A college campus. Large-group Bible study. Programming organized by the denominational staff. These are just a few of the new aspects of Big Tent, meeting today through Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
A new location
Over 700 Presbyterians are gathering on the campus of the University of Tennessee for Big Tent. Many are sleeping in dorm rooms and eating in the college cafeteria for the first time since their own college years. All are trying to keep cool in temperatures over 90 degrees.
Believing education to be part of Presbyterian DNA, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said hosting Big Tent on a college campus will support attendees’ desires to learn while also practicing good financial stewardship. Conference planners said they hope the conference location will serve as “a great reunion of our faith family,” with opportunities for fellowship and learning.
A new creation
“Is the church dying?”
Big Tent started with worship, with this question raised early in the sermon by Jana Childers, dean, vice president for academic affairs and professor of homiletics and speech at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
“We are all trying so hard not to die… and we have already died,” claimed Childers. So, is the church dying? No – because we have already died; death has already happened to believers and to the church, she said, because one has died for all – and now all believers and the church are a new creation. Childers said this new creation moves beyond talk of death and instead looks like a community able to act against its own self-interest. A new creation can have conversations about race. A new creation can “Live Missionally,” the tagline of the theme of this Big Tent. Because we are in Christ, Childers stressed, the church is a new creation.
A new study
Another new venture is large-group Bible study led by Kang-Yup Na, associate professor at Westminster College. Focusing on Luke 15, the study called “The Lost and Found of Missional Living” looks at Scripture in depth.
Na looked at the three parables in Luke 15 (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost sons) and asked attendees to consider it anew. He asked: What would happen if the text was read without verse numbers or headers? How can readers fall into the text to read Luke in new ways?
Because each person is conditioned to experience the world in a specific way, the Bible is read through the lens of dominant cultural conditioning, he said. And yet, God is always doing a new thing, he stressed: a new creation; a new Jerusalem; a new interpretation; a new heaven and a new earth. It’s time, he said, for Christians to read Luke with a new understanding.