It's a curious phrase:
The scandal of particularity.
Some may see this as an expression of technical theology and thus irrelevant. But in fact, there's no more important concept, no more important question than this because it's entirely about Jesus. And it calls us all—believer and unbeliever alike—to decide just how important He is. Because it does this, it influences our every word, our every ministry, our every relationship.
The most pressing theological issue of our day revolves around the person of Jesus and the question of His singular uniqueness, power, and relevance. Just how special and how particular is Jesus? The question becomes even more important when we grasp how post-modern, post-Christian expectations and values forge ever-new images of Jesus so relativized and plastic that He is anything but unique, anything but particular.
Our age and culture routinely re-mold Him to bear any message, affirm any ethic, exemplify any political perspective, and model any lifestyle. Our post-Christian culture knows little more than an anemic Jesus, kind but irrelevant, interesting but not fascinating, good but not uniquely so, and thus a Jesus that may be casually acknowledged even as He is simultaneously brushed aside. He's been made one among many, a subjective value and optional influence, probably superfluous, possibly meaningless, but certainly not necessary in this world of shinning alternatives. Sadly, such perspectives have come to characterize not only the culture but the church, leaving the latter without a message and the former without a Savior.
The Church today must continually strive to know, proclaim, and defend a different perspective. It must have a different passion. It must hold fast to the singular uniqueness of Jesus and live ever deeper into the reality of His grace, love, presence, and power. The disciple’s first task is to intimately know the Lord—His heart, His will, His work, His Word—and make Him known to a world and even a Church confused by an array of impostors and false portrayals. Time for prayer, study, Scripture, worship, and reflection are the necessary first step of the Christian life. But personal piety or relationship with God is the beginning, not the end. For in this confused world, the Church has been called and empowered to show that Jesus is the unique center of God’s saving work and why and how this is so. Our culture is desperately yearning for authentic and meaningful life.
To proclaim, explain, and exhibit the fullness of life lavished upon us in Jesus remains the singular response to the world’s questions and confusion.
These cultural realities and the mission field in which we exist require the Church to creatively approach ministry and mission even while zealously affirming, proclaiming, and living its ancient faith. This requires deep faith and deep understanding of both the Lord of faith and the culture over which He exists as Lord. Our work then, above all else, is to build disciples who genuinely know God and are unashamedly bound to Him. It's to train disciples of such spiritual, intellectual, and moral integrity that the kingdom of God becomes visibly real to a world that is confused and lost. It's to raise up believers with an uncommon passion for Jesus.
Our love for Jesus and creative labor to share His wonders with our world touch every element of the Church’s life and witness. Our work as the Church is to shape worship that's God honoring and faithful even as it's relevant and transforming. Our work is to provide opportunities for service that manifest the life and power of God in and through believers awed by His holy grace and compelled by His gracious call. Our work is to build disciples who know God and yearn to make Him real and known to all. Our calling is the joyous—if difficult—gift of intimacy with God that provides our unbelieving age evidence of the wonders and joys of God as He splashes from hearts filled with His life and presence and shaped in the image of Jesus.
In short, our work, life, and message must joyously proclaim the singular uniqueness of Jesus. He is the single answer, the only hope, the particular cure of all human ills and needs. And while this word is scandalous in our age, it remains the faith of the church and the only word we ultimately have to proclaim.
Rev. Dr. Mark Patterson is the lead pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Ventura, CA.