A Brief Theology of Place

When have you experienced a significant time of spiritual growth? Who did God use to teach, encourage, or mentor you during this period of spiritual growth? These are relatively easy questions to answer for most folks. But now take that a step further. What were the locations in which you experienced spiritual growth, the places in which you were challenged, taught, encouraged, or mentored. This is probably a harder question for you to answer. The concept of “place” is a big deal in the Bible but often overlooked when we think about our spiritual lives. Our sense of place will only become more important as our society bends more and more into the touch screens we keep in our pockets and purses.

Think for a moment about the theology of place in the biblical story.

  • God creates Eden, a perfect place for Adam and Eve to flourish.
  • Sin mars Adam, Eve, and the world in which they live, forcing them to leave Eden, leaving them to rebuild their lives in a fallen world.
  • God continues to meet with his people, growing in focus, from pillar and cloud to tabernacle, and finally culminating in the temple, the location of God’s communion with man.
  • Enemies repeatedly destroy the temple as God’s people lose their sense of place as a consequence of their continued faithlessness toward God.
  • Jesus come and fulfills the concept of place, where God and man meet, where God’s grace and truth are on display.
  • Jesus, the location of God’s blessing and communion with man, is focused in local churches during the New Testament era as he pours out his Holy Spirit.
  • One day Jesus will return and take his people to be with him in a new heavens and new earth where Christians will finally be home, marked by eternal, perfect fellowship with God forever.

In each of these points, place of crucial importance. And place finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In that way, Jesus is the geographic location of God’s blessed and favorable communion with man. It is in this way that wherever Christians gather, Jesus is with them. So this brings us to the question: How then should we use place? Given our overview, brief as it is, of place above the simple answer is that place is intended to bring glory to God by highlighting the glory of Jesus. That means that your home, your office, your car, wherever you are—these are locations that we are to use as stewards. We want to “use” our homes, worship spaces, and vacation spots to glorify God. We want to exercise Christian hospitality as a way to invite people into “place” to hear about Christ and his gospel. What a privilege we have to know that Christ, by his grace, will never leave us or forsake us. What an opportunity to know that when we invite people to be with us, we are also inviting them to be with Christ.

So I encourage you to make a little place audit. How are you using your “places” to invite people into relationship with you and your God. How are you using “places” as stewards of the presence of Christ in the world? How are you serving on Sunday morning to ensure our worship place exudes the grace and love of Christ?

Don’t neglect the value and opportunities that place affords you.