19 centuries of Christians who didn’t get it?

Image by UK Pictures via Flickr

A personal relationship with Jesus

Coming to know Christ

There’s a few different ways we evangelicals express an important idea.  It might turn out to be our most important idea.

There’s something often pointed out about this.  In truth, it’s a criticism that has some validity.  The thing is, it’s an idea that just doesn’t have any history.

Though our faith is two thousand years old, this “most” important part is less than a hundred years old.  This implies the question, “What about the staggering majority of Christians, who lived for the first 1,900 years?”  Either they were o.k. with out thinking in terms of a personal relationship, in which case, we are left wondering why a personal relationship is so important to us… Or they were terribly lost with out this way of looking at things.  And if they were lost with out this idea, then the gospel was incomplete in Jesus until we came around to unpack it.  The inherent arrogance of such a position is hardly worth spelling out.

Furthermore, in the name of intellectual honesty, we have to be careful.  We have this tendency to want to have our cake and eat it to.  We tend to try and pick and choose what aspects of our faith-history we want to claim ownership for.  On the one hand, we talk about the cloud of saints that came before us.  We think that they were divinely inspired when they reads the bible and inferred doctrine like the trinity (which, strictly speaking, doesn’t appear in the bible itself) and on the other hand, we think that the holy spirit took much longer to lead us to ideas about a personal relationship with Jesus.

If, in fact, the ideas of the trinity and the idea of a personal relationship with Christ were equally important, we had have some explaining to do.  We would owe an account of why one idea figures so prominently in the entire history of Christianity while the other one is a late addition.

And yet, if the idea of a personal relationship with Christ isn’t particularly important, then we could fairly be accused of fixation on a fairly unimportant doctrine.

There is a solution to this dilemna, though.  But this post has gone on long enough.  I think I’ll get to what I see as the answer in the next one.



Published by


The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “19 centuries of Christians who didn’t get it?”

  1. Thanks Clare, for your thoughts. The challenge I’d put to you is this: In 1650, is the fact that is personal seen as the most important thing about it? I suspect (though maybe I’m wrong!) that there aren’t many who saw this as the fundamental thing. In 1650, they might not have disagreed that it was personal, but I don’t believe that most people would have seen this as really important.

    The Quakers are worth applauding for their historical (and contemporary) emphasis on experiencing God directly. But I’m not sure that they are wholly unique. The Catholic mystic tradition, as examplified by folks like St. John of the Cross, or Theresa of Avilka similarly focused on direct experiences of God. But none of them seemed particularly concerned with how this interfaced with their personality so much as the fact that it was a direct experience of the Living God.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s