Looking Back on Cornerstone: Overview

For the rest of the week, I’m going to look back on my experience of the legendary Cornerstone Festival. What many are going to want to hear are my thoughts on the panel on which I sat which dealt with the issues of GLBT persons in the church. That’s coming, for sure, but I’m going to sleep on it a couple more days. In the meantime, iMonk, who moderated that panel, has posted about it.

Going into Cornerstone, I really didn’t know much about it. I’ve never been to a Christian music festival of any kind before, and I couldn’t imagine that I’d like the music. As it turned out, I heard very little music since the area of the speakers’ tents is far removed from the bands. I did walk around with my friends, the Stegalls, and heard a bit of thrash metal. I also went to the main stage one night and heard mewithoutYou, whom I loved (more about that later).

I didn’t know much about JPUSA, either. Of course, I’d heard of the Jesus People, and I remember going to see the passion play at the Jesus People Church in downtown Minneapolis in 1983 with my church confirmation class, the same year that Doug saw it, as he recounts in his book. I’ve also heard a number of people tell me over the last decade, “Oh, I’ve seen you emergent folks before. In the 70s we called you the Jesus People. You’ll grow out of it, just like they did.”

A couple points to mention here. First of all, there are some important differences between emergent and the Jesus Movement, which I confirmed when talking to my new friend, Brad Culver. Of course, the era of the Jesus Movement was different — for all of our outrage, Irag is no Vietnam. Brad also mentioned that if the Jesus Movement had had 1) the theological interest and 2) the social media technology that emergent has, they probably would have been a bigger force for a longer time — or at least they wouldn’t have been tempted to join with the conservative Calvary Chapels of the world.

But, more importantly, Brad and many others at Cornerstone are testament to the fact that the death of the Jesus Movement has been greatly exaggerated. There, in the Underground Tent that Brad organizes every year at Cornerstone were veterans like Brad and young guns like Peter Wohler and Chris Heuertz.

But this is not the world I come from. I hadn’t even heard of Francis Schaeffer, the patron saint of Cornerstone, until a couple years ago. And I still haven’t read a word that Schaeffer wrote — I’ve only read the memoir of his son, Frankie. So I don’t have a lot to judge Cornerstone by.

However, I will say this: I think we can see Cornerstone as a sort of belwether of evangelicalism. Five and ten years ago, the seminar tents were populated with seminars on modern, evidential apologetics (Norman Geisler was a name I heard a lot) and pro-life stragegy sessions. Today, the seminars are on creation care, developing new monastic communities, centering prayer, and human rights. Phyllis Tickle and I talked about the great emergence. And, for the first time at Cornerstone, Christians who favor gay rights and GLBT inclusion in the church were allowed to speak alongside those from “ex-gay” ministries.

This is the shift that’s taking place in evangelicalism, people. Get ready for it.

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  • I have been a huge fan of “Christian” music since I was introduced to Keith Green back in the mid-80’s. Along side that I have always listened to and been a fan of mainstream music of ALL genres. Have always loved and respected what JPUSA stood for and accomplished in Chicago and was/am a huge fan of Rez Band. I must say, though, that I was very disappointed to learn that Jay Bakker had been “banned” from speaking at C-Stone for his stance on Gay Rights and being a Gay affirming pastor. I used to also believe that homosexuality was sin, but I have studied it immensely(at the challenging of Jay Bakker) for myself-using many books and articles and several translations of the Bible and no longer believe it to be sin. Given the current thought on this topic among the “church” I think it would have been appropriate and even necessary to have Jay Bakker back at C-Stone along w/ Tony and Phyllis. Let’s hope next year they will consider this-and maybe even an invite to Mel White of SoulForce.

  • I think that for many young evangelicals like myself, (the newer) Cornerstone was the evangelicalism we wished was promoted more. There was always a glimmer of hope there with some of the bands like mewithoutyou, Norma Jean, Anberlin, and others. We weren’t all like Pat Robertson or James Dobson, and we wanted people to know it (and to tell other evangelicals that you don’t HAVE TO be Pat Robertson). So, Cornerstone always seemed to provide a place for some evangelicals who were more “in touch” than many of the evangelicals who often received air time on FoxNews or Larry King (plus, the music was a lot better/cooler than Michael W. Smith). Does Cornerstone have some way to go? Sure, but we all do in many ways.

  • Anon

    If you do ever read Francis Schaeffer, you’ll be disappointed. He got me interested in philosophy and theology when I read him in high school, for which I’m grateful. Once I went on to actually read Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Tillich, and Heidegger in college, it became quite clear that Schaeffer was himself only reading secondary sources and merely parroting caricatures of various philosophers’ views. It’s rather sad that the intellectual godfather of a certain strain of evangelicalism was such a poor scholar.

  • Kenton

    Good read, Tony. It sounds like your presence was productive for all parties. I think it helps to put the Jesus People movement, Schaeffer and Calvary Chapel in the context of what was going on in the church at the time. The American church was a monolith of clean cut middle class folks, segregated and not particularly prone to thinking about its faith. The changes of the 70’s and 80’s brought a church that was far more open to new styles and ideas, and those three institutions were at the heart of those changes. You can say that Schaeffer’s followers and Calvary Chapel have become the status quo they fought against, but without the groundwork they laid – encouraging a thoughtful theology down to the layperson, accepting the diversity of people and styles, striving for a more culturally relevant church – the Emergent Church would not have been possible.

  • Jules

    Shocking! 😉 I can’t believe you have never heard of or read Schaeffer. We actually read several of his books at York College, which is a church of Christ supported college. I highly suggest reading him. My favorite since then has been (it was required reading for my NT class), How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. I highly suggest it.
    Look forward to more thoughts. Thanks Tony!

  • Patrick Provost-Smith

    I’m still in “reflection” mode from Cornerstone as well, and will be for a while. My experiences come from a different background in many ways than yours, but I continue to see places where they coincide. Much to talk about. My only comment here is to ask where the idea that Schaeffer was the patron saint of Cornerstone could have come from? I just can’t see it . . .
    I read all of Schaeffer, and even did a little time at L’Abri (after he had passed away, but others were running several branches of what he started in Switzerland — I was in England and in Holland). With all due respect to Schaeffer, I didn’t find his approach convincing then, and still don’t — as much as I deeply admired his willingness to slog it out with a bunch of young intellectuals who were struggling through questions of faith concerning which their churches often had little patience. So, admiration for that aspect of what he did is due, but the intellectual legacy leaves an awful lot to be challenged and seriously re-thought. It’s pretty much impossible for me to read Kierkegaard and then Schaeffer on Kierkegaard and think that Schaeffer had the same text . . . But, that’s not why I’m questioning the association of the two groups per se, just musings on my own L’Abri experience.
    My Cornerstone experience (admittedly only two years, but — like others — I’ve known of JPUSA since I was a Rez Band fan as a teenager). I just don’t see at Cornerstone anything resembling the milieu that Schaeffer cultivated, and certainly not at JPUSA — and for me that is a good thing. The difference isn’t that L’Abri was for intellectuals (for the most part) and Cornerstone really a music fest — not at all, and I’ve had better intellectual conversations at Cornerstone this year and last than I recall from L’Abri some 20 years ago. The main difference is that there just isn’t any apologetic at Cornerstone that seeks to answer all comers with a “Christian worldview” (expounded philosophically or otherwise), and that simply was what constituted Schaeffer’s approach since his earliest work. Schaeffer never gave you a “big tent” into which to bring in so many different kinds of things and let the messiness of it all be a substantial part of what it was about. Cornerstone didn’t “endorse,” it “invited” — and it seemed to me also confirmed in my conversations with folks there that having this big messy forum for all sorts of music, seminars, etc., was, in essence, to create a space from which a lot of questions, conversations, and exchanges could emerge. L’Abri was, by contrast, a forum for answering questions by way of a highly specified “worldview.” The “culture” of the two places simply couldn’t be further apart, even if L’Abri was swarming with hippies in the late ’60’s too.
    Of course, folks are going to have had different experiences with either C-Stone or L’Abri, and my response here is only minimal at best. But, I wanted to point out some pretty drastic differences in the whole ethos of the two enterprises partly as a way of saying that I can’t possibly imagine a time when Schaeffer would have been the “patron saint” of L’Abri — and I’d defer to the C-Stone and JPUSA folks who’ve been there from the beginning. But, for starters, try Jon Trott. I honestly think (and Jon can correct me if I’m wrong) that he’d recoil at the idea of Schaeffer being a formative model for anything that they did.
    So, no criticism intended, just a quick response to say that something seems wrong with the Schaeffer – L’Abri association, and one doesn’t need to hold up one at the expense of the other to question the comparison, even if it’s clear that I long since ran aground with the L’Abri approach. Just my few thoughts . . .

  • JB

    It is interesting to read that we should be ready for the onslaught of the homosexuality agenda. First, anyone who knows the name Perez Hilton recognizes that it is already here. Second, one of the qualities that always gets me about emergent theology is this idea that man is pretty much in charge. (That, and the fact that liberal politics are always suspiciously present, even though emergent advocates rarely admit that.) Obviously, by saying to get ready for it, you mean that evangelicals like myself should be prepared for how church and ministry will change because of wider acceptance, because people like those you mentioned will be pushing it. But, as I just read in the new press copy of Francis Chan’s new book (I’m with the media), anytime the Holy Spirit is not involved in something, it means our effort must be involved. I figure you don’t mean the Holy Spirit would be the One behind changing the evangelical agenda on homosexuality, although if you do mean that it would be a fairly ironic view. Evangelicals following the Holy Spirit!

  • David

    Thanks for sharing your take on Cornerstone. We really do stand in a different world. I too read Franky Schaeffer’s memoir. The change in attitude he went through with regard to his dad just goes to show you, on a personal level, how any kind of social movement in religion is relatively fleeting, no matter how firm it may seem in the eyes of it’s adherents. And at the same time the ground any movement stands on keeps changing. It’s interesting to me that Cornerstone has stayed vital, apparently by staying “in touch”. Good for them.

  • Jonathan Stegall

    Thanks for writing this, Tony, as well as for being there. I look forward to seeing the rest of your thoughts. I’ve been to five years of Cornerstone (2001, and the last four years), and this one was a great one.
    I do have to agree with Patrick and take issue with Schaeffer as a patron saint of Cstone, though. I admittedly haven’t read everything he’s written, but when I was in college I was introduced to L’Abri, and to the concept that Schaeffer was passionate about Christian involvement in the arts. This was enough to interest me, so I tried reading some of his works, but I didn’t resonate with them at all. His values of culture are incredibly foreign to me. Of course, the Jesus Movement had its issues, of which I think Brad Culver is incredibly perceptive, but I don’t think they are the same as Schaeffer’s.
    Granted, the fest is progressing in deep ways, as you’ve noticed and I deeply rejoice in that with you (the first year I went, the Underground Railroad had a tree to sit under, instead of a tent to have seminars in, and there were seminars on evolution and such), but even from its beginning Cornerstone has had deep values of pacifism (Christian Peacemakers have always had a strong presence there with seminars and booths), egalitarianism (Christians for Biblical Equality would be unknown to many of us without Cstone), and critique of many parts of conservative politics and culture (Jon Trott is a wonderful example of this, as Patrick mentions) – from foreign policy to treatment of the poor.
    Anyway. Like Patrick, I would of course have to defer to others who have been around JPUSA longer than I have, but I think there’s a very different ethos. Certainly Cornerstone has had its issues with which I disagree, and I have to applaud Frank’s comment that Jay should have been present as well. Perhaps he will be back in the near future.

  • Patrick and Jonathan, I come to that conclusion after talking to a couple JPUSAers. They, too, would say that FS’s influence has waned dramatically in the past few years. In fact, one of them said in effect the same as you: he was brought up being told to read FS instead of the secular philosophers — the assumption being that FS did the reading and interpreting for you. But then when he went to the primary sources later in life, he was shocked at how bad FS’s reading of the philosophers really was.
    In other words, there was a time when you wouldn’t have dared speak a negative word about FS at Cstone. That day has passed.

  • JB:
    1) There is no “homosexuality agenda.”
    2) If “man is in charge” of emergent theology, then we’ve screwed up again. It should be women.
    3) I firmly believe that the movement toward inclusion of GLBT persons in church is, indeed, a movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Beware: by deciding something is not the movement of the Spirit, you may be committing the unforgivable sin.

  • Wow, then. An even more dramatic change than I thought. I hope we in our conversations will continue to be able to make those kind of changes, when/if they are necessary. I think it’s been a beautiful part of emergent, thus far.

  • “I firmly believe that the movement toward inclusion of GLBT persons in church is, indeed, a movement of God’s Holy Spirit. Beware: by deciding something is not the movement of the Spirit, you may be committing the unforgivable sin.”
    A few provocative, but sincere questions here:
    1. Given that such a movement to include GLBT persons has no real, serious precedent in the history of church (no large movement that we can point where the church has worked to include GLBT into the church as GLBTs) is it your contention that this movement is a parallel between GLBTs and Gentiles who we read were grafted into the church following death and resurrection of Jesus? If so, how do you reconcile Paul’s calls to leave the old life of sin (ala Romans 6) or is it your contention that homosexuality, at face value, is no sin at all?
    2.Don’t you embrace the universal redemption view? If so, your warning about the unpardonable sin at the end of this comment doesn’t really carry any kind of sting with it under your paradigm, or does it?

  • Let me suggest that Liberals really need to understand Matthew 24 and 25 in terms of the final judgment we all must face before Jesus Himself. A key component of our judgment is how Christians are treated by anyone, but particularly anyone claiming to be a Christians. Jesus identifies Himself with His disciples and calls them/us His brethren. What we do to the brethren we do to Him and we will be judged on that.
    Liberal theology and the embrace of the sin of homosexuality that has been articulated here and other places actually creates a context that will justify the persecution of the brethren and even Jesus Himself. A culture that embraces sin will become intolerant of those who seek to live righteously. A Christian is a priest of God and ought to seek to live holy just as God is holy. To embrace sin is the antithesis of this.
    Robert Gagnon also powerfully states the danger of Liberal Christianity:
    “How can Christians, as well as other persons who share similar values, vote for a candidate who wants to persecute them for their views and to compel them, against their consciences and subject to civil penalties, to be indoctrinated and participate in the affirmation of immoral practices? In short, how can Christians vote for someone who will insure society’s regard for them as bigots?”

  • Brad, I’d be intrigued to know where I’m on the record positing the “universal redemption view,” whatever that is. Please point me to that reference.

  • Happy Calvinist

    Tony, I really don’t know what your firm view is. That’s why I asked in the way that I asked. The most recent information from you I could find was from this article which you wrote:
    “The notion of belief seems to be a very messy one that I don’t very well understand, but it seems to somehow involve a very complex set of dispostitions: dispositions to act in certain ways under certain circumstances, to have certain emotions under certain circumstances, to form certain other beliefs under certain circumstances, etc. And it’s possible to have some of the relevant dispositions without having others. And in such cases, it may happen that neither “yes” nor “no” is a very accurate answer to the question of whether the subject believes the item in question. To use some advanced, technical terminology: They kinda believe it–and kinda don’t. By the time I was 12, though I still accepted a traditional doctrine of hell, I only kinda believed it, as opposed to my earlier, terrorized self, who really believed it. The “quarantining” of the doctrine wasn’t a simple matter of fully retaining the belief while blocking it from having some of its corrosive effects. Rather, it seems to me, it reduced the extent to which I could accurately be described as believing the doctrine. In that sense, I didn’t really believe it.”
    “That – including such a use of the likes of “really believe” – is how I’ve been explaining this matter since well before Dawkins’s The God Delusion came out. So the following bit really resonated with me (the italics are Dawkins’s own):
    ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ The adage is true so long as you don’t really believe the words. But if your whole upbringing, and everything you have ever been told by parents, teachers and priests, has led you to believe, really believe, utterly and completely, that sinners burn in hell…, it is entirely plausible that words can have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds. (p. 318)
    I guess I anticipated that your belief in the existence of hell is softening and had lead you to a flavor of UR. Anyway, I was far more concerned about getting your thoughts on how the New Testaments treatments of sin reconciles to homosexuality in the church.

  • As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now, the rest of the story”: http://www.exjpusahelp.com has stories of JPUSA by ex-members, counter-cult experts, the Chicago Tribune and others.
    Dig below the surface Tony. ( And don’t let JPUSA defenders comments about me – which usually surface after I’ve posted the above URL – dissuade you from finding out the TRUTH about this group.

  • ooo. nice! when they’re ready to hear from some actual gay Christians, i’m more than willing to speak! 🙂

  • Brad (Happy Calvinist), You are attributing my words to Tony. As I wrote at the start of that short series of posts on believing in traditional doctrines of hell:
    I should say right upfront that I have little idea of what Tony thinks about such matters, or even whether he has very specific views here. I’ll just be speaking for myself here.
    But even if Tony had written those words, there’s a lot of room in between ultra-nasty traditional doctrines of hell and universalist views, so that someone is going against one doesn’t at all mean he’s going for the other.
    But, as it happens… If by “the universal redemption view” you mean the view that Christ’s act of righteousness will lead to acquittal and life for all people, yes, *I* do accept that Word. For a brief explanation of why, see: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm . Those who want to look into the matter more carefully would do well to read Gregory MacDonald’s THE EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALIST. (If you’re wondering, no, I am not GM.) There are also some other suggestions at the end of the web page I link to above.

  • Your Name

    I’m usually late to these conversations. I’m still pretty much a face to face kinda guy.
    Tony it was an absolute (and you generally won’t catch that word in my vocab.) pleasure to connect with you at cornerstone. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations and look forward to furthering or friendship. Bless ya man.
    I wanted it on the record that I’m only one of a few folks that are the impetus behind the Underground seminar tent. Peter Wohler also being among that number.
    As you made mentioned Tony I think one of the major issues crippling the Jesus Movement was the inability at the time to effectively network. Eventually the movement fractured, some folks becoming isolated, with the bulk people being absorbed into Traditional Faith communities. Not only evangelical camps but many liturgical as well… think catholic charismatic, folk mass etc.
    Another interesting fact, the Jesus movement was a strange mix of Calvinist theologically and Armenian (Charismatic) practice. This I believe lead to the break down of barriers and helped blur lines. Unfortunately One of the ear marks of the Jesus movement “theologically” was a preoccupation with a dispensational view of the end times…ala Hal Lindsay and the Late great Planet Earth ( left behind is really just left over residue).
    ‘Five and ten years ago, the seminar tents were populated with seminars on modern, evidential apologetics” The fact that the likes of Evangelicals for Social Action, Christian Peace Keepers, Christians for Biblical Equality, and the Underground (among others) have been present at the festival for some time has no doubt helped to open and promote the present dialogue and facilitate the shift at Cornerstone.
    “Oh, I’ve seen you emergent folks before. In the 70s we called you the Jesus People. You’ll grow out of it, just like they did.” God I hope not. As you mentioned Tony the death of the Jesus movement has been greatly exaggerated. Not to steal any ones thunder, but in some respects many of us old “hippies” have been on the fringe pursuing emergence before it had a name or a description. I think the ‘emergent movement” will be a round for a long time… in some shape or form, transitioning and growing as people of faith pursue the Heart of the Man that went about everywhere doing good.
    Fred as far as the GLTB conversation and Jay Baker…JUPUSA is a community involved in an on going journey… no doubt many of us in this present conversation are not where we were on a number of issue 20, 15, 10,or even 5 years ago. We’re evolving and growing in our understanding. The fact that the conversation took place at the Festival at all is in its self quit telling. I remember a number of years back when they brought in a Palestinian Moslem women to dialogue about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That was a water shed moment. Your right, it would be wonderful to see Jay Baker Mel White and others in conversation at the Fest.
    “Given that such a movement to include GLBT persons has no real, serious precedent in the history of church” …Brad consider, in context the same can be said of the abolition of slavery and the place of woman in society and the church when they became issues of faith. Both of which were championed initially by a relatively small percentage of Christians who saw these as questions of human dignity, the love of God and the Gospel of Christ. Today how many Christians would support slavery and now a large percentage of Christians do not see the scriptures teaching us that woman are subservient second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. I think in years to come the GLBT issue will be looked at similarly.
    Forever in the Grip of Grace
    Brad Culver

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