Thank God for smugglers. I was humbled by this video.
This is a funny way to introduce people to heresies surrounding the Trinity.
When children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across. We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias. If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.
Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer – David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons. Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.
But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.
Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church. They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education. I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical. I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.
So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.
The seventh chapter of Acts tells the story of Stephen, a newly ordained deacon (Church waiter), who is brought before the Jewish authorities with false charges of blasphemy and plans to destroy the Temple. In his defense, full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen offers an alternate history of Judaism that both devalues the importance of the Temple and charges the authorities with the murder of Jesus and all of the previous prophets. Stephen is hastily dragged out of the city and stoned to death. He becomes the first post-Ressurection martyr and an immense persecution immediately breaks out against the Church.
My bible study group was recently discussing this passage and my wife rhetorically asked “Was Stephen’s sermon effective?” The obvious Christian answer is “yes”, but I can’t imagine in the first weeks and months following Stephen’s sermon that many Christians thought that it was effective. The story does not tell of any Jew who became a Christian because of the sermon; in fact it seemed to have the opposite effect, entrenching the hatred and persecution of this new religious community. The church at that moment in time is what we today would call a mega-church. Thousands of believers were together, centered in Jerusalem with thousands being added daily. The church was becoming institutionalized adding structure and organization to make it more effective in its mission. As Stephen was dragged out of the city, all of the success of the early church seemed to be dragged out with him. Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and forced into secrecy and fear. Many more would lose their lives for preaching the name of Jesus. Jewish authorities would no longer call for patient tolerance of this new heresy but instead made it legal to pursue and punish all who dared devote their lives to Jesus. By all appearances and short term evidences the event seemed to be an utter disaster for Christianity.
The Evangelical Church in America is currently facing a paradigm shift. Continue reading
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christianity and religion in general lately. I’m trying to figure out what was going on when I was a full-believing Mormon, and how to compare that to the religious lives of others. I came up with some simple (i.e. over-simplified) categories of roles people play while involved in an organized religion like Mormonism. I found them helpful in providing a way of understanding my Mormon experience and comparing it with others without worrying too much about theology. I see four roles people play in organized religion:
Prophet: receiving spiritual guidance from the Spirit of God.
Priest/Clergy: administering teachings within a community. Teaching, preaching, helping, managing, setting policy, etc.
Member: special attachment, loyalty, and duty to particular community or group
Disciple: a devotee seeking to practice the principles taught by the prophets.
I admit it’s an over-simplified model; there are a bunch more roles that come into play: e.g.,Saint, Missionary, Theologian, Convert, Skeptic, Monk, Mystic, etc. And I am probably not using the terms in a completely standard way. But for me it’s a start on trying to grasp all the dynamics involved in living a faith.
N.T. Wright offers some reflection on how to view the Bible as you read it.
With Mitt Romney’s hopes for the presidency coming to an end last night we not only close out the 2012 election cycle but we also say good bye to “The Mormon Moment.”
I felt certain that Mormonism would be used as a political device against Mitt Romney, specifically the priesthood ban. I was wrong. There certainly were left-leaning writers and opportunist who attempted to promote that angle, but those stories never really made national news. I thought a SuperPAC, unofficially affiliated with Barack Obama would create at least a few television ads attacking Mormonism’s past. Those ads never materialized. I have to say that I think the country is probably better for it. I think John McCain displayed considerable honor by not leveraging Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008 and President Obama returned the favor in terms of Mormonism in 2012.
Mormonism will continue to gain some national exposure about once every 10 years. But it will likely never receive the kind of media exposure it did over the last year. I don’t think the LDS church made any significant gains in converts or positive public perception, but it likewise did not suffer any large embarrassments.
About the most damaging thing to happen to Mormonism was the release of hidden video of the Endowment Ceremony.
Interestingly enough, the publisher of that video, NewNameNoah, had his YouTube account suspended yesterday. If the LDS church had any role to play in that action, I think they couldn’t have chosen a better day than Election Day to make it happen. Any hopes for media coverage of that censorship will be unable to find a voice in the current news cycle. The video will live on and will remain publicly available, but will be much more difficult to find off of YouTube. [update: the account was reactivated the next day]
Second on the list of hits against the LDS church would be the church disciplinary actions against David Twede, the managing editor of MormonThink.com. The church wisely chose to suspend its disciplinary actions and Twede resigned on his own terms. He was able to successfully draw greater attention to his website but I think Twede made a number of missteps in equivocating about his potential excommunication being somehow tied to political comments against Mitt Romney.
Third on my list of problem areas for the church in the national exposure was the rise in prominence of some “non-correlated” Mormons such as Joanna Brooks and John Dehlin. They’ve found courage in their unorthodox views and the church has shown, that at least for the time being, it will not be calling people with such vocal views into disciplinary hearings as it did with the September 6. I think these individuals will be sticking around in the discussion of Mormonism and will be called upon by their new found media contacts to speak on Mormon matters at least as frequently as the official church spokesman. Many would consider this the greatest positive to emerge from this Mormon moment.
Robert Jeffress began the year with a discussion of Mormonism’s cultic status within Christianity. By year’s end Billy Graham was removing the word “cult” from his website not only in reference to Mormonism but toward several other religions as well. This may be the greatest benefit to Mormonism from the Romney campaign. The Evangelical use of the word “cult” as a reference toward heretical, new-religious-movements has probably come to an end. I think moving forward you will see “cult” being exclusively a reference to mind-controlling organizations.
Though a positive for the nation, I think the lack of attention on Mormonism in the outcome of the campaign is actually a negative for Mormonism. It shows that Mormonism (and perhaps religion in general) is largely irrelevant in the national discussion. People simply don’t care beyond a passing curiosity. In terms of future converts, it’s much better for a religion to be hated than to be irrelevant.
I’d wager that the next time a spotlight such as we’ve seen cast on Mormonism in 2012 will be caused by either a large political movement to legalize polygamy or some sort of leadership crisis. I anticipate the former (and for sure decriminalized polygamy) before the latter. Many Mormons may have hoped that a Romney presidency would bring about a long awaited acceptance in American culture. The energy and opportunity for that sort of shift has now ended. In the United States, Mormonism will now return to being a topic of discussion for Mormons, former Mormons, a few curious onlookers and detractors and a shrinking number of potential converts.
Timothy Dalrymple the Director of Content of the Evangelical portal at Patheos recently published a series of articles concerning the publication of hidden camera videos inside a number of LDS temples. One of these videos in particular has recently gone viral (over 1 million views as of this writing).
The first article is an interview with “NewNameNoah”, the individual responsible for creating the videos and uploading them to YouTube. “Noah” is remarkably straight forward about his motivations and I think you’ll probably have an accurate idea of who he is and why he published the video.
In the second piece Dalrymple considers why Evangelicals should defend Mormons against mockery.
Evangelicals are not wrong to be concerned about the growth of Mormonism. The truth matters, and I like many of my evangelical brethren am convinced that Mormonism does not fully teach the truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel. But we are wrong to let that concern, that suspicion, that fear, drive us to treat Mormons worse than any other religious group in America. It’s not a matter of compromising our commitments to truth, but of fulfilling our commitments to love. Just as it would not be loving to let the saving truth of Jesus Christ be distorted, for in that truth is the liberating message of God’s forgiveness and provision for all people, so it’s not loving to misrepresent what Mormons believe and condemn them in vicious and exaggerated tones.
More to the point, it’s unloving to communicate the truth in such an unloving manner that our hearers conclude that whatever is delivered by people who behave in this way cannot possibly be true. God’s Word comes to us “full of grace and truth.” It is never morally or Christianly acceptable to secure the truth by abandoning grace. The end does not justify the means.
The third article concludes Dalrymple’s thoughts on protecting Mormons from ridicule.
Do the rituals recorded in those videos seem weird to me? Yes, of course. Just like the Eucharist must seem bizarre to people who don’t understand its world of symbolism. Is there anything wrong with having ceremonies that are only for the faithful, ceremonies that are meant to be kept secret? Of course not. Should Christians celebrate that someone lied repeatedly to gain admission, breached the rules to secretly record the proceedings, released those films with an obvious political agenda in the midst of an election contest, and invited the world to join in the mockery? Would that be a Christian thing to do?
The answer is obvious. Mormons view us as hypocritical when we tell them they’re not Christian, but then behave in a non-Christian way toward them. And, well…they have a point. To the extent that Christians take advantage of these videos to engage in more Mormon-bashing, they should be ashamed.
Though I’m sure it will distress some of my Mormon friends, I’m not sure my own response to the videos is as clear as Dalrymple’s. To be sure. Some of the videos are intended to mock Mormonism and some of the comments in the most popular video are skewed against Mormonism. I most definitely condemn those actions and comments. I’m not at all interested in that kind of activity. I also have no interest in using these videos as a means of bashing Mormonism. The timing of the release of the videos is certainly an effort to capitalize on the Mormon moment and the Romney campaign. Whether that be for political motivations or an effort to capitalize on the media buzz is of lesser interest to me.
It’s my understanding that the text of the endowment ceremony has been publicly available for close to 100 years. Secretly recorded audio of the ceremony has been available for over 30 years. It’s also my understanding that the only portion of the ceremony that Mormons actually covenant to not reveal are the signs and tokens. Mormons are culturally wary of discussing the temple at all but the vast majority of the ceremonies are not, strictly speaking, off limits for comment.
Someone showed me the tokens at some point in college, well before I had any real interest in Mormonism. Later while on a long car drive, a woman who had left the LDS church described for me what happened in the temple. Shortly after visiting a temple open house years ago my wife and I researched any remaining questions we may have had via Google. Already having knowledge of the tokens and knowing the rest of the ceremony was not off limits I didn’t think I’d be committing any harm by watching the full endowment ceremony (which included no commentary). I didn’t really learn anything new in viewing the videos. That being said, video is certainly a powerful medium and it put all of the elements together in a way I didn’t expect. The story of creation as told in the temple has certainly grown my understanding of Mormon theology. (For instance, I better understand how the Adam/God theory practically plays out in Mormon cosmology and I better understand how Mormons view the Fall as a necessary and positive step for mankind.)
Where I think I most radically depart from Dalrymple is that I’m not as clear headed that viewing the video is participation in mocking Mormonism on something akin to the level of someone defecating in my church baptistry. The ceremony is strange and unfamiliar but viewing it, absent commentary, is an observation that can lead to understanding. If I fail to speak out against the videos am I really doing the same thing as idly watching a Jew be physically abused by Skinheads? Is the existence of a video camera in the temple a desecration in and of itself? I most certainly understand the angst the creation of the video causes and would by no means enter the temple myself or assist in the creation or publication of the video.
I’m not certain that my religious values align with Mormonism in a way that I value secrecy in the same way as Mormons. Particularly considering that Mormonism claims these ceremonies to be an important, salvific part of Christianity. As a devout Christian I feel I have a stake in that claim and want to judge it for myself. I also think that Christianity does not reserve secrets about itself from outsiders. There is clearly an understanding that some things remain a secret to outsiders, but they are nonetheless clearly and openly taught. So to posit that Christian secrets must remain secrets seems to be something of an oxymoron to me. I simply reject that understanding of Christianity.
I think a question that has yet to be answered about these videos is “how will they change Mormonism?” I think it’s a given that these videos will have an impact. Might sealing ceremonies be opened to non-Mormon family members as a result? I think the window for that possibility is now open. I think you can count on a number of pre-initiatory Mormons to seek these videos out before their first temple endowment experience. Having a knowledge of what a member is covenanting to beforehand may have a positive or a negative impact on the willingness of those who have yet to experience the temple first hand. Will the knowledge that open house visitors might seek out these videos change how and why open houses are conducted?
Regardless of your view of the videos I think we can agree that this is a moment where Mormonism changed, be it in policy, practice or perception.
Breakpoint This Week recently hosted a conversation with the head of Prison Fellowship, Jim Liske. They discussed the Christian view of restoration within the context of prison. Prison Fellowship has had some excellent results in their efforts. While the general prison population has a recidivism rate of 50% within 3 years, Prison Fellowship has been able to lower that rate to 10%. At the heart of their efforts is an understanding of grace.
In light of some recent conversations here regarding the role of obedience and grace in transforming a believer’s life, I thought this was an excellent example of how Evangelicals see grace transforming even hardened criminals. In fact the conversation quite pointedly rejects the idea that a person’s life can be changed through merely following rules.
Download here [25 minutes]
Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian, has been gaining a larger audience from Evangelicals in the last several years. His book “Adopted for Life” has become a must-read for Evangelicals considering the plight of orphans and he recently published an epic take-down on Pat Robertson that had many people cheering. Today he offered this reflection on how to reach Mormons with the truth. How Christians Should Engage Latter-Day Saints.
I think he has some interesting things to say about offering more than arguments against Mormonism. There’s plenty that Mormons will take offense to, but much of that is inherent in advocating that anyone should transition from one belief system to another.
This is something my church produced to wrap up our sermon series
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington recently posted an article on why Mormonism is not Christianity. Witherington agrees with my assertion that there may be Christian Mormons but Mormonism is not the same as Christianity. He takes his cues from an address by Robert Millett.
Mormon apologist Bill Hamblin responded to Witherington’s article and Rob Bowman has provided a response to Hamblin’s response. I think Bowman and Hamblin both correctly point out that Witherington should have titled his post “Why Mormons are not Evangelicals”.
Perhaps my favorite part of Witherington’s article is the section entitled “THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT SAY IN RESPONSE TO THIS POST.” Just the forethought to jump to conclusions about what kind of bad responses he would get makes me laugh.
Update: Jack posted a very thorough treatment of the subject here.
Tom Scott, a former Evangelical pastor, recently released a book about his conversion to the LDS church.
As my standing policy goes, I don’t review books I haven’t read. But I concede that I should probably read the book and offer a review. Sadly, it’s not currently available on Kindle.
C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin. (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection. Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans. While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life. Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to. Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others. This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.
What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.” Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)
In a discussion on the on-going controversy over Richard Mouw’s 2004 apology at the Mormon Tabernacle, a fellow Evangelical asked me to comment on a passage from Richard Mouw’s book “Talking with Mormons”.
“My assistant came into my office to tell me that a caller wanted to talk with me: “He says he’s a Mormon and he wants to ask you a question about his personal faith. Should I tell him you’re too busy?” Then she quickly added: “He seems quite nice, and he says he isn’t calling to argue with you about anything:”
I decided to take the call. The person on the line asked whether he could briefly tell me about his spiritual journey. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear his story, but my assistant was right: he did seem quite nice. He had been raised in a mainline Protestant church, he told me, and during his youth he had never felt challenged to make any serious commitment to Christianity. As a student at a university – one of the most distinguished ones academically – his roommate for all four years was a Mormon. ” Continue reading
The last thing I said to my wife last night as we went to sleep was “I am not interested in fighting a culture war with a chicken sandwich”. And sure enough, this morning I was hit by an onslaught of encouragement to eat more chicken while simultaneously avoiding cookies and office supplies. I’ve never been into boycotts and at times I think they’re nothing more than a form of power politics. “Believe like me or I’ll bring you to financial ruin.”
I needed a bright spot of encouragement as I felt the caustic attitude toward Christianity rising in the air and worried for my friends who might abandon the core of their faith rather than suffer contempt. I sat down with my Bible and was surprised to find this:
“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.
Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
. . .This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step. He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.”
1 Peter 2:11-25
Dan Wotherspoon of Mormon Matters on an episode about Mormon Doctrine recently stated (track 2, 1:04:58):
Many people know that I have found a lot of value in James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith.” This sort of human development thing, and he talks explicitly there that every faith tradition basically, generally orients at a conformist sort of authoritarian stance. Where you look to others for external authority, validation, etc. So the religion is very good to say ‘here’s what we believe, here’s who we are, trust us we know better and it brings you up there’. That’s basically the stage of young adulthood, that’s 100% appropriate that you’re in that stage until young adulthood . . .
There comes that next stage though, stage 4. There comes a taking apart, it’s a complicating, it’s a moving from external authority to internal authority, it’s saying ‘I love and honor my parents, I love and honor my teachers, these prophets, these apostles. . . they’re always going to be valuable voices for me, but I’ve got to figure it out for myself, I’ve got to own it.’
I made it through Stage 4 in about 12 years, this was a long period of time. But I continued to hang in there . . . I was still having religious experiences that let me know somehow or other that there is still in the midst of the more chaotic part. . there is still peace to be had, that we’re on the right path. And then slowly but surely we gain that confidence of owning our own spirituality, owning our own truth; to where eventually as it talks about in Stage 5 & 6 that openness to paradox . . .
I’ll tell you, I have found room within Mormonism to hold all those things, to feel oriented even in the midst of the chaos. And if I have my plea. . . Please everybody, stay in this fight. If you can. . . . I tell you I want more people to own their spirituality. . . .
I have a problem with Wotherspoon’s statement in that I think he’s misapplying the Fowler Stages of Faith. I think he’s using the Stages of Faith as a prescriptive tool rather than a descriptive one. What I mean is that he’s setting Stage 6 as a goal for religious believers, as a benchmark of spiritual maturity rather than using Stage 6 as a means of describing a certain type of religious believer.
Sean McDowell recently wrote this article for Biola Magazine explaining the key differences between Mormonism and Christianity.
McDowell posits that Mormonism is distinct from Christianity by placing an unnecessarily heavy burden on its followers, offering a different understanding of faith (fideism), the possibility of becoming a god, a rejection of original sin and the idea that God the Father has a physical body.
Because of the length of the article these issues aren’t addressed in a great amount of detail. The comments section was almost immediately filled by Mormons claiming inaccuracies and libel and demanding a retraction. Personally I think the article is accurate of the mainstream Mormon view. I feel like many of the commentors are offended that anyone other than the LDS church is describing Mormon theology rather than from any inaccuracies in the article itself.
Guest post by Eric
In the perennial debate over grace vs. works, there seem to be two extremes:
- On the one end is the view that because believers in Christ have been saved by grace, works don’t matter, or don’t matter in any way that counts. The fancy term for this view is antinomianism, which is related to the concept of “cheap grace.” This is the stereotype that many Mormons have of evangelical belief.
- At the other end is the view that some have labeled “works righteousness,” that grace is something that kicks in only once we have become worthy to receive it. This is a stereotype that evangelicals often have of Mormons, that we are trying to work our way into heaven.
I’m not going to get into an argument over which stereotype is more accurate. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking for adherents to either of those views (although they may not admit it), it isn’t hard to find them.
I do think, though, that there is a type of works righteousness that is supported by much if not most of Mormon culture and even often by teachings of church leaders. (You’ll sometimes find it in evangelicalism too.) For various reasons, we Mormons have become so wary of teaching cheap grace that we forget what even our specifically Mormon scriptures have to say about the infinite nature of the Atonement.
It is possible to teach grace without resorting to cheap grace. I thought this was very well done in a talk that was given to Brigham Young University students last year by Brad Wilcox, a professor there. I was introduced to this talk recently by my son serving on a mission; it was recently viewed by all missionaries in his mission, and missionaries’ parents were asked to view it as well. I’ve been told that the missionaries found it powerful (my son certainly did!), and I did too. The talk, “His Grace Is Sufficient,” is available in text and video formats.
One thing I liked about the talk is that it is specifically Mormon in tone and addresses some common LDS perceptions that keep people caught in the trap of relying on their own efforts — this isn’t Protestant grace with a Mormon veneer. Even so, I hope that even non-LDS Christians can find something of value here.
Awhile back BrianJ asked me these two questions. I thought I’d answer them here.
How do you know that Jesus is real?
First off, I think the historical evidence is solid that Jesus was a real man living in present-day Israel 2,000 years ago. Further I think the evidence is solid that he was crucified by the Romans and that his followers immediately began boldly preaching that He rose from the grave. He’s not a mythical figure. He was a real, flesh and blood man who walked the earth. We can know that he existed with as much certainty as we can know any other historical fact.
I’m aware that Brian is asking me something more metaphyscial than my opinion of ancient historical evidences but I think it’s important to start there. Based on that same historical evidence I think we can safely assume that Jesus equated himself with the Jewish god and that by his own power he defeated death. The claims of those beliefs are much more controversial and carry much greater consequence, but I rest my own interactions with the resurrected Jesus on those historical claims.
I experience Jesus in my life today through reading his words and the words of his early followers. Based on the experiences and practices of other believers I try different methods of communicating with Jesus. I compare my experiences with other believers and look for points of connection and agreement.
In particular, I’m interested in the radical life change I see in new believers and I see how my own life continues to be transformed as I practice greater dependence on His teachings. I feel inner promptings that sound different than my own inner-dialogue and more often than not, when I listen and obey those promptings other people are encouraged. I’ve also audibly heard the voice of God on one occasion.
How do you know that you have a “personal relationship” with him? (Apologies if that phrase is not used in your church.)
The phrase “personal relationship” is rather new in the history of Christianity. I believe he got its start in an effort to encourage people to make the Christian faith one of their own choosing. It’s not intended to be a cultural system that one accepts as part of a larger community. It’s meant to be an individual pursuit that’s lived out in a larger community of faith. In places where Christianity is the predominant cultural language it’s important to encourage people to be self-reflective and intentional about their faith. Far more people check the box on the survey that says “Christian” than people who actually seek to make their lives emulate Jesus’. To have a personal relationship with Jesus is to personally choose to follow him. To make a direct individual choice.
In addition, as a real, living person, Jesus can be known. His invitation is not just to be like him but to know him. Jesus works through his (universal) church, but he also works through individuals. He actually speaks, empowers and motivates individuals. His calling for every believer is individual and “personal.” To have a “personal relationship with Jesus” is to know what that calling is for yourself. I know I have a relationship with Jesus because I can hear, feel and see him speaking directly to me and using me for his kingdom.
Many times when people are investigating Christianity, Christians will advise that the investigator just give themselves over to a personal relationship. The advice seems to be that individuals should not be concerned with the particulars of the faith but should just experience this “personal Jesus.” I totally understand why Christians promote this. Many of them have had powerful metaphysical experiences upon saying “yes” to a life in pursuit of Jesus. Today we call it a “born again experience.” I would disagree, but some would say that you aren’t a true Christian unless you’ve had such an experience.
The reason Evangelicals promote this idea is because it’s a short-cut to understanding. If a person has an experience like this, the particulars of the faith immediately make much more sense. It’s like if I tried to tell you all about my wife. I could probably write a book about my wife, but if you actually met her the time you would need to understand who she is would be cut short.
Would you say your understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus is the same?