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.