Perhaps Changing Times Calls for New Structures
One thing that is going unstated in all of the efforts of the faithful to define themselves as evangelical, progressive, liberal, conservative, emergent, etc. is that all of our accustomed institutions as we know them took shape in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Our religious and educational systems have not really changed since the 19th century. In that formation, they were well suited for equipping the populace for conformity, duty, and factory work. As society has changed, and is still in the process of changing, our institutions have not really kept pace.
I think that part of what we are experiencing is that we are living in a vortex of change and it is not really clear how institutions will arise to meet the needs of our society. I for one see the importance of preserving the “mainline Protestant witness” as well as the “Evangelical witness” as well as the historical “liturgical witness” to how Christianity is to be lived out in the world. How all of that will happen will probably not play out the way any of us envision, but it is vital that we keep trying, each in our own way, to flesh out this faith that has been deposited.
I have a hunch that we will see new ways of passing on our religious/spiritual values. The growing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” and who glean their spirituality from a variety of sources, may give us a clue as to what structures may serve us better in the future. Will we see more enclaves, teaching communities, and online sources while seeing fewer traditional houses of worship?
Our generation may see nothing more than change, disruption and turmoil until society comes up with institutions or structures – educational, political, and religious – that that are more congruent with 21st century life and understanding. These will be the interesting times. The settled times, the new age, the future hope for a society that works, may lie on the other side of the vortex. Though we cannot yet see what that will be, we must at least find a way to pass the torch to a new generation.