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Is a New Christian Reformation Underway?

February 23, 2011

A few weeks ago I raised the question of how big the original Christian tent was. It’s a complex but crucial one for everyone who considers himself or herself Christian.  The question is even more critical for those who are concerned with making their view of the Christian tent larger and inclusive of more kinds of followers of Jesus.  

At this point, I feel I should clarify my own stance in relation to Christianity and the “big tent” concept.  First, if I am to re-insert myself (after a good 15 years “away”–check my bio) into some involvement with Christian churches or institutions, it can only be with those who pursue broadness, openness, inclusiveness, interfaith respect, etc.  There are too many factors involved to go into it further right now… I will be elaborating as time goes on.   As to potentially identifying again as “Christian” in some sense, I don’t seek a label, or feel I have to fit in closely with any particular community, but I do want to lend my efforts to the cause of continually “reforming” Christian faith to higher levels of positive function in society and for its followers. 

With all the problems of “faith” or “religion,” neither is about to disappear, regardless how much human consciousness may rise to a kind of “transreligious” spirituality (which I also see in process).   On balance, religion seems to contribute more than it detracts from universal human aspirations and individuals’ as well as societies’ ability to reach them. 

That being said, my intention is to work with religion (and particularly Christianity, as my original affiliation) rather than against it.  There is no question religions, and the sects within them, evolve–and generally in a direction of greater maturity that increases their love quotient and other valuable elements. 

In this evolution is there perhaps a “punctuated equilibrium” in which there are particular periods of more rapid and deep re-formation? Perhaps also a movement toward greater unity and harmony among widely diverse Christian groups? Phyllis Tickle in The Great Emergence points out that there may be a pattern of major changes within Christianity every 500 years or so.  The last two largely involved splintering, and particularly the “Protestant Reformation” of the 1500s multiplied Christian sects.  Could it be that our situation in history, and present conditions, may mean some reversal of this trend–toward greater unity or at least cooperative efforts and mutual respect among Christian groups? I do see signs in this direction.

 Tickle’s book gives some recent history of what has been happening in segments of the Christian Church, particularly what has come to be known as the “Emerging” or “Emergent” Church (the formal name “Emergent” or “Emergent Village” comes from the British branch).  It is this loose grouping of believers with mostly Evangelical (or conservative Protestant) roots and sentiments which is one active party in the new Big Tent Christianity effort.  The other major party is again a loose coalition of Progressive (mostly mainline Protestant) Christians who are actually so open and interested in cooperation and mutual understanding (not true of all “liberals”) that they want to be at least in dialog with their more conservative counterparts.   I have posted earlier on my attendance at the second event of Big Tent Christianity, just 2 weeks ago in Phoenix.   

If I read the sentiments there, and the sense of momentum correctly, I do think it was an indication that indeed we may be seeing the early stages of a significant new reformation of Christianity.   Perhaps it will be one that will lead to greater unity and real advances in mutual understanding and more broad, effective application of the ethical, humanitarian and spiritual teachings of Jesus.

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