Of course, the "fires and chairs and meals" are Lewis's description of the second tier, the separate ecclesial traditions. And they are wonderful places to hang out. The main hall is "mere Christianity," the Great Tradition, which is common to all. This view allows Christians to agree on the essentials but cling to their differences, with humility and charity. We can put our foot down on mere Christianity, the classic, consensual tradition of the gospel, but at the same time hold to our particular traditions as important but less certain than the first tier.

 

When we become more humble in our beliefs, we are willing to see that our own denominations or traditions do not have a corner on all truth, and we become more open to dialogue with other traditions. We might find that we are sometimes wrong and the different perspective will correct our error. But even where we are right, the dialogue can improve, sharpen and enliven our perspective and give nuance to our understandings.

 

 

As I am writing this section of the book, I am sitting in the Four Seasons hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, listening in as a group of journalists from around the world discuss the problem of fact and rumor. The majority of the fifty journalists are Christians, many from less economically developed parts of the world. The theme of the conference is "truth and rumor": what it means for a journalist to report the facts, the real story, in a world that is overrun by rumor, urban legend and conspiracy theory. As one Muslim speaker said, the Islamic world is awash in conspiracy theory, mostly condemning Israel and America. Though some of the theories are funny, they are taken seriously in the Middle East.

 

 

As he recounted some of the outrageous conspiracy theories, people laughed. But it was a nervous laugh, knowing that terrorist bombs had recently gone off in Turkey and that five former soldiers were watching the door. As we ate dinner that night, I was sitting at a table that included journalists from Uganda, India, Philippines, Slovenia and the United States. They were Christians from different traditions, ranging from Anglican to Methodist to nondenominational. I was the only Presbyterian. It seemed every journalist had a story of political persecution, struggle for justice and the lack of freedom of the press in their country. They were excited to be together, and the conversation went on for hours.

 

 

Two journalists from Slovakia had their own TV show and weekly magazine. We kidded them about being celebrities. We shared the kind of laughter old friends are capable of. But we had just met. There was a bond of Christian fellowship. In the middle of the conversation I mentioned this chapter to them. I asked them, in light of the dangerous world they lived in, whether what we had in common as Christians outweighed our differences. "Without a doubt," one of them said. "On the front lines, all Christians are our brothers and sisters." I reflected on the fact that each morning of the conference this diverse group of journalists gathered for a devotional, including singing and a small sermon. It is amazing to see unity in action.

 

Here were Christians from around the world, with a myriad of backgrounds and traditions, joining together each morning for worship of God Most high. Differences in traditions and theological perspectives were put aside to worship. It is not that the differences don't matter, but they are not as important as our commonality—the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the rebirth of orthodoxy Tom Oden speaks of. After worshiping our Creator and Redeemer together, we got back to the business of the day, learning how to cover and combat a movement that persecutes Christians and threatens the peace and stability of the world. When it came to worship we put aside our differences. When it came to fighting a common enemy that is killing Christians, we rallied together to look for solutions. There was trust in the room. These journalists clearly had each other's backs. Did it mean that differences were not discussed? No. I had multiple conversations with these journalists about not only what holds us together but also what separates us doctrinally. It was wonderful.