The spirit of this age – at least in the West – is post-modernity, which views reality as subjective and truth (if it even exists) as individual and relative.
It is not all bad, but neither is it Christ!
Steeped in a post-modern culture, Western Christians are increasingly re-defining Jesus through post-modern sensibilities that we’ve uncritically inherited from the world.
As a result, we focus on a personal, highly individualistic relationship with Him – which is often driven more by our own needs, our own hurts, and our own insecurities than by Jesus Himself.
And so the primary focus of our faith becomes “me and my relationship with Jesus” or “our own little clique’s relationship with Jesus”.
This belief that Jesus is all about subjective relationships is rooted in existentialism and pietism.
Like so many other “-isms”, existentialism and pietism have taken different forms throughout church history, only to emerge and die and then re-emerge time and again – but always with the claim of being new and novel. But where existentialism retreats from anything that is not about a personal experience of Jesus, pietism says that a personal experience of Jesus is the answer to all that ails us, the church, and society.
There is seldom anything new under the sun – especially when it comes to fringe theologies – and the spiffy new post-modern garb of today’s existentialism and pietism bears neat sounding designer labels like “Beyond Evangelical” (with more of an emphasis on the existentialism) and “Emergent” (which is heavier on the pietism).
Like most great errors in church history, existentialism and pietism are rooted in enough truth to be very alluring. But truth out of balance can be the most deceptive of all.
In fact, Jesus is both subjectively relational (i.e., as the Living Word, He relates to me, speaks to me, and dwells within me personally) and objectively propositional (i.e., He defines and proclaims absolute truth through His written word as Lord over all creation – independent of my sensitivities and opinions!).
The problem, however, is that post-modern Christians want the subjectively relational Jesus, but seem to discount – if not deny – the objectively propositional Jesus.
They do this by wanting to avoid the offense of propositional declarations, standards, doctrines and creeds (even though their own stance is driven by theology and creed, but just not a fully Biblical theology or creed!) – or by being critical of those who dare inject God’s objective truths into the great debates of our age.
But like two sides of a coin, you can’t authentically have one Jesus without knowing the other Jesus. And any attempt to promote one side of Jesus to the neglect of the other can’t help but become gross error.
Christians steeped in post-modernity, whether under the banner of “Beyond Evangelical” or “Emergent” or whatever other “us” verses “them” label is in vogue today (but gone tomorrow), need to be asked: Are you of Christ, or of this age?
If you embrace a solely relational Jesus, and deny or discount that He also relates to us and to His creation propositionally through objective truth that applies to and defines all reality, then you are not of Christ as He has authentically revealed Himself to be.
You see, Jesus cares deeply about me, but He is more than about me. He created all and thus defines all. And through His Kingdom, He asserts His authority and Lordship over all aspects of that creation – which is more than just me!
The authentic Jesus relates to me personally and subjectively, but He bids me to become a disciple who submits to His objective Lordship so that I can advance His kingdom – not only relationally, but also propositionally. And I do so as I increasingly understand, affirm and apply His objective Lordship – borne of His redemptive life in me – to all spheres of life, culture and history.
See Part 2 of Beyond Evangelical?