Big Tent Christianity is hosting a synchroblog this week in conjunction with their conference in Raleigh NC in September. The theme is What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? What does it look like in your context? What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?
The question has revolved in my mind for several days now. What are my hopes and dreams for the church? Some of them I know seem rather idealistic. I would love to see a unified church that is working towards the wholeness and completion of God’s new world. But there are other hopes that should be within our reach. My hope is that one day the world will once again look at communities of Christian faith and say “See how they love each other” as historians recorded in the first century.
But what will it take to get us there? The church world seems to be more divided and less filled with love than it ever was. The gap between right and left within the church continues to grow and the hostility between sides grows in response.
To be honest I struggled with the quote from Philip Clayton
[It is] urgent … to reclaim a Big Tent Christianity, a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and action. The two poles are driving each other ever further apart, spawning ever deeper hostilities. The solution — in American society as in the church — certainly is not to let the other’s anger fuel my own. As leaders it’s our task to help break the cycle of anger, of rejection leading to rejection, and to foster a radically different understanding of the heart of Christian faith.”
I don’t think that we are going to get to a community that the world sees as loving and caring by focusing on a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and deed. Now don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe in the need to combine word and deed. This is why I refer to myself as a contemplative activist. And my heart aches with the desire to break the cycle of anger and rejection that permeates the church. But I don’t think we will get there by trying to convert others to our way of thinking and I am not sure that we would produce a healthy and vital church in the process anyway.
What we need I suspect is not more theology but more listening, not more teaching but more receptivity to learning from others, more willingness to accept the viewpoints of others without trying to change their minds. God is a God of diversity. We only need to look around at the incredible diversity of created things to realize that. Why then do we think that God only expects Christians to think in one particular way?
Big Tent Christianity must be inclusive not just of different cultural expressions but of different denominational expressions and even of different faith expressions. In an earlier post I quoted from Samir Selmanovic’s book Its Really All About God.
In Jewish thought and belief, God first provided empty space for life to be created and continues to provide empty spaces in which creation can continue. According to the rabbis of old, one of the ways the creation continues is through spirited conversations in which we are in a disagreement – the highest form of discourse. When we take a stand and pull the argument in our own direction, we create an empty space between us, a possibility for the emergence of a truly new idea, an unexpected solution, a way forward.” (p175)
This to me is what Big Tent Christianity is all about. I love this concept that implies that all humanity in its rich diversity of cultures and worldviews, needs to be included in a conversation that creates rather than destroys, a conversation that moves towards understanding and mutual respect rather than uniformity of belief.
So often we take on ourselves the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit. We have no confidence in the fact that God is working in the hearts of others just as God is working in our own hearts. The Holy Spirit is into transformation. And all of us need transformation. The image of God is present but distorted not just in those who think differently from us. It is present but distorted in us too. All of us need to be transformed.
Amazingly it is often as we rub shoulders with, befriend and interact with others who are very different from ourselves that we learn most about God and the people that God intends us to be. We need people in our midst of different religious perspectives (Christian and non Christian) and cultures so that in the creative tension between us new ideas are created and new understanding of God emerges. A God that is revealed only through our own perspectives is a very small God.
The struggle is that this kind of creative dialogue requires an attitude of humility and a posture of learning. This is a real challenge for all of us who have grown up believing that we have the corner on truth about God and religion.
Western culture has trained us to believe that we are here to teach the world how to believe and how to live. Out of our arrogance we proclaim that our way is the best and only way to live, and in so doing we destroy the love and mutual respect that should be the defining qualities of Christian community.
The pinnacle of success in Big tent Christianity is I believe not to become a teacher but to become a learner, not to become a speaker, but to become a listener. My hope is that one day the world will again know we are Christians by our love and our respect for all human kind.