Noll's book is helpful for giving contemporary believers, who tend to be fairly static in their view of the faith, a larger vision of the work of Christ and the progress of His Kingdom throughout the world. Whereas in some places of the world - such as our own country - it may seem the light of the Gospel is growing dim, in fact, when considered from a worldwide perspective, the faith of Christ is stronger, more far-flung, and healthier than it has ever been. We need such reminders of this lest the blinders our own culture imposes on us should cause us to think that now is the time to circle the wagons and hope for the best.
It isn't, and it never is. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is advancing all over the world, and it advances especially effectively, Mark Noll points out, when Christians remember just a few fundamental things, the most important of which is, "Christianity has to be local or it can barely be called Christianity." That is, Christianity, while it announces universal truths and a universal spiritual Kingdom, is so glorious and adaptive that it can readily take root in any social and cultural situation, take up forms and elements with which (because of common grace) it finds certain ready affinities, and then begin the work of transforming people, cultures, and societies according to universal truths and verities, but in ways that do not cause those people, cultures, and societies to lose their unique heritage or distinctives.
In other words, Christianity in East Africa, or South Korea, or Central China, or Western Loudoun County, VA, will be clearly and immediately recognizable as Christianity, rather than some other form of religious belief. At the same time, the forms and elements by which the faith of believers in these different areas comes to expression will be unique to each culture and place, and altogether appropriate as expressions of the faith of Christ in those cultures and places.
Which challenges me to think about how this applies to my own life, in my own home, neighborhood, and community, alongside believers from churches throughout my local area. I'm reminded of Mel Gibson's advice to his young sons as they were about to ambush a platoon of British soldiers: "Remember what I taught you about shooting: Aim small, miss small." Are the believers in Western Loudoun County thinking about how the faith of Jesus should transform our community? Or are we all too busy trying to emulate the latest mega-church gimmick, keep our church in line with denominational trends or mandates, perpetuate the status quo, or realize some microscopic vision of personal peace and wellbeing? Shouldn't we be thinking about how the faith of Jesus might turn our community upside-down with Kingdom power and blessings? And shouldn't we be aiming small together - aiming to bring saving grace, truth, and power to the people of our local area, according to their needs and concerns?
I'll be thinking more about this in days to come and hope to have some progress to report in due course.
T. M. Moore