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A Postcard from Q

By April 11, 2012 3 Comments
[Alas, today will be my final post here at The Twelve.  I’ve been honored to be part of the team that has launched this conversation, but need to consolidate my energies and so regretfully have to say a virtual farewell, but will continue to be an interested reader.  For those who are interested, I’ll continue to blog at Fors Clavigera and you can follow me on Twitter @james_ka_smith.]

Washington, DC. — From my window here in The Willard hotel I can see the morning light beginning to illumine the Lincoln Memorial.  I’m in DC for the 5th annual Q, a conference that has brought together over 700 practitioners and leaders from an array of cultural “channels”–entrepreneurs and artists alongside pastors and academics for a kind of Christian TED.  While TED is about “ideas worth spreading,” Q is about “ideas for the common good.”  

To give you a bit of an idea of how this looks, consider just a small sampling from my day yesterday: I began by interviewing David Brooks, NY Times columnist, for the Q website and then listened to his talk on humility. We heard from Andy Crouch speaking about his forthcoming book on power and Jonathan Merritt speaking from his brand new book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.  Sherry Turkle from MIT talked about the impact of social media on relationships and Chidi Achara, brand manager for a New York fashion house, unpacked the grammar and influence of fashion while Gideon Strauss made the Christian case for principled pluralism in the public square.  Amy Julia Becker gave a moving talk on limits and dependence and the need to protect those with Down Syndrome, and we learned of Jill’s House, a respite community for children with intellectual disabilities (and their families).  We received a video greeting from President Obama while later in the day Pastor Joel Hunter explained why “Government is Not the Enemy.”  I enjoyed a charming chat with Ross Douthat of the New York Times before Michael Cromartie interviewed him about his new book, Bad Religion, which I picked up from the portable incarnation of Byron Borger’s Hearts & Minds Bookstore here at the conference.  We enjoyed an after-party on the deck at Google’s DC headquarters where I got to meet to CRC church planters who gave me hope.  After that conversations spilled into the hotel bar; we turned in around 1:30am.  

And that was just a sampling of the day.

Q is the brainchild of Gabe Lyons, and the vision behind it is well-articulated in his book The Next Christians.  In many ways, the animus of Q will feel very familiar to Reformed folks.  Indeed, there’s indirect influence: Gabe captured a vision of a holistic, culture-making, world-restoring Gospel through Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live?, which was itself a kind of evangelical translation of Abraham Kuyper (copies of the new Kuyper read, Wisdom and Wonder were in all of the participant swag bags).  In many ways, Q (and is fostering what Nicholas Wolterstorff calls “world-formative Christianity.”  

We (i.e., we who count ourselves the heirs of Kuyper and the sort of denominational ‘owners’ of this vision) can respond in a couple of ways: We could be snooty and retort, “Been there, done that.” Except we haven’t.  Yes, perhaps the theological vision is something we have embraced for over a century.  But what it has tended to produce is enclaves and what James Davison Hunter calls “parallel institutions.”  Those are all good and great and I’ve invested myself in them.  But the folks at Q are not interested in transforming Grand Rapids, MI or Orange City, IA.  They are at work as entrepreneurs and players in Manhattan and DC, the Bay Area and Seattle.  They’re not building parallel institutions, they’re inhabiting elite institutions and founding new ventures.  And it is just this energy that I find so enriching about this conversation.

So I think the alternative response is to resource this emerging conversation from the deep wells of Reformed and Kuyperian reflection.  Sure, maybe we’ve been thinking about this stuff for a century: well then, let’s see this development as an answer to prayer, an opportunity for us to break out of our midwest parochial bubbles.  Let’s join this conversation as theoretical servants and intellectual deacons, willing to come alonside and help while also learning from a new generation who knows not Dooyeweerd.  The common good is at stake.


Editors’ Note
With this post, Jamie Smith concludes his run with The Twelve. We thank Jamie for his contributions in these early months of the blog. Watch for his upcoming book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, a sequel to Desiring the Kingdom, due out from Baker Academic in November.

The Twelve is also pleased to announce our newest member, Jennifer Holberg, an English professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a contributing editor to Perspectives. Welcome, Jennifer! Watch for her first post in two weeks.


  • Tom Oosterhuis says:

    Thanks for introducing us to some more wonderful letters of the alphabet, Jamie. What you write resonates deeply with my experience as a campus minister for the Christian Reformed Church on a "secular" campus. Working in that context, while at the same time supporting The Kings University College, gave me very much the sense that my whole task was to be a way of representing God, and at the same time discovering God at work in marvelous ways at the University of Alberta. I benefitted from King's and am very convinced that organizations like Christian Schools and Colleges, and CPJ, APJ, can all function as resources for those who are immersed in the faultlines of our culture. Parallel structures, functioning in that way, avoid becoming isolated, and greenhouse can still become a way of being equipped for "immersion" in the exposed life.
    Enjoy reading your stuff.

  • Bob Robinson says:

    Jamie, It was good to meet you at Q. Long time fan.
    AMEN to this: They are at work as entrepreneurs and players in Manhattan and DC, the Bay Area and Seattle. They're not building parallel institutions, they're inhabiting elite institutions and founding new ventures. And it is just this energy that I find so enriching about this conversation.
    Until you wrote that, I had a hard time articulating how this Kuyperian vision is going beyond the normal neo-Calvinist modus operandi. It seems to me that we are seeing a fresh movement of the Spirit, and I'm glad to participate in it.

  • Jamie-
    This is encouraging stuff to read as a soon-to-be DC resident. Glad you were able to participate in this gathering and pass along these highlights.

    Our recent interchange notwithstanding, I appreciate your thoughts and work, and as partners in the kingdom effort, we need the kind of encouragement/kick-in-the-pants you write of here.


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