Monday with Michael Spencer
From Where’s Jesus?: Thoughts on a Localized Christ
Answering the question “Where can you get your Jesus?” is very important.
Many of the divisions among Christians are actually a commentary on the relationship of the person of Jesus to various means of “accessing” or “localizing” Jesus. In other words, the question “Where is Jesus?” is an extremely important question and the claim to have a certain answer to the question is a matter around which Christians legitimately unite or divide.
On several occasions, Jesus said “I will be with you.” For instance, in Matthew 28, Jesus says “..And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In Matthew 18, Jesus says “…For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” In John 15, in proximity to passages that speak of Jesus going away and sending the Holy Spirit as the “Helper,” Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly to “abide in him” in order that they bear real “fruit.” To abide or remain in Christ implies that Jesus is present. Jesus also spoke of himself as present in those to whom we minister, particularly the poor and the suffering.
How is Jesus, who left the world, present with us in it now? Is this presence of Christ connected to some “means” of accessing the reality of Christ, or is Jesus accessible to all Christians? Is the promise of Jesus to be “with” us tied to a church, or to the eucharist or a person? How localized, incarnated and mediated is Jesus in a particular local and physical reality?
Clearly, the claim of many Christians to have a localized presence and/or experience of Jesus Christ is a claim that cannot be completely ignored. Responding with a counter-set of “localization” claims is natural, but is Biblically pointless.
Think for a minute of the various forms in which Christians hear this claim.
“Our church is the true church. We are the actual body of Christ and we can prove it. Other gatherings of Christians are defective.”
“God shows us at our church every week. Our pastor is anointed with the Spirit and Jesus touches people through him.”
“The worship music at our church is so good. it’s almost like you can reach out and touch Jesus.”
“The essence of what it means to know Christ is contained in our confessions.”
“Come down the aisle and pray at the altar. Jesus is waiting for you.”
“When the Bible speaks, God speaks, and it’s the calling of our pastors to preach the Word of God.”
“In the Eucharist, Jesus is really and truly present.”
“Jesus is available to all persons who believe. To those who have received him as Lord and God, by faith, he is completely and genuinely present at every moment and in all of life. We live “Coram Deo.”
“I reached rock bottom in my drug use, and there was Jesus waiting for me.”
“Jesus spoke to me as I was driving, and he told me that he was very fond of me.”
“When I am serving the meal at the homeless shelter, I know I am feeding Jesus, who meets me in the poor.”
“I believe that Jesus is here tonight, inviting you to walk forward and accept him as your personal savior.”
“When Ben prayed for Grandmother, it was like Jesus was in the hospital room with us.”
“I had a dream and Jesus spoke to me. He told me that I should be a missionary.”
“If you are loving others, Jesus is with you.”
“When I am with Mark, I feel like I’m with Jesus.”
“Are you having a daily quiet time? Jesus is waiting to meet you every morning in that time you spend in the Word and prayer.”
All of us have heard and many of us have used these kinds of expressions that Jesus was present and available. These statements represent different approaches to Christian experience and different theological traditions, some of which reject major aspects of the claims of other traditions.
…How many of us would confess that when we are among some Christians who affirm the presence of Jesus in ways we do not, we are uncomfortable? We have localized Jesus, and we are denying the great truths of the New Testament that Jesus is with us in many different ways. Without denigrating those ways of affirming his presence that Jesus himself instituted, we also should be clear that we have no right to say that Jesus does not manifest himself today in the many diverse ways we find in the language of the New Testament. Even with substantial differences in reading scripture, there is no way to deny the universal presence of Jesus in his church and in the universe that he rules over.
Presenting Christianity as a system of localized appearances of Jesus distorts many things that we want to continually affirm: Jesus as the one mediator, Jesus as the ascended Lord of the universe, Christ who is in the midst of his church and present with all of his people. Maintaining the Biblical balance between “Jesus on the table,” “Jesus in my experience” and “Jesus at the right hand of the Father” is a crucial task for worship leaders, pastors and teachers.
11 thoughts on “Monday with Michael Spencer: Where’s Jesus?”
Perhaps saying he is in or beside me places me at the right hand of the Father. Perhaps it also places me in the unenviable position of table sacrifice. My flesh and my blood to be given. Laying claim to Christ is nothing less than falling “into the hands of the living God” and that is described as, “a fearful thing.” Just as Jesus faced crucifixion, he guarantees that we will face the same if we follow him. Only in relinquishing do we find our seat.
you wrote, this
“So if Jesus is personal and people have different cultures, traditions and upbringing we are going to find him in different ways.”
I can agree with this. Here’s one example:
I remember a controversy I heard about in a Church once where they wanted to remove all the hymns that did not specifically say the name of ‘Jesus’ in them. But then someone spoke up and asked “do we have to abandon ‘Be Thou My Vision’ also?” 🙂 In truth, the lyrics of the hymn may not say the Holy Name of ‘Jesus’ specifically, but Our Lord IS truly the focus of this hymn and is referred to in many ways all through it in the beautiful Irish tradition, where Jesus is believed to be closer to us than our own souls:
Yes, He’s with the refugees. I picture Him comforting the weeping children in the Trump cages who long for their mothers and fathers. Of course He’s with them. He always and ever had compassion on any who were lost and confused and without a shepherd.
–> Michael Spencer: “Maintaining the Biblical balance between ‘Jesus on the table,’ ‘Jesus in my experience’ and ‘Jesus at the right hand of the Father’ is a crucial task for worship leaders, pastors and teachers.”
–> T.S. Gay: “The balance mentioned to me means keeping in perspective three aspects of our faith in Jesus. The sacramental, the mystical, and the historical.”
I was trying to wrap my head around Michael’s line and your paraphrase helped me a lot, T.S. And yes, it is quite the task, which is probably why we humans screw up the balance so often.
Maybe the most important thing to remember is: He is not dead. He’s alive, whether at the table, beside us, or at the right hand of the Father.
> A balance, or perhaps giving justice to
Yes, Justice is a better word than Balance.
And when individuals assert something like this I find Charity easier to give when I remind myself that I do not **need** to make any determination about what they are saying, at least in the vast majority of cases. When I was younger I would have felt the need to test-and-examine; which usually, in the end, profited nothing.
I an going to try to paraphrase Michael Spencer. Why I would do this is a mystery even to me, being blown away by him so many, many times. The balance mentioned to me means keeping in perspective three aspects of our faith in Jesus. The sacramental, the mystical, and the historical. I’ve witnessed each of those presented, being real…..
and confronted, being distorted. A balance, or perhaps giving justice to each without leaving out the others, is a job.
According to the First and Only Chapter in the Book John Barry, these are the answers according to John Barry and they only apply to John Barry as his faith is personal. If you do not agree with John Barry that is okay but I tried to tell everyone.
1. Jesus is the Savior, a personal Savior. Whatever you are, whatever your condition Jesus is your Savior if you accept him in this life. The thief on the cross , the one on the right, found Jesus on the cross, the thief on the left did not find Jesus on the cross because he did not believe him to be what he said he was, Jesus was there for both. Jesus (God) is everywhere including your “heart” f you believe and accept it. If you think works and actions are needed, go ahead it is not going to hurt but the thief just accepted Christ as Savior. Knowing my family history, I may well be ancestor of the thief and will follow his example.
So if Jesus is personal and people have different cultures, traditions and upbringing we are going to find him in different ways. Bottom line is do you accept Jesus as Savior? However you do is not the issue, the issue is that though faith you accept Christ.
This concludes the Book of John Barry. It is not available for sale or reprint and is void where prohibited by law or any other reason. .
There was to be a 2nd Chapter but no one read the first including me so it not needed. I do love the term The Good Book which is reserved for the Good Book.
My question about whether we can meet him in other places if we turn our backs on refugees was rhetorical — yes, we can, because we meet him by grace. But he is there with refugees, and when we turn our backs on them, we turn them on him as well.
> If we turn our backs on him there…
I will play Devil’s Advocate: We turn our back on him all the time, including ways in which we are so culturally armored we cannot even begin to sense our turning – we meet him through Grace.
On the other [third?] hand: If when we meet him and there is not even so much as a mention of those things? Is it him, or a mirror? If the Jesus we meet does nothing but pat us on the back and say “Attaboy!”…. How often did Jesus say: “Now, you! Look at this rich man, he is a mighty fine example of how to use power and privilege”?
One of the ways that Jesus is especially present to us today is in refugees. If we turn our backs on him there, can we expect to meet him at the Eucharist, or in the worship and proclamation of the gathered church, or in our personal devotions and experiences?