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?