A. What We Study
(A) A theological frame is about beliefs. Understanding what a congregation is seeking to do in the world means paying attention to what they say about what they believe. This might be in a mission statement or an official creed, for example.
(B) Beliefs are also expressed in sermons and children’s lessons and in the statements that youth or new converts make when they seek to become full-fledged members.
(C) There isn’t a single set of beliefs against which to measure any congregation, so theological checklists won’t help. Each congregation (and each member) is likely to have a slightly difference experience.
(D) Nevertheless, there are likely some deeply-shared guiding beliefs about who God is, how people should relate to each other, and what humanity is meant to be.
(E) Actions may speak as loudly as words. The activities to which the congregation is most tenaciously attached may say more than the official mission statement.
(F) Careful patient observation and listening is critical, especially if we want to discern any underlying tensions and differences.
B. How We Study
(A) Observing a congregation through a theological frame means a commitment to the importance and wellbeing of human lives and human communities. In fact, research is itself a form of deep listening, a way of acknowledging the sacred worth in what (and who) we study.
(B) A theological frame requires a willingness to listen to the voices of ordinary people, to take their experience of God seriously. Deep listening with ordinary people can raise critical questions and enrich our understanding of the theologies we already hold.
(C) Immersion in ordinary life is what Christian theology means by ”incarnation.” Walking the streets and byways of today’s world – either physically, virtually, or through research data – is a faithful practice in the life of a Christian. Learning to be a faithful observer along the way is a discipline worth cultivating.
C. Why We Study
(A) Theologians can learn from the wisdom of those who are living the faith.
(B) Religious leaders who hope to help shape communities that live faithfully in the world need to understand where and how those communities find God.
(C) We may discover ideas that are holding people back, but we may also discover deep commitments that can mobilize and sustain faithful living.