John Stott headlines a British rock concert with pop singer Cliff Richard.

When Dr. John R. W. Stott was asked what a respected theologian, whose hobby is bird watching, was doing at a rock concert, he chuckled and replied, “I’m thrilled to be here.”

Stott, well-known British evangelical author and lecturer, was one of the main speakers at Greenbelt ’83, a large-scale Christian arts festival held August 26 to 29 near London.

Over 28,000 people from the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Scandinavia, the United States and Canada streamed into Knebworth Park, the wooded estate of a British lord, for the tenth annual Greenbelt Festival.

When the festival was first held in a farmer’s field in 1974, its 2,000 participants were met by 600 police officers ordered by nervous residents. Since then, Greenbelt has gained a reputation in Britain as a peaceful, trouble-free pop festival. Only four uniformed officers were on duty this year.

John Gooding, chairman of the Greenbelt Executive Committee, said, “Essentially Greenbelt is a post-conversion event. Christians come to celebrate their faith, and learn how to make it relevant. We use an arts festival as a vehicle of communication to produce Christians who think, and who attempt to relate their faith to all areas of life and culture.”

A carnival atmosphere pervaded Knebworth Park. Acres of multi-colored tents covered the camping area. Sellers of Christian books, records and tapes did a booming business. Lines of campers waited patiently for lavatories, telephones and food stands. Crowds gathered around the hair stylists’ tent, where people could have their hair temporarily dyed punk-fashion.

Organized like a multi-ring circus, daily activities ranged from Bible studies and debates, to dance and drama performances, to career and unemployment counseling.

Seminar topics included: “what Christians can learn from a Marxist about literature”; “images of male and female in rock music”; “Christian themes in film”; “economic oppression between nations”; and “alternative nuclear defense policies.”

“We don’t believe in a fundamentalist approach. We don’t set ground rules. Our teaching is non-directive. We want to encourage people to make their own choices,” said Gooding.

Stott led a series of seminars dealing with a Christian perspective on history, and interpreting the Bible, delivered a keynote address entitled “Christian Peacemaking Today,” and participated in a panel debating nuclear arms.

“Young people are grappling with how to relate Scripture to modern issues like feminism, war and peace, and homosexuality,” he said. “I think it’s unique to have that combination—a pop festival with a strong element of rock music, but with the other element of some very serious theological discussion.”

Although the music program covered the spectrum from country to classical, the largest share of Greenbelt’s crowds and publicity centered on the pop/rock concerts presented daily from 4 P.M. to midnight. Few performers were “gospel” singers. Many were Christians with successful recording and performing careers in the secular music industry.

“One of Greenbelt’s main goals is to promote professionalism among Christians in the arts,” said Gooding. “The main criteria for appearing here are that the lead performer must be a Christian and that the standard of music must be very good. What to perform is left to their discretion. Some may never mention the name of Jesus, but their beliefs will become evident.”

The highlight of Greenbelt ’83 was the Saturday night concert by British pop star Cliff Richard, who is celebrating his twenty-fifth year as a professional entertainer.

Richard, who first confessed his faith in Christ publicly at the 1966 Billy Graham Crusade in London, was greeted at his third Greenbelt concert by an ecstatic audience estimated at 25,000.

“This is not—I repeat this is not—going to be a gospel concert. I have decided to perform the music which has earned me the right to be heard as a Christian,” he said.

“Rock and roll is neutral—you either play it well or you don’t. How you present it, and what you present—the lyrics—are what matters,” he added.

Stott commented: “Greenbelt is presenting to this generation an image of Christianity which is authentic, biblical and centered on Christ. It is a joyful celebration of the whole of life. And it proves that Christianity is profoundly relevant to the problems of today.

“The Sunday morning Communion service was one of the high points of my life. To see the Communion table in the open air, with 25,000 people gathered around it in a circle—to sense the love, joy, faith, celebration of that crowd—was tremendous. I will never forget it.”


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