Monday, March 17, 2008

Just me-n-Jesus

Interesting review of Stephen Prothero's book, American Jesus, here:

'Sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century...preachers began to
respond to the new Babel of denominations by offering a simpler message. Instead
of marketing predestination of free will, the Bible or the Baptists, they began
to offer religious shoppers a new relationship with Jesus.”

“This relationship was personal, so preachers had to make Jesus into a person. And they did so with glee, disentangling him not only from the complex theologies of
Calvin but also from the complicated polities of the denominations. As
evangelicals placed more of their faith in him, Jesus became more human and less
divine. ...No longer a signpost in a vast theological system, Jesus
a living, breathing human being.'
"As a human being rather than a theological signpost, though, Jesus was no longer
as tied to Christianity as he once was. Between the evangelicals and more
liberal Christians, Jesus was made available to other religions as a figure of
wisdom and guidance. Jesus has been incorporated into the thinking of Buddhists,
Jews, Hindus, and more."

And this is part of the problem in today's postmodern world - where all religions are perceived as equally valid/equally true:
  • Jesus can be my homeboy
  • Jesus can be my Lord and Savior
  • Jesus can be a great moral teacher
  • Jesus can be a created being or an angel or a human who later became a god
  • or (according to those who don't bother to research history), Jesus is just a figment of my imagination since he never really existed. (See this poll which asks about people's beliefs about the historic Jesus)

The "relationship with Jesus" aspect is OK so long as we remember that it's just one aspect of Christian theology. It becomes a problem when the "relationship with Jesus" is the entirety of a person's theology - "just me-n-Jesus" - to the exclusion of the other two members of the Trinity . There also is a connection between this "personal relationship" theology and the anti-intellectualism the church s often accused of. I've heard folks say something like "As long as I have Jesus and the Bible, I don't need to study theology (or church history)."

Some churches out there pride themselves on claims like "No creed but Christ" and "Doctrine Divides" (thus the growth of non-denominational churches.) The problem is that those who say such things really do have a doctrine - just push them on some of the "hot-button" issues that churches disagree over, like baptism or predestination, and they'll tell you what they believe. They act like they don't even know the meaning of the word "doctrine." And since they don't know church history, they don't know why the historic creeds were written in the first place. They think that the creedal/confessional churches use the creeds as a substitute for Scripture and accuse the creedal folks of replacing God's Word with the words of man.

Of course, the key for all of us is to focus more on Scripture than on our creeds, or our systematic theology, or even well-known Christian authors/speakers.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Interesting points, CS.

Brent Thomas is doing a series (here and here) that compliments this post, noting the importance of understanding the kingdom of God as something larger than just personal salvation.