Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Big Tent Christianity

Next month, there is a conference called Big Tent Christianity occurring in North Carolina (no, I don't have enough money to go :) ). I'm participating in part of a synchroblog as a part of that conference. The theme for the synchroblog 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?

When I hear "big tent Christianity," I think back to Archbishop of Split (Spalato) Marco Antonio de Dominis' phrase, "in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity." There's a few ways that is translated, but this is the essence of the quote.

I think this should be a motto for all Christians in dealing with others. There are essential ideas in which we should be unified. However, I think there are really only a few absolute essentials (i.e. God exists and Jesus is our Savior) that truly define Christianity. Much else truly are nonessentials. Not that there are not absolutes, but we also cannot know them all because of the fallibility of humanity. And even when we do, they are not salvific issues (in my opinion). We need to be able to accept differences in opinion about these issues. We may need separate communities because differences of opinion can definitely impact the way a community operates. However, as a friend of mine recently said, we need to remember that we're all on the same team.

The most important part of that quote to me is the last part: "in all things charity." Even the essentials should be questioned in order to make sure they are valid and in order for people to truly understand them. Further, we are all in different places in the journey of understanding and faith. We need to have grace for each other (and ourselves) in that process.

However, I think a big part of charity is not having arrogance. We need to not instantly question the validity of each other's faith because of disagreements (even over essentials). One of the things I've discovered is that a lot of disagreeing parties are not as different as they think. They problems occur because they use different language, so they are not communicating clearly.

Christianity should be a place where people can explore themselves, God, and Truth in a safe place. That  necessitates charity. It's a hard thing to do, and no one will do it perfectly, but I'd like to see that happen more and more.


  1. I like your quote as an idea for a Christian motto. We should strive to know God to the best of our ability, while we do this we need to have love for our brothers and sisters with differing points of view. We should do all things in Love.

  2. 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.

  3. @jpcarson,

    The purpose of the synchroblog was to get varying perspective of the definition of "Big Tent Christianity." This is what it means to me.

    My perspective, I believe, actually does address the issues you mention, as without unity, those issues will continue to get worse.

    Finally, I believe what I wrote echoes what is listed on the BTX homepage:

    "Why “Big Tent Christianity”?

    Numerous battles in the past produced the large number of denominations and separate churches within American Christianity today. Some of these battles were important. But many of the old battlelines no longer speak to Christians today, especially to the youth. Indeed, our divisions are driving some folks away from the church altogether.

    In the old days revival tents were set up outside towns and cities across the South. The people of God would join together for celebration, community, and revival. The revival tent was a sign of Christian unity and Christian renewal — the ongoing and active work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

    What would happen if Christians came together from across the South to proclaim what unites us as followers of Jesus Christ and as His disciples in this modern world? Some two dozen leading Christian speakers from around the country will be assembling in Raleigh for this event. They will share with you new and innovative forms of church-based ministry and renewal — new ways of being and becoming the church. And they will inspire you with their vision for how we can speak even more powerfully in and to the world of the 21st century.

    Join us to celebrate the blessed tie that binds. Join us to celebrate “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Join us to celebrate what God’s Spirit is doing in and through the Church today!"

  4. 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 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:



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