Big Tent Christianity – Synchroblog

That’s right, it’s a word: synchroblog.  This week is the Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog where bloggers are all writing and commenting on a theme.  This is from their website:

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?
It’s our hope that this Synchroblog will jumpstart a new national conversation about what a “big tent Christianity” might look like and how we can build a roadmap together to get there. We hope you’ll be a part of this invigorating conversation!

So that’s that.  My friend over at Everyday Theology asked me to contribute something for his blog, but I’m going to use it here as well.  Hoping to write more throughout the week and dialogue a bit!

What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you?

When I hear the phrase, “Big Tent Christianity”, I think of my conviction to nonviolence several years ago.

Since I’ve committed myself to abstain from physical violence, I’ve found myself growing in other varieties of nonviolence.  I’m tired of fighting.  I’m tired of fighting intellectual fights.  I’m tired of fighting theological fights.  I’m tired of fighting about the Bible.  I’m tired of fighting about the definition of marriage.  I’m tired of fighting about who is or is not going to heaven and hell (or if there even IS a heaven and hell).  I’m tired of fighting about any and all political issues, and what Jesus has to say about them.

In no way does this mean I don’t have opinions in any of these areas.  But I want to hold these opinions in a way that leaves aggressiveness towards differing opinions behind.  If my theology, politics, thoughts about Scripture and social ideas are valid, then I don’t need to tear down other ideas to maintain that validity.  Everyone else doesn’t need to be wrong.

Big Tent Christianity welcomes varying ideas and opinions, and lets our decisions on these matters, even matters I may consider critical, stand on their practiced merits.  It says that the Jesus we follow is bigger than any ideas about Jesus we could formulate and express.

Big Tent Christianity means a recognition that the only way to convince someone of my views is to walk with them for the long haul, sharing grace, patience, success, and failure.

The Gospel is erupting into the tired, crusted shell of death and destruction we find in the world.  It’s bringing forth new life and love in some remarkable ways.  Sometimes it’s hard to see.  But I’m desperate for it.  I know my city is, too.

Maybe it’s hard to see because we’ve put on blinders.  Maybe we should look at a bigger picture.  Maybe we should cast a wider net.  Maybe the places we’d least expect it are precisely the places God is budding new life.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”


~ by Joe Paparone on August 9, 2010.

11 Responses to “Big Tent Christianity – Synchroblog”

  1. Interesting concept of maintaining our opinions without engaging in fights. Is this a total avoidance of fights or do you avoid selective fights? In other words is there anything you’d fight for?

    • Great question. It’s tricky because part of what I’d like to get at is a removal of violence-language altogether. So I would avoid saying there are things I’d ‘fight’ for…but there are certainly things I’d stand for, other things I’d oppose. Those are still kind of combative terms…but I’m still working on it.

      If our language causes us to think differently (I think it does) than moving away from violent, battle language and metaphors may help move the conversation to a different level, one where grace and relationship are possible. I think our current American, hyper-polarized political climate really hinders this. Check out “The Argument Culture” by Deborah Tannen (I know you have so much extra time to read right now 🙂 for a much better analysis of how our use of language impacts our attitudes and abilities to work with others.

      There are of course, extreme circumstances, and I’ll be honest in that I’m still working out how to address those. For instance, I thoroughly oppose and stand against the hatred from Westboro Baptist (the “God hates Fags”, military funeral protesting group). Their views are repulsive to me, and I want to refute and resist them in every possible way. But I don’t want to do it by demonizing them as individuals. As horrible as I think their practices are, they are still created in the image of God and Jesus died for them. When we start ‘fighting’ or even using battle-infused language, the inevitable tendency is to reduce the opponent to something less than human, something that can be destroyed without remorse. But I think God’s justice calls us all to restoration and reconciliation, not simple punishment.

      Hope that helps a little. I may use your question as the core for a longer post in the future, if you don’t mind. Thanks for asking!

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  7. 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.

    • Thanks for asking this question! I see how nonviolence and peacemaking could appear like a tangential or even irrelevant issue, but I think the lack of a robust ethic of practical forgiveness and reconciliation is at least one of the biggest factors impeding the church from effectively addressing the common and daunting issues facing humanity. How are we to begin to love and serve our neighbors when our witness is compromised by such disunity in the Body? (Unity being something Jesus specifically prayed for!) Rather than practicing enemy-love, as Jesus instructed, we’re often seen pointing our fingers at other professing Christians. Pick any issue and Christians can fight about it. That’s a common tendency of humanity. What the world could use is a group of people who, despite all opposition, seek peace and reconciliation on all levels. I think a Big Tent Christianity COULD be a model for this.

      There’s a lot more to go into about this, let me know if that clarifies anything or if you have any other questions. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. I appreciate your reply, I sent the following to the event organizers, we’ll see what happens.



    Hi Trip, Steve, and Justin,

    I have a skeptical, questioning attitude – doubting Thomas – trust but verify – fits. I appreciate such an attitude in others. I do not have a need to liked, particularly, and do not much appreciate being judged on “likeability” – I really do not “like” people when they use that criteria in evaluating others’ actions relevant to our common lives.

    I have attended a good number of religion-themed conferences over the years. Too often, in my experience, they are too much “of, by and for” Christian religious professionals to market their schick to advance their professional interests, without an essential focus to the common good or facts on ground on planet earth as we find them.

    My theology starts with “why did God create man and place him on planet earth?” My answer is that God created mankind as His creation-caring for creatures on planet earth, responsible for caring for and developing it as its steward, with responsibilities for it, other men, and other inhabitants of the planet, while enjoying a positive relationship with God, other humans and creation.

    I think this answer provides a better starting point for BTX and transforming theology, because it does not distinguish between Christians and others in God’s reasons for creating mankind, fits with the biblical account, tradition, reason, and gets us Christians more focused on the common and daunting issues facing mankind. It does not directly conflict with current answers in most catechisms either.

    I think this answer is consistent with the purpose of Transforming Theology, informed as it is Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” and “John Cobb’s Challenge.”

    I am disappointed that the speaker’s list does not appear to include Christians who are not religious professionals, but who are, even at great personal and professional cost, actually “transforming theology” in their public spheres of influence.

    I suggest that you encourage all attendees to read “Transforming Theology,” “Everything Must Change,” “the Cobb Challenge,” and other things you think most relevant to “transforming Christian theology – for church and society” because BTX is not final objective, it is a means to ascertaining and advancing God’s will on earth, in 2010, relative to why He created us in first place, as well as Great Commission, Jesus’ witness and work, tradition, experience, reason, etc.

    Please hold me to that standard in my efforts to “transform theology” in my profession of engineering – am I prodding Christian engineers, Christian religious professionals, and others to address basic questions about God’s will for the engineering profession and its Christian members in 2010 and foreseeable future? If my tactics bore you, I think you should find it more troubling that Christian religious professionals have not, to this point, addressed such issues with any rigor. It’s not that the stakes are insignificant.

    I do not need to spend the time/money to attend BTX and will not attend if you prefer me to stay away. But I think you need some people like me to bring hard questions, grounded in empirical fact, to the majority, if not large majority, of attendees- Christian religious professionals.

    Your co-worker in His vineyard,

    Joe Carson, PE
    President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers
    Knoxville, TN

    PS when I made my hotel reservation at the conference hotel today, I was told the rate quoted on website for a room with king-sized bed, $89, was wrong and that it was $98

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