Joel Miller, fine author, probes into the expression “personal relationship” and, rather alarmingly, discovers this is largely unknown until the 1970s.
But when we speak of personal faith, or resort to labeling our faith as such in the face of a disagreement over what is or is not true, we run the risk of reducing our creed to caprice, opinion, and fancy. Well, that’s what it means to me. This is particularly a problem today in our consumeristic, me-centered, self-indulgent culture.
And that’s where this idea actually comes from. The manuscript’s appeal to personal jumped at me because of a line of research I was then pursuing. It smelled suspiciously like the 1970s. So to test my assumption I immediately ran a Google Ngram on the phrases “personal savior” and “personal relationship with Jesus.”
As you can see, the phrases barely exist before the 1970s, at which point they take off like pair of rockets, trailing rank fumes of sentimental egotism. This is, importantly, the same period of time labeled by Tom Wolfe as “The Me Decade” in a now-famous article for New York magazine….
Let’s go back to those Pharisees. They [as he said at the opening to his post] didn’t get bogged down in legalism because they ignored a personal relationship with Jesus—an anachronistic and wrongheaded concept to begin with. If we follow Jesus’ parable of the tax collector, we know they got in trouble because of pride and self-satisfaction. We need to be careful that our so-called personal relationships aren’t the same thing in disguise.