Monday, August 22, 2005

Christianity American Style: Overemphasizing a Personal Relationship with Jesus?

Reflecting on Mark Noll's Wall Street Journal article about the best-selling novella, Dinner with a Complete Stranger, Christianity Today's Ted Olsen asks if we're overemphasizing a "personal relationship" with Jesus.

Noll asks:

So why does a popular book like "Dinner"--as well as so much popular American Christianity--feature a personal relationship with God so prominently? The answer probably lies in the adaptive character of the Christian faith. Students of world-wide Christianity have noted that in every region where Christianity takes root it has adjusted to the values of local culture.
Olsen notes:
Noll's article is indicative of what seems to be a growing concern among evangelicals (at least evangelical academics and theologians) that the movement has not spent enough energy and effort understanding and describing a theology of the church (ecclesiology).
Talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus is so deeply entrenched in evangelical discourse that calling it into question may strike us as sacrosanct. But hopefully we're willing to ask, along with Noll, whether this emphasis is due more to an attempt to be biblically faithful or to the imbibing of American cultural values (e.g., individualism).

In one sense, the idea of needing to come to Christ in order to have a personal relationship with God is misleading. Every person stands in a relationship with God. Coming to Christ changes the nature of that relationship from one of condemned criminals before a just judge to that of pardoned and accepted sinners graciously adopted into a nurturing family. So, the critical question as far as the gospel is concerned, is not so much whether one has a personal relationship with God but rather what kind of relationship one has.

1 comment:

read with open eyes said...

I have wondered, too, about why a "personal relationship with God through Christ" has become the predominant way to express the Gospel. "Relationship with God" doesn't appear in the Bible, but neither does "Trinity." Both are shorthand for a larger body of words that are in the Bible. One difference between them is that "trinity" is a shorthand commonly used within the Christian community, while "relationship with God" is commonly used toward nonchristians.