The 21st-century world is in constant flux. The advances in technology, the continuing spread of globalization, the uprisings in the Arab world, and the growing interaction between diverse cultures present our modern world with continuous and unstoppable change.
We can either try to halt such rapid change, or we can invest our energy into reframing our lives to fit within this change.
Religion and the values derived from it are feeling the weight of these significant cultural, technological and global shifts.
Author Phyllis Tickle has called what Christianity is currently experiencing “The Great Emergence.” She likens the current shift to the Protestant Reformation.
Time will tell whether we are experiencing something akin to the Reformation, but the Christian faith is certainly going through noteworthy challenges and adjustments.
At the moment, a growing grassroots Christianity has become more open and progressive in its understanding of belief and practice. Much of this movement may have some of its roots in the theological battles that have engrossed various Christian traditions over the last few decades.
Many of these progressive Christians, like me, have become weary of these schisms, seeing them as distracting the church from its authentic mission in the world.
Moreover, many Christians who have embraced the progressive label are beginning to understand the importance of working with others for the common good of the world, regardless of religious affiliation or no religious affiliation. These progressives are no longer buying sectarian views of the world.
As intelligent beings who are constantly receiving messages and signals through various experiences, we process these messages through our own frames of reference. These frames of reference are formed by our own histories, cultures and beliefs, whether religious or not.
But in terms of religious beliefs, many people use religion as their primary way to understand life. This is not in itself a bad thing, but it can present challenges to people whose religious perspectives are confronted by the flux in our world.
If the church is to remain relevant in the midst of these shifts, then people of faith must rethink and reframe Christian belief and practice.
I am not suggesting that all Christian beliefs are outdated, although some are. Nor am I saying that some of these important theological ideas should be thrown out, although some should.
Indeed, what we confess about our faith is vitally important to Christian identity; without beliefs we cease to be Christian.
But theology is always formulated in context, whether that theology is shaped as formal or personal. While the Bible and our Christian traditions have significant influence on shaping our theology, our experiences will play a major part in what we develop as our theology.
This means that the theology that has been passed down from generation to generation, whether based on the Bible or tradition, or some combination of both, becomes ours only after we have reframed it to our own world and through our own experiences.
Therefore, to be progressive means that we must take seriously the texts of the Bible, the creeds and confessions of the church, and the historic theology of our Christian heritage.
To ignore or discard them completely will result in the loss of Christian identity.
But to be progressive also means that we need not transfer all of this to our own context as if the Bible, the creeds and confessions, and the historic theology of our Christian heritage are stone tablets.
We have to reframe these in order that Christian theology becomes relevant for every context.
This may not be an easy process, and it is certainly not a willy-nilly method. Moreover, some Christians will hold out as long as they can before embracing such change.
Indeed, those who are fundamentalists are called this because they generally do not accept changes to their fundamental understandings about the Christian faith. Fundamentalists will refuse to reframe religious beliefs, choosing instead to hold on to what they see as revealed and unchangeable truth.
But those who do embrace this change must reframe their understandings of their beliefs about God, the Bible and the Christian faith to fit their own context. Reframing can mean minor adjustments to what we believe about our faith, or it can bring about major paradigm shifts in the way we think and believe.
This is not a haphazard or insincere approach to theology and faith, for we must remain in dialogue with the Scriptures and the traditions that have been passed on to us.
In reframing our faith, we are not completely throwing out the old in order to make room for the new.
“The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery,” said Harold Wilson, British prime minister in the 1960s and 1970s. The statement is apropos to the church’s place in a world of change.
The church can remain a stagnant institution, leading to irrelevancy in the changing world. Or progressives can continue to lead the charge of reframing the Christian faith in order to remain authentically relevant to a world in constant flux.
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.