Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reframing a Relevant Faith

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my book, Reframing a Relevant Faith. You can purchase the book from the publisher at http://direct.energion.co/reframing-a-relevant-faith or through Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Reframing-Relevant-Faith-Drew-Smith/dp/1631991213/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418159944&sr=1-1&keywords=reframing+a+relevant+faith. An e-version is also available at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=reframing%20a%20relevant%20faith%20kindle.
The title of this book, Reframing a Relevant Faith, was developed with great intention.  As intelligent humans who are constantly receiving messages and signals through various mediums and experiences, we process these messages through our own frames of reference.  These frames of reference are formed by our own histories, our own cultures, and our own beliefs, whether religious or not. In terms of religious beliefs, many people use religion as the primary way to understand life. Theology is always formulated in context, whether the theology that is shaped is formal or personal. While the Bible and our Christian traditions have significant influence on shaping our theology, our experience will eventually play a major part in what we develop as our theology. This may happen on a personal level when one experiences something good or something tragic that alters his or her understanding of God and life. But it can also take place on a wider scale.
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, but only after we have re-framed it to our own world and our own experiences. This means that we must take seriously the texts of the Bible, the creeds and confessions of the church, and the historic theology and liturgy of our Christian heritage. But it 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 and liturgy of our Christian heritage were stone tablets. We have to re-frame these in order that theology becomes relevant for every context. 
This may not be an easy process, and it is certainly not a willy-nilly method. Moreover, we may hold out as long as we can before we embrace such change and re-frame our understanding. Indeed, those who are fundamentalists are called this for the very reason that they do not accept these changes to their fundamental understandings about the Christian faith, and thus they will refuse to re-frame religious beliefs, choosing instead to hold on to what they see as revealed and unchangeable truth. Yet, even those who identify themselves as liberal have their own traditional beliefs that will be difficult for them to reframe.
But those who do embrace this change, whether joyfully or reluctantly, must somehow re-frame their understandings of their beliefs about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith to fit their own context.  Re-framing can mean minor adjustments to what we believe about our faith, or it can be 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 re-framing our faith, we may not completely throw out the old in order to make room for the new.
This book is my attempt to re-frame how we think about the central ideas of Christian faith and practice as a result of the cultural and religious changes of our modern world. In a sense, what is contained in this book, at least to some extent, is how I understand progressive Christianity. My proposals in part or in total are not exhaustive interpretations of progressive Christianity; they are merely my contributions to what I perceive as a growing conversation about the meaning of progressive Christianity and the future vitality of this movement.
As I stated above, if the church is to do more than survive the current and inevitable changes that are occurring and to remain relevant in the midst of these shifts, then we must re-think and re-frame Christian belief and practice. Therefore, in the chapters that follow, I will discuss how we might rethink the Bible, Jesus, and the life and mission of the Church. By stating that we should rethink these Christian tenets, I am not suggesting that any of these are outdated, or that any of these important theological ideas should be thrown out. Indeed, what we believe about these is vitally important to Christian identity; without any of these we cease to be Christian. Nor, am I suggesting that my ideas will be accepted by all. I am not so bold as to claim to have definitive ideas on these topics. My reason, indeed, my hope, for writing this book is to contribute to the ongoing conversation about Christian faith as it is shaped by the beliefs and practices of changing Christians living in a changing world. I also hope to engage believers from all persuasions in this ongoing conversation.
While I am trained in biblical scholarship, I have not written this book primarily for scholarly consumption. Theology and theological thinking are not owned by the academy. I do believe that many Christians have mistakenly rejected the work of very fine academic scholars and theologians, believing that somehow because they work in the academic world, they are focused on deconstructing the Christian faith to make it seem untrue or illegitimate. Simply rejecting ideas about the Bible and theology just because they are formulated in an academic setting seems ill-informed at best. Indeed, our reading of the Bible and our understanding of church history and theology will be much better informed if we pay attention to what scholars and theologians are saying.
But most theology and theological thinking takes place within churches at the grass roots level, and scholars who dismiss this reality are only fooling themselves. Thus, I seek to be in dialogue with both sides of the conversations, but especially those taking place at the grassroots level. Yet, as one who holds a Ph.D. in New Testament, and one who has been trained in history, biblical studies, philosophy, and theology, I also seek to provoke a deeper theological thinking from these churches. Too many Christians do not want to put the intellectual effort into thinking about faith, and this is a problem that must be remedied. I hope that this book is my small contribution toward calling Christians to think seriously and critically about their faith.
I have written this book not only as a book to be read by individuals, but also one that I hope will be used in groups. Indeed, reading this book in community may bring great dialogue about the issues raised here. Theological thinking and faithful discipleship does not happen when individuals uncritically consume information. Rather, good theological thinking happens in conversations between persons who think different and who come together from different back grounds to pursue questions. Thinking, discussing, and debating issues and ideas in community leads to more faithful churches that seek to follow Christ in authentic discipleship.
My hope is that this book causes folks to think critically about their faith. Therefore, to this end, I have provided questions at the end of each chapter that I hope will spur on critical thinking and good conversations. Moreover, I hope that these questions will lead to both individuals and groups creating more questions. The pursuit of truth is always an endless pursuit, and this often requires new ways of thinking. Or, as St. John of the Cross stated, “To come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not.”[1]
To take this journey we must continue to ask probing and sometimes uncomfortable questions. Such questions, perhaps uncomfortable, and maybe even frightening to ask, can help to lead us down the never-ending path of pursuing the truth. May we continually ask such questions about our faith, individually and together, in an effort to reframe a relevant faith.

          John of the Cross, The Ascent to Joy. Marc Foley, ed. (New City Press, 2002), p.68.

No comments: