanying beat and emotionalism. The music and general excitement make the hearers feel absolutely at home in the evangelistic meeting. The presentation of the gospel is often accompanied with hedonistic promises such as "Come to Christ so that you may experience life with a capital 'L' "or "Be released from the past so that you will be free to really do your own thing." These young people hear the evangelist inviting them to transfer their playboy values into the Christian church or youth group. Undoubtedly the evangelist does not intend this, but that is how it comes across to young people.

The proof that becoming a "Christian" means transferring from playboy philosophy to playboy theology, is shown in the expectation that the program of the youth group will be "exciting"—reflecting the mood of the evangelistic meeting—and that all the young people will have a "tremendous" time. There is enormous pressure on the pastor and youth leader to produce an exciting program—with something new every time.

Secondly, let us look at the young people who have been brought up in the church. Surely they do not espouse the playboy philosophy! These young people see their contemporaries outside the church having a "tremendous" time, and they therefore seek to reproduce this in their own group. It can be done on the pretext of attracting young people or holding young people. The latter argument is often used by anxious parents who plead for a more "interesting" program—which often means "heavy" on entertainment and "light" on Bible study. If large numbers of young people turn up at an activity of the group, it is judged by church officials and even pastors as successful (i.e., "because it works, it must be right"—which is sheer pragmatism).

This writer has seen Christian youth groups exhibit an almost allergic reaction to the New Testament teaching on discipleship and to Christian ethical evaluations of young people's decisions in relationship to the family, the opposite sex and the teacher or boss. The interesting point is that, while the youth might be able to very well articulate their subjective experience with Christ, they show a total failure to adjust their behavior according to the norms of New Testament Christianity. Their basic theology is not that of the New Testament but of the playboy. When challenged about their conduct, they manifest a wholehearted adoption of antinomianism, finding support from the statement of Augustine of Hippo — "Love God and do as you like" — surely a misguided understanding of Christian freedom.

As pastors and youth leaders, we would do well to evaluate our youth programs and the activities of our young people who belong to them. Is the playboy theology at the heart of the problems of the youth group? A sure sign that it is will be the manifestation of antinomianism and the resulting rejection of the conditions of discipleship enunciated by the Lord Jesus in Luke 9:23:

    "And He said to them all, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."