Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spiritual Life Question

My Spiritual Life Class met on Tuesday. This week I opened with the question:

Define relationship. What are some characteristics of a relationship?

The class immediately shot off characteristics of relationships. We put together a pretty good list. But, when we moved to a definition of a relationship, the room got quiet. Eventually we hammed out something like "Two or more 'things' mutually interacting, connecting, and sharing with one another in varying degrees of commonality."

Fair enough. It's not poetic, but it articulates the main elements of a relationship.

I then asked:

One of the main metaphors for the Christian experience is "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." We often say, "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship." What do we mean by that?

Can our experience of God be called a relationship according to the definition above? I have a relationship with my wife. I have a different kind of relationship with my boss. I use the same word "relationship" to describe my experience with both people. How are they both relationships? How are they different? Can I say that I have a relationship with God? If so, it certainly looks different than my relationship with my boss, not to mention my relationship with my wife.

Given that the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is not in the Bible, should we abandon the metaphor, or is there a way to justify it?


Rob Dilfer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Good point; perhaps "personal relationship" is redundant. Do some people have an "impersonal relationship with Jesus Christ"?

GigHarborUndressed said...

I don't feel it's redundant, and I feel that it's a valuable phrase. I have a relationship with other agents with whom I've done business. It's not personal, it's a business relationship. We don't know each other outside of business, and don't need to.
While that phrase may not appear in the Bible, the desire does. When Jesus says he calls us friends, and when we're told that we are now heirs with Christ (implying we're part of the family), that pretty blatantly points to a relationship...a personal, intimate relationship rather than a servant-king or master-slave relationship.

Matt said...

Thanks for the ideas, guys.

So we have Ezekiel 16 and the bride of YHWH language (possibly applied to the church in Revelation 21 and elsewhere), Jesus' calling his disciples "friends" in John 15:14–15, and Paul's contrast between a "son/heir" and a "slave" in Galatians 4:4–7.

Are these phrases theological or existential? By theological, I mean: Are they just metaphors for our position in Christ? Take the bride of Christ image, for instance. Could this language just be highlighting God's faithfulness and zeal for his people? God is faithful and zealous for his people like a husband is faithful and zealous for his wife.

In the same way, the Galatians language seems to emphasize the "freedom" of a son in contrast to the slavery of a slave. Paul's point seems to be "Justification by faith leads to freedom, but justification by works of the law leads to slavery."

On the other hand, the statements could be existential, meaning that they are pictures of our "relationship" to God. Thus, Jesus is my friend in the same way that Matt is my friend. If that is the case, how far do we stretch that comparison?

Finally, the two options aren't mutually exclusive. It could be both theological and existential, or just a little of each.

What do you think? Is Jesus my friend purely in the theological sense because I have been forgiven and I will not suffer his wrath? Or is Jesus my friend in the existential sense so that we hang out and talk to each other like bff's?

How does the Holy Spirit play into all of this?