Big Tent and C. S. Lewis (and more)

I’ll be part of the Big Tent Christianity gathering this week in Raleigh, NC … A friend sent this note relating the big tent approach to CS Lewis:

I was thinking this morning about CS Lewis. On the one hand Marcus Borg has identified the progression of ‘conservative’ to ‘liberal’ ideas in Lewis’s thought. But that is not what I feel drawn to. Even if Lewis is the uber conservative armchair theologian that so many love and admire – his personal practice is what I am drawn to.
We tend to prop Lewis up as some sort of modern day St. Paul – dramatic conversion, prolific writer on faith etc. We also tout that he was in a writing group with JRR Tolkien. Both these men – Tolkien and Lewis -were defenders of Orthodox faith in their own way. BUT….we forget to take a look at the larger conversation they were a part of. The Inklings had more than just Lewis an Tolkien. It also consisted of people like Dorothy Sayers known for challenging Lewis on his thinking in women, Charles Williams who was influenced by sorcery and secret societies as much as he was by the Christian mystics and Owen Barfield – whose daughter Lucy was the inspiration for Lucy in the ‘Narnia’ books – was a lay philosopher whose work has greatly influenced many in the ’emerging cosmology’ conversation and who himself was influenced by mystic and philosopher Rudolph Steiner.
My point is not that Lewis agreed with all these men or that they did not have sometimes severe disagreements of perspective, theology and application. My point is that Lewis participated in a space of feast and drink in which he and his friends gathered to hear each other, debate each other and…in the end….love each other.
It was a big tent approach.

Another “big tent” question … A reader writes:

I’ve read both ANKoC and AGO, and like a lot of others, I am grateful to you for saying out loud what I’ve been thinking. I’m writing because the Big Tent event you wrote about the other day suggested a question that has been on my mind for a while. The event’s website specifically mentioned bringing together Christians ranging “from Pat Robertson to Bishop Spong.” The problem is, I honestly don’t think I have anything in common with Pat Robertson. I am fine with putting aside doctrinal and theological differences and embracing a common mission of love, but I don’t think Robertson is coming from a place of love. I just don’t feel like we’re playing for the same team (and I know others feel the same about Bishop Spong).
This is a big question for me because I’m considering going into ministry in a large mainline denomination that has members from across the various ideological and theological spectrums. How can we stand against hatred and still include people with hateful ideas in our tent?

Thanks for your question. Let’s put Pat R aside for a minute, and just speak in general terms …
If a previously closed-minded person begins to get sick of their closed-minded ways and wants to be part of something more magnanimous, we want to be sure to make room for them. The fact is, a lot of us used to be a lot more closed-minded and unloving than we are now … Interestingly, this is the story of Saul of Tarsus in the New Testament. He was one of the most hateful religious bigots around, and he actually turned around. I can’t give details for obvious reasons, but you’d be surprised who I’ve heard from over the last few years … people you wouldn’t expect telling me they’re rethinking things and appreciative of the work I and others are doing. So I try to never consider anybody a lost cause … you know?
Over the last few years, I’ve had some hateful people show up to some of my events specifically to interrupt, disrupt, and cause trouble. I haven’t always handled it as well as I wish, but I think that even when people show up with less than helpful motives, it gives the rest of us a chance to learn to creatively respond.