Tuesday 2 April 2019

How can Christianity be personal? A significant problem with Christianity

The problem is that - as usually presented - Christianity is historical. Jesus was someone who lived a long time ago, and we are supposed to learn 'about' him from historical sources (mostly the New testament).

The most important thing is apparently that Jesus a left a set of instructions about how to live, and prohibitions about what not to do - but in a scattered and somewhat confusing form. And again, can we really be sure that all this information is correctly recorded, and the we have understood it correctly?

Can we be sure enough to gamble everything upon the accuracy of what we know?

All this stuff is very remote in time and space, and apparently very tenuous (as is natural for any kind of history, any kind of law, philosophy or other discipline) - really, it is all much too uncertain to pin all of one's hopes on; too uncertain to be the basis for a transformation of life...

Thus one side of the Christian tradition - and one that seems pretty dominant. But there is another side to the story.

Jesus is alive, he is active in the world. And Jesus is personal - we can have an actual, here and now relationship - whoever we are, wherever we are. And this Jesus is concerned with each of us as a specific and unique individual.

According to this other side, in principle, Jesus need not be historical; we need not rely upon the accuracy of the test and our understanding of the text; because there is an active, current, relationship between him and you, me, anybody.

Presumably, by this relationship, Jesus can 'tell' us (in some way which cannot be misunderstood) anything and everything that we need to know.

But for this to happen requires that we have a perspective on life (more exactly, a set of metaphysical assumptions) in which this putative relationship with Jesus is coherent, possible, sufficiently-plausible such that we could seek, recognise, and respond to the personal relationship that he (supposedly) offers.

It is the lack of this perspective, and resistance to it; that so effectively blocks so many people from Christianity.


Andrea Daley Utronebel said...

Jesus myth is beyond history. We are believe His time on earth ended 'history' in the sense that the Final Truth was finally delivered to mankind. So, even as political history continued, spiritual history ended with Jesus appearance as the Messiah who offered the path to salvation.

Old Testament is historical because it's a long history of a people. New Testament is the moment-as-eternity because Jesus' moment on earth revealed THE eternal truth.

Not a believer myself but Christianity isn't about history. All its truth and meaning was conveyed in a single lifetime of Jesus.

The Social Pathologist said...


Good post.

One of the problems of Catholicism is the notion of Patristics. i.e. that the Church fathers by being closer to Jesus in time had a more accurate understanding of him than those of a current deep faith. It's perhaps best exemplified by the battle between tradition and "truthful" innovation.

By default, this "traditional" approach to the faith tends to "historicise" Christ transforming him into a person of history instead of a presence here and now.

Still, the problem with a personal Jesus is that it, in practice, results in a Jesus that never says no the the believer. It's one of the big problems of Protestantism.

My personal view is that men of deep faith have lived before me and my view can't be right if it strongly diverges from theirs. This is why I see truth has having precedence over tradition. It also means that tradition, as a "historical" thing, has no precedence over truth when it is seen to be wrong.

Bruce B said...

Perhaps this is an advantage of Catholicism over Orthodoxy – Catholicism emphasizes the magisterium over tradition/patristics?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - In this respect yes, but I do not think there is any 'formula' for 'staying true' that is better than another - ultimately. I'm just about to do another post on why.