John Suk, in his book Not Sure, a book about a pastor struggling with doubt and faith, spares no softeners when he turns to the widespread belief that the essence of Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus. His contentions are the following:
1. There is no theoretical consensus what this means.
2. Different religious denominations don’t offer official ideas on what it means.
3. Personal relationship has become what the person says it is.
Are you uncomfortable with this “personal relationship with Jesus” language? What do you think of Suk’s proposals?
“The bottom line is that the huge emphasis contemporary evangelicals put on a great personal experience of and with Jesus as the be all and end all [don’t overcook this “be all and end all”] of Christian faith has little or nothing to do with Scripture and everything to do with taking from our culture [individualism precipitates a longing for the personal] what it thinks human happiness is all about” (150). In other words, they are creating their own designer religion. It demythologizes God, humanizes God, shrinks God, and makes religion therapeutic — it’s self-talk too often.
But what about the Bible? Suk has pondered this one:
1. God is present; Jesus is present with us.
2. Jesus is especially present when we serve others.
3. God is sometimes distant; Jesus spoke of his absence (John 7:33, 34; 8:21).
4. Jesus’ absence means the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We want the same kind of relationship we have with a spouse but, Suk says, we can’t (153).
So what is faith? Faith is trust in the promise of God, a promise that says Yes in King Jesus. He says instead of saying “I have a personal relationship with Jesus” we should say “I believe in Jesus.” Faith is to believe in God and to love others (1 John 3:23).