My own personal Jesus

It’s the American way of religion (I’m not willing to actually call it Christianity), having your own personal Jesus. He’s whoever you want him to be, ready when you are, your own frozen, ready-to-microwave savior. That is what we’ve preached for years, isn’t it? “For God so loved you …?”

How about this one: God loves you so much that if you were the only sinner on Earth, Jesus would have died for you. Is that so? Not that God would have let you burn, but do you think perhaps He’d have a different plan for “individual” issues?

Sometime in the last month or so I got this little e-mail newsletter from CT / Leadership Journal with a link to an article by a theology professor named John Suk, from their Out of Ur blog, on this very issue. His main assertion is that the language of a personalized religion is actually using the language of secularization, and as a result we are making Jesus less like God and more like us. He asks:

Is this possible? Do many Christians have a personal relationship not so much with Jesus, but with something in their heads, with something that they’re comfortable with, a social construction driven by their need to go easy on themselves?

Ouch. However, if the shoe fits…

One of the results of the emphasis on our own personal Jesus is that it all too often gives way to our own personal disappointments, when our own personal genie-in-a-bottle won’t give us all of our 3 wishes. Do you know people who have “lost faith” for this very reason? I do. Not that this is the main reason to question the American personal-pan Christianity; the main reason is that the Bible doesn’t actually support this perspective.

Caveat: I am not poo-pooing any notion of a personal, individual aspect to Christianity. That would be stupid. What I am trying to get across in this series of “personal” posts is that any understanding of the personal aspect of Christianity must be first seen in the context of the universal, covenantal, corporate nature of Christianity.

There are, in fact, very important personal aspects to Christianity, which were, at best, marginalized during the “state-church” eras, as well as in many of the established churches during the 1st half of the 20th Century. Certainly the “personal” evangelical movement was helpful in reestablishing some of these things, but as is often the case, the result has been error to the opposite extreme, in part, I think, because it removed the personal aspect from the broader, covenantal nature of the church & theology.

Next I’ll try to put some of the personal aspects of faith in context, so stay tuned …

4 thoughts on “My own personal Jesus”

  1. Lynn, It seems to me (at the moment, anyway) to be more of an issue of interpreting the Bible through different philosophical lenses, rather than what the Bible itself says. From a modern, existential viewpoint, Romans 10:10 (“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified…”) takes on a highly personalized meaning, that no doubt is different from how the Early Church or the Reformers read and applied it.

    I just thought of the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the future of Sodom… Lot’s future sons-in-law were invited to be saved, but they turned it down. However, if they would have joined Lot, would they have been saved because of God’s offer (which was because of his promise to Abraham), or because of their “personal” decision?

    Robert Webber, in “The Divine Embrace” (which I’ve been discussing on the blog recently), points out that it’s not so much that there is no individual experience (which of course there is), but that the focus today has shifted from an emphasis on what Christ did (dying for the sins of the whole world) to a reliance on our own faith to secure that justification.

    Thanks for the comment – I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts.

  2. I too have been wondering about the “If I had been the only one…” aspect. I have been …hummm…”fighting” the, “It is my own personal relationship with Jesus that is most important” apect in my congregations for several yeas now. Several years now. I had thought the comment (which one presenter used in a service recently) had to have some Biblical basis but I can’t find any difinitive scripture to point to. Can you point me in the general direction?
    L

  3. Somehow the individual element of relationship with God must be folded into the corporate without compromising either. Christianity is not a erasure of individuality (I hope). Yet I find it hard to reconcile the notion of Biblical individuality with Western individualism.

    I look forward to your exploration of the personal “in context.” Do you do windows too?

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