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J.A.A. Purves

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

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One of the best Christianity Today pieces that I've read in a long time:

... After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they'll say something like, "Having faith helps me deal with my problems."

Fifty or sixty years ago, these now-commonplace elements of American church life were regularly found in youth groups but rarely in worship services and adult activities. What happened? Beginning in the 1930s and '40s, Christian teenagers and youth leaders staged a quiet revolution in American church life that led to what can properly be called the juvenilization of American Christianity. Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults. It began with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young, which in fact revitalized American Christianity. But it has sometimes ended with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of the faith. In any case, white evangelicals led the way ...

... Evangelical teenagers were coming to describe the Christian life as falling in love with Jesus and experiencing the "thrills" and "happiness" of a romantic relationship with him. Perhaps because they believed so strongly in a personal relationship with Jesus as the center of Christianity, they didn't question what might be lost when that relationship was equated with an erotic, emotional attraction to a teen idol ...

... In what sociologist James Cote calls the new "psychological adulthood," the individual's "needs and wants" expand and his or her "obligations and attachments" contract. The seven deadly sins have been redefined: "pride has become self esteem … lust has become sexuality … envy is now channeled into initiative and incentive … sloth has become leisure" ...

... Juvenilization tends to create a self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty faith.In their landmark National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and his team of researchers found that the majority of American teenagers, even those who are highly involved in church activities, are inarticulate about religious matters. They seldom used words like faith, salvation, sin, or even Jesus to describe their beliefs. Instead, they return again and again to the language of personal fulfillment to describe why God and Christianity are important to them. The phrase "feel happy" appeared over 2,000 times in 267 interviews.

Smith and his research team labeled this pattern of religious beliefs Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Teenagers learn these beliefs from the adults in their lives. It is the American cultural religion ... Given the history of youth ministry and juvenilization, this pattern of religious beliefs should come as no surprise. As early as the 1950s, youth ministry was low on content and high on emotional fulfillment ... even otherwise exemplary youth ministries could unintentionally send the message that the church or even God exists to help me on my journey of self-development ... This feel-good faith works because it appeals to teenage desires for fun and belonging. It casts a wide net by dumbing down Christianity to the lowest common denominator of adolescent cognitive development and religious motivation. Today many Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems. Religious institutions are bad; only my personal relationship with Jesus matters ...

It's not particularly anything new (Carl F.H. Henry gave similar warnings), but it's certainly a criticism that I don't hear or read very often.

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I've read only the excerpts, not the full article, which probably addresses what I'm about to write. But I'm going to write it anyway.

Pitting adolescent faith against mature faith is a legitimate approach to cultural critique, I suppose, But some of us who came of faith in our youth (late youth in my case -- early college, which might be construed as young adulthood, or even just "adulthood," even though I was still in my [late] teens at the time) didn't feel as though we had mature believers who modeled lively faith. We saw "believers" who instead appeared to approach faith as a Sunday-only obligation, more of an afterthought than a way of life. These folks were mature, but mature in the faith? I didn't think so then and don't think so now, regardless of how those foiks might have labeled themselves.

I'll take immature faith over cultural posing any day.

Edited by Christian

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I agree a lot with what the article has to say.

One thing I will say now. It seems that apologetics has surged in the past few decades (I'm 21 and this year's apologetics conference in Surrey was filled with mostly young people, despite it being only the second year it has been put on) and I think that has helped younger Christians sharpen their faith. I wonder if it would be possible for our theological understanding of Christian tenets develop as well. I'm very tired so I don't think I can explain what I mean thoroughly, but a lot of young people will read books that no doubt help their faith, but they won't delve into deeper material, such as St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas or J.I. Packer.

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As they listen to years of simplified messages that emphasize an emotional relationship with Jesus over intellectual content, teenagers learn that a well-articulated belief system is unimportant and might even become an obstacle to authentic faith. This feel-good faith works because it appeals to teenage desires for fun and belonging. It casts a wide net by dumbing down Christianity to the lowest common denominator of adolescent cognitive development and religious motivation.

I think I'm supposed to love Jesus. Really. Whether that makes me a 56-year-old juvenile is up for debate, of course, but I nevertheless believe it. And although that "love" surely implies much more than an "emotional relationship," it doesn't imply less than that either. That "emotional relationship" goes through fallow times, and times of doing the right thing simply because it's the right thing, and not because I "feel" it (much like a marriage). But it is based on the notion that God can be known in the person of his son Jesus. It is a relational faith first and foremost; relational in that I am in this with other people who share a common belief system and a common life, and relational in that God is a personal God who can be known, and not merely known about.

The author appears to pine for the "good old days" where small groups didn't exist (?), where spiritual isolation and compartmentalization were the norms, and where one's Christian "maturity" could apparently be defined by a series of doctrinal statements. I have no interest in that kind of Christianity. None. That kind of Christianity is a supreme waste of time, and one would do better by staying home on Sunday mornings (that being, according to the author, about the only time when one's Christianity should come into play, lest dreaded small groups or other parachurch ministries rear their ugly heads) and working the New York Times crossword puzzle. At least your vocabulary might improve. Frankly, I'm never going to devote my life to a doctrinal checklist. He's welcome to it.

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Greg P   

I agree with a lot in the article. I have been very critical of this whole "personal relationship" thing with american christianity for a long time. I find this idea dominates and trumps all other considerations when it comes to following the path of Jesus of Nazareth, and frankly I don't believe the Bible ever emphasizes such a thing or encourages anyone to pursue it. I can't go to church or talk christianity with folks without someone asking me "how's your personal love relationship with Jesus?" or something to that effect. Such talk repels me.

But, I think I'm finally turning a corner in my curmudgeonly spiritual outlook. I still think the idea of a personal relationship with a deity is mostly make-believe (and let me clarify: I mean this idea that I talk to Jesus, he talks back and tells me what to do in life, I talk back to HIm and he gives me a thumbs up, etc) but I don;t think it's necessarily unhealthy. And this goes back to a previous discussion we had about the role of the imagination and faith.People attach their own meaning to art, music, film, literature ... and relationships and religion. Most of the time the "reality" people attach is invented, hatched and given life inside the confines of their own mind... and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing. If it gives people hope and happiness in religion-- and apparently it does-- what's the problem with it? At this stage of my life I think the "relationship" they imagine rewires something in the brain that might just make them more balanced, compassionate human beings.

Edited by Greg P

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I agree with a lot in the article. I have been very critical of this whole "personal relationship" thing with american christianity for a long time. I find this idea dominates and trumps all other considerations when it comes to following the path of Jesus of Nazareth, and frankly I don't believe the Bible ever emphasizes such a thing or encourages anyone to pursue it. I can't go to church or talk christianity with folks without someone asking me "how's your personal love relationship with Jesus?" or something to that effect. Such talk repels me.

But, I think I'm finally turning a corner in my curmudgeonly spiritual outlook. I still think the idea of a personal relationship with a deity is mostly make-believe (and let me clarify: I mean this idea that I talk to Jesus, he talks back and tells me what to do in life, I talk back to HIm and he gives me a thumbs up, etc) but I don;t think it's necessarily unhealthy. And this goes back to a previous discussion we had about the role of the imagination and faith.People attach their own meaning to art, music, film, literature ... and relationships and religion. Most of the time the "reality" people attach is invented, hatched and given life inside the confines of their own mind... and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing. If it gives people hope and happiness in religion-- and apparently it does-- what's the problem with it? At this stage of my life I think the "relationship" they imagine rewires something in the brain that might just make them more balanced, compassionate human beings.

If God is silent and uninvolved with individuals, then why bother? If Christianity is about an idea, and not a person who can be known, then find a better idea, because as ideas go, that one is nuts.

The author criticizes elements of the church that can lead to a commodification of the faith. And I get it. But if the hallmarks of that "commodity" are things like small groups and a "personal relationship with Jesus" as the author claims, then I'm all for commodification. The author seems to struggle with the relational aspects of Christianity. He cites the emergence of Christians gathering together outside of Sunday morning as evidence of the "juvenelization" of the faith (as if one was supposed to grow out of the habit of hanging out with other people, or that such desires somehow "emerged" in the fifties and sixites). He cites adult mission trips as further evidence. I guess only teenagers are supposed to engage in those activities. He cites disapprovingly such statements as "God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally," as if a hallmark of Christian maturity was judgmentalism and finger wagging. And he disparages the notion of "having a personal relationship with Jesus," as if that was yet another of those silly adolescent notions that one should abandon as a mature Christian.

I'll put it this way. If he's right, then I don't want to be a Christian. The world has enough boring, isolated assholes who think that Christianity is all about a mastery of a bunch of knowledge. I understand the appeal. I have been that boring, isolated, smart asshole who could expound on all manner of doctrines. But it's not about mastery, and it's not that hard, at least in theory. It's the doing of it that's hard; stuff like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But that's what it's about. And none of that can happen without strong relationships with other Christians and an ongoing personal relationship with God. If that's the hallmark of juvenile Christianity, then I hope I remain an adolescent forever.

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Greg P   
If God is silent and uninvolved with individuals, then why bother? If Christianity is about an idea, and not a person who can be known, then find a better idea, because as ideas go, that one is nuts.
I don't accept this and find the either/or suggestion extreme. I think there are several possibilities.

My experience has shown me that Jesus does not have a personal relationship with ME, at least not in the way that Rees Howells, Roy Hession, Winkey Pratney or Henry Blackaby said he would (and that's a chronological listing in my life of a few of the proponents of The Personal Relationship). In fact, if anything, my experience was almost the opposite of what they said. So I had a few choices:

1) I could kid myself and hold on to this notion that Jesus is wanting to speak to me DIRECTLY all the time, even though he clearly does NOT.

2) I could reevaluate the whole idea of The Personal Relationship, accept that the term and concept are very new introductions into Western Christendom and consider that the Bible, history and experience may teach something very different about how God interacts with people. I could then embrace the idea that there is no formula or biblical promise that secures Divine Communication, and that my interaction with God will be--on this side of eternity-- shrouded in mystery, wonder, SILENCE... and often an appalling lack of answers . I could also embrace the fact that even so, God is worth serving for His own sake and that He remains the source of ultimate value and love in the universe.

3) I could throw Christianity away in utter frustration.

I just got to the point where # 1 wasn't an option for me anymore because I got tired of pretending He was talking to me when He wasn't. Others heard from Him all the time-- I didn't. I pondered #3 for a few years and didn't want that either. #2 became a reasonable option for me. That's where I'm at today.

I am however beginning to process a fourth option, and it's this concept that even if people are using their imaginations to connect with God, and not necessarily hearing directly from Him, it still may not be such a terrible thing. In fact, maybe the use of human imagination is helping people to have a healthy sense of well-being in their daily lives. Who am I to take that away from them?

Edited by Greg P

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I don't accept this and find the either/or suggestion extreme. I think there are several possibilities.

So I had a few choices:

1) I could kid myself and hold on to this notion that Jesus is wanting to speak to me DIRECTLY all the time, even though he clearly does NOT.

I don't believe that. I don't know anyone who holds that it is possible to have a "personal relationship with Jesus" who believes that.

Nevertheless, the consolations of the faith are real. It is possible to experience peace in the midst of trauma, assurance in the midst of doubt, hope in the midst of great personal tragedy, etc. These are not constructs of the human imagination. They are the gift of God. And they are more than giving intellectual assent to a series of theological propositions. They come from without, not from within.

There are many, many instances in the Bible that back up that assertion.

Be still and know that I am God.

I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you to my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Now suppose one of your fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

All of these verses speak of a God who can be known. The presence of God is not some quaint metaphor; it is something that can be experienced, by real people, today.

I'll be the first to admit that there is a great deal of mystery here. There's no formula, there are no three easy steps, and I, like probably almost everyone else, have experienced times in my life when I desperately wanted to experience the presence of God, but did not. But there have been times when I have. Many times, in fact. And I'm not going to downplay or deny that. And these are times when God has been personally very real to me; you might even call it a personal relationship with Jesus. I suppose I would. And that's what is at stake when someone (Thomas E. Bergler, for example) confidently posits that such expressions are a mark of Christian immaturity.

If Bergler wants to caution that God is not a magic genii, that rubbing the magic prayer lamp will not automatically result in an infusion of divine consolation, then I'll buy that. But that's not what he's arguing. He's arguing that one, as a "mature" Christian, should move beyond such experiences and apparently just accept the notion that real Christianity is nothing more than intellectual assent to a bunch of theological propositions, with a bit of non-rock music thrown in during "worship" services, whatever worship would mean in that context.

Well, screw it. If that's the case, then Christianity is a profound waste of time. If the consolations of God are not real, in THIS life, and if the presence of God is merely some reflection of immature thinking that one should grow out of, then I have no interest in whatever eviscerated version of Christianity is left. When people speak of a "personal relationship with Jesus" all they are saying is that God can be known. Not merely studied. Not merely assented to. Known. And I believe that, at least in part, because I KNOW it. In all my times of desperation, of frustration, of crying out for understanding that I do not have and may never have in this life, what carries me through is that I know God, and God knows me. Call it something else if "personal relationship with Jesus" sounds immature. Call it whatever you like, as long as you acknowledge the reality. But I want no part of the Christianity Mr. Bergler envisions. God can be known. Characterizing that belief as a mark of immaturity, and denigrating those who hold to that belief, leaves you with something, I suppose; something that is dry as dust, purely intellectual, and utterly ineffectual. I'm not sure it should be called Christianity.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I don't accept this and find the either/or suggestion extreme. I think there are several possibilities.

So I had a few choices:

1) I could kid myself and hold on to this notion that Jesus is wanting to speak to me DIRECTLY all the time, even though he clearly does NOT.

I don't believe that. I don't know anyone who holds that it is possible to have a "personal relationship with Jesus" who believes that.

I don't know exactly how this story maps onto the notion mentioned above, but I had a conversation with a friend recently, about his Pentecostal faith, and he told me that not long after he had his conversion experience, he was told at a prayer group about "baptism in the Holy Spirit", and he wanted to (in his own words!) "test God", so he was walking down the street and said, "God, if this is real, make that car turn left at the next light", and it turned left. Then he said, "God, if this is real, make the next car that comes over the hill be red [or some other color, I don't remember which color he said]," and it was.

Note that I'm not calling this anything but coincidence, but he certainly was saying he found it to be a successful test of God.

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I don't accept this and find the either/or suggestion extreme. I think there are several possibilities.

So I had a few choices:

1) I could kid myself and hold on to this notion that Jesus is wanting to speak to me DIRECTLY all the time, even though he clearly does NOT.

I don't believe that. I don't know anyone who holds that it is possible to have a "personal relationship with Jesus" who believes that.

I don't know exactly how this story maps onto the notion mentioned above, but I had a conversation with a friend recently, about his Pentecostal faith, and he told me that not long after he had his conversion experience, he was told at a prayer group about "baptism in the Holy Spirit", and he wanted to (in his own words!) "test God", so he was walking down the street and said, "God, if this is real, make that car turn left at the next light", and it turned left. Then he said, "God, if this is real, make the next car that comes over the hill be red [or some other color, I don't remember which color he said]," and it was.

Note that I'm not calling this anything but coincidence, but he certainly was saying he found it to be a successful test of God.

I'd say it's bizarre. And sure, there are people who believe such things.

But because some people who believe in a "personal relationship with Jesus" also believe that God is a Magic 8 Ball doesn't mean that God can't be known. One of the hallmarks of Christianity (as opposed to other religions) is that God is personal. He enters into relationships with individuals and groups of people, and that notion can be traced from the Book of Genesis forward.

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Anders   

One of the hallmarks of Christianity (as opposed to other religions) is that God is personal. He enters into relationships with individuals and groups of people, and that notion can be traced from the Book of Genesis forward.

I think that the concept of "juvenilization" in American (and Canadian for that matter) Christianity is a real problem.

As strongly as you reacted against the article, Andy, I think you hit on one of the things that is most juvenile about the particular brand of Evangelicalism being critiqued here. Note: this is not an original observation (see Stephanie Drury's mantra on Stuff Christian Culture Likes), but one thing that it seems to fit the "juvenile" model is a focus on "activity and programs" over and above real relationships, with people, let along God/Christ. It's the "summer camp" model of Christianity. Not the "marriage" model. And I do think that by and large that part is juvenile.

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One of the hallmarks of Christianity (as opposed to other religions) is that God is personal. He enters into relationships with individuals and groups of people, and that notion can be traced from the Book of Genesis forward.

I think that the concept of "juvenilization" in American (and Canadian for that matter) Christianity is a real problem.

As strongly as you reacted against the article, Andy, I think you hit on one of the things that is most juvenile about the particular brand of Evangelicalism being critiqued here. Note: this is not an original observation (see Stephanie Drury's mantra on Stuff Christian Culture Likes), but one thing that it seems to fit the "juvenile" model is a focus on "activity and programs" over and above real relationships, with people, let along God/Christ. It's the "summer camp" model of Christianity. Not the "marriage" model. And I do think that by and large that part is juvenile.

Bergler criticizes the notion of small groups. That's relational, by definition (or at least can be, and is designed to be). But to Bergler, this is simply more evidence of "juvenilization."

Here are his opening two paragraphs:

The house lights go down. Spinning, multicolored lights sweep the auditorium. A rock band launches into a rousing opening song. "Ignore everyone else, this time is just about you and Jesus," proclaims the lead singer. The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus. A guitarist sporting skinny jeans and a soul patch closes the worship set with a prayer, beginning, "Hey God …" The spotlight then falls on the speaker, who tells entertaining stories, cracks a few jokes, and assures everyone that "God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally."

After worship, some members of the church sign up for the next mission trip, while others decide to join a small group where they can receive support on their faith journey. If you ask the people here why they go to church or what they value about their faith, they'll say something like, "Having faith helps me deal with my problems."

That's how he sets the table.

To which I would reply:

-- Are we really still arguing about rock music in church?

-- It's good to eliminate distractions and focus on worshipping the Lord. No one else can do it for you.

-- I don't give a flying fig what people wear to church or that the music pastor has a goatee. Seriously, this is still an issue?

-- Yep. It's true. God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.

-- Mission trips can be excellent ways to serve and wonderful platforms to build community, even if you're older than 19.

-- Small groups facilitate relationships. Relationships are good, and the Christian life can't be lived outside the context of relationships. Being supported on one's faith journey is also good. It's kind of what the Church is supposed to do.

-- Faith involves far more than dealing with your problems, but yes, it will help you deal with your problems.

The guy sounds like a crank. Kids these days. What are you gonna do?

I'm not sure what Bergler is looking for in his desire for a "mature" church. Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to be relational.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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-- Yep. It's true. God is not mad at you. He loves you unconditionally.

I am often amazed at the need some people have to follow a God they need to see as angry and pissed off at humanity. It seems for some the surest sign of righteousness is anger.

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I haven't read the article yet (beyond the bits quoted here), but I think the problem with talking about a "personal relationship" with Jesus is that this phrase is usually used in opposition to relationships with other people, especially the Church. That is, people claim they can ignore whatever their fellow Christians tell them because they've got a "personal relationship" with Jesus that bypasses all that.

There's also the way an emphasis on a "personal relationship" with Christ leads to the whole "buddy Jesus" thing. The Trinity is profoundly personal and profoundly relational -- so, yes, personal relationships are absolutely at the heart of our faith, doth practically and doctrinally -- but I don't think you could call the Father, Son and Holy Spirit "buddies".

Another example that comes to mind: I think we could certainly say that Lucy Pevensie, in the Narnia stories, has a "personal relationship" with Aslan, even a semi-unique or special relationship that is different from most others' relationship with him. (She even receives secret messages from him that no one else gets.) But what is the *focus* of that relationship? Where does it point? Where does it lead? How is it characterized?

Re: "The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus." Yeah, I think the problem here is not so much the "pop music" aspect of it, per se, but the whole "falling in love" business. I'm all in favour of treating our relationship with God the way we do a marriage -- but the notion that "falling in love" is a necessary prerequisite for marriage is of rather recent vintage. I, for one, got married without "falling in love", and I remember discussing with my wife-to-be, in the early days of our relationship, that I couldn't listen to a lot of my favorite Beatles songs because they were all about love at first sight etc., and I simply didn't find that a useful headspace to be in at the moment. (I can listen to them again *now*, though, thank goodness.) But do I love my wife? Absolutely. Just not in that adolescent way. And I'm not sure that efforts to create a "falling in love" feeling are the healthiest way to approach *any* relationship, even one with Jesus (and worship bands are about virtually nothing *but* creating feelings).

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I haven't read the article yet (beyond the bits quoted here), but I think the problem with talking about a "personal relationship" with Jesus is that this phrase is usually used in opposition to relationships with other people, especially the Church. That is, people claim they can ignore whatever their fellow Christians tell them because they've got a "personal relationship" with Jesus that bypasses all that.

Well, in this case, Bergler finds fault with people who want to be involved in small groups; the very place where the issues you rightly point out can be combatted and addressed.

There's also the way an emphasis on a "personal relationship" with Christ leads to the whole "buddy Jesus" thing. The Trinity is profoundly personal and profoundly relational -- so, yes, personal relationships are absolutely at the heart of our faith, doth practically and doctrinally -- but I don't think you could call the Father, Son and Holy Spirit "buddies".

There can be a flippancy in the way that relationship is expressed. Certainly we should never lose sight of the fact that God is God, and we are not. But I don't have a problem, per se, with the idea of addressing God colloquially and personally. Nor do I have a problem with praying the prayers that the Church has prayed for 2,000 years. Both are excellent. Both have their place.

Re: "The music changes to a slow dance tune, and the people sing about falling in love with Jesus." Yeah, I think the problem here is not so much the "pop music" aspect of it, per se, but the whole "falling in love" business. I'm all in favour of treating our relationship with God the way we do a marriage -- but the notion that "falling in love" is a necessary prerequisite for marriage is of rather recent vintage. I, for one, got married without "falling in love", and I remember discussing with my wife-to-be, in the early days of our relationship, that I couldn't listen to a lot of my favorite Beatles songs because they were all about love at first sight etc., and I simply didn't find that a useful headspace to be in at the moment. (I can listen to them again *now*, though, thank goodness.) But do I love my wife? Absolutely. Just not in that adolescent way. And I'm not sure that efforts to create a "falling in love" feeling are the healthiest way to approach *any* relationship, even one with Jesus (and worship bands are about virtually nothing *but* creating feelings).

I'm really curious as to what this "falling in love with Jesus" song might be. I'm aware of a couple contemporary worship choruses that roughly fit the category (and are execrable), but by far the majority of these choruses have to do with *loving* Jesus, not falling in love with Jesus. And as best I can tell, loving Jesus is a good thing, and to be encouraged. If you've got a crush on Jesus, then your prospects for mature faith are probably not great. But honestly, I think so many of these worship choruses are slammed because people are simply uncomfortable with emotions. Well, that and the fact that the lyrics are often banal beyond belief. But the basic impetus behind many of these choruses -- the notion of loving Jesus -- is right and proper. It's what we're called to do. Personally, I like a mix of doctrinally heavy traditional hymns and more lightweight worship choruses that focus on loving Jesus. But I'm not convinced that a steady diet of doctrinal grocery lists is the answer, either. It's hard to get excited about a grocery list. It's also hard to love a grocery list. It's not hard to love Jesus, and if worship allows people to express that in non-infatuated ways, then I'm all for it.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: But honestly, I think so many of these worship choruses are slammed because people are simply uncomfortable with emotions. Well, that and the fact that the lyrics are often banal beyond belief.

This made me chuckle. :)

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: But honestly, I think so many of these worship choruses are slammed because people are simply uncomfortable with emotions.

So...Andy...you are suggesting some Christians are kind of like Vulcans? :)

Edited by Nezpop

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Greg P   
Another example that comes to mind: I think we could certainly say that Lucy Pevensie, in the Narnia stories, has a "personal relationship" with Aslan, even a semi-unique or special relationship that is different from most others' relationship with him. (She even receives secret messages from him that no one else gets.)

Yes. In similar fashion to John, that "disciple whom Jesus loved".

One of the hallmarks of Christianity (as opposed to other religions) is that God is personal. He enters into relationships with individuals and groups of people, and that notion can be traced from the Book of Genesis forward.
I think the model demonstrated in Scripture is that God chose to enter into "personal relationships" with certain people.I don't see a precedent insuring He will be like that with everyone.

In the same way,not everyone gets to do something"great" in life-- this whole "God has destined you to do mighty things" is very deceptive, especially considering the majority of 6 billion people in the world live in abject poverty and will toil most of their life in a factory, a field or in some faceless corporate machine. God sovereignly chooses certain people for historic tasks. They are a tiny, tiny minority, so why stress this? Very few people will ever get to do something "great" in the world, but that doesn't mean they can't lead great lives. By the same token, people may likely find God mysteriously silent all their lives and never hear his voice-- that doesn't mean they aren't united with God through Christ, as sons and daughters.

One of gargantuan issues I have with the Relationship with God movement is that it tells people to expect God to be intimate with them on a daily basis, and I'm convinced for the vast population of Christians He is not and this sets people up for agnosticism. I think the reality for most of us, is that God is very silent. We ask for healing and help and it most often does not come-- at least not like we asked. We seek "answers" and get only more questions. This is the mystery of Faith. And yet in the midst of all this there ARE assurances and odd impressions of hope and comfort that seem to come from the strangest of places. It's a wonderful and painful paradox, full of tension. Anything else is cheap and ultimately untrue as far as I'm concerned.

Edited by Greg P

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One of gargantuan issues I have with the Relationship with God movement is that it tells people to expect God to be intimate with them on a daily basis, and I'm convinced for the vast population of Christians He is not and this sets people up for agnosticism. I think the reality for most of us, is that God is very silent. We ask for healing and help and it most often does not come-- at least not like we asked. We seek "answers" and get only more questions. This is the mystery of Faith. And yet in the midst of all this there ARE assurances and odd impressions of hope and comfort that seem to come from the strangest of places. It's a wonderful and painful paradox, full of tension. Anything else is cheap and ultimately untrue as far as I'm concerned.

But then, such a claim to faith makes it seem more "made up". Theology often seems like "making excuses for the silence and inaction of God"... honestly, when the best answer people have is "God is just to big for our little minds to comprehend and we cannot truly understand his reasons" I find myself wondering how faith ever became a supposed virtue. At best, we are pets, not active participants in a relational system. I found religion and faith developed a real sense of pessimism that I do not miss.

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One of the hallmarks of Christianity (as opposed to other religions) is that God is personal. He enters into relationships with individuals and groups of people, and that notion can be traced from the Book of Genesis forward.

I think the model demonstrated in Scripture is that God chose to enter into "personal relationships" with certain people.I don't see a precedent insuring He will be like that with everyone.

In the same way,not everyone gets to do something"great" in life-- this whole "God has destined you to do mighty things" is very deceptive, especially considering the majority of 6 billion people in the world live in abject poverty and will toil most of their life in a factory, a field or in some faceless corporate machine. God sovereignly chooses certain people for historic tasks. They are a tiny, tiny minority, so why stress this? Very few people will ever get to do something "great" in the world, but that doesn't mean they can't lead great lives. By the same token, people may likely find God mysteriously silent all their lives and never hear his voice-- that doesn't mean they aren't united with God through Christ, as sons and daughters.

One of gargantuan issues I have with the Relationship with God movement is that it tells people to expect God to be intimate with them on a daily basis, and I'm convinced for the vast population of Christians He is not and this sets people up for agnosticism. I think the reality for most of us, is that God is very silent. We ask for healing and help and it most often does not come-- at least not like we asked. We seek "answers" and get only more questions. This is the mystery of Faith. And yet in the midst of all this there ARE assurances and odd impressions of hope and comfort that seem to come from the strangest of places. It's a wonderful and painful paradox, full of tension. Anything else is cheap and ultimately untrue as far as I'm concerned.

The precedent is called the Holy Spirit, Greg. And that's really what this comes down to.

The Holy Spirit has been given to every Christian. I'm fairly certain that's a strongly biblical notion. It's not as if some Christians were given the Spirit so that they could accomplish great things, while other Christians were left to slave away in the fields and factories and Wal-Mart superstores bereft of everything but existential despair. The Book of Romans is fairly blunt about it: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9).

So the question becomes what that looks like. Admittedly there are portions of the Church that have skewed the answer, preferring to focus on the sideshow that is the gifts of the Spirit. That's another discussion, but for the purposes of this thread, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fruits of the Spirit. According to the Bible and every catechism ever written, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and leads us into truth. So how does that work?

Well, let me give you an example: this thread. It's obvious that I don't like Mr. Bergler's article. But here's what happened. I prayed yesterday. Actually, I prayed several times, stopping throughout the day to pray the particular office that was appropriate for that time. It's what I do every day, because deep down I'm a Catholic in Protestant costume. That means I prayed the Lord's Prayer several times, part of which reads, "Forgive us our sins (debts), as we forgive those who have sinned against us (or, our debtors)." That's when the Holy Spirit stepped in. The Holy Spirit asked[1], "So, is there anyone you have not forgiven?" I thought about it. "Yes," I thought. "Thomas E. Bergler. I can't stand that guy." Well, that was a problem, the Holy Spirit said, more or less, and suggested that I should repent of such a view. So I did. And I did it a couple more times throughout the day. And I did it this morning, all over again. As best I can tell, this is how forgiveness works. You let go of the shit in your life -- stuff like pride, and anger, and the ever-present need to be snarky -- over and over, moment by moment, day by day. And if the unforgiveness is still there, you do it all over again.

This is a "personal relationship with Jesus," Greg. That's what it looks like. You let God (and other people, I might add) speak into your life. It's no more complicated than that. I still don't like that article. I still think the focus of the article is fundamentally wrong. But I repent of some of the things I wrote earlier in this thread, because they don't look much like gentleness or, God help me, self-control.

Does that help to clarify? I hope so.

[1] More or less. No, I didn't hear an audible voice.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Greg P   
I'm talking about the fruits of the Spirit.

That's what I'm talking about too.

Being quietly conformed, day by day, into the image of Christ by the indwelling Spirit is something much different from saying I have a personal thing with Jesus where I talk to Him and he talks back. You said earlier in this thread you don't know any Christians that believe that, and I'm saying from my vantage point in the southernmost tip of the continental United States, that is pretty much all I see and hear in Evangelicalism. People want a God that's going to "speak into their life" like an indwelling Dr. Phil. And what if He doesn't? That's the troubling part. My impression is that if people can't have a God like that, then they don't want him at all.

A God who is silent. A God who often seems very distant. A God who disappoints and doesn't come through. A God who seemingly ignores the large degree of human suffering. No one wants this God. But despite my questions and issues with His performance on planet earth, I believe He is the real God. Somehow.

Take the blog entry from a conservative, southern baptist relative of mine who says that while she was on a morning jog recently, the Lord spoke to her about the pink flowers blooming in a neighbors yard.. She said to herself "I love pink" and the Lord said to her (in her spirit, of course... not audibly) "I made the color pink just for you" (Insert mind-blowing meditation on God's love and how God created a color just for her) Now, I know this sounds extreme to some of the more cultured, critical-thinkers at A&F, but this isn't whacked out Pentecostalism at play here,... this is First Baptist Morning Devotional stuff nowadays. It isn't fringe Christianity. Let me add that the individual in this story has a degree from a reputable college and is a former educator-- by no means a nutcase. I share this personal anecdote to emphasize, people actually think like this. Lots and lots of them. And this is precisely what has taken over Christianity in America and what I think Bergler addresses-- at least in part-- in his article. And it's precisely what I reject in this whole Personal Relationship with God theology. It is to religion, what Rebecca Black's "Friday" is to music.

That's when the Holy Spirit stepped in. The Holy Spirit asked[1], "So, is there anyone you have not forgiven?" I thought about it. "Yes," I thought. "Thomas E. Bergler. I can't stand that guy." Well, that was a problem, the Holy Spirit said, more or less, and suggested that I should repent of such a view. So I did.
I do not question for a second your sincerity. But I question the "prompting" thing in general, because it always sounds to me to be very human. Does God really care whether you got a red ass over Bergler's article? And was such an emotion boxing God out of your life?? You know,... "fellowship-wise"?

At the risk of sounding like a pompous ass (and I hope you won't get mad at me, because I love you Andy) I rather doubt it. I know God has hair-counts and sparrow breakfast menus down pat, but this seems a little nitpicky, in a very human, self-critical sort of way.

Edited by Greg P

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Being quietly conformed, day by day, into the image of Christ by the indwelling Spirit is something much different from saying I have a personal thing with Jesus where I talk to Him and he talks back. You said earlier in this thread you don't know any Christians that believe that, and I'm saying from my vantage point in the southernmost tip of the continental United States, that is pretty much all I see and hear in Evangelicalism. People want a God that's going to "speak into their life" like an indwelling Dr. Phil. And what if He doesn't? That's the troubling part. My impression is that if people can't have a God like that, then they don't want him at all.

A God who is silent. A God who often seems very distant. A God who disappoints and doesn't come through. A God who seemingly ignores the large degree of human suffering. No one wants this God. But despite my questions and issues with His performance on planet earth, I believe He is the real God. Somehow.

Take the blog entry from a conservative, southern baptist relative of mine who says that while she was on a morning jog recently, the Lord spoke to her about the pink flowers blooming in a neighbors yard.. She said to herself "I love pink" and the Lord said to her (in her spirit, of course... not audibly) "I made the color pink just for you" (Insert mind-blowing meditation on God's love and how God created a color just for her) Now, I know this sounds extreme to some of the more cultured, critical-thinkers at A&F, but this isn't whacked out Pentecostalism at play here,... this is First Baptist Morning Devotional stuff nowadays. It isn't fringe Christianity. Let me add that the individual in this story has a degree from a reputable college and is a former educator-- by no means a nutcase. I share this personal anecdote to emphasize, people actually think like this. Lots and lots of them. And this is precisely what has taken over Christianity in America and what I think Bergler addresses-- at least in part-- in his article. And it's precisely what I reject in this whole Personal Relationship with God theology.

I haven't seen the blog entry, of course, but the statement in itself ("God made the color pink just for me") is goofy.

If, on the other hand, the sight of some pretty pink flowers elicited a very personal response to the beauty of creation, then I can well believe that God might work that way. Perhaps it was expressed badly, but these revelations are, by their nature, profoundly personal. Beauty is an abstract notion that becomes three-dimensional when individuals encounter the real deal in specific circumstances. And I have no difficulty in ascribing that as the work of God. Granted, there's a narcissistic component in viewing this as your own private pink, or whatever. But It might simply be a fumbling attempt on the part of your relative to describe something that is very real and profound. Revelation -- even general revelation, like the sight of pink flowers -- can only be experienced individually. And my guess is that that's what your relative is trying to express.

I don't deny or discount that God is often silent, can seem very distant, and often disappoints. All of that is true. And sometimes it's equally true that the reality of God blazes forth. In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God/It will flame out." Even in pink chrysanthemums.

I do not question for a second your sincerity. But I question the "prompting" thing in general, because it always sounds to me to be very human. Does God really care whether you got a red ass over Bergler's article? And was such an emotion boxing God out of your life?? You know,... "fellowship-wise"?

At the risk of sounding like a pompous ass (and I hope you won't get mad at me, because I love you Andy) I rather doubt it. I know God has hair-counts and sparrow breakfast menus down pat, but this seems a little nitpicky, in a very human, self-critical sort of way.

Well, if all of those "omni" words about God are true (omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc.), then it's not farfetched to believe that God is intimately involved in every nook and cranny of an individual life. So yes, God might (and I would like to believe does) care about my attitude about an article I read on the Internet. Is it me or is it God who is doing the prompting? Yes, and yes. That's the way it works. The answer is hopelessly convoluted. God works through my conscience. The fact that I'm able to recognize my own besetting sins in the midst of a world that constantly asks me to live on the surface, to not ask the hard questions at all, is, in itself, the work of God. I don't know how to separate out what is me and what is God in that context. But I know that God is at work in the process. And if I attribute the good stuff -- the calling out of sin, the recognition of the need for repentance -- to the work of the Holy Spirit, I do so because that's what God does, and that's what the Holy Spirit does.

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Take the blog entry from a conservative, southern baptist relative of mine who says that while she was on a morning jog recently, the Lord spoke to her about the pink flowers blooming in a neighbors yard.. She said to herself "I love pink" and the Lord said to her (in her spirit, of course... not audibly) "I made the color pink just for you" (Insert mind-blowing meditation on God's love and how God created a color just for her) Now, I know this sounds extreme to some of the more cultured, critical-thinkers at A&F, but this isn't whacked out Pentecostalism at play here,... this is First Baptist Morning Devotional stuff nowadays. It isn't fringe Christianity. Let me add that the individual in this story has a degree from a reputable college and is a former educator-- by no means a nutcase. I share this personal anecdote to emphasize, people actually think like this. Lots and lots of them. And this is precisely what has taken over Christianity in America and what I think Bergler addresses-- at least in part-- in his article. And it's precisely what I reject in this whole Personal Relationship with God theology.

I have to agree with this point. Honestly, you are describing a huge chunk of people from the last Church I was a part of. It took me years to figure out that God probably isn't telling me what car to by, what records to get, should I go to Chipotle or Culvers and so on. I had friends tormented by trying to discern what God was directing them to do...that God had a specific person ordained for them...that God was deeply concerned about every tiny bit of their day to day lives. I remember a friend asking about God's direction on if they should get another car after the one they had broke down for good. He was trying to discern God's direction on the whole issue. After listening, I basically said I do not think God is all that worried about it.

Jesus statement about how God cares for the sparrows and we are much more important to God alway seems strange when the ground is littered with dead sparrows. Add to that an vangelical obsession with the idea that "people suck", it makes God come across as very schizophrenic. He loves me, He hates me...I was created to be loved by God, I am unworthy scum...it gets confusing.

I can see Andy's concern, but I know Greg is not exaggerating...I see it on my facebook wall all the time, people offering the same platitudes and "inspirational" thoughts as his relative. And I know Pastors that talk like the Bible is some sort of Sports Playbook that provides every answer to every question, so I am not surprised to see this impact the parishoners.

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Greg P   
Granted, there's a narcissistic component in viewing this as your own private pink, or whatever. But It might simply be a fumbling attempt on the part of your relative to describe something that is very real and profound. Revelation -- even general revelation, like the sight of pink flowers -- can only be experienced individually. And my guess is that that's what your relative is trying to express.

I'm going to go with good 'ol fashioned narcissism.

Look, we live in a world of over six billion people. We desperately want to know that we matter to someone, somewhere. We want anyone, in this endless ocean of humanity, to bear witness to our existence-- I get that. There are ways to do this and find validation without invoking the Almighty and playing pretend. To me, the very beginning of true worship is the acknowledgement that I am finite and ridiculously insignificant in the scheme of the cosmos. This doesn't mean I have no value-- I do-- it just means that I'm teeny, teeny tiny. That fact needs no footnote and or addendum, and attempts to do so are generally borne out of fear. People are scared to think they don't matter. This is vanity. And this current "personal relationship" fad is a cover up for a very weak and deceptive part of human nature.

We are special to God. I believe this. We are greatly beloved. I believe this too. (against some contrary evidence) But I don't need to name-drop God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit or refer to some private dialogue between the Godhead and myself to maintain those beliefs. It's just not necessary. God, the actual Being, is immense, to say the least. Based on scripture, all bets are that a personal, private meeting would be a little terrifying. I don't presume that He has anything burning to say to me directly at the moment, outside of the testimonies of Jesus of Nazareth. If he did want to tell me something today via special revelation, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be about colors and it would probably scare the living shit out of me. I'm open to such an encounter. But not necessarily anxious, ya know?

Edited by Greg P

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This discussion is focusing on whether/how God might still speak to us. But Scripture shows how God has already spoken. God has revealed himself, in a person and in the book that tells us about that person. Seems like Greg is intent on saying that God only spoke/speaks to some people, while Andy may be arguing that the Holy Spirit is the only way He communicates today.

This discussion raises the question not only of whether I agree with what either of you affirms, but with what either of you denies, right? I'm not sure I understand that in Greg's case. I'm more comfortable with what Andy's written, because he's written it here in various forms many times over the years.

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