The idea that being conservative is incompatible with being progressive, or vice-versa, is a terribly unfortunate, false dichotomy. At their best, conservation and progression go together, for conservation without progression eventually produces too much rigidity and stability, whereas progression without conservation eventually produces too much fluidity and instability. Pursuing either extreme, sooner or later, leads to polarization, breakdown, and extinction.
The figure of Jesus provides a model for Christians (and anyone else who’s interested, for that matter) of being simultaneously conservative and progressive. To those who accused him of being anti-traditional, Jesus said, “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” And yet, it is also written, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Indeed, the God revealed in Christ proclaims, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
How do we make sense of these apparent contradictions between preserving the old and pursuing the new? By recognizing that Jesus was not simply “conservative” and not simply “progressive” (and that anyone who would conveniently box him into “their side” is most likely missing half of the story). Because it turns out Jesus was simultaneously both conservative and progressive. In other words, Jesus was not just a defender of old traditions (conservation without progression) or a revolutionary who entirely rejects things of the past (progression without conservation). Rather, he is a human model of the creative process that mediates between the old and the new. The result of creatively mediating between the old and the new, of dying and rising again and again and again, is ongoing transformation and revitalization—a stable process of adaptation that is needed for sustainable thriving and flourishing.
And interestingly enough, followers of Christ are neither called to be staunch defenders of tradition nor reckless revolutionaries, but to imitate and emulate the third-way example given by Christ in their own lives. In other words, Christians are not meant to only identify with the old or only identify with the new, but to actively identify with the process that creatively mediates between the old and the new. Christians, at their best, are therefore called to participate in the transformative process of dying and rising, of bringing the past into the future, of continual updating and adapting for the purpose of making all things new!
If you think doing this sounds hard, you’re right: it is hard! But it is the only sustainable way. And it can only be done by simultaneously being conservative and progressive, like Christ, and thereby healing our partisan divisions while continually transforming our world in the process.