Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now


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.

14 Responses

  1. […] Christine Sine, “Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now” […]

  2. Hello there,

    I would also love to see the Church acting as a unified force in America. I would love to see us, act as one Light .

    I believe this is a common desire, as Jesus had prayed that we would be one. We are also to be one with the Father, as well.

  3. Fortunately we have the Holy Bible to direct our actions on being Christian….. Jesus wanted a big tent when he gave the great commission in Mt. 28:20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    The diversity comes from including all nations and people through the truth of Jesus’ commands and the apostle’s epistles. This will offend many people and Christians will be persecuted as Jesus told us in the Sermon on the mount.

    • I am sorry but I don’t think diversity does comes from all nations and people being included in the truth of Jesus commands. We are diverse – many cultures, many world views, many different ways of looking at things, whether we are Christians or not. I think that when we only recognize diversity within the body of Christ we truncate the wonderfully multicultural and richly diverse people that God has created all over the world – many of whom may never have heard of Jesus but can certainly teach us a lot about who he is and what it should mean to follow him. In my experience Christians are as often persecuted because they are offend by being unwilling to listen to those who think differently rather than because they are Christians.

      In the sermon on the mount it says “blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” and I think these words need to be considered not only in the light of the rest of the sermon but particularly in the light of the words that come after here quoted from the New Living Translation.
      13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
      14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

  4. I certainly reject the idea that someone who has never heard of Jesus can teach Christians about who Jesus is or can add anything that is not contained in the Bible.

    I have met Christians from many nations and I think we share the same world view and that is a Christian world view based on the truth of the Holy Bible. This is the truth that Paul proclaimed to the men of Athens when he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (ESV). He refuted their belief in false gods and the Bible calls Christian to spread the gospel to the whole world rather than accept their false gods.

    This in no way means I am against the good works and mercy that the gospel calls us to do. I and my church are very much involved in such activity.

    • In the past God spoke through donkeys and pagan kings why not through non Christians? If we have closed minds to the possibility of God speaking to us through all that God has created then we will restrict ourselves to a very small God who looks much more like ourselves than like the omnipotent being that God is.

  5. Christine, I enjoyed reading your thoughts very much. You bring out some points that I really needed to hear. This idea about being a listener and the posture of a learner is a needed challenge.

    I had similar raised eyebrows about the centrist approach – even though I am very excited about moving away from and even bringing healing to the contentiousness and animosity.

    I love your interaction with Selmanovic’s quote. That is a very powerful picture.

    p.s. enjoy the sunshine this week! I hope your garden is well 🙂

  6. Oh – and Jazzy Cat, even if you don’t think that those ‘outside the faith’ can teach us anything about Jesus… they certainly CAN teach us a LOT about the church and how the body of Christ is (and has been) in the world!!

    They are certainly worth listening to.

  7. True. But these are two different entities. Also the body of Christ and the church are different (the body of Christ is made up of true Christians whereas the church is made up of all who claim to be Christian). For example there have been many KKK members who have claimed to be Christian. Jesus spoke about the difference in professing and possessing faith in Mt. 7:21.

    • There are definitely those that call themselves Christians that are not but we are not the ones that are meant to judge. i think that KKK members can be Christians – misguided and hopefully open to the Spirit changing their attitudes and their understanding – but Christians none the less.

  8. […] Christine Sine, “Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now” […]

  9. How is this post and its comments relevant to the central focus of BTX and Transforming Theology – transforming the Church so it can effectively address the common and daunting issues facing humanity?

    Absent keeping this a central focus, BTX is a waste of time, if not worse, given the purpose of Transforming Theology.

  10. Joe,
    Having right theology is not going to transform our world or our churches if we don’t also have right practice and it is my belief that right practice does not begin with thinking that we know everything but with recognizing our need to learn from others whose perspectives are very different from our own

  11. Thanks for participating in the Big Tent Synchroblog.

    I hope you are able to participate in the upcoming synchroblog “Christians and The Immigration Issue”

    Here’s the info:

    CHRISTIANS AND THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE – 9/8/2010 (second Wednesday of the month) As Congress debates how to handle undocumented aliens already within U.S. borders and how to more effectively handle hopeful immigrants in the future, Christians will need to consider what it means to love these new neighbors in our midst.

    Please email your name, name of blog, title of post and link to: Sonja Andrews at synchroblog@gmail.com by close of business CST on 9/7/2010 if you would like to be included in this synchroblog.

    Here’s a link to help keep up with monthly synchroblog themes and dates:

    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=150485758312726&ref=mf

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