Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our Own Personal Jesus

On Sunday morning I was told that in order to be a growing and maturing disciple (as opposed to a baby Christian who is saved without needing to be a disciple) I needed to "be alone with Jesus". In other words, the pastor (if I may call him that) believes in the 80s debate of non-Lordship salvation. According to this view, we will only grow in our faith if we are willing to be "alone" with Jesus in order to see His majesty and truth.

For years I have interacted with Roman Catholics apologists, who mock the doctrine of Sola Scriptura due to their view of Protestantism, by making the charge that Protestants run to sit with Jesus under a tree all alone. This makes sense to me more now than in the past. When Protestants act as Gnostics in their search for truth (while decrying moral relativism), they feed our critics with much ammo. Of course RC apologists never apply the same standards to themselves (cafeteria catholics anyone?). Nevertheless, it can be easily seen why they would see things this way.

Somehow, Horton must have been sitting next to me in church Sunday. As I began reading the next chapter in his book, Horton explained much of American Evangelicalism's history while explaing to me what I heard Sunday morning. Here are some quotes from the chapter entitled, Your Own Personal Jesus.
"...Americans just want to be left alone to create their own private Idaho. While evangelicals talk a lot about truth, their witness, worship, and spirituality seem in many ways more like their Mormon, New Age, and Liberal nemeses than anything like historical Christianity."
Horton quotes Curtis White,
"We would prefer to be left alone, warmed by our beliefs-that-make-no-sense, whether they are the quotidian platitudes of ordinary Americans, the magical thinking of evangelicals, the mystical thinking of New Age Gnostics, the teary-eyed patriotism of social conservatives, or the perfervid loyalty of the rich to their free-market Mammon. We are thus the congregation of the Church of the Infinitely Fractured, splendidly alone together."
Horton interacts with Bloom,
"First of all, says Bloom, 'Freedom, in the context of the American religion, means being alone with God or with Jesus, the American God or the American Christ.'"
And gain,
"'The Christ of the twentieth century' is no longer really even a distinct historical person but 'has become a personal experience for the American Christian, quite clearly for the Evangelicals.' In this scheme, history is no longer the sphere of Christianity. The focus of faith and practice is not so much Christ's objective person and work for us, outside of us, as it is a personal relationship that is defined chiefly in terms of inner experience."
Horton writes,
"This intuitive, direct, and immediate knowledge is set over against the historically mediated forms of knowledge. What an American knows in his or her heart is more certain than the law of gravity.

So the deed, not creeds orientation of American revivalism is driven not only by a preference for works over faith (Pelagianism) but by the Gnostic preference for a private, mystical, and inward personal relationship with Jesus in opposition to everything public, doctrinal, and external to the individual soul. Religion is formal, ordered, corporate, and visible; spirituality is informal, spontaneous, individual, and invisible."
It is troubling to witness these very things that Horton talks about just hours earlier. The idea that a judgment passage from Isaiah (Mark 4:10-12) that Jesus quoted and applied to those around Him being turned into a passage on how God loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. This is of course not through the public means Scripture teaches (external preaching and the sacraments/ordinances and public prayer), but instead by privately "experiencing" Jesus in our Gnostic bedrooms to gain some higher knowledge of God.

Troubling indeed.

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