relational theology

Monday, June 04, 2007

Christianity is about relationship not religion. It is a statement echoed in the writings of many a great theologian. Yet while a relationship with God is so central to Evangelical faith, as well as the focus of Scripture, there has been surprisingly little academic scholarship given to relationship as a serious theological methodology.

I've been working on a paper called "An Evangelical Relational Theology: A Personal Relationship with God As Theological Leitmotif". Where I begin to outline a theology based on the frame work of a personal relationship with God. I begin by outlining how relationship should be seen as the goal of Christian theology, and how it provides the foundations of that theology, and then sketch out how a relational paradigm should be applied as the leitmotif for interpreting Scripture and understanding doctrine.

Theology is something that should be done in community, and this is all the more true with a relational theology, so I invite your comments, contribution, and feedback on the article here.

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46 Comments:

At 5:29 PM, Blogger SnoopyJoe said...

I agree with what you are saying and think that it is very important. I believe my theology could be summed up as 'relational theology' and think that this is central to life, the universe and everything. I suspect it is the paradigm (world view) for our time.

I have come to view salvation as relational, God and the trinity as relational, sin as relational (it is anything that breaks relationship on our part), Christ's atonement as relational (mentioned separately to salvation as being a specific part of it), and good theology as relational.

The one who loves God, loves their neighbour and loves one another as Christ love us is practicing good theology. The one who gives intellectual assent to a doctrinal framework more accurate than that person but who does not love is not practicing good theology. For one thing Jesus is the only human being with a perfect doctrine and there were details of God's plan he was not privy to (the time of his return), so if it's our doctrine which saves us we're all doomed, although there are consequences to having incorrect doctrine and we should make every effort not to mess it up. It is only God's revelation of what Scripture is about by his Holy Spirit which gives us right doctrine anyway.

That intellectual assent to a set of facts is not what belief is about is illustrated by the fact that on a number of occasions demons tried to reveal that Jesus was the Christ, something which would seem to make them saved if salvation is simply intellectual assent to Jesus being the Christ.

I think it would be good if you defined 'leitmotif' the first time you use it and perhaps a note about what small c catholic (universal) means would be good, I believe it we are going to communicate it is good to make to effort to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Also because you haven't defined biblical infallibility (that Scripture will accomplish the purposes for which God has given it) and have mentioned it in the middle of your point about inerrancy, these points could become confused by some readers.

Anyway, these are minor criticisms of what is an important essay and saves me writing it, I'll just put a link to your essay. Thank you.

 
At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hey Snoop J,

Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I added a bit about the meaning of leitmotif as a theological term you can check out. Also I had actually meant to write "inerrant" so I changed that too. Thanks for catching that.

I loved he story about your little girl on your blog. That made my day

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Could I suggest a book?

Being As Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, by John Zizioulas.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

 
At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

thanks, looks like a great book

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger Eddie said...

Thanks for the detailed study. I generally agree. God wants to *relate* to us as loving Father through Christ. The wages of sin is indeed death, but we bring death into our relationship with God through our sins. God does not impose death on us as a punishment.
Have you heard of Christopher Marshall and is book Beyond Retribution>

 
At 4:28 AM, Anonymous Adam said...

I don't have time to read your article right now but I agree 100% with what you are saying.

I don't think of faith or works being nessesary for salvation so much as a relationship. Faith and Works will pass away but love will remain.

I'll read this when I get a chance (it is exam time for me right now).

 
At 6:22 AM, Blogger zen monkey said...

Hi---I am a student at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY

Pursuing an MA in theology--also to teach and publish and eventually receive a DMin in Transformative Leadership.

Current intersts are: NT lit and literacy, relational theolgy and narrative theology in connection with theopoetics and literary expression.

Keep in touch.

Peace,

karen

 
At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

hey Karen,

So what are some of the books you've read in your studies of relational theology that you would recommend?

 
At 7:39 PM, Blogger jondp_83 said...

I'm a theology student and I'd like to do me thesis on the idea of relationship as a theological concept. I'd appreciate any direction from anybody on books i can research for this topic.

 
At 7:51 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I liked Robert Webber's "Younger Evangelicals" a lot, which talks about the paradigm shift towards relational faith ("from proposition to incarnation", etc). Also, I have not read it yet but Stanley Grenz's " The Social God and the Relational Self" looks good.

 
At 5:55 PM, Blogger Jon said...

i just wanted to commend you, the author of this theological work! It is very information and edifying and you really seem to have a polished understanding of the word of God. It blessed my spirit and I appreciate your work! I encourage you to continue to teach the gospel and continue to feed the body of christ with the KNOWLEDGE that we perish for a lack of! God Bless you I love you!!! SEE YOU IN HEAVEN :)

 
At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

thanks :)

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Nice treatment on the concept. Our little community has been working through this for awhile. I just gave a book by Baxter to my pastor to read, Jesus, that parallels some of the aspects you have mentioned. Good to know that we are not alone.

 
At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Good to hear Gary. I've never read Baxter, I'm intrigued.

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger coffeemandave said...

I am wondering if any one on this blog, or any of the authors or theologians you have mentioned have looked at baptism through this motif. I was struck by the fact that most baptisms I have been to(Okay all of them) have centered around what people believe and not their relationship with Jesus. I am writing a class right now and thinking about incorporating a type of baptism vow. I was thinking about how covenants are all about what we vow to another and how our baptisms have strayed from that. ANy thoughts or resources that might help?

 
At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

dear Coffee,

That's a fascinating question. Can I ask what tradition's baptism rite in particular you are thinking of? A Baptist or Pentecostal baptism rite would differ from say a Methodist or Presbyterian one. So it would help to narrow it down a bit so we are on the same page.

 
At 6:03 AM, Blogger coffeemandave said...

I don't know much about baptism rites. I have seen and done Pentacostal baptisms. These were, as I said before, focus on intellectual assent to the fact that Jesus is the son of God. Usually the pastor would just ask the person being baptized if they believed in Christ and his sacrifice for their sins. When the person said yes, the pastor would say they were baptizing them based on the confession of their faith. I really have no knowledge of what other denominations do in their baptisms. I have read a few baptism vows from the catholic church, which were more of the same (focused on intellectual belief).

My idea right now, is to have the person to be baptized write a vow. This would be a promise to "Forsake all others" and be joined to Christ. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

 
At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Coffee,

I come from a Pentecostal background too. I think it would be pretty easy to formulate these with a relational emphasis. You could say something like:
"have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and savior, entrusting your life to him alone?" which would be at the same time pretty traditional, and also quite relational.

I'd say too that the term "believe" can be taken in two senses: One is intellectual as in "I believe that this blog is is colored green" and the other is a statement of trust as one might say as they watch their son play baseball "you can do it, I believe in you!" This later sense of belie as faith/trust is I think more legitimately the biblical sense of the word. In the same way a "confession of faith" could mean intellectual ascent to doctrine, but I always took it to mean a 'declaration of trust', a 'vow of allegiance' so perhaps all you would really need to do is keep the language and just say a few brief words beforehand that explain to the people (or remind them of) the relational significance of these words.

 
At 7:17 AM, Blogger jonathan said...

I think that we need to remember that baptism is not simply a witness to the relationship that we have with God in Christ, but also a statement about the relationships we are committing to in the church. Baptism has always been a ritual of induction into the church, and I think we would be doing it a disservice to forget that. The idea of relationship should always be cruciform: vertical, from God to humanity, as well as horizontal, from one individual to another and from one community to another.

 
At 7:59 PM, Blogger Highanddry said...

I wonder if Kim Fabricius' wonderful sermon on baptism is helpful to this ruminating. http://faith-theology.blogspot.com/2010/07/welcome-to-my-world-baptismal-sermon.html

I love the way he picks up Jesus' 'Two-World' theology and the centrality of the cross in baptism. Thus whether it is infant or adult baptism the faith/trust/belief and courage/heroism required is the same (albeit the courage and faith of the parents in relation to infant baptism).

Baptism is understood as both a participating in the death (of death) in Christ and the raising to life in God through Christ's own raising, and also the dying to a world that is passing away and being born to a new world in community with the faithful. Thus baptism is deeply symbolic of the central claims of Christian salvation (Life in Christ) and a literal initiation into the family of those who believe they belong to God's new world.

Hence, baptism is essential in the life of the believer because it makes manifest (incarnates) what otherwise remains abstract theology. We enact and embody the very faithfulness we profess. (Likewise with the other great protestant sacrament of Holy Communion).

In this sense, infant baptism is a valid mode of baptism as it is a moment of courage and faith that gives the child away to the new life of God (Rather than the more cynical understanding that the child is being "done" as an implicit symbol of Christendom's hegemony or empty perpetuation of a cultural norm). I imagine Hannah's 'lending' of Samuel to the Lord. It is Hannah's faithfulness and courage and indeed God's faithfulness to that relationship that inspires her giving away of this child for whom she longed and loves so dearly. And yet her love and care for the child has no greater expression then to give him back to God as an affirmation of who God is and what she believes. Likewise, the infant 'presented' for baptism is given away to a new life in God, and like Eli, the community of faith then takes responsibility for the child's life; to honour and protect the gift.

Relationship inspires baptism; relationship is manifest in baptism; and relationship is the fruit of baptism.

 
At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

It seems to me that adult baptism and infant baptism serve two important but different purposes. Infant baptism is done by parents. Adult baptism is done by the individual. Infant baptism is therefore a dedication--the parents dedicate the infant to be raised before God, and do so in relation to the church. Adult baptism on the other hand is a decision of that person to give their life to God. Both are really important, and it seems to me that the later (the time where we mark a person saying yes to God, and entering into that relationship, their marriage to Christ if you will) is forgotten in the mainline churches today. I think this is crucial because relationship is crucial.

The mainline churches have confirmation, and membership class, but do not have anything that marks this decision for Christ. I think that relationally that is one of the biggest problems with the mainline church (which I am a part of) today, and why for the most part there is very little emphasis on a vibrant personal relationship with God in it. Now I do not mean a focus on private faith, but I do mean a focus on personal faith which then leads to the social.

Biblically of course being born again and baptism go together. That's why I personally don't believe in infant baptism (I do however believe in baby dedications, which is pretty much what people mean anyway) since I think baptism properly understood needs to involve the person being able to say yes in faith which infants (who can't speak, and who hardly grasp that their big toe is part of their own body) of course cannot yet do. Infant baptism alone is thus not enough to promote relationship with God.

Because of this Wesley noticed in his Anglican church that while folks were baptized as infants they where not living it out at all. So he preached that they "must be born again" by which he meant having the assurance of God’s loving indwelling Spirit crying out in you "Abba Father!" and this leading to our loving God back and that resulting in our loving others. So he retained the church tradition of infant baptism, but added a second ritual of new birth (which originally all went together as a part of adult baptism). Yet today the mainline churches (including the Methodist church to a large extent) has lost that too and again only has infant baptism.

On the other hand, being “born again” among many evangelical churches (especially in the Bible belt) has itself become institutionalized into a sort of “fire insurance” that nervous teens do en masse and then forget. Again the focus on relationship is lost. Like a bride who has a big wedding, but then does not live with the groom in marriage.

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger Highanddry said...

Hi Derek,

I agree with your reading of Baptism (although my lecturer in Sacraments used to say that we dedicate furniture and buildings not children, which has always stuck with me).

I guess I find the 'two-worlds' stuff above helpful in situating infant baptism inside a larger story. Yes, the infant is unable to comprehend the new life into which their parents are initiating them, and yet, there is something profoundly meaningful in this kind of ritual. Not only are we as parents believers in Jesus' Lordship, but we believe strongly enough to give our children over to this vision and vocation.

No doubt, the church continues to fail to live up to the responsibility, but I'm not sure I am willing to give up on the idea simply because we (the church) are crap at it (there wouldn't be much left).

I'm probably exposing some of my inherited theology here. As a minister in the Uniting Church in Australia we have to accept two important ideas before we are accepted as candidates for ordination (aside from the standard confessional faith and servant leadership). One is the equality of women in the life of the church and the other is the validity of both infant and adult baptism. So, I concede I am held a little hostage here and it is more prescient for me to come up with a valid theology of infant baptism.

Peace.

 
At 5:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this material online. You have made a difference in my life in the way that you have written in such detailed format, answering the many questions that I had.

Thank you!

Mgnatlanta

 
At 5:46 AM, Blogger Pastor Bob Leroe said...

Christian authors and speakers often talk about having a “personal relationship” with God, an “intimate”, “close” connection. Here’s my problem with that…

Let’s say a woman agrees to marry me, even though we’ve never met face-to-face, and I set her up in a house, insure that her basic needs are met, but I do not live with her. She never sees me. She can contact me by phone, but I won’t answer, I’ll just listen.

I’ve left instructions for her, written out; everything she needs to know is there, and I even state that I love her.

Is this a personal relationship? Yet doesn’t this describe our relationship with God? I choose to follow, serve, obey God, I even pray, but this concept of a “personal relationship” eludes me. God seems distant, though Scripture assures me that He is near.

 
At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Bob,
It is difficult since God is invisible. But I want to encourage you that one does not need to feel remote and distant from God, and it is possible to experience real communication and closeness with God. The most important part of that is developing a deep trust through encountering God.

It sounds like you have read my article on relational theology. Based on the struggles you describe I'd suggest you also read my set of articles Intimacy with God (you'll find a link on the top right). They are based on my working through some of the issues that you raise here. Also a book that helped me a lot is Hannah Witall Smith's "Christian Secret of a Happy Life." It's an old book from 1850's which explains the corny title, but it's really good.

 
At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

You're very welcome Mgnatlanta, glad it helped :)

 
At 4:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, could you check comment on this site : http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/SPLC/2010-02-24.pdf

 
At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Peter said...

Hi Derek,
I've put the german translation of this article to:
http://sumsinagro.npage.de/relationaltheology_17141533.html

Blessings
Peter

 
At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

That's awesome Peter!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Pauline said...

Thank you for this essay. I love God and am exploring this way of responding to God's people. So much of this makes absolute sense. i have been distanced from fath for a long time and although i found the love of God, praise and worship in an Evangelical Church, having to accept (believe) that to be 'in' I must condemn my fellow humans, just didn't compute for me. God has shown me this way of responding to his word and my neighbour! For your contribution to my learning and understanding, Thank you,
Pauline, Carrickfergus.

 
At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Pauline.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Derek - I'm having an epiphany moment! Of sorts. I've been, through my own study and meditation in Scripture, over the last several (a Christian of 38 yrs, minister of 35) years, developing a "relational theology" in more practical aspects to base teaching from the Word in our church fellowship. To have just Googled "relational theology" and find this site, well, that was my epiphany! And I've been wondering about seeing the doctrines of Scripture as usually understood more deliberately in the context of the personal relationship with God. It's come to me as being all-inclusive, and I've broken it down into relational aspects of the more general personal relationship with Christ in this way (as simplistic as it probably sounds):

Principle #1 - Come to Me & Be One With Me (transformation into union with God in Christ - sharing in His Person)
Principle #2 - Be One with Other in Me (fellowship/Bodylife - sharing in His ecclesia)
Principle #3 - Be Made Whole in Me (healing of past effects of sinful living - sharing in His holiness)
Principle #4 - Be Empowered in Me (overcomer - sharing in His omnipotence)
Principle #5 - Go with Me ("calling" - sharing in His will and providence)
Principle #6 - Suffer with Me (sanctification - sharing in His character/attributes by means of suffering)
Principle #7 - Come Home to me (transcendence - completion in His Presence)
I know this is "rough" - and is more aimed at "practical theology" - but it makes sense to me Biblically, in relation to the context of the personal relationship with Christ - that all these "life principles" operate within that relationship.
What do you think?

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anon,

I like where you are going with this. You mention that what you outline is aimed at practical theology. I'd argue that a relational theology in fact must *always* be practical theology because what really matters is not abstract ideas but how they relate to how we live and love God, ourselves, and others. So a focus on practical theology is a must. Nothing to apologize for!

The only thing I would want to add really is that a practical and pastoral theology would need to be sensitive to how different people might take what you say. Your point "Principle #6 - Suffer with Me" could be misunderstood by women as advocating remaining in hurtful and abusive situations. While men may need to hear that they should "give up rights" for Jesus, women may need to learn to stand up for Jesus. I know that what you are saying is just a "rough" outline, so this would of course be something you might deal with when detailing these points in the context of a sermon: how can suffering love be an expression of strength which has the ultimate goal of ending suffering?

 
At 9:05 AM, Blogger anil varghese said...

dear sir, i found your article highly illuminating. But how do you explain ISIAH 53 in the light of your article? it is clearly quoting that God is putting the iniquity of man on the lamb of God. I believe that we ought to have a balanced approach. All school of thought deserves some merit. When one makes a particular doctrine a complete case it distorts!!!

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anil,

I'm not sure why you think Isa 53 would be in conflict with a relational theology. On a basic level relational theology would stress that the reason God in Christ suffers (as in Isa 53) is in order to restore relationship with us. I would add that God does that by relationally entering into our suffering and sin, so that God in Christ suffers with us.

If you do a search on this blog (using the sidebar to the right) you'll find posts where I've outlined my take on Isa 53 in more detail.

 
At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles Hartshorne said “A personal God is one who has social relations, really has them, and thus is constituted by relationships and hence relative.” This goes beyond either traditional theism or post-theism and recovers a sense of God.

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger a_seed said...

Your article on penal substitution and relational theoloy is highly interesting. They are kind of too long to finish reading from a computer screen, so if you have published book that will be great. The penal and legal explaination of gospel is very foreign to Asian cultures, we simply don't study individuals and "sinful nature" like westerners do. We pay 95% attention to relations and social status. In evangelism, we always waste much time explaining what is "sin" in terms of individual behavior problem. It would be much easier if we understand sin in terms of bad relationship.

 
At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

You could print them :) But my book will be coming out soon too.
I agree that understanding sin in terms of relationships is the right way to go!

 
At 7:38 AM, OpenID Paulpicks2 said...

My comment is primarily intended for the author but after reading Bob's comment posted at 5:46 AM (no date given) the points I want to make may prove interesting to him also. First let me say I completely agree with the primary thesis of this manuscript which says RELATIONSHIP is the primary reason God created us and the primary interest God has in us. . . . . the story of Adam and Eve make that clear. Infant Baptism. I do not see that as a problem . . . . all infants eventually grow up to a time of maturity when they are able to have a personal relationship with God. . . . infant Baptism is a sacrament which asks the parents to commit themselves solemnly to raise this infant in an environment that witnesses to this personal relationship with God and encourages the child to experience it for him/herself. With these preliminary remarks, I want now want to make my primary contribution to this topic. Here are my suggestions for those seeking to better relationship with God: 1) Pray. . . . pray often, pray alone, pray with others, and let your heart really converse with God. All personal relationships must have interaction and communication, or they atropy and dissipate. As you pray, tell God your deepest concerns, hopes and fears. Be sure to admit sorrow for your sins of commission and omission, and be sure to thank God for all the blessings in your life, and for the gift of forgiveness and salvation. Praise God for God's goodness. Intercede for the needs of others. Prayer is conversation of the heart with God and is one of the essential and primary ways we relate to God. Do it regularly and often. 2) Worship. Go to church and sing God's praises, thank God for blessings, and listen to God's Word explained and expounded. Many Christians go to Sunday Service early in order to spend time alone with God before the liturgy begins . . . that's good. But one can also feel the nearness of God in a hymn sing, a pastoral prayer, witnessing a marriage or baptism, or listening to a homily (sermon). Corporate Worship is another way we relate to God. 3) Minister to those in need. Helping the poor, feeding the hungry, comforting the bereaved, encouraging those who are lonely, fearful, or in despair, helping the downtrodden. Jesus said, Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these , you do it to me. 4) Be aware of and appreciative of the mystical experiences in life when God comes especially close . . . we all have them, but too often we dismiss them or ignore them. The night before my grandmother died, I lived 1000 miles away, and I woke up at 3 AM in the morning with the overwhelming feeling she had come to me in my sleep and said, "I love you, son and I have come to say goodbye". I sat up in bed bewildered. AT 3 AM I phoned my mother long distance and asked if Grandma was OK. Mom said, "Go back to sleep. I talked to her last night on the phone. She's fine". I went back to sleep. The next day the phone rang and my Uncle said, "Son your grandma died last night at 3 AM"! With tears in my eyes, I said, "I know, she came to me to say goodbye". I now believe God made that encounter possible . . . . in fact God was right there with her when she spoke to me. I've had other similar experiences. I believe we all have. Each one of these is a close encounter with God for which we should forever be grateful.
So, these 4 suggestions: 1) Pray, 2) Worship, 3)Help others and
4) appreciate mystical (deep emotional) experiences.
One final thought: Jesus himself told us how important relating to God is when he said, "This is the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul, and Love your neighbor as yourself".

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Marcus M said...

Derek,
I just want to thank-you for writing all this down in simple, easy to read and understand format.
Our Father has been dealing with me for some time now about this Paradigm shift from penile to relational focus. Your website and articles confirm much of what I believe to be hearing from Him.
It is always encouraging to have conformation from another source when hearing from God. It keeps me honest and lets me know this are not just my ideas!
Again thanks much!

 
At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Marcus :)

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger Justin Zinn said...

Enjoyed the writing. Some good points. I would like to suggest considering "Adoption" Gal. 4 especially as the theological centerpiece for your distinction. A distinction worth making, but relationship does not have to exist (nor can it) without legal requirements (i.e. marriage and a marriage certificate). I suggest Wayne Grudem's approach to theology in regards to adoption online here: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/WayneGrudemsSystematicTheology/~5/mgscvbrpaW4/86-doctrine-of-adoption.mp3

 
At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hi Justin,
Good thoughts. Yes, I agree that laws can play a important part in relationships. I'd only want to stress that the laws have the function of serving relationships. So again, if we understand laws in the context of relationships, if laws are there to help us to love, then they are good. If they keep us from love, then they are being misused. That's the point Jesus makes to the Pharisees constantly in the Gospels. The Law is supposed to lead us to love.

 
At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your article, and I find that it leaves out a crucial segment of what defines a personal relationship. Your thesis, although has some merit, deals primarily with the individual personal relationship despite it being worked out with one another.

The problem I have with this thought is that its not really what seems to be seen in Scripture, particularly the N.T., but rather appears to show a relationship with God/Jesus as communal more so than individual, and deals with, what could be termed as, "one anothering." Further to that, It appears that Scripture seemingly shows that the relationship Jesus has is that of with the church rather than from an individual perspective, and the personal relationship the church has with Jesus.

We Note in Acts 9:4; 26:14 of how Jesus personalizes the church to himself in asking Paul, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me." Then we see in 1Co 1:13, of how Paul, when addressing the schisms taking place, personalizes the Church to Jesus with the question, "Is Christ divided?"

In what it appears to be seen in these verses of Scripture, is that Jesus and the Church are completely inseparable, and as such, are one. Then in Eph 5:30, Paul tells us, regarding the intensity of the personal relationship that exists between the Church and Jesus, and Jesus and the Church, of the "connection" we have with him, that we are body parts of body, and that we are his flesh and his bones. When looking at this, I tend to think that when it comes to this personal relationship - note its not relationships, plural, but singular - we have with Christ, then in the individual personal relationship would pale in comparison to what we have as His body.

 
At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anon,

I think understand what you are saying, which is that the focus of the NT is not individual relationships only, but much more on corporate relationships. I'd want to express it in a slightly different way, which I think makes your point even more strongly:

Despite the emphasis within evangelical culture on having a "personal relationship with God" the focus of the NT is not really mostly on our receiving love from God or even on our loving and worshiping God. It is on our loving others. Or to state it differently, the point Jesus makes over and over is if we really want to show that we love him and that we love God, the way we do that is by loving others, and in particular by loving the unlovable, the least, the enemy. "As you have done it unto these... you've done it unto me." To the extent that we fail to do that, we fail to love God.

The way I see that working is that we begin with God's love for us. That is personal. However this is not the end, but the beginning. The goal is to have that love change us so that we in turn love others as we have been loved. That's why the one rule Jesus left his disciples was "love each other as I have loved you" (John 14). Being loved by God is meant to lead to the fruit (of the Spirit) of our loving others. That is corporate.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Anonymous said...

a_seed, So true! I am not Asian but live in Asia. After living there for several years I started to see that the Western individual/legal understanding of the Gospel (which I didn't even realize I had) makes no sense in that context and began to search God's Word to look for things in a different light while observing how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the believers I was with. What a blessing it has been to me to be able to see God's word in this light! I really appreciate Derek's article, and also you may be interested in this book:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CL4D7IA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#nav-subnav
Called "Saving God's Face" by Jackson Wu. Some parts are a little difficult to get through, but it is also a great contribution to this conversation for the Asian context.

Derek, I think you would find kinship in missiology because many in that field have encountered the same thing I did. While Western culture shifts and the church must address a new generation asking new questions, we can also see that the perspective of the modern Western church is a recent one. Most other cultures are more relational, and certainly have a different perspective of law. For example, where I live law has never been an objective standard of justice, something basically good which is above even those in authority. Instead, it has always been a subjective tool of those in authority which they use at will to maintain harmony. Sin is understood relationally, never as an individual breaking of an objective standard. While I think the Gospel message is good news to people who see through an individual/legal paradigm, it is also good news to the whole world, and in fact should bring us from individualism into a relational orientation as those who belong to God and the body of Christ! Thanks for this article.

 

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