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July 13, 2005

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Clarence Jordan, who worked at unifying blacks and whites during the civil rights era on a farm in Georgia, was in a conversation with his brother. The just of the conversation was that his brother "admired" Jesus. He followed him up to the cross but it stopped there.

Do you think this "personal relationship" is way to individualized? Shouldn't a healthy view of eccleisa combat this "personal relationship" to a "communal relationship?"

"Do you think this 'personal relationship' is way to individualized? Shouldn't a healthy view of eccleisa combat this 'personal relationship' to a 'communal relationship?'"

clark - I would probably say 'yes' on both accounts. The over-individualization of our faith under the reign of modernity and its apparent continuation (and further growth?) under postmodernity has been and continues to be far more subversive than we likely realize.

Great post!

Too often the term "personal relationship with Jesus" (a term, I confess, I have no idea what it means) is used as a way of by-passing any accountability within a faith community. It is also used to beat people with.

kgp

Very true, but...
Both religion and relationship can become idolatrous. I think most of the time, when people talk about rejecting religion and embracing Jesus, they are using rhetorical shorthand - not really speaking about the depth and breadth of religion at all, but the dogmatic rules and totalizing claims of bad faith. I think you are right that it is important not to abandon the word "religion," though - especially in light of a soft, individualistic evangelicalism that comes creeping in around the edges, trying to woo "post-Christians" with what amounts to repackaged "personal Lord and Savior" language.

Dave -- that's an interesting thought... that both religion and relationship are capable of becoming idolatrous. I'd enjoy hearing a little more about how you see that working.

I've often seen the "personal" Lord and Savior message as somewhat paradoxical -- i.e. being both constructive and destructive in terms of biblical faith.

Heck yes. Extremely well-said. I've wondered how long (in microseconds) it takes people to see through the "Christianity isn't a religion" nonsense. Excellent thoughts.

By the way, I blogged about the phrase "personal relationship" in Jan and had similar feelings.

Justin - thanks for the encouragement... and the link to your blog post. lesleymac's comment seemed to be hitting the same point I was making:

"I’ve always had this niggling feeling that all of this “personal relationship with God” talk is 99% perpetuated by people who don’t dare admit that they don’t have an inside line with God."

Thanks again for pointing us there.

Chris - I think religion becomes idolatrous when it stops pointing beyond itself - you know, the old "God in the box" cliche. As important as I think doctrine is - and it is important - whenever we begin thinking that our theology can somehow delineate God's boundaries, we carve idols not out of wood or stone but out of air and words. Plenty of Christians would say that you are not Christian unless you use the phrase "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior." That seems to be religion pointing to itself (its rituals, texts, social discourses) instead of to a mysterious, ineffable God. If these particular phrases or practices confer salvation, then I'd call that an idolatry of religion.

Of course, I think just about anything, taken too far, can become idolatrous - and anyone can dispute what "too far" means.

I'm with you on people not understanding what religion actually is. I think any time we watch televised sports we are being religious in the great tradition of the Geeks and Aztecs.

I think it was Karl Barth who famously commented that Christianity is not a religion, at least in the sense that every other system of belief in the world is. He said religions by their nature lead people away from God, while Christianity by its nature does exactly the opposite.

I intend no offense here, my dear brothers and sisters, but much of what I read here strikes me as reaction to modern evangelicalism.

(It's been a while since I've commented, Chris, so please tell everyone I'm not a rabid fundamentalist!)

Hey everyone -- Daniel's not a rabid fundamentalist.

Daniel, when you said: "much of what I read here strikes me as reaction to modern evangelicalism" -- it reminded me of what I had asserted: " Religion, in it's most basic vernacular meaning, conveys much more than what many 'spiritual' charlatans (most of whom are frustrated fundamentalists and evangelicals) demeaningly suggest."

My hunch is that you and I probably see pretty much eye-to-eye on this whole thing. I appreciated the Barth quote - thanks! Apart from his rejection of the term "religion" in reference to Christianity, he was asserting the profound difference between Christianity and the other "religions" of the world.

Language is tricky, isn't it? And I suppose that by entering the "religion-relationship" fray, I must also live within the paradoxes of linguistic meaning. Ahhh, but such is the stuff of life! (And the inspiration for this blog)

QUOTED:
"Plenty of Christians would say that you are not Christian unless you use the phrase "accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior." That seems to be religion pointing to itself (its rituals, texts, social discourses) instead of to a mysterious, ineffable God. If these particular phrases or practices confer salvation, then I'd call that an idolatry of religion."

Dave, I think I hear where you're coming from, but I'm not sure I entirely agree. "Accepting Christ..." clearly points to Jesus (in addition to following a man-made formulation). Because of that, I don't believe we can label it ipso facto "idolatry."

"You must complete our confirmation course and be baptized (in our church)" -- something like this seems much more troubling to me in what I think is your line of reasoning.

We're probably closer to agreement than I'm seeing. Can you tell me a little more about why you think this phrase/requirement is idolatrous?

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