Thursday, March 30, 2006

Much more than "a personal relationship"

John Suk writes about the shortcomings of the language of "a personal relationship with Jesus" (HT: Out of Ur). One problem is that the language of "personal relationship" is not particularly accurate. Another issue goes deeper:
Ultimately, the phrase "a personal relationship with Jesus," is not found in the Bible. Thus, there is no sustained systematic theological reflection on what the phrase must or most likely means. In fact, people experience the personal presence of God--if that is what they are really experiencing--in a wide variety of idiosyncratic and highly personal ways. Publicly, however, when people say they have a personal relationship with Jesus, it sounds like they are saying they have a relationship characterized by face-time, by talk-time, by touching, by all the things--and especially the intimacy--we usually associate with having a personal relationship with another human being.

As a result, using the language of personal relationship is bound to lead to all sorts of confusion. As a pastor I met more than a few people who experienced doubt, or perhaps anger, because they didn't experience Jesus the way their Christian friends claimed to. Not having felt his presence, or listened to his voice. . . they begin to feel like they don't have what others have. If they continue going to church they may even begin to feel like frauds, because the very frequency and off-hand familiarity with which so many Evangelicals speak of such a relationship creates social pressure to conform, to nod, "yes, I know what you mean," and to act as if such a relationship is their reality too.
Fortunately, Suk goes on to offer the antidote: the language of faith.

Update: Mark Horne offers related thoughts here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, that personal relationship concept can be very difficult to express to unbelievers and believers alike. I think it really can only be understood in terms of faith. I know that God loves me personally in the person of Jesus which is communicated to me (my spirit) via the Holy Spirit.
I know by faith that he hears my prayers (and answers them as well) via the intercession of Christ and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit who communicates even those things I can't verbally express. I could go on and on how my Christian life (ie. personal relationship with Christ) is lived out in faith.

5:20 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for sharing, IH. Peace.

5:50 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Kim said...

I remember when I first became a Christian, and tried to express my faith in that phrase a "personal relationship," I had a difficult time, because the chasm between who I was and who God is seemed far too big to use that phrase.

6:01 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good point, Kim.

7:34 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger SomeGuy said...

Paul stated it best when he wrote... "[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]" Philippians 3:10 (Amp)

11:04 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...


7:58 AM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Wayne Larson said...

I'll never forget the day in one of my NT classes at Covenant Theological Seminary when a student asked our professor how to best describe the status of Judas Iscariot. He said with a wry smile, "He had a personal relationship with Jesus."

9:34 AM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I like it!

12:41 PM, April 01, 2006  
Blogger Mark said...

Kim, while I want to guard against dangers in the "personal relationship" mantra, I also want all believers to know with confidence that God loves them more passionately than they have ever felt for their spouses, parents, or children.

God does personally love us and relate to us.

3:11 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

You make a good point, Mark.

4:53 PM, April 03, 2006  

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