Fall in love with Jesus. Is this a term you use? Has someone encouraged you to fall more deeply in love with Jesus? To have a love affair with him? To become passionate or intimate with him?
In a previous post I’ve pointed out how the extra-biblical term “personal relationship with Jesus” has become the #1 metaphor Evangelicals use to describe discipleship. But many pastors and teachers are doubling-down on the relational language – encouraging their flocks to “fall in love with Jesus” or “have a love affair with Jesus.”
This kind of romantic imagery seems to be popping up everywhere. “I fell in love with Jesus at the age of 15,” said a man giving his testimony at a banquet I recently attended. I heard another man describing his “passionate love affair with the Savior” at a men’s retreat.
There’s a series of books that teaches you how to fall in love with Jesus. Pastor Rick Warren encourages us to do it. There’s a rather inane Facebook page titled “Let’s Fall in Love with Jesus” that’s gathered almost 20,000 likes. The topic has its own tumblr feed.
A couple of Sundays ago I visited a small church near my home. This lovely seasonal bulletin board adorned the lobby:
Why the explosion of romantic imagery in the church?
Today’s Christians use these words in a attempt to describe the passion and excitement that should be present in our spiritual lives. They’re trying to draw a contrast between vibrant, living faith and cold, dead religion.
But this imagery has numerous downsides – particularly when it comes to men.
Romantic imagery is much more appealing to the feminine heart. Women are all about romance. They the largest consumers of romance novels, romantic comedies and relationship magazines. When we describe Christianity as a love affair or a sacred romance, we are speaking the native language of women – and gibberish to men.
Women are comfortable with the idea of falling in love with a man. Guys — not so much.
Here are three more reasons to avoid romantic imagery: It’s unbiblical, it’s unhelpful and it’s uncomfortable.
Romantic imagery is unbiblical. Never in the 66 books of the Bible are humans encouraged to fall in love with God or Jesus.
The term falling in love implies romance. There’s an erotic component to it. The metaphor simply does not convey how God relates to us.
New Testament Greek is very precise in how it describes love. In fact, there are four distinct words that convey the idea of love:
- Eros, or romantic love (we get the word “erotic” from eros);
- Philia, which means brotherly love among peers (the City of Philadelphia is named for philia);
- Storge, or parental love for children;
- Agape, or God’s love – unconditional, eternal and sacrificial.
Whenever the Bible refers to God’s love in the New Testament, the word Agape is used. So when we say we have fallen in love with Jesus, or we’re having a love affair with Jesus, we are using eros to describe agape.Some people refer to Song of Solomon or the “Bride of Christ” metaphor to defend the use of romantic language in describing our faith. But these passages refer to Jesus’ relationship to the church (the body of all believers throughout time) – not to the individual’s relationship to God.
Romantic imagery is unhelpful. When we describe our faith in romantic terms, we set believers up for immaturity and failure.
The term “fall in love” describes the opening chapter of a relationship. It’s the emotional, wispy, unpredictable stage. Do we really want disciples to pattern their faith on this volatile model?
When I fell in love with my wife our passion was like the tip of a burning match. It was exciting because it was new and uncertain. Today it’s more like a red-hot coal. Our love may be less outwardly dazzling, but it’s much deeper, stronger and more dependable. The passion is still there — but it smolders rather than blazes.
When pastors use romantic imagery to describe the faith, they put tremendous pressure on believers to maintain a burning-match level of excitement toward God. They imply that the normal Christian life exists at a constant crescendo of enthusiasm. When that frothy fervor eventually calms some young believers may think their faith is dying. This can lead to feelings of guilt — after all, if you feel distant from God, it’s certainly not his fault.
Romantic imagery can be dangerous because it implies that we should judge our faith by how we feel – instead of judging our feelings according to our faith.
Romantic imagery is uncomfortable. Imagine the mental gymnastics that must take place inside a man’s mind as he pictures himself having a love affair with Jesus.
When I think of my faith, I do not imagine it as a love affair. I don’t envision myself sitting across a table in a candlelit restaurant, staring into Jesus’ eyes, casually flirting with him. I don’t picture myself walking hand-in-hand on a beach, opening a love note from Jesus, or climbing into bed next to him.
Instead, I see myself walking beside him – asking him questions, gaining his wisdom. I see us fighting injustice, redeeming captives and setting things right. My “relationship” with Jesus takes place on the battlefield – not in the bedroom.
So how about you? Do you see your faith as a love affair? Are you “in love” with Jesus? Is this really a big deal, or are most guys able to shrug it off? Does it really matter how we describe our faith? Comments are open…
David Murrow is the author of the bestselling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. David’s books have sold more than 175,000 copies in 12 languages. He speaks to groups around the world about Christianity’s persistent gender gap. He lives in Alaska with his wife of more than 30 years, professional silk artist Gina Murrow. Learn more about David at his Web site, www.churchformen.com, or join the conversation on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/churchformen. Don’t forget to share this page by clicking on the links below, or scroll down and leave a comment (right below those annoying ads that pay for this blog).