The New Christians

The New Christians

Looking Back on Christianity21

C21 Sketch.jpgAs other bloggers have noted, putting the Christianity21 experience into words is nearly impossible. In short, it went even better than Doug and I imagined it. All of the pieces came together beautifully.

In fact, when people repeatedly stopped me in the hallways on the first day to say how well they thought it was going, I found myself giving the same response over and over: “The energy in that room is amazing.”


If you want to find out about the nuts and bolts of C21, see this link for mui links, names, books, etc.

And you can read about all of the presenters here.  I dare not single out any of the presentations, since so many of them were so, so good. I’d rather write about my overall impressions of the event.


I often write about the conservative and liberal versions of American Protestantism here, and, although those are oversimplified and overgeneralized terms, they’re good enough for the purposes of this conversation.

Before the event, Doug and I met with Jen Howver and Mark and Kelly from Imago, all of whomC21.jpg helped us plan and execute the event. We made a chart with two axes on a large piece of paper, thus dividing the paper into four quadrants. One axis was “practitioner – theorist” and the other was “liberal – conservative.” We then took our best guess on all 21 of the presenters, and placed them along the axes. We were pleased to see that we had representation in all four quadrants.


And this got me thinking about how rare it is that among the most liberal Christian leaders (think GLBTQ supporters) and the conservative evangelicals (think Willow Creek and North Point churches) share the stage. In fact, it got me to wondering if there are 21 men out there who would even accept an invitation like this.

I don’t want to over-stereotype people based on their gender, but I’ve been a speaker at lots of events, and when the majority of the speakers are men (as is invariably the case), there is a certain competitive nature to those events that I did not sense at C21. And, to say it another way, I just don’t think that we’d have gotten the cooperation from speakers at either end of the theological spectrum if the roster had been male.


All that to say thanks to the presenters for their grace.

There had been rumors of street-preaching protesters outside of the event. Unable to line up any compatriots (he had hoped for 21), one emergent twenemy preached a bit outside on the street, but I only spoke to one person who even saw him. Another emergent opponent was in the room for every session but the last, and he was the model of grace and respect, even as he squirmed at the theology he was hearing.

bakker scandrette.jpgAlso memorable was the posse of men who usually speak at these events. These guys came at their own expense, slept on couches and spare beds, and moved chairs, worked the registration table, and generally provided a hospitable presence. Since I haven’t named any of the women in this post, I won’t name the guys either, with one exception: Jay Bakker stayed at my house for a week, and we became fast friends. He’s an exceptional human being.


In the final session on Sunday afternoon, one word emerged as emblematic of the weekend: Courage. One participant said to me, “I’ve been so afraid of starting something new for Jesus, but now I know I can do it. There’s so much courage in this room!”

Indeed, there was. Here’s hoping that God blesses us with similar gatherings in the future.

Photos courtesy of Courtney Perry. More images here. Time-lapse movies of Paul Soupiset’s sketches here.

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posted October 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

Hey Tony,
Thanks once again for an incredible gathering of people, ideas, and theology. It was great.
I love (LOVE) your point about the non-competative spirit that was evident within the presenters as well as the room in general. I must say, I didn’t even THINK about the notion that if there had been male presenters that a level of competition would have been there but I think you are right on with that line of thinking. In an odd twist to the male-dominated way of thinking out there (trying to keep women from teaching or presenting or preaching), I think if men had been up front and teaching, ironically, hormones would have gotten in the way and the macho-factor would have taken over. But as it was, because there were no dudes up front, things were smooth sailing.
And big time kudos to you and Doug for not feeling the need to MC or make announcements or be anywhere other than the back of the room. It was appropriate for you two to welcome us in and send us off as you did . . . but that’s the only time you two were up front . . . not too many fellas I know could do that. Well done.
grace and peace to you Tony

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Dave H

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:07 am

I also saw a post on some blog or other by Carla Barnhill, who noted the low levels of snark, irony, or cynicism.
It’s not very hip to be earnest these days (and critics often lob too-hip-for-thou accusations at the emerging conversation) so I was very proud to hang with a diverse group of people who took each other seriously, without taking themselves too seriously. This kind of earnest and honest approach encourages all kinds of good results.
It was an important event in my life, and I’m proud to say I was there. Thanks.

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posted October 16, 2009 at 10:30 am

There is so much to say about C21, I really don’t know how to give it words. But earnest and brave are good to start. Doug joked a bit about us speakers feeling like it was a “preach-off” and we all looked around at each other like “what is he talking about?” The thought never occurred to us (or not to most of us that I could tell anyway) so I think the observation is valid that having all female speakers affected that dynamic.
And Tony, I too said constantly “there is such great energy here”.
The final and most important word to me is hopeful. It was genuinely hopeful in a way that I haven’t experienced before.
It was a different type of emerging event and I hope it’s a sign of new things to come. Thanks for giving us the stage and for putting it all together.

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posted October 17, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Man with all that ‘good energy’ going around you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been drinking some charismatic cool aide and the Holy Spirit may have been hanging out with you all
not that I want to give another reason for team pyro or the discernment crews to
hate on you all
no but seriously though I can under stand why God would wanna be there to I certainly would have gone had time
space cash prevented it

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