Why I Question The “Personal Relationship” Paradigm

Is it wise to speak about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It happened to me again just today. An atheist on a message board spoke of me and a friend as saying that we think we know everything because we have a “personal relationship” with God. Had this person bothered to find out what my view is, they would have found out I espouse nothing like that. In fact, I have had many problems with the idea of a personal relationship, and if any one needs to know that’s not a recent innovation, just ask my wife.

Now in a sense, of course we all have some sort of relationship with Jesus, but what kind is it? My contention with the personal relationship talk is that it really lowers God in a sense of making Him not the sovereign king of the universe, but really a friend who is mainly there to help us out in our hard times. What happens when help does not come in those hard times? Well a lot of people feel betrayed. Some friend they had! There are several atheists today who apostasized from the faith starting out this way.

The Christian message really is found in passages like Romans 5:1 where we find that we have peace with God. That means the wrath of God no longer abides on us. It means that we are forgiven. It does not say that you have a two-way dialogue going on between God and yourself. I am constantly amazed that we have so many seminars at churches on how to hear the voice of God when the Bible nowhere gives instructions on how to do such a thing. Besides that, we do have a way to hear the voice of God. It’s Scripture. The difference is that one requires work to study and interpret and for too many people, it’s easier to just look for a shortcut.

This also feeds into our own self-serving “It’s all about me”, mentality. We have a local car dealership in Knoxville where the ads at the end tell the person to come down where “It’s all about you.” I cringe every time. If anything, the problem we have in our society is that too many of us do think that it’s all about us. When we start thinking God is telling us ideas, then that’s going to make that even more so.

Now please be clear on this. I am not in any of this saying God cannot speak today. Not at all. I know people who have had such experiences that I think were legitimate experiences. I am saying such experiences should not be seen as normative. They should not be things that we are expecting and they should not be experiences that we think that God is obligated to give to us since He is our friend after all.

When we approach God, we should be aware of His love for us and that he cares for us. Yet at the same time, we should approach Him realizing that He is the king of the universe and we dare not have the pride to approach Him just like anyone else. We are to come to Him on His terms. He is not obligated to come to us on our terms.

It is for reasons like this that I really encourage Christians to not use this kind of language. It is not spoken of in Scripture and I am convinced the concept is not even there. God is our king and Lord and we need to make sure our language always affirms that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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18 Responses to “Why I Question The “Personal Relationship” Paradigm”

  1. vincent Says:

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. southerndisciple Says:

    Great message, but could you give an example of what kind of language should be used?

    • apologianick Says:

      Sure. Biblical language. Paul identified Himself as a slave of Christ. I speak of Jesus as my Lord and King and Savior and Master. Those terms work just fine.

      • labreuer Says:

        What of Mark 3:31–35? There, Jesus speaks of people as family. How about the ‘servant’ → ‘friend’ change in John 15:15?

      • apologianick Says:

        We are part of the family of God, but we should not read modern ideas of a family into the ancient one. Jesus is saying connections with Him overrule our connections to immediate social units. As for John 15:15, I can understand why people think that, but even if the concept was true, I’d hesitate to use that text. Much of it involves a message to the immediate apostles.

      • labreuer Says:

        I agree that modern ideas of the family are very suspect. But how can you say that John 15:15 doesn’t apply to us? The critical difference Jesus notes is that servants do not know what their master is doing, while friends do. Combine that with Eph 5:17. As to Paul’s use of ‘slave’, I suggest Rom 6:19. The Apostles were not legendary figures of which we are pale images. Instead, we are part of what was promised: Heb 11:39–40.

      • apologianick Says:

        That’s why I said I’d go to other passages and again, we must be cautious about what is meant by a friend. If we throw in the buddy-buddy paradigm, I think we mislead people.

      • labreuer Says:

        I guess what I’m getting at is the difference between just shutting up and doing what God commands, vs. having some say, ourselves. Friends don’t just override what the other person wants, completely, all the time. That’s what masters do to slaves.

      • apologianick Says:

        Didn’t Paul identify himself as a slave of Christ?

      • labreuer Says:

        Yes, with the Rom 6:19 proviso.

  3. factbasedtruth Says:

    Excellent observations. I think one also ought to consider how Jesus and the Apostles related with each other. The Apostles were very reverent towards Him, referring to Him as teacher often. I think Scripture seems to generally paint a picture of Jesus as a wise guide (and of course savior) to all of us more than the cultural teaching of him as a personal buddy.

  4. Wintery Knight Says:

    I’m more likely to see God as my boss than my friend.

  5. d'Preacher Verily Says:

    Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason has done an entire course, dvd etc, related to this. It’s called Decision Making and the Will of God.

  6. tulsacoc Says:

    Reblogged this on Highland Church of Christ Texarkana and commented:
    I think that Nick has a good observation here, and I would like to add, we do have a relationship with God, He is our God, we are His slave/servant. We worship God, we praise His name, and we communicate with Him through prayer with the help of the Holy Spirit.

  7. David -(Ryan's dad) Says:

    Knowledge of the Holy by A.W Tozer does a great job with this topic. The first chapter is called Why We Must Think Rightly About God. He says “The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” The book was written in 1961. There is nothing new under the sun.

    Is it any wonder that I have left the post-modern Protestant, Evangelical Church, and gone to Orthodoxy (OCA.org)

  8. Will Says:

    “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God.” Rom. 8:15-16
    God is our daddy and he wants us to come to him as little children. You will lose yourself when you come to God like that.

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