A Question

How much of our vision for what God is doing in this world is shaped by a belief that God saves us in order to have an intimate relationship with him (personal piety) that flows over into fellowship with others, rather than Jesus’ bigger kingdom vision of what God is doing in this world and that personal piety is designed by God to prompt us to work for that vision?

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  • Good question, Scot. I hate to think that should be either/or, because according to what I understand of Jesus’ teaching it should include them both. Jesus teaches them that his Father is there’s, and that the kingdom they inherit and that is present in him is the kingdom of their Father. That as true as his care is for the fallen sparrow, much more is his intimate care for them.
    I do think we haven’t picked up well enough on the kingdom aspect so that our piety is measured more by our deeds than some inward sense of change. The kingdom vision of God given by Jesus is all about us being salt and light for the world in Jesus and the way of Jesus. So that this comes out of relationship to God, and ends up missional for the world.

  • Why is that an either/or question? I don’t think that personal relationship is just a commodity to God, merely a means to an end.

  • Scot McKnight

    These are two quite different arrangements of the same elements.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, one more comment: this issue has to do with the proper end of humans. The proper end is to love God and to love others, and when humans do that, God is glorified. I believe too many frame the Christian life too much in terms of existential relationship with God rather than love.

  • Bo

    Hi Scot,
    You have an interesting perspective. Mine is the opposite. The church I attend definitely emphasizes what God is doing in the world over an intimate, personal relationship with God. The sermons, announcements and marketing are much more focused on “reaching your community,” sponsoring orphans in Africa, being missional etc.
    From what I can observe, the Pastors are much more passionate about the kingdom aspect and about people. For example, they will cry and become emotional when talking about poverty and helping the needy. But I have never seen them become emotional or passionate about who God is.
    Also, there has never been any kind of campaign designed for people to “draw near to God” or “experience” Him on a personal basis. However, we do have all kinds of campaigns and initiatives about social justice issues.

  • Darryl

    Interesting question and very thought provoking. I found Brad’s remark very interesting. But I’m not certain if he is criticizing his congregation or complimenting it. I think loving God and loving others (and I apologize Scot, I have not really even started reading your book–but my daughter LOVES it, if that counts!) is the key. But what does loving God mean? Pietistim? Pragmatism? It seems to me when one loves others (according to the descriptions of both James 2 and 1 John 3 & 4) then one demonstrates love of God. That would point (I think)to a larger kingdom vision of seeking justice and practical care for others that demonstrates love of God. “Relationship with God” is a covenant that he established–not an emotional or mystical experience. I love him by loving others. My love for him grows as I serve others. I suppose one could paint this as a chicken and egg scenario.

  • Darryl

    Am I getting anywhere close to understanding your question?

  • Matt Miniely

    I really like this question Scot this is something that I have been thinking about but have never been able to articulate in the way you have. I have been wrestling with this in a personal form in that I am a missionary and I work closely within a church. I have been struggling with friends ideas of what a “good christian” looks like. Whenever I have asked this question the answer is always answered from the perspective of personal piety in that I read my bible, pray, go to church, do not drink and do not swear and many other things. I have never had anyone answer this question from the perspective of the overall kingdom and that God has called us to change our world not only our personal lives. I think that personal piety is great but is lacking when it is not encompassed in the greater vision of the Kingdom. We like to Love God but the next part to love others is the kicker because these people are messed up and hard to love. It is much easier to frame our relationship in the personal then it is to have a greater vision of Loving God and Others. In the end I believe that we have to frame our personal relationship with God in the greater overall vision of the Kingdom.
    This is a great question and am looking forward to more people engaging it.

  • Jayflm

    The “personal relationship” stuff has gone way too far. I just examined a Bible study from Song of Solomon, put out by Serendipity House, that reinterprets the book to be speaking of the relationship between God as the lover and the individual believer as the beloved. I told the teacher who brought it to me that for this interpretation to be true, that meant that the book had absolutely no application for the first 2500 years or so of its existence (ie until the proliferation of the printed Scripture for individuals to possess and study).

  • It seems instructive to me that after the Spirit fell upon Jesus in his baptism by John at the Jordan he is immediately led (driven according to some commentators) to go into the wilderness for forty days. Of course the Gospel writers are drawing parallels between the history of Israel and the life of Jesus in this event, but I also see that before Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming and building up the Kingdom, he is moved to develop his dependency on the Father (which could imply intimacy with the Father) as he faced the trials and temptations of the wilderness.
    I certainly understand the error that people are responding to when they call Christians to turn away from an over preoccupation with personal piety, but in the way you articulated the question, Scot, it seems to treat the personal dimension as simply a matter of utility (from what I have read in your books and blogs I don’t think that is where you are coming from). My other concern regarding errors that Christians have been prone to is turning the Kingdom into an ideology that merely emphasizes a lifestyle based upon justice issues, to the neglect of the atoning work of Christ and the amazing love of God that empowers us to do Kingdom work.
    Perhaps we can alleviate this tension within the Christian faith by seeing sanctification as the development of holiness which increases our capacity to love God and others, and thereby makes us more effective agents in building up God’s Kingdom.

  • John R Franklin

    I question whether the personal intimacy with God out of which is borne personal piety is actually achievable to the degree we find it in certain persons described in scripture. The scripture indicates that some had it. But for me and I imagine most, it seems so elusive. And I don’t need another exhortation on the “dark night of the soul.” That’s the “go-to” narrative when one questions the whole premise of relational intimacy with God.

  • Darryl

    Jayflm first, I agree with you that Song of Songs is not really about a personal relationship with Jesus and the believer (or the Father and the believer). It is between two lovers. However, one could make an argument that Yahweh is presented as the lover and Israel the beloved. So the idea that the book had no application for 2500 years wouldn’t be quite accurate. Even so, I think your point is ultimately correct.
    Perhaps we have over “pietized” everything. But I don’t want to completely give up on the idea that the Creator does love his creation collectively AND individually. Even so, I am stills struggling with Scot’s question to make certain I’ve truly grasped his point. Check my earlier posting out someone and let me know if I’m even close to getting it. I’d appreciate the input! 8^)

  • Stan H

    God saved us to glorfy him and enjoy him. We do this by loving God and loving our neighbor – and Jesus already answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Personal piety draws us into the heart of God and transforms us into lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors. True, we are especially called to love our Christian brothers and sisters. But Jesus also said this, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:33)
    I believe this familiar passage conveys something of God’s vision for his kingdom breaking into the world: “Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Perhaps we who prefer to just fellowship with God and our fellow believers simply lack God’s heart of tender mercy.

  • Doug Wilson

    Jayflm, whether or not we agree with it, there is actually a long-standing tradition of interpreting the Song of Songs in this way. For example, check out Tremper Longman’s NICOT commentary (via Google Books) where he discusses Jerome’s and Bernard of Clairvaux’s interpretation (pp. 31ff.)