In his writings about the Old Testament prophetic tradition, Walter Bruggemann offers a framework for speaking about the people of God which I think offers quite a bit of theological traction.
In contrast to the universalizing tendencies of empire (in which everything must come into conformity with the imperial narrative, from individual lives to the very way we see our history and our future), Brueggemann describes the people of God as “local tradition.”
This local tradition offers another story of what God is doing in the world, one that fits uncomfortably alongside the imperial narrative.
And yet, while this local tradition is speaking, and singing, and writing poetry about the Lord of all things in heaven and on earth, they also refuse to abandon the messy, embodied, on-the-ground nature of faith in this God and obedience to him.
Such locality is impossible for empire, because it is difficult to control and because it hands power down to communities and neighborhoods that live out a new kingdom-breaking-in sort of life, instead of up to the singular narrative of the powers that be.
This seems like a conception of the people of God that would be incredibly valuable for the Church to reclaim.
The Church as “local tradition.”
Not local because it is disconnected from the rich and beautiful Tradition of Christian faith and practice, but local in the sense that it is always embodying that faith in new ways that challenge the Caesars and Pharaohs of our age, that it encourages us to come alongside those on the margins of empire, and that it speaks the words “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus Saves” to a unique place and time.
So, what do you think? What might it look like for the Church to act as a local tradition?