Origin of “Personal Savior” & The Idea of Having a “Personal Relationship” with Christ

What’s to Come:

On Monday, I plan to publish a controversial post called “Does the Bible Really Contradict Itself?”

On Thursday, we plan to publish on the podcast a conference message I delivered called “The Ultimate Issue.”

You don’t want to miss those.

Today, I want to talk about this business of having a “personal Savior” and a “personal relationship” with the Lord. Actually, I’ve already spoken on this subject. Here it is.

As stated previously, the sinner’s prayer eventually replaced the biblical role of water baptism. Though it is touted as gospel today, this prayer developed only recently. D. L. Moody was the first to employ it.

Moody used this “model” of prayer when training his evangelistic coworkers. But it did not reach popular usage until the 1950s with Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and later with Campus Crusade for Christ’s Four Spiritual Laws. There is nothing particularly wrong with it. Certainly, God will respond to the heartfelt prayers of any individual who reaches out to Him in faith. However, it should not replace water baptism as the outward instrument for conversion-initiation.

The phrase personal Savior is yet another recent innovation that grew out of the ethos of nineteenth-century American revivalism. It originated in the mid-1800s to be exact. But it grew to popular parlance by Charles Fuller (1887–1968). Fuller literally used the phrase thousands of times in his incredibly popular Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio program that aired from 1937 to 1968. His program reached from North America to every spot on the globe. At the time of his death, it was heard on more than 650 radio stations around the world.

Today, the phrase personal Savior is used so pervasively that it seems biblical. But consider the ludicrousness of using it. Have you ever introduced one of your friends by such a designation? “This is my ‘personal friend,’ Billy Smith.”

In Jesus Christ, you and I have received something far greater than a personal Savior. We have received Jesus Christ’s very own relationship with His Father! According to New Testament teaching, what the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and me.

Because we are now “in Christ,” the Father loves us and treats us just as He does His own Son. In other words, we share and participate in Christ’s perfect relationship with His Father.

This relationship is corporate just as much as it is individual. All Christians share that relationship together. In this regard, the phrase personal Savior reinforces a highly individualistic Christianity. But the New Testament knows nothing of a “Just-me-and-Jesus” Christian faith. Instead, Christianity is intensely corporate. Christianity is a life lived out among a body of believers who know Christ together as Lord and Savior.

Excerpted from Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna, Tyndale, 2008, pp. 191-192. Footnotes documenting sources are contained in the book.

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P.S. Preston Sprinkle reached out to me recently, telling me that he covered this subject also. He kindly linked to this article so I’m returning the favor.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.frankviola.net/ Frank Viola

    Let’s hope your non-personal friends weren’t offended.

  • http://www.beingfilled.com/ Chuck McKnight

    While I fully agree with your critique, I actually have on several occasions introduced someone as a “personal friend” of mine. 😉

  • http://philcooke.com Phil Cooke

    You can’t see it Frank, but I’m clapping… :-)