In Evangelical jargon these days, there are two statements that you will inevitably will hear if you’re involved in the movement for any significant length of time.
“I have a personal relationship with Jesus.“
This phrase is understood to be analogous to Jesus’ relationship with the 12 during his life and ministry. For example, Jesus asked probing questions of his disciples, and vice-versa; Jesus shared meals with his disciples; and Jesus modeled a lifestyle worth replicating in our own. Obviously, we Evangelicals don’t mean that we have this relationship physically; instead, we have it spiritually or mystically – but we claim that we absolutely do have it. The statement isn’t meant metaphorically; it’s meant literally. When you are born again you are directly connected to God through Jesus who has direct fellowship with each individual Christian.
The theological claim that is being communicated through this statement is that the Creator of the universe cares for and loves you. In other words, you are important to God.
“It’s Not About You.”
I remember hearing this refrain for the first time in high school. The song “Jesus, Lover of my Soul (It’s All About You)” had become widely popular. Every church seemed to be singing it, every worship band seemed to be remixing it, and youth groups gathered around bond fires while this played in the background (well, at least mine did!).
The first verse goes,
It’s all about You, Jesus
And all this is for You
For Your glory and Your fame
It’s not about me
As if You should do things my way
You alone are God and I surrender
To Your ways
The theological claim that is being communicated through this statement is that Christianity is ultimately about Jesus and Jesus’ mission to reconcile the world to Himself, and we, as Christians, are called to participate humbly in that mission.
He’s Just Not That Into You?
I recently began reading the blog, Exploring Our Matrix, by James F. McGrath of Butler University. He recently wrote a post that was inspired by the film, He’s Just Not That Into You. (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the film and want to – P.S. why would you? – then stop reading.)
The movie begins with a girl being pushed and called names by a boy in a playground. The girl’s mother explains to her that the boy must have done these things because he has a crush on her and likes her. This, it is suggested, is at the root of the attempt women sometimes make later in life to interpret a man’s apparent lack of romantic interest, meanness and various things as meaning something other that appears to be the case when the words or actions are taken at face value.
McGrath sees an interesting parallel between the way the girl’s mother explains flirtation and courtship and the way we sometimes think about God.
If something happens to a religious believer that doesn’t immediately make sense in term of being cared for by a loving and all-powerful God, ways are found to explain away the apparent contradiction. God is just testing you or allowing you to be tested. Satan is trying to trip you up because you love God, and/or God loves you, so much … he won’t put you through anything you can’t handle.
In other words, meanness doesn’t always entail dislike; in fact, sometimes it’s the other way around.
Where McGrath’s analysis gets interesting (and where it relates to the two claims I presented above) is his claim that we tend to interpret events as primarily being about us, and that can be dangerous, or at least misinformative, when we think that way about God.
I propose … that “God just isn’t that into you” in a somewhat facetious, tongue-in-cheek manner. But in a sense, that is what it can feel like when one goes from thinking of God as an anthropomorphic heavenly ‘significant other’ to acknowledging that the universe and/or God’s plan for it may well not revolve around you. The idea that God is not compelling people with important business to nonetheless get in their cars and leave so that you will find a parking spot can be as troubling as the realization that another person’s apparent lack of romantic is in fact what it appears to be, rather than merely an indication that the person hides his or her feelings well, or something else of that sort.
We Evangelicals have created an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, we claim, “Jesus loves you and wants relationship with you,” which indicates at the very least that Christianity is about the individual. But on the other hand, we claim, “Christianity really isn’t about you; it’s about Jesus.” And most of us wouldn’t hesitate to affirm either claim.
Personally, I would understand the two claims to be dialectic in nature, but I can’t help but conclude that we’ve overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter – at least in pop Evangelical culture, language, and theology. I think that we have overemphasized the “personal relationship” analogy so much that we’ve missed the fundamental claim of Christianity, that God is reconciling the world to God’s self through Jesus. And although that fundamental claim certainly includes you and me, it’s much bigger than us.
With McGrath, I would challenge us to do some rethinking.
So I will pose this statement as food for thought (paraphrased from McGrath):
When it comes to relating to God, the key is to recognize that “He’s just not that into you.” The universe and God’s purpose for it includes but does not revolve around you or me.
What do you think?