Is the Jesus Creed community a “community”?

Is the Jesus Creed community a “community”? February 20, 2009

Recently a gifted young anabaptist pastor, Shane Hipps, weighed in at Out of Ur blog about whether or not cyberspace provides “community.” He says “No” and I’m wondering what you think? Here is my response. Can “community” exist in cyberspace? In what senses can it and in what senses can it not?

Your point about not equating virtual community (grant me the
term for the moment) with real community is one that needs to be heard.
But, I’m not so sure it is this simple…

First, as a blogger who has what I have sometimes called the Jesus
Creed “community,” I do think there are some senses in which community
is apt. For some, this is about the only “community” with Christians
they can right now have. I honor that. For others it is therapeutic to
dance, as it were, at a distance — not the complete thing, of course,
but still participating in some dimensions of community. And there is
another dimension: there are clearly dimensions of fellowship at work
in blog communities. Never the whole, but some. And that needs to be
considered for what it really is.

But now something perhaps more significant: by shrinking community
to embodied community I wonder if we have written “communion of the
saints” (a community) off the map. Isn’t there something eternal,
something spiritual, and something profoundly true that all Christians
of all ages and of all locations are in communion with one another?

This means it may be appropriate to refer to internet communities as a
participation in the communion of the saints (I have experienced this
with some folks whom I’ve gotten to know at some levels via internet
and via e-mails and via parcel post letters) and as virtual

I would agree with you that some substitute virtual for real at
their own loss; I would also agree that some think they are the same.
But I wonder if it is not swinging too far the other way to deny the
word community to what can happen — palpably so for many — in

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  • Joey

    I think in the purest sense, no, there cannot be a true internet community. That doesn’t mean that what happens here lacks aspects of community but it can’t encompass everything that is community. Sharing life together, eating meals, and bearing each others burdens all play into genuine community.
    Scot, in what ways do you see this as a community? And, in what ways might this be lacking? Is there a spectrum of community that stretches from blogs to homes?
    If this place contains aspects of “community” but not fullness of community can it still be called community? On one hand, we are called human though we are not “fully human” in the sense that Christ is, yet we are still human. On the other hand, if you are calling something a cake and it lacks vital ingredients is it still a cake? Is a drawing of a cake the same thing as an actual cake, or can it be faithfully referred to as a cake? I realize these are odd metaphors but they make sense in my mind.
    I appreciate what goes on here and I would never downplay it as something not important to ecumenicalism. It functions as a sense of community to many people but it can not replace the physical, broken, burden sharing, life giving, proximity based community to which Christians are called to belong.

  • Scot McKnight

    I want the Jesus Creed readers to comment about how this blog is a community. One question at a time brother.
    But one point: since life now in Christ is not fully kingdom can it be called “kingdom”? Of course. To the degree it realizes kingdom, it is kingdom. I’d say the same about community and internet. Of course it isn’t so in the “purest sense,” but no argues that. The question is this: Is it appropriate to use the word “community” for what occurs online?
    OK, Jesus Creed readers … what do you think and why etc?

  • BeckyR

    As there can be different intensities or kinds of friendships there can be the same with community. But I agree with Joey in that there isn’t sharing of what’s going on in the lives of the people who post – the things to pray for, good things, just things going on in our lives. It isn’t full community but it could be called a surface community, just like there’s different kinds of friendships, different intensities in friendships.

  • Dan

    I believe this is only a community to the extent that it is a gathering of like-minded people interested in your work Scot. I think it’s safe to say, however, that the like-mindedness of the community stops at (or at least can’t be proven here online) interest in your work.
    Frankly, that’s what all blog “communities” are about – interest in the work/writing/opinions of one person or a core of writers (who actually do have truer community with each other beyond the blog.)
    Why do I limit my definition to this? I’m being honest. As soon as your work/writing/opinions become no interest to me (have no value to me), I will stop visiting the site. I’ll stop participating in this “community.” Why would I keep coming back daily if nothing posted by you had any value to me or was the least bit interesting to me?
    As much as I would love to have a relationship with you (as I think there is much you could teach me, and I think it would be cool to have a man like you in my life) beyond this blog and your other writings – I don’t know you. I don’t know you at all. I only know your writing (to the extent I’ve read.) So, there is no investment/obligation/commitment to being in relationship beyond that – the value your writing provides.
    For me to claim there is a deeper relationship than that (a deeper level of community) would be akin to celebrity worship…me behaving as if “we” had something more. The same goes for all those who comment on here. I just don’t know them, and they don’t know me.
    I’ll say this, though. You are my brother in Christ. Of that I have certainty (because of how much of your work I’ve read.) As my brother, if you thought there was anything I could do for you that someone else closer to you couldn’t (someone who had a “real-line” relationship with you), I would try my best to do it.
    I have a special obligation to serve my brothers and sisters, and if I am to declare that you are one, then I must be willing to follow through on that obligation. I would do so joyfully.
    I hope this doesn’t offend you or others who post here. I’m just trying to be honest about the “reality” of the situation.

  • I would say any blog with regular blogger(s) and commenters who interact with each other and get to know each other to some extent online is in some sense a community. Even though it does not have everything face to face community has.
    I would say that an online environment where people give each other friendly attention is more of a community than, for example, a church full of people where no-one says hi to you all morning.
    Not that there are any churches like that, though, right? 🙂

  • Carl Holmes

    Community is not just a sense of Physical place. It is a spiritual place as well. We lack the physical community and that does distort the traditional meaning of community. But community is a coming together. people come together here, and all over the blogsphere to read, share, be exhorted and grow.
    I think this is as communal as most churches or communities. One can be dishonest here or never engage and still have private issues that the community could bear with them. I do not see that any differently then living in a community, in a 3000 square foot house and closing the door. What goes on inside those doors does not translate into community, nor does the private thoughts and issues that never get expressed here.
    I guess all that is to say, community is what you make of it. If you invest in it, are honest in it, and are open to it then this is a community. If you are shut off and never comment, never engage then no it is not.

  • Travis Greene

    I’d say you’re right on, Scot. The internet (or letters, phone, etc) can be a vehicle for community. I wouldn’t want anyone to substitute an online experience of community for face-to-face interactions with family and friends in the context of a mutually submissive worshipping community, but that doesn’t make online forms of community illegitimate.
    Jesus Creed (and other online spaces) is a place where we can hash out ideas, find areas of agreement or (more interestingly) amiably disagree, swap stories, encourage and challenge each other, think deeply about God’s revolution, and form connections that geography would otherwise make difficult.
    Sure, the medium is such that we primarily commune intellectually. And we don’t have much ability to sacrifice for each other (except maybe letting another have the last word) or really serve each other (except perhaps in exhortation). It’s not an ekklesia.
    But I wouldn’t hesitate to use the word “community” a bit.

  • ChrisE

    Scot, I think it would be fair to say that you are the nexus of this community, and, as such, you experience this community quite differently than most/all of us. You have behind the scenes communications with many and have also met some/many of the contributors (the regulars anyway). You feel far differently about the people here because you have interacted with them in deeper ways than most of us have.

  • Eric

    In certain respects this blog has provided more “community” for me than any church I have attended within the last 20 years. Sadly, despite trying very hard, I have not found a church where (1) it is acceptable to ask the hard questions, (2) it is acceptable to respectfully disagree on even non-core issues, and (3) most folks are participating not because its the “right thing to do,” but because they actually see Christian community as mission. While there are limits in what this blog can do, it at least addresses points (1) through (3) in some ways that I have not experienced in a church.
    Notwithstanding the level of community the blog does provide, my deepest desire is still to find a Christian church in my community where (1) through (3) are true. Its only in the church that we can have a very close personal connection, mutually supporting each other in tangible ways as part of the body of Christ engaged in our full mission. Its true that I see repeat posters here, and have learned about their personalities, etc., but its my sense that the deeper need for community and mission that we all have can’t be fully satisfied in an electronic community.

  • ChrisB

    I think communication is more important to community than physical presence, though you can’t have a fully formed community without both.
    Still, here people talk, encourage each other, challenge each other, and get to care for each other — I think that constitutes a community.

  • Dan

    Why do you feel it necessary to throw other “communities” under the bus while attempting to answer the question?
    Me asking is clearly not contributing to the conversation that Scot proposed we have, but I just don’t understand why anyone feels they must self-identify by disparaging others – even if the “others” are gross generalizations.

  • Interacting with this “community” has benefited me in ways that affect real-life community. I have improved in my ability to interact with those I don’t understand or don’t agree with. I have learned from others. Right or wrong, I guess my focus here has always been somewhat selfish: how can I benefit myself, rather than coming here to serve others. But I do benefit here and I try to use what I gain here to benefit others in “real life.” There is a sustained conversation here that is hard to find in real life.
    Dialogue happens here. People come and go but the revolving door moves a lot slower here than on many blogs.
    My opinion: No online community can have the same accountability or holistic benefit as a face-to-face community that walks together in step with the Spirit. But that does not mean no community exists here.

  • Rebeccat

    I agree with many others here who say that there is a form of community here. However, I also agree that really important components of real community just aren’t present here. The blog offers a great place to share intellectual thoughts, but isn’t where you’d really go to share burdens together. It also lacks the shared experiences which help to bind people together.

  • A thought experiment. Suppose 20 people that regularly interact here were to meet up at a coffee shop.
    1) Suppose they hit it off and were quickly conversing and sharing with each other and discovered that they have a relationship that was built in floorspace but that easily extended into the face-to-face meeting. Would that imply that community had been built here?
    2) Suppose they did not interact face-to-face so well. If the catch were mostly that the people happened to be more comfortable with typing than speaking, would that imply that community had not been built here?
    3) Suppose they found that as people they were so different in real life from cyberspace that they did not seem to have a relationship on which to build. Would that imply that community had not been built here?

  • MattthewS

    *cyberspace, not floorspace!!

  • Carl Holmes

    I never pretended that I was not talking in a generalization. There are exceptions to the rules everywhere.
    I think when we think of a vibrant community we think in terms of covenant. Are the people in covenant with one another and accountable?

  • Jesus Creed has been a community for me. I have learned much from Scot, RJS, and various commenters.
    Anyone who would say it is not a community: imagine if this and similar forums for discussion disappear. I would not like that at all.
    Jesus Creed is a place where some thoughtful, often well-read people come to share perspectives. This is something valuable and it differs in some positive ways from other communities in my life. Not everyone at my congregation wants to discuss theology. Here in Jesus Creed people do.
    Unless you are in seminary and have this all around you all the time, it is not hard to appreciate the benefits of an intelligent, though admittedly anonymous and semi-personal, online community.
    Derek Leman

  • Pat

    I agree with Carl Holmes that, “Community is not just a sense of Physical place. It is a spiritual place as well.” However, what concerns me about our society is that for many cyberspace makes up the bulk, if not all, of their world. We have to be careful and be balanced or else technology will become our best friend and then when placed in a social situation, we won’t know how to interact. As it is, people walk around all day with their iPods on and hardly ever have to interact with each other if they don’t want to. I think although we’re more “connected” than ever before, we’re also more isolated.

  • I am not a regular blogger… This is the first time I have looked at your blog, but I just finished the Blue Parakeet on Monday and enjoyed it immensely!
    My primary spiritual gift is teaching and I have been a serious Bible student for more than 50 years.
    The reason I provided this introductory information is that I have found that for me it is impossible to have any kind of “community” without some kind of relationship with the people involved. One of the essential elements of relationship is some kind of self-disclosure.
    The thing that amazes me about this string of posts so far (I read them all before I began posting) is that nobody has offered a definition of community. For a practical standpoint, discussing a concept or term without a shared understanding of the meaning of the term is very hazardous.
    However, I agree with many of the comments that have been made. Something good is going on although I am not sure what it should be called. The fact that this something cannot be found anywhere near most churches is just another sad comment concerning the North American church.

  • Travis Greene

    Eric @ 9,
    Where do you live? (Or is that too presumptuous for this level of community?)

  • Dan

    For those who care to know (because I’m not so sure everyone does, which again leads me to question the degree or depth of community that can be found online)…but I’m game…
    I live in North Riverside, IL. I attended Loyola Chicago and lived on the north side for nearly 9 years before temporary insanity took me away. I returned to the area in 2005. I work for a large pharmaceutical company, and my background is technology implementation management. My current focus is hospital/clinical technology. I currently attend Wheaton Grad where I am pursuing (with much fear and trepidation) an MA in Evangelism & Leadership.
    Anyone who would like to know more can find me on Facebook or email me directly. I will never (at least I hope not ever again) turn away additional Christ-centered community….and frankly, YOU, don’t even have to be a Christian to be in Christ-centered community with me. I need all the real-world friends I can get.
    So, is this a test? I guess we’ll see.
    P.S. It’s day’s like today that I truly feel blessed to work from home…

  • Eric

    Travis — I live a couple towns over from Dan, it appears. Western ‘burbs of Chicago. How about that for coincidences?
    Dan — I will email you seperately.

  • Joseph

    I’d argue that it’s a different form of community, not simply a stop on the spectrum between no community and physical community.
    First, Jesus exists in cyberspace just as he does in the physical world. Does He discount online prayers typed into a website in favor of being on the prayer list at church?
    Second, people will share things on the internet they would never ever tell you in person. We’ve all made that mistake with email, in a negative sense. The honesty can be brutal, but those open feelings and emotions are every bit as real as they are in person. I know more about what my teenager is thinking from her Facebook statuses than from what she’ll tell us over dinner.
    Third, it seems like my entire family has moved onto facebook. We live thousands of miles from each other, but we’re linked through this electronic media. If we all gathered in the same room, the conversation might be different, but I don’t know that it would be any less rich.
    A different type of community that is every bit as real and God-blessed as the physical kind.

  • RJS

    I agree – there are senses in which community is entirely appropriate. With respect to this blog Derek hit it on the head for me – This is a community (for those who contribute) that allows for a level of conversation not generally available in the local church. It is invaluable. And it is a valuable resource for those who just “listen in.” It doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction in a local community though.
    But a drawback to a cyber community is the public nature of most cyber forums. I use my initials here not because I want to be anonymous – but because I don’t want every comment I make showing up in a google search on my name.

  • Scott M

    There are certainly people here who, over time, have come to know as much about me as any embodied Christian group with which I might interact. And probably more than most.
    I don’t really know the answer, though. It seems to me that ‘community’ must be related to ‘communion’ and I’m not sure I really know what it means to be in communion with other human beings. Most of the groups with which I’ve interacted don’t go any deeper than ‘fellowship’, which doesn’t seem to me to be the same idea at all. Though I could be wrong, of course.

  • Dan wrote Helen/Carl,
    Why do you feel it necessary to throw other “communities” under the bus while attempting to answer the question?
    Me asking is clearly not contributing to the conversation that Scot proposed we have, but I just don’t understand why anyone feels they must self-identify by disparaging others – even if the “others” are gross generalizations.

    Good question Dan. I guess it’s because there was a time when I all I had was online community. When it was hugely helpful to me. When I was sent away from one of my Christian communities and the way another was treating me was very difficult.
    So I get a little frustrated when I read of people writing that there’s no such thing as online community.
    I stayed in face-to-face Christian community in spite of the difficulties (until other reasons led to me leaving some years later) and I believe it was character-building.
    Btw I live about 20 mins from North Riverside.

  • Scot (and the rest of y’all at the “One T”) ;^),
    It is good to see that this conversation is continuing to bounce around the blogosphere. There has been some conversation over at Missional Tribe about it that has been interesting. So I’ll just chime in here as inspired by the comments.
    I believe that there is one covenant to which we are to belong — the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus. We connect to that covenant when we recite the Jesus Creed. Loving God and Loving Others fulfills the Law. When we love God and love others in this (or another virtual space), we are experiencing a kind of covenant community. It is not the same as other kinds, but that does not mean it does not count.
    We experience many different kinds of community in our lives. Not one of them fulfills each and every need for connection. This is another of those both/and situations. We are to receive with grace and gratitude each and every connection that the Spirit provides.
    In the two years I have been a part of the Jesus Creed community, I have shared many personal things that I have not been able to express in other places. Those persons who were part of those conversations have shared a precious community with me that has nurtured me in ways I did not think possible. They have functioned as the hand or shoulder of Christ in profound ways. This is nothing short of a gift from God….
    I believe that the moving of community into the virtual realm gives us a bit of a better glimpse of “the communion of the saints” — and that leads us to ponder perichoresis — at least it does for me. My post over at Missional Tribe pondered this some:
    And for those of you who have not watched the video, it will be important for you to review the four components that Shane identifies as being essential to community.
    One last thought…sometimes, unfortunately, it is important for us to define things according to what we have not experienced as well as what we have experienced. I have physically been in churches where I have thought I was part of the community most of my life … only to be surprised by the real thing in the virtual. That is not meant as a slam … it is the sad, sobering reality of far too many.
    The virtual provides a methodology for transparency … and when used well, the Spirit shows up in ways that can be breath-taking. I do not believe it wise to discount this.

  • Eric

    The fact that Helen, Dan, me, you and (I’m sure) others on this blog live within 40 minutes or so of each other reminds me of a suggestion I have for your Origins group: I would suggest using it to put people who share your mission and live in the same area in touch with each other. I.e., make it a way to organize around your mission in local areas.
    For that matter, why not have a Chicago-area Jesus Creed event — in person — to let folks put a face with the names?
    Helen — 20 minutes in which direction? I live in Western Springs (about 20 minutes West of N. Riverside).

  • Carl Holmes

    Well, I guess I am one of the few non Illinois residents. I live in Colorado. But for the record, when I am in Illinois I will look you all up.

  • Scot, I would like to plug our book here, “Voices of the Virtual World – Participative Technology & the Ecclesial Revolution.” ( Forty writers (Scot McKnight, etc.) thinking deeply about on-line ecclesia. 100% of the book’s proceeds are contributed to the Not For Sale Campaign – dedicated to ending slavery in our era.
    This is a topic I am very passionate about, for I feel virtual tools can (and will) contribute to a profound and positive shift in the global ecclesia. I came down pretty hard on Shane for his first video at Out of Ur, but I stand by my comments (in context, please). His second video ( moved the conversation into a healthier place. I’m grateful he took the time for that.
    And thanks, Scot, for giving this topic the time it deserves. I’m about 1/3 way thru Shane’s new book and will blog some thoughts next week.

  • Helen

    Eric, I’m in Oak Park, so, North of Riverside. Not in your direction but not that far away.

  • Dan

    You may have triggered something here. I’d mark this post and the calendar. You might be looking back to it thinking, “How did one little post lead to all this?”

  • Peggy, Thanks for your post!
    Isn’t it interesting that one of Shane’s four requirements for community (proximity) has been the topic of most of the recent posts!
    I continue to believe that what goes on in syberspace can be very good, but it is not community (See post 19)
    I really appreciated the self-revelation of Dan (21). I understood that as a genuine attempt build community.
    btw – I live near Cleveland

  • How about this for a biblical precident for cyberspace community?
    The Philippian and Corinthian believers send a big offering to the believers in Jerusalem. Paul says (I don’t have my Bible with me so you’ll have to do a search) something like: something pretty deep has happened in the area of relationship. There’s been an exchange, and their relationship with the believers in Jerusalem has been enhansed in a unique way.
    These are believers who are even more distant than cyberspace. They never even converse, don’t know eacher’s names (real or usernames) and yet, there seems to be some sense of community.
    I feel with many of the comments I’ve read so far, that I receive a lot from blog page interchange that I lack in any local community. “Cyberspace” doesn’t 100 % replace “Floorspace” (thank you for your unintentional wording, MatthewS), but it increases the craving to see the real thing within walking or driving distance.

  • Eugene Peterson wrote somewhere I think that our words at least share something of the most intimate part of us. I think I agree, and therefore I think we can easily underestimate what does go on in blogging and on email.
    I blog not just for information, but to relate to others. I’m not happy if I think one is lacking.
    I do think some true community does happen on “Jesus Creed” especially when there’s true give and take in true dialogue going on, which quite often is the case, here.

  • The word community has various levels of meaning, after all what is the “world community” that is expected to do so many things. A virtual community like the Jesus Creed community can be really helpful, provided that it does not become substitute for Real Community.

  • RJS

    I’ve been thinking about this overnight – a virtual community can be a “real” Christian community (although not a replacement for a floorspace, face-to-face community) if:
    (1) There is an atmosphere that values the individuals involved as people, the comments come from real people. Which in turn means that it is necessary to moderate comments to ensure civility not to censor ideas.
    (2) It is not a debate to be won or loss – but a conversation to be had – over coffee with the realization that all may not always agree.
    (3) If the people involved in the conversation consider ideas, take alternative positions seriously. Listen and respond.
    (4) But this is the ultimate kicker: If we find ourselves praying for others (and I do) on the basis of the conversation – it is a real community – one piece of the church.

  • Pat B

    Now that there’s another Pat commenting, I’ll change my name to Pat B.
    While I’ve experienced strong community on the internet,I think blogs are a poor venue for it. It’s just a problem with blog structure.
    On newsgroups, you can carry on a threaded conversation for months. Individuals reply directly to one another, get to know one another, morph the discussion into stories about their pets, pun contests, bits of news of the day, etc. People really get to know one another.
    On a blog, though, it’s rare for a discussion to go on for more than a few days because after that time, the article that prompted it is off the front page of the blog. Even if you remember which article you were having the conversation under, new members don’t know it existed and old members aren’t willing to click back and check on the off chance that you have answered them. So a kind of short-term amnesia is forced on you.
    Also, comments are expected to be on topic. This limits the kind of self-revelation that might lead people to discover shared interests and ideas. I only really get a picture of another blog commenter as an individual if that person has an idee fixe that s/he keeps bringing up in all sorts of threads, and in that case the picture I get is often not very positive.
    There may be ways around this, but they might also interfere with the goals of a blog.

  • cas

    I think of interactive blogging as modern day pen palling. Real relationships can develop, or not. Like others, I get conversations here that I don’t get offline. There is a community of shared interest. I wouldn’t contribute here, though, if the tone wasn’t well monitored.
    RJS, I’m post using my initials for the same reason. I used to link to my blog for accountability, but since the beliefnet platform doesn’t hide the hyperlink, it would defeat the purpose as my blog URL includes my full name. I’m not a fan of anonymous comments.

  • Aaron

    Whatever – it is community or not – it is a place where I can feel like I’m not alone in my thoughts questions & struggles.
    Thank you so much Scot!

  • Neil

    I agree with those who hold that “community” can only be applied to the virtual world in a limited fashion. Similar, I think, to the way the word “adoption” can be used of a living human being or of a highway litter control program. In other words, its the same word, I get the concept and why the word is used, but its simply not the same thing.

  • Neil, I don’t think community online or face to face is as different as adopting a human being or a program is.
    Community online or face-to-face both involve humans and are relational.

  • RJS

    I listened to the clip of Shane Hipps this afternoon – and I have to say that I think that he is basically right. That doesn’t mean that forums like this (jesuscreed) are “bad” rather I think that they are very valuable and powerful. They can equip us in a way that a local congregation or community is often unable to provide. I participate because I find it of value for me and for others.
    But one of the major problems I see in our church these days is a tendency to keep others at arms length, and to self-segregate, interacting only with the like-minded. This is exacerbated in a virtual forum which is at its core arms length and self-segregated. We “meet” each other on our own terms with no inherent duties or responsibilities. What pressure is there to avoid all of the pitfalls of modern individualism?

  • Doug Allen

    The Jesus Creed community is a good place to learn civility (I’m trying!) while expressing our agreements and differences. It’s been a part of my ongoing education. There are so many references to history and to theology that keep me up late at night or thin my wallet because I have to buy another book! Few churches, I’ve been told, have a discussion following every “sermon” where we can question and even disagree. We have that opportunity here. What helps elevate the Jesus Creed community above many other virtual communities is our unanimous, am I correct, holding of hands in our endorsement and enthusiasm for the Jesus creed itself.

  • Mich

    Aaron is Right On!
    It’s less about formal definitions of Community, and more about a basic need–to freely express our thoughts, fears, doubts and ultimately our faith without fear. I don’t think this ‘space’ exits at the local church for lots of worshipers.
    Keep up the god work!

  • Doug, I don’t know whether God exists so I can’t truly say I love God; but I do believe in “love your neighbor” and according to the Bible Jesus said they are alike.

  • This conversation is almost cold at this point, but I wanted to mention here that since this an area of interest of mine, I posted yesterday about this thread (and several comments in it). I actually plan on writing several subsequent points towards Shane Hipps comments as I craft some thoughts on the “Theology of Facebook.” Anyone is welcome to stop by.