Thursday, August 12, 2010

Living Under the Big Tent --Christianity that is!

In my last post I entered the synchro-blog conversation about Big Tent Christianity.  In that post I lifted up the premise of Christian unity, one that has been with the church from the earliest days.  Even though Jesus is pictured calling for unity (John 17) and Paul and his successors urge it, unity has never been a reality that has been easy to live out in practice.  It seems as if we humans like to split off and do our own thing.  Christianity has, as is true of most social and religious forces, been driven by centrifugal forces rather than centripetal ones.  It is no wonder that political forces have felt it necessary to tame these forces with coercive laws -- whether it's Constantine, Justinian, or Elizabeth I.

So, how do we live together under the Big Tent?  Philip Clayton has noted the presence of two ever more distant poles that are driving religious life.  Of course these forces aren't just driving the church, they're driving society in general -- see the current political scene.

The image of a big tent is helpful, however.  Consider that a big tent is centered on a main center pole.  If we are to live together under a Big Tent, we'll need that center pole.  John Locke, who proposed a model of toleration for 17th/18th century Britain, suggested a minimalist creed.  My tradition, the Disciples, followed that lead and suggested that our creed by that of Peter --  "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:16).  To follow this lead suggests that we embrace a common faith (trust) in the person of Jesus, who reveals to us the way and purpose of God.  Of course that simple creed leaves a lot of room for debate/discussion -- but is it enough?  No Trinity there (although that concept isn't fully developed in the New Testament).  No atonement theories either or even sacramental ones).  So what makes for a sufficient pole?  Is Peter's confession sufficient for us to live under the same big tent?  

6 comments:

Glenn said...

I think Peter's confession is an excellent center pole for Big Tent Christianity. It allows for both liberal and conservative interpretations of the terms Christ and Son of God. I think the bigger question is whether or not that pole will be able to withstand the stress put on it by the varying understandings, both conservative and progressive, of the meaning of salvation and the tolerance that we show towards other viewpoints. (He said having adjusted his helmet and strapped on a flak jacket)

Brian said...

I find helpful Thomas Campbell's idea that Christianity is already unified, we just don't get it yet. Of course, he comes from a Calvinist point of view.

The reason I find this helpful is because without this thought, working for unity would be exhausting....and bordering on pointless. But if God is the one who determines such matters, then I'm simply choosing to live into what God has already done.

David Mc said...

I noticed you added, -"Christianity that is!".

Shouldn't the center pole be the God of Abraham (even God the father if you prefer) Himself? Such a move might prove very interesting. I've seen tents with 3 central poles by the way. Blasphemy or love of neighbor? It's getting to the point where some Christian churches and their standard rhetoric look alien and wrong to each other anyway. How about a God of Love church to distinguish it from the hateful, vengeful version?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Glenn, you raise a good question. It would seem that for the pole to stand upright, it will have to find balance on the ropes to the side.

David, although there are a variety of ways of approaching it, for a big tent Christianity to work there must be at some point a confession of Christ to be the unique principle of the faith. We share the God of Abraham at the very least with Judaism and I would add Islam.

Brian, I'm not sure how Calvinist Campbell was, but he did affirm it as a given -- as did Paul. The question is, will we live it out?

David Mc said...

We should never forget we are all one. I like to think including everyone is not thinking outside the box. Especially in our "ponderings". I ponder less on narrow sectarian stuff.

Brian said...

Bob - I won't side-track too much, but I recall reading in a source that seemed credible at the time (not remembering what it was) that Thomas Campbell went to his grave a 5 point Calvinist. Where he differed, was that he didn't think it mattered if others were Calvinist. (Ironically, being faithful to Calvinism!)

Of course, I could be wrong. You're the historian, but I do recall reading this from a source that seemed reliable at the time.

Anyhoo -- I know this isn't the point so I'll stop talking about it now. :-)