I am really enjoying the ideas that are being put forth as part of the Big Tent synchroblog. I think that one of the things I am noticing is that there continues to be one thing lacking in all of our posts, a center. It seems that each of us would say “Jesus” is the center. But, which Jesus? Alan and Deb Hirsch in their text Untamed do a great job of pointing out that our understanding of who Jesus is determines what we believe about God. It is here that I think we find either our center or the point at which the Big Tent falls.

For us to truly be a Big Tent we must find the good and the redemptive in each of the positions that are being voiced. There are too many voices that make it feel as though to enter the tent you must set aside your tradition and set aside your understanding of the faith. Yet, this not the way that the first Big Tent worked itself out. We must realize that we are blazing new ground. We are simply rehashing the same issues that have faced the church since the beginning: What do we make of the stranger? For the first century church this had everything to do with what to do with the Gentile convert.

The answer was: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)“ Paul was simply admonished to “remember the poor”, which was the very thing he sought to do. The table was opened. There was freedom to approach God as male and female, Jew and Gentile, and so forth. Today we are still free to approach our God as fundamentalist, neo-reformed, reformed, orthodox, liberal, neo-liberal, emergent, etc… The question is will we embrace a consistent picture of Jesus?

I would suggest that this is the pen-ultimate question. Who is Jesus? Can we agree on an answer? Is it possible to listen to one another’s perspectives and find the baby in the bath water in each?

I appreciate the motto of the tradition that I belong to, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Of course this requires a definition of what is essential. The bigger the tent the larger the stakes required to secure that tent and keep it up. Here’s my minimal effort at a “Big Tent” list of essentials:

  1. Jesus is the real representation of God and in him alone we find the clearest expression of who God is.
  2. The atonement in all its facets is central to our understanding of identity and mission for the follower of Jesus.
  3. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the essential grounds for our knowledge of Jesus and his way.
  4. The mission of the Church is to follow Jesus as king in his kingdom building movement in all of its ramifications.

Personally, I ascribe to the Westminster Confession with a couple of exceptions. I also prefer the slightly more robust essentials statement of the EPC. However, I think those four statements might allow for a symphony of harmonious voices to engage together.

What say you? What are the essentials for a Big Tent Christianity?