It’s common for American Christians to make totalizing (universal, sweeping, overarching) claims about Jesus Christ that are meant to apply to all people of every time and place. You could say that what Americans do with democracy they also do with religion.
I want to make universal claims. I’m an evangelical, after all. So I want to say that Jesus is good news. For everybody. I want to say that Jesus died. On behalf of the world. I want to say faith in Jesus vindicates the believer. Every believer of every time and every place. I think the gospel matters. For every person. I want to say people are sinners.
I could go on and on. But that should be enough for you to see what I mean by “totalizing.”
What I focused on this Sunday (9/14/14 audio and video here) is the locality of Christianity. Ours is a local faith.
If we totalize Christianity across the board (which happens often enough!), we offer a well-defined historically-informed systematically-pleasing viewpoint of God that doesn’t necessarily ever connect right here right now. This approach to Christianity makes me genuinely wonder why God came to earth as Jesus rather than as a theology textbook.
If we localize religion in the sense of looking only right around what is in our present world, we may come up with something but it will not be Christianity. To become connected with Christianity in a locality requires something break into that locality from beyond.
What I am wanting to pull apart and put back together again is the relationship between what is universal and what is local. So from my viewpoint, from where I stand right here right now, from my locality, Jesus (or you might say the gospel) is the universal accepted through faith by Christians in every time and place. Jesus is not local to my locality, isn’t a naturally-occurring part of the natural world around here.
What I’m suggesting is very distinct from the idea that Christianity is simply an overarching principle that floats above where we are. What I’m suggesting is also very distinct from the idea that Jesus Christ can be surmised from the natural world. In contrast, I’m suggesting that Jesus Christ was local and it is only because he “got local” that he can be total or universal in any sense. I am then suggesting that the way the locality of Jesus moves is totalizing or universal (meaning it can happen to any one any where) but always touches down again in local form.
Simply put, I’m suggesting that because Jesus was actually and locally incarnated, because he became the truly-God-truly-human, he has the universal capacity to become present again in this locality in individuals and churches. What I am suggesting is that Christianity or systematic theology or all the accoutrements of religion do not have this universal ability. But Jesus does. So I would sketch it like this: Jesus was local, and by his very locality as God made it possible to become local anywhere. If Jesus Christ is not local in our place, it means quite simply that he is not present in us or in our church.