The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

We are currently on a "break," for no particular reason, and many little reasons - mostly pertaining to life circumstances. If anyone is interested in calling a meeting, feel free to post on the blog, join the google group (see link below) and send an email, or contact either Nancy (nancykj10@yahoo.com) or Jesse (schroeder.jesse@gmail.com) for more information.

To receive cohort emails, join our Google group.


Emergent Meets Evangelical Recording

Okay, we've got the recording of yesterday's discussion between our own Noel Britton and Jesse Schroeder with Xenos paster Dennis McCallum. You can find a download here. It is a large file (thanks to Zack for hosting it!), so it will take a bit to download, and the total playing time is around an hour and 15 minutes. Overall the conversation went very well, so if you were not able to make it in person, please check it out.

I thought we could also use this post to continue discussing some of the issues that were raised. So, comment away.


Anonymous said...

Hi there! I'm a Xenos member, and I just listened to the recording of your discussion! I wanted to personally thank you for coming out and being willing to dialogue about some of the issues! This is something that I wish those who disliked Christians could see more often-- since most of impressions of Christians getting along with each other are not good.



Greg Lyons said...

Thanks for posting the recording Nick.

After listening to the sound byte of Brian McLaren's views of hell, I was reminded me of an interview I read online in which he is pressed pretty hard on issues not only related to hell, but also to truth, homosexuality, and engaging postmodern culture. For anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of McLaren--a man whose influence some consider as significant as that of Martin Luther--this interview is a great starting place: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/

Kellye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesse said...

Thanks Theresa - I agree that many non-Christians have the impression that those within Christianity do not get along well, and there is plenty of reason to think that! I'm glad you felt the discussion was beneficial and emphasized the unity we Christians share. That was our primary goal. Thanks again for your comment!

Nick Johnson said...

I suppose I will go ahead and keep the debate going, as I think we all can gain from more healthy discussion. There was one comment that Dennis made that I totally disagree with and I am wondering what other people think about it. When they were talking about truth and if it is derived from culture Dennis quoted part of a verse from Isaiah –“I am God, and there is no other,” and he said that this is an example of a verse that is very easy to understand. I could not disagree with that more, and in fact, that verse is a perfect example of how our culture informs our understanding, and therefore our ideas on truth.

First of all, it has the word God in it. Talk about a concept that is defined by culture! Yes, I agree that there is one God, but our understanding of Him – and therefore our truth – is controlled by our culture. How someone views God, and thus how they understand that statement, is based on what teachings they’ve heard, what artworks they’ve seen, what faith they might hold, etc. In other words, people from different cultural backgrounds will have very different interpretations of that verse. For example, if we look briefly to history, we see that great debates have revolved around what it means to have one God. The theological disagreements involved in the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism were completely based on this issue (yes, there were also political motivation that, much like the Protestant Reformation, were far more important to the success of the movement). Two groups of Christians had very different ideas on what was meant by the idea of one God.

To use another example, a couple weeks ago we discussed that tribe in the Amazon which has no conception of number or a supreme deity. How could they possibly “understand” that verse? They have no concept of what ‘one’ is or what ‘God’ is. In fact, this is one of the reasons that missionaries have failed when dealing with this tribe. Their language and culture completely controls their understanding, and therefore their truth. Now, I do not believe it is impossible to teach and share this message – obviously there are millions of converts across the world that testify to that, but I do think it is dangerous to view texts as universal and easily understood.

What could perhaps be said is that this verse, when approached by people of similar cultural backgrounds and language structures, will likely be understood in very similar ways.


Anonymous said...

I have a very simple question. If it is so difficult to interpret language, how is it that you expect people to understand what you are asking? I could take it to mean that you are asking for my thoughts on my favorite Ice Cream.

Anonymous said...

"McLaren--a man whose influence some consider as significant as that of Martin Luther" You know Hitler was pretty influencial as well.

Matt Weisgarber said...

"McLaren--a man whose influence some consider as significant as that of Martin Luther" You know Hitler was pretty influencial as well.

That comment was uncalled for. I do not agree with McLaren or his writings most of the time, but he is in no way comparable to Hitler. Lets all debate these issues in the spirit, and not with fleshly outbursts. We are all intelligent enough to talk about these issues as members of the body of Christ without juvenile insults.

Anonymous said...

Im not a Christian, and how was that uncalled for? I think it is a perfectly rational point. Wether someone is influential or not has nothing to do with good or bad is my point.

Anonymous said...

Well that was supposed to be funny anyway, not a serious attack. but what about "I have a very simple question. If it is so difficult to interpret language, how is it that you expect people to understand what you are asking? I could take it to mean that you are asking for my thoughts on my favorite Ice Cream."?

Anonymous said...

The link to the article about the Piraha tribe that Nick mentions can be found here:


We discussed it in length in our post on 6/29/08. I encourage those interested to read the entire article and our previous discussion on it before you comment on Nick's thoughts. It's challenging to think about how we share Christ with someone whose culture allows them no concept of abstractions or history and therefore no concept of God. But challenges are a good thing. They strengthen our faith.

Again, PLEASE read the article. I really would like to hear the thoughts of others. Not just those of us who are amongst the emergent conversation.

How would you share "truth" with them?

Nick Johnson said...

To the ice cream poster (sorry, I don't know your name).

I would respond exactly how I ended my comment "What could perhaps be said is that this verse, when approached by people of similar cultural backgrounds and language structures, will likely be understood in very similar ways." In other words, since we are from the same culture and speak the same background, we will understand it almost the same. However, if someone from a different culture, who speaks a different language, or is reading this in 2,000 years, they very well might understand it differently.

Anonymous said...

Has there ever been a study on how fast the cultural tides change? I would suspect within 30 40 year time frames. So the Bible actually changes every 30 - 40 years? Im sorry but Christianity sounds well idiotic.

Nick Johnson said...

I know of no such studies, but I would not be suprised if they have been done. Certainly, the rate of this change is increasing with new technology and travel. Also, culture in terms of religion is very long lasting. Those that grow up in the West at least either from now or from 1,500 years ago would have very similar understandings of God because culture continues to teach the basically the same message.

I will say that, despite the discussion we are having here, there are certain basics of the Christian faith that have been held throughout time. There are certain details that people have many disagreements on. But, that there is one God, that He is good, and that his son Jesus came to this earth and died for us - thus allowing a relationship with him, has remarkably stood this test of time. Actually, there are very few things that have survived for as long as Christianity (Judiasm being one of them), nor or there any texts as old as the Bible that are anywhere near as reliable or consistent as a historical text.

I think my point would be to not focus on those things that vary between cultures, but rather on the constants.

Does that make sense? Also, I wonder if you could comment more on why you think Christianity is idiotic? I promise you that you are safe to comment here and we love discussion. I have only been a Christian for half a decade and I am curious to know if what you think is similar to how I thought a few years ago.

Anonymous said...

Well in using your example of that tribe, my languistic familiarity with certain words and phrases are out the window. Especially when there are so many "Christian" orgs all claiming something else. Some say that rules is the way to go, some say no rules just "grace" but then go after broken rules. I feel like this Tribe perhaps, unable to understand with so much to take in. I happened to spend some time in plant where many different languages were used, It was fine once we found and defined words that may have been missing from the vocab. I hope that this is the case for me. I didnt read the article i admit, but that must have something to do with it.


Nick Johnson said...

Ice Cream Man, if that is your real name,

First of all, I appreciate your honesty. Secondly, I agree with you that it is frustrating that so many Christians say so many different things. One of the things the Emergent movement is trying to do is find the common ground (we are, by the way, certainly not the only group striving to do this). Thirdly, us Christians are still human and are still imperfect. We try to get along, but our human-ness far too often gets in the way.

Finally, all that is meant by Christian is a follower of Christ. I certainly agree that "Christianity," the man-made, theological construction is idiotic, but we are trying our best. We are all trying to live how this man Jesus taught us 2,000 years ago - even though we come to different conclucions on how to do that. I would tell you to just read the Gospels and ignore the rest (denominations, other books of the Bible, etc) for awhile if you are truly curious. This can be helpful during the information overload that you mentioned. The amazing thing about the words of Jesus is that they still somehow ring true even though we are in a very different culture - somehow he knew we would be reading it in the future so he spoke in parables. Moreover, if more people tried to live like Jesus told us I think this world would be a much better place.

Anyway, that is probably not the answer you were looking for and I'm not sure how it relates to my earlier posts, but if you understand Christianity as a bunch of people trying to follow Jesus, and not as a bunch of squabbling institutions, a much more clear picture becomes visible.

What kind of plant were you in? Do you mean like a factory or a church plant? (another vocab problem rearing its ugly head...)

Nick Johnson said...

I will add one more comment, sorry. As to our conversation from earlier, it is very difficult for multiple people to interpret the same text exactly the same, as history has shown us time and time again. However, I do believe that when reading the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit can intervene to give you an interpretation that God wants you to read at that time in your life. Okay, I'll stop rambling.

Mike said...

There are certain details that people have many disagreements on. But, that there is one God, that He is good, and that his son Jesus came to this earth and died for us - thus allowing a relationship with him, has remarkably stood this test of time.

Hi Nick, I was wondering if you could explain to me how Christ dying for us has allowed us to have a relationship with him?

Dawn Steele said...

I am neither a Xenos member nor part of the emergent movement, but I am a follower of Christ and also attended the Xenos Summer Institute. (I'll apologize in adavance if I ramble a bit, but I feel there's a lot to cover). My husband discovered Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christian last summer when he was questioning some approaches to Christianity. We are very active in our local church and as most of you already know, different denominations tend to interpret Scripture differently and that can be disturbing - especially when one wants to follow the true Jesus and be in right relationship with the one God who commands our worship.

McLaren (and other emergent thinkers) introduce(s) some interesting questions and perspectives - some of which, by nature, must be addressed and evaluated. However, what concerns me is that we use our modern culture and language to impose our own perspectives on a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. If God is who He says He is - if He is truly the creator of the universe and wishes to be known and worshiped by His creation - wouldn't He then give us a way to know Him for sure? We take our modern english and modern (or post-modern) culture and attempt to extrapolate meanings out of texts that were in fact written in an entirely different time, language and culture. When God spoke to Isaiah and said "I am God and there is no other" shouldn't we go back to the Hebrew language and culture to understand the context of that statement? When we establish origninal context and understanding, we can then know God the way He describes Himself and can then re-approach our culture and language with that understanding.

I agree that many teachers and pastors use the scriptural "grab-bag" approach to proof text their personal doctrine and this is dangerous (and perhaps arrogant in that by this people are decieved to believe something about God or themselves that God never said or intended to say). We must read the Bible in context with some understanding of the language and culture it was written in. When we do so, we can establish truth and allow God to reveal Himself instead of using our own limited knowledge and understanding to interpret God.

I wonder sometimes if we are too eager to read books about God written by humans with limited and biased understanding and are not eager enough to read, study and understand the book that God wrote about Himself. (Of course, we know that humans penned the Bible, but we also must believe that it was inspired by God through the Holy Spirit - again, if God wishes for us to know Him, He is powerful and loving enough to ensure that He is rightly and truthfully written about in the Scriptures).

These are just my thoughts. Thanks for allowing people to comment on these things on your site.

Anonymous said...

These are good thoughts. You articulated well some of the currently established ideas of this era of Christianity that I tend to wrestle with. You present a lot to digest and think about. Here are just two thoughts/questions that jumped out at me.

First, you ask if God "wouldn't ... give us a way to know Him for sure?" This is a good question. I don’t think it has a simple answer, and it’s a question I have thought a lot about. I believe you can know God. I believe you can know Jesus (and should strive to). But when I say "know", I mean to have a relationship with. When I have a relationship with someone, I never know everything there is possibly to know about the person. It's a continually evolving relationship. I've been married for almost 2 years now. I know that I don't know everything there is to know about my wife. And I believe that I will continue to seek to know her more until the day I die. And on that day, I still won't know her "for sure." And between now and then, my relationship with her will evolve and change. David writes that we as humans just can't possibly know the mind of God (paraphrasing). It seems like we Christians have gotten this idea that we must know the workings of God ... the "why" and the "how" ... before we can we have faith. It can hardly be called "faith" if we think it has to be "proven" and we turn faith into textbook knowledge. I don't have to know exactly how Jesus' death and resurrection "works" in order for it to work. I don't have to know what the phrase "penal substitution" means. I just have faith that Christ died, was resurrected, and I live in God's kingdom because of it. And it's just that ... faith. I wasn't there ... I didn't see it. But I have faith that it happened. I can't know God for sure. He is God ... and I am just a man. But I think God wants us to seek him. We hardly have any reason to continue to seek him if we think we know Him "for sure". I think there was a reason God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge. He didn't create us to have all knowledge. He created us to seek after Him. And one day, Paul writes, we will have all understanding. But not now. Now is the time for seeking. And after years of thinking I knew it all, I've learned to start seeking again.

Second, on understanding the Scriptures in regard to the language and culture that it was written in at the time. I agree with this idea. We all see Scripture used so much out of context because it isn't read with thought of the setting that it was written in. But I struggle with the idea that even then "we can establish truth and allow God to reveal Himself instead of using our own limited knowledge and understanding to interpret God." Isn't our knowledge of the culture and times that the Scripture was written in limited? So then our understanding of God and truth is limited to our ability to understand a culture that is 2,000 to 6,000 years removed from ours. This is how I have thought for much of my life. But now I fear that I am putting my faith and my understanding of God in the hands of historians. I want to believe that a common man in the middle of the jungle in a third world country with no education of history can know God and know truth. And now I believe he can. I think Jesus is more than just a story. I think He lives today. I believe he was resurrected. And I believe because of that I can know him today just like I can “know” a person sitting across the table from me. I’ll never know him perfectly. But I can know him. I believe that Jesus is truth. He said it. "I am truth." I know truth only as much as I know Jesus. Because Jesus is truth. My understanding of truth changes as my relationship with Jesus changes. I understand truth more as I seek and get to know Jesus more. I think this idea ties in with Jesse's post from 8/2/08 on how we should read the Bible. Is it a textbook that gives clearcut, scientific evidence and knowledge of God's truth? Or is meant to lead us into a relationship with God and not define it?

I strongly encourage readers to read the article posted earlier in the comments section of this post about the Piraha tribe in South America. This is really mind boggling perplexity to me. How would you teach "truth" to these people. It would be impossible for anyone in their culture to understand the history and the culture of the Scriptures. That would mean that they can't know truth. But I think they can “know” truth. Just in a different way. It may be in some way that I can never comprehend. But I think that they can (maybe already do) have a relationship with God, and therefore with truth.

whew ... long comment. Sorry. I will just say that I don't have all the answers. I never will. I am just a common man. And I don't say that anyone at an any particular church is particularly wrong in their understanding. I’m just saying they don’t have all the answers either. I just ask all Christians to allow people to work out their faith without thinking that we must control it. I can't control someone's relationship with Jesus or God anymore than I can control the relationship between another man and his wife. The gospel of Jesus is a powerful thing. And I believe it alone is powerful enough to change others without my help. As of now, I think it is my job to introduce others to Jesus through my life of living in the kingdom. It is not my job to dictate their relationship/understanding with Jesus (i.e. understanding of truth).

Thanks again for your comments, Dawn. I know that my thoughts here may not completely address your questions and comments. These are just thoughts that I had while reading your comments because they are things I am seeking after at this point in my life.

Dawn Steele said...

Adam, thanks for your response and thoughts. I agree that as humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love says that if God represents all the oceans on the earth and I represent a soda can, it's foolish to think that I can contain all of who God is in my one little can. 1 John tells us that it's not yet revealed who we shall be, but when He (Jesus) is revealed we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is. And as you already mentioned, Paul tells us that we see through cloudy glass now, but one day we will know Him definitively.

The Bible tells us in the Psalms that God reveals Himself in His creation and Paul tells us in Romans that God is able to communicate to those in different cultures and regions through His creation and reveal Himself to those who would seek Him. I would also agree with you that in any relationship we can never fully "know" anyone. I will never completely know everything about my husband and you're right - in our limited capacity, we can never fully know God. We must be committed to a relationship with God, through Jesus, in order to learn about Him (and ourselves in the process).

And though I don't believe that the Bible is a scientific "text book", I do believe that it is the most definitive way that we can learn about God. It reveals truth about God's character and standards and my nature and thus my need for Him.

The article on the Piraha tribe is very interesting, and while I agree that there are concepts and pictures that we could never communicate to them because they would have no context in which to understand them, there are still basic truths about God and His character and our nature and position in response to God that should be translatable.

I heard a missionary speak once when I was much younger and they were trying to translate scripture into the language of the people they were working with. There were no sheep in the region (in fact, they had never seen a sheep) so no one would be able to understand the relationship of the Great Shepherd to His flock of sheep or references like the Lamb of God. They could not provide a literal translation of those references, so they had to find a "picture" the people could understand. So they took cultural references the people could relate to and shared the truth of God to them in their own language.

I suppose what I am taking a long time to say is that my concern becomes that in all of our questioning (which I believe God welcomes and is more than secure and strong enough to handle) is that we don't lose timeless truths and the beauty of the gospel in our quest to understand the God of the universe (who loves us and pursues us and died for us in our place, for our sin so we might live a new life in Him, in right relationship with Him so we might reflect Him well on the earth and love others with the amazing love He has given to us) in the context of our own particular culture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dawn. Really good job of sharing your thoughts. Thank you!

I, too, hope that we never lose site of the beauty of the gospel. It is a beautiful thing.

Nick Johnson said...

Hi Mike, good question. I would say the simple answer is I have no idea how it worked, I just have faith that it did - in a similar way to how Adam was discussing faith.

I suppose the further question would be, how do I know (or why do I believe) Jesus dying allowed for a relationship? My answer is that I know primarily from experience - I have expereinced Jesus working in my life, therefore I have faith in him. The New Testament says that Jesus would give his followers the Holy Spirit. That is all well and good, but if one doesn't beleive the Bible is from God then it is meaningless. I came to faith in God, not to faith in the Bible - and to me at least they are not the same thing (yes, we can have a discussion on the meaning of "the Word" if anyone would like). So, I know I have a relationship with Jesus because I have experienced it. Furthermore, I have had numerous conversations with other believers that have experienced the Holy Spirit as well. Now, how do I know that I recieved something called the Holy Spirit and that I received it due to Jesus? That is from the Bible, as are the other names I have been using in this post. But, without expereince it would be meaningless words to me. Nor am I confident that one need to get the names right or the story right to have a relationship with God, but that is a different matter...

Okay, that probably didn't make any sense. I should likely have just stuck with I don't know.

Mike said...

(yes, we can have a discussion on the meaning of "the Word" if anyone would like).

Nick, I would love to have a discussion on the meaning of the Bible. However, I am afraid that it will start getting some people really upset. If it starts getting crazy, I would suggest we discuss it in private. I really don't want to be putting out the fires.

Jesus dying allowed for a relationship? My answer is that I know primarily from experience - I have expereinced Jesus working in my life, therefore I have faith in him.

I agree with you. It has been so long ago for me, but I remember my belief in Christ was not based on evidence in the Bible. It began when I saw incredible change take place in my brother's life after he chose to follow God. However, I do not think belief in itself brings us into a relationship with God. Paul says in James 2:19, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder."

I believe you come into a relationship with God, when you make peace with him. Since Christ made atonement for everyone's sins, we have a chance to reconcile with him. There is a difference between forgiving someone and making an agreement to continue being friends with them. With God, there shouldn't be any difference.

I myself can't pay back God for my rebellion against him. Once more, it is in my nature to continue stabbing him in the back (I know this for a fact). I would need to die in order to make it up to him. This is precisely why Jesus died on the cross. His own son came and took the punishment for those evil deeds of mine upon himself. With the blame already taken away from me, all I had to do was accept it.

Yes, you could argue that this was Paul's explanation for the passion of Christ. But what other explanation could there be? I don't think Christ went to the cross only because he wanted to show how dedicated he was to his teachings. I think he did it, because he knew that this was going to be the only way he could knock down the walls that separated his father from humanity.

I am looking forward to the discussion you mentioned. Also, thank you for expressing your thoughts on this subject. Since we live so close, maybe we can get together with a group for a cup of coffee or grab a beer. We don't have to necessarily talk about religion if you don't wish to.

Nick Johnson said...

Mike, I appreciate your thoughtful post. I agree that we might not want to dive right into the Bible question here, although if people are interested we could perhaps make a new post as it is a topic that deserves more than to be under comments. I will say that I do not feel that when scripture refers to "the Word" it always means the Bible.

It is interesting you brought up th atonement. I don't think anyone disagrees with that view of the cross, but many of us feel it is not a complete picture and can actually be damaging to understand the cross solely in this way. Instead of rambling on, we actually had a conversation on this topic in April. Here is the link to the blog summary that Jesse wrote: http://emergentcentralohio.blogspot.com/2008/04/summary-of-atonement-discussion.html

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this. I would be happy to meet in person and you are also more than welcome to come to our discussions.

Mike said...

I read the post from April. The links to the main emergent site and the document containing the different views of atonement were especially helpful. I printed off and read some of the atonement essays from the contest.

They said at the emergent village website that the different atonement theories should complement one another like a vase full of flowers. Do you guys believe the same thing, or does it vary from person to person, locality to locality? Yeah, I would say I come from the "substitution theory" camp. This is probably really apparent from what I have said in earlier posts. There is a lot to read here, so I am going to read over this stuff before I comment any further on this topic.

Coming to a discussion would be cool.