The phrase personal relationship has become a very common buzzword in our culture, appearing in various venues, from the military to business to religion. Not surprisingly, it has also crept into Christianity, particularly evangelicalism.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with personal relationships. What is problematic, however, is when the concept is elevated too high.

One example of this is the popular evangelical emphasis—or, more specifically, the overemphasis—on having a personal relationship with God. It’s not the idea of a personal relationship per se that is troubling. The idea of having a relationship with God can be found throughout the pages of Scripture. God is very personal. He stoops to our level to reveal Himself to us in various ways: through both special and general revelation. His ultimate condescension to us was in Christ, who was the ultimate revelation of the Father: Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, ESV). In fact, as one radio talk show host once rightly commented, everyone has a personal relationship with God; the question is whether God is near to you in wrath or in friendship.

What concerns me is when the concept of personal relationship is emphasized so heavily to the exclusion of objective realities, like Scripture, doctrine and the sacraments. It’s not uncommon for those who are enthusiastic about having a personal relationship with God to also frown upon what they call “religion”: doctrine, liturgy, creeds, councils, and so on. For such people, it seems their personal experience is all that matters and is, in fact, their final authority for determining truth. It’s the elevation of the subject over the object, making one’s own subjective experience the measuring rod for determining what constitutes genuine religion. That is always dangerous.

Leave a Reply