Personal relationship with God

You might not have realised this, but Christianity is not a religion or a set of beliefs. It is a relationship with God. Or at least, a lot of Christians will tell you it is. I’ve been talking to some of them on uk.religion.christian recently.

The assertion that “Christianity is a relationship” is, at its most basic, a part of an apologetic or evangelistic technique. When talking to people who think that religion is a bad thing, the Christian attempts to convince the listener that Christianity is not like other religions, in fact, it’s so different that it’s not really a religion at all (one can presume that we were saved from claims that Christianity is “religion 2.0” by the fact that there was no Internet when people were thinking this stuff up). It’s the religious equivalent of the spammer’s claim that spam is that which we don’t do. robhu ran into this sort of claim recently. Not all Christians go along with this sort of word-game: hurrah for woodpijn, who is happy to admit that Christianity is in fact a religion.

It’s more interesting to hear people talking of a “personal relationship with God”. I think it means that the Christian relates to God in prayer a bit like they’d relate to humans by talking and listening (God being a person with whom such a relationship is possible, albeit a vastly superior sort of person). This gets you into trouble straight away. If, for example, all the people who claim have they such a relationship really did, they would all agree with each other because when the question of what God thought about something arose, they could just ask him. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but the most recent thread was started off when the Christians on uk.r.c told an atheist that he’d misunderstood Christianity by taking it as a set of beliefs, because in fact (you guessed it) “it’s a relationship with God”. I made my usual point that God doesn’t seem to have his story straight when talking to different people. A couple of posters responded that this was a simplistic view of a relationship, and that the things about which Christians disagree on uk.r.c weren’t very important to God. You can see my response to that.

Mark Goodge responded differently, by saying that he’d meant “relationship” in the sense that someone just is someone else’s son or daughter, regardless of how often they actually speak. Christians are God’s adopted children, even if they believe wildly different things.

As I said in my reply, I can see his point (after all, I thought liberals Christians were real Christians when I was an evangelical). But I wonder how that theology works: who is adopted, and how? Is everyone who claims to be a Christian adopted, including the extreme liberals, the Mormons, and so on? It’ll be interesting to see what Mark’s argument is here.

All the responses still leave the question of just how important believing stuff is to God, in the view of these Christians. The Christian church likes to have schisms on the very issues that the uk.r.christians spend a lot of time debating, so it seems these issues are pretty serious. I’ve certainly run into Christians who thought you cannot be an actively gay Christian, a Catholic Christian, a Christian who doesn’t believe that Jesus was God, or a Christian who doesn’t believe that God exists at all. If these things really are important to God, though, you’d have thought he’d tell his children his views. We must conclude that what God considers important is the stuff that everyone who is a Christian agrees on, namely that you should be nice to people, that Jesus was probably a good bloke, and that it’s important to gather with your friends every so often and sing songs (although not with musical accompaniment, obviously: Christians must be like popular 80s beat combo The Flying Pickets). On this basis, I think I could be a Christian after all.

8 thoughts on “Personal relationship with God”

  1. Subject: I think we've worked it out, you weren't a real Christian
    In defense of Christianity I ought to say that the “Christianity is not a religion” meme that has annoyed me so much is something I’ve only encountered in a CU context, and then generally only among those with less intelligence.

    I have seen no evidence (and please don’t show it to me because I’d crawl up in to a ball and cry) that this is a larger problem.

    The assertion that “Christianity is a relationship” is, at its most basic, a part of an apologetic or evangelistic technique
    I can’t completely agree with this completely, in that it is a fairly good attempt at describing the experience I had of being a Christian. There was an internal sense that God was real, and often ‘present’ (particularly during prayer), and almost something like an emotional connection / bond was being made / reinforced. I’m not sure what the best way of describing this is, but ‘personal relationship’ is not a bad attempt.

    Did you not have a similar experience?

    1. Subject: Re: I think we've worked it out, you weren't a real Christian
      I have seen “Christianity is not a religion” in other contexts (once on news.admin.net-abuse.email, bizarrely). I don’t think it’s limited to dim CU members.

      I don’t think I had a similar experience as part of my regular Christian life, although I remember it happening from time to time. I thought God was real, but I don’t think I very often felt that he was present in the sort of way I think you mean.

  2. I don’t think your argument is compelling as stated. Have you never heard of miscommunication within a relationship? God might have a perfect understanding of what His Evangelical followers might be communicating to Him, but that doesn’t mean that the ordinary mortals are going to have a perfect understanding of God. I think if you present religion as being more about Divine revelation, you have more of a problem explaining how sincere believers disagree with eachother (the Koran talks about this problem explicitly). People fail to understand the desires of someone they are in a relationship with all the time.

    (I’m actually quite willing to believe that Evangelical Christianity isn’t a religion. After all, religions are supposed to have rules for how to live your life, whereas Evangelical Christianity is all about feelings and the only moral rule is not to be gay :-p)

    1. that doesn’t mean that the ordinary mortals are going to have a perfect understanding of God.

      Generally speaking, if I’m training someone and they don’t understand me, it’s my fault.

    2. Evangelical Christianity is all about feelings and the only moral rule is not to be gay

      Actually, despite their protestations to the contrary, my experience has been that evangelical Christians are more rule-bound than most other varieties. That the rules are unwritten, or consequences of an unwritten intepretation of the written Word, merely suggests that the religion’s effective deity is not the one Christians (claim to) worship.

    3. While it’s certainly possible miscommunication to occur in relationships, if I’m in regular communication with someone (in their daily “Quiet Time”, say) who is asking for my views on something (or who I know is wrong on something I care about) and I still can’t get my message across, it’s probably my fault, as andrewducker says. I’m not talking about a full understanding of God here, but rather the answers to the questions which are currently causing schisms.

      What does the Koran say about when believers disagree, BTW?

  3. Subject: Christianity is NOT a religion…
    Re-leg-io literally means, “Re-connect your self to God.”

    This assumes:

    1. That it is “possible” to do so.
    2. That mankind is “capable” of such a re-connect, and,
    3. That, if you CAN “reconnect”, it somehow makes you BETTER than others

    Any imagined “reconnect” must necessarily lead to a form of “sickening spiritual pride”

    Therefore?

    What are YOUR thoughts?

  4. Subject: P.S.
    P.S.

    Oh, by the way, “NEED” finds God (not “religion”); The same way that NEED finds a bathroom…

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