Personal Relationship? Unity with God? All of the Above.

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, ...
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Last post, I grappled with the reality that the idea of a personal relationship with Christ is a very modern formulation.  Yet it is considered fundamentally important to we evangelical Christians.  These 2 facts create a dilemna.  Why did it take us so long to get this idea?  What happened to the millions of Christians who never heard the phrase “a personal relationship with Christ.”

I think there is a solution to the dilemna.  It is this:

Christians before 1900 or so did not need the idea of a personal relationship with Christ.  Modern, western Christians, however, do.

We often talk about how individualistic our society is.  Our culture has (for better or worse) valued the idea of a personality to the point that we have built whole sciences around understanding personality.  Today, it almost goes with out saying: every person is unique, special, and worthy.   Our uniquenesses, (i.e. our personalities) are fundamentally tied into our special-ness.

Five hundred years ago, (heck, to some extent, fifty years ago) the individual was not the fundamental social unit.  Differences were sometimes tolerated and other times obliterated.  The collection of things that made a person unique was not nearly as important as how they fit into the larger society.

My point is not that one of these views is right and the other is wrong.  These are such fundamental concepts I think it would be next to impossible to divorce ourselves from our context enough to rationally argue either one.  I don’t actually think even the bible itself gets us very far in settling these disputes.  For every verse about how loved each individual person is, there is another verse which stresses the importance of our unity in Christ.

Whatever else it would mean about the way we view the world, these differences would certainly impact how we saw the true purpose of worship, spiritual discipline, and the Christian life.  Those of us who see personality as fundamentally important would proclaim that personality itself is the place where meet Jesus.

The midevil tradition is much more steeped in the idea that our final goal is to be (in some sense) absorded by God; our personality diminished or even obliterated.  This sounds terrifying and hellacious to us, in 2011.  And I think this terror goes a long way to demonstrating my point.

I don’t think it’s accurate to say that we’ve made an idol of personality.  That’s an overstatement.  We certainly do, however, value personality in a way that our forefathers did not.  As a result, our visions of what we’re headed for seek to keep our personality in tact.

There are of course, probably, much more than 2 views on this issue.  I’m not setting out to list all these.  Rather, I’m suggesting that ideas are always crude approximations of the full reality of God.  As time goes by, and our way of seeing the world changes, and therefore the way we approximate God’s nature changes to.

In the end, the truth we experience will transcend all of our silly little ways of looking at this.  We will be right, and we will be wrong, just as the thinkers of past ages, were both right and wrong.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

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.

7 thoughts on “Personal Relationship? Unity with God? All of the Above.”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Don’t you think that prior to the age of enlightenment and really right up until the mid-nineteenth century, that (for most people) God was integrated into every facet of their lives?

    It is only in the modern age that humanity has separated itself so much from the Lord, and in our post-modern world relativism is distancing us even further.

    I think we have to take the example of the past (integrating God into every aspect of our lives) and combine it with our new way of living.The world is wondrous, scientific, and much smaller than it used to be (with technology i.e. you and I chatting right now) – but God is still the master creator that brought order out of chaos – we need to embrace Christ in our lives now – to help us out of the chaos of our lives today…

    best & blessings, Alexis

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    1. Hi Alexis:
      I think that you are right, that once upon a time God was much more integretated into the fabric of our lives.
      I also think you’re right to recognize modernity as the cause of this tendency toward categorizing things in seperate little boxes.
      However, Im not sure that I agree with what you say about “post modern relativism.” I think it depends what you mean. I believe that post modernism, while it brings with it new risks, dangers, and tendencies in need of correction, also has the potential to rescue off from a different set of risks, dangers, etc. (Most of them brought about by modernity.)
      (Post Modernism is sometimes painted with a broad brush as if it is the same thing as believing there is no right or wrong. For the record, I believe that their is an ultimate right or wrong; but I also believed that the fall and my limited human nature give me lots of reasons to be unsure about my ability fully grasp right and wrong. Therefore, I ought to be humble and seek out God in all things to confirm my assumptions.)

      I think you’re exactly right to want to look for the best of the past ways of doing things and to take the best of where we are at today.

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      1. Hi Jeff,

        We are definitely on the same page here. In response to my meaning on Relativism, I mean exactly what you wrote in the parenthesis on – the idea that “I’m okay, You’re ok” or “You do it your way, I’ll do it mine” or “We’re both right” really do not always fly…

        Not that I am a hard line fundamentalist or right winger (or left winger) for that matter- but there certainly are times and subjects that are definitive.

        best & blessings, Alexis

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  2. Hi Jeff,
    I hadn’t ever really thought about this before, and now that you have stirred my thoughts on this, I’m not sure I want to think about it now, only because thinking along these lines opens the proverbial can of worms i.e. what else have we intentionally or unintentionally added to, or for that matter taken away from the scripture. My desire is for truth…I don’t know if I have it in me to learn Hebrew, Greek or any other languages. There are other concepts I struggle with already, such as “it’s a Free Gift” Theology that seems to mislead at the least and completely deceive in a worse case scenario. Sorry I started us off in other directions.

    I believe your right in that our cultural shift has certainly placed us in a position of irreconcilable differences but divorce is not really an option. The question hanging in the air is in light of these truths how then do react and in what way will it shape how we think about God and our relationship to Him?

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    1. Hi John!
      Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t see it as dire as you seem to. Because I think that there is no way around cultural baggage. I think every cultural group in the bible has viewed God through the cultural lense they inherited. I don’t believe that there is anything new in the fact that we don’t see God directly. (You might even say that for now, in this life, we see things as through a mirror dimly…)
      I think it’s wise, to the best of our ability, to try and uncover our cultural tendencies. I think the importance of a personal relationship with Christ is one of these doctrine, which arose because our socialization created a need for it. The socialization of somebody 200 years ago, typically would not have created a need for it. The socialization of somebody 200 years from now most likely won’t create a need for this particular doctrine.
      But these people, from 1811 or 2211 will probably need other extra-biblical ideas in order to bring clarity to ideas which in fact do appear in the bible. I think it’s important to stress that extra-biblical is not the same as anti-biblical: we could never expect a lie will bring us closer to the Truth of scripture.
      As to the question of what we should do: (which was perhaps rhetorical but I’ll take a stab anyway) I think that what we do is what Christians have always done. Pray for the Holy Spirits guidance in understanding these difficult things. Work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Do this in community, knowing that God probably just as work in our neighbor as he is in us, take seriously the findings of the cloud of witnesses that came before us, expose ourselves to ideas we might be challenged by.

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      1. Several years ago I had something profound happen, over the course of more than a year the spirit drew me to himself in ways I had never experienced before. At the height of this experience I was spending multiple hours in prayer and communion daily out in the woods. At that time it was made known to me that this was only for a season and then I would be sent out. The single most important thing that I sense I took with me from that time was a different perspective. My spiritual life changed dramatically at that point, one of the ways it did was I ask a lot more questions. I never used to ask questions, at least not because I wanted to know my Lord better.

        I will say this, many of the ideals I held previously have changed and will probably continue to change as I grow older (and hopefully as my faith grows deeper), so I look forward to having challenges to what I
        believe and why. Thanks Jeff

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