Andy Griffith and the Return to Local Christianity

It’s been exactly one month since the passing of television icon Andy Griffith, for who one of the most popular television shows of all time was known.  I have been watching a few of the reruns on TVLand over the last couple of weeks.  It’s curious to me how widely popular a show with such a local emphasis became in American culture.  I’m not sure I have ever met anybody that didn’t like it.  Yet life, as depicted by the show, is so different from the way we live.

Now I know we are a culture that is most impressed by grand, all-encompassing movements.  We cite numbers and statistics as if the credibility and truth of something is most realized when lots of people get behind something.  This is what some would even say a democracy like ours looks like.  When lots and lots of people pay attention to something, it must be important.  Maybe that’s even why I noticed the Andy Griffith show in the first place.

I also know that it is out of fashion to consider the local over the national or even the world.  We don’t live in Mayberry anymore.  Technology has provided the means for us to know what is happening all over the world in real-time.  Even I must admit that mostly I think I can tell you more about what is happening in Syria and London for example, and maybe Washington, than I can tell you about my own neighborhood or my own town.  It’s a blessing that the world has gotten smaller.  I like that I can know more about the events on planet earth than my parents or grandparents could have.

The truth is ours is no longer the world of downtown, with places like Floyd’s barbershop or Wally’s Garage.  Most of the places I go to eat or shop are not local.  They are large companies with lots and lots of locations.  I can go in the same store here in my hometown and one across he country, and it will be virtually the same place.  The goal of almost all business is to expand to larger markets offering larger revenue.  I must admit that even this blog is not a local conversation but one that is at least available to a worldwide audience. I am not very locally oriented either.

However, I recently came across a book that raises some questions about theology and how faith should be done when living in a society of mass appeal.  The author, Clemens Sedmak, offers 50 theses about why “Doing Local Theology”  might have some merit in a world that doesn’t do anything locally anymore.

Perhaps most convicting, as a disciple of Jesus, are his observations about how Jesus did theology and perhaps what was important to Jesus about the practice of faith.  By the way, Sedmak’s operating definition of theology according to other theses: “Theology is an invitation to wake up: to be mindful and attentive.  Doing theology is a way of following Jesus.  Theology seeks friendship with Jesus and communion with God...”  Already, perhaps he is leaning away from grand sweeping statements about God and into a more localized reality of God.  It is not academic theology but simple truth.  I almost want to read it with a North Carolina “twang,” like Andy.

According to Clemens Sedmak anyway, this is how Jesus did theology:

1. Jesus’ life is described as a human existence within a certain local culture.  He was rooted in the religious tradition of his time and place.  Jesus’ life is described as a sequence of face-to-face actions on a local (especially rural) level.  Jesus is, however, also described as a person challenging local cultural standards and raising a universal claim.

2. Jesus did theology with authority that was not his.  The basis for Jesus doing theology was his relation with God.  That is why he sought out spaces for prayer and solitude.  He did theology as one sent, and he used this authority to serve God and the people.

3. Jesus was doing theology with common sense.  He invited people to use their own judgment and trusted in the capabilities of human reasoning.  This can be illustrated by the parable of the Good Samaritan.

4. Jesus did “situational theology.”  He had an eye for detail, the small things and the “little people.”  Jesus used occasions to do theology, and he respected the dynamics of particular situations.  We could see this as an invitation to do “leaflet theology” rather than “book-length theology.”

5. Jesus did theology to build up the community.  He called everyone into community, a community that is constantly “on the move.”  Doing theology as Jesus did is a community-building enterprise.

6. Jesus did theology with self-respect and with respect for others; he did theology “as if people matter.”  Healing and feeding, forgiving and teaching formed a unity in Jesus’ way of doing theology.  We can see this feature of Jesus’ way of doing theology as an invitation to theologies that are vulnerable, modest, and a response to people’s questions and needs.

7. Jesus talked about the criteria for good theology.  The most obvious criterion is the criterion of good fruit, but he also saw this fruit coming from modest beginnings.  Jesus taught that the full variety of good fruits came from a variety of sources or ministries (theologies).  Jesus did theology according to the criteria of sustainability, appropriateness, empowerment, and challenge.

I wonder how Christianity might change if theology was done a little more like Jesus did it?  What if the good practice of Christian faith was just standing to talk to our neighbor across the back fence, rather than standing for the next grand sweeping movement of faith?  I wonder how our preoccupation with larger and larger churches, and with nationally known preachers and teachers affects the way we see theology?  Could we do local theology?

I have to admit that a relationship with my neighbors sounds pretty good.  The chance to spend some time on main street USA does too.  I am drawn to a faith that is more about “little people” than grand sweeping ideas.  In a world preoccupied with political power and instant fame, the idea that the world might be transformed by such theology sounds just like Jesus.  Doesn’t it?

To be sure, we are not going back to the days of Mayberry, as if that was real and not just television.  I am aware that Andy Griffith is a fictional character from a fictional time.  However, I do think sometimes television reflects something about us; it communicates the things we value.

I wonder if we might again value a return to the local?  Could we believe in a world in which power was in simple conversations, and applying logic and respect to faith?  Might be build up community again, in small incremental ways rather than grand sweeping movements?

Sounds a little like Andy Griffith...

Sounds even more like Jesus Christ!


  1. I agree that the local conditions are important and should be a part of our theology. Nevertheless, Jesus' area of influence and teaching was limited to a small part of the world. And, unless you believe in the Morman teachings that Jesus also was in the Americas, then local was the only thing he knew. During Jesus' time there were many other religious concepts around in the unknown (at least unknown in Jesus' area) that still are alive today and still carry much influence, not only in their local areas today but in the world. Christianity has also spread its influence to all parts of the world. Religious influence is so easily communicated today that worldly influence over local conditions cannot be easily or should be ignore. Both need to be considered.


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