From the pen of my friend Michael Hardin -
The New Perspective on Paul (see the Index of Relevancy22 for more articles on this subject) has for almost four decades (since the publication of E.P. Sanders 1977 'Paul and Palestinian Judaism' [and even before that in Krister Stendahls' 1963 essay on 'Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West') been deconstructing the older reading of Romans as focused on personal salvation and now understands the Pauline meta-narrative to be that of the justification of the Gentiles inclusion into the covenant people of God. In other words, Romans is not about "my" personal salvation by faith" as much as it is about the bringing together of enemies (Jews and Gentiles) together in faith or by faith. The old paradigm has been completely debunked.
Almost all recent scholarship on Paul has moved in this direction (except for the hard core Lutherans). This is one of the most significant moves in reading the Bible since the Reformation. Sadly, pietistic Evangelicalism and spiritualist Charismatic Christianity still live in the illusion that the old "I,me, my" reading of Romans is still proper to Paul when it is not. The massive deconstruction of this position in the first 470 pages of Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God completely mitigates the narcissitic reading so familiar to 99% of the Christian population. This is not to mention all of the incredible work by Pauline scholars such as Tom Wright, Jimmy Dunn and others.
Appeals to the Fourth Gospel and arguments therein that Christians are called to have an intimate relationship with God, (as though that was the primary overarching meta-narrative of the Fourth Gospel) have for a long time been critiqued with the recognition placed by the writer and redactor of this text on the community of faith. Furthermore, as I have shown, the structure of I John is one oriented, not to a personal relationship with God but to social ethics.
Jesus' call to discipleship is never to the crowd but always to the individual. This is true. However, that call to discipleship in the Synoptics never has to do with a personal relationship to him in some 'spiritual' or 'pietistic' sense but is a call to live out in one's life the same ethic he lived out in his life.
My point: one skews the Bible if one reads the meta-narrative of the Bible so that the goal of the Bible is to create a personal mystical relationship with the divine. That component, to be sure, is not absent from scripture, but it is not its emphasis. People who read the bible this way are out of step with the Bible itself which is always focused globally, historically and cosmically. The notion of a 'personal relationship' with Jesus (or God) is a fiction of the post-Reformation era, a step-child of the Enlightenment fantasy of the 'individual.' Humans are not individuals, we are inter-dividual (to use a term coined by Rene Girard). This is why ethics plays such a prominent role in the New Testament. Notice I said ethics, not morality, not law. Ethics has to do with our human relationships, especially our relationships with the enemy 'other.'
Over the past two years I have seen more misunderstanding of the Bible from certain circles than I could have ever imagined. The swamp of a 'personal relationship' with Jesus has turned into a tar pit from which persons do not seem to be able to escape. Why? Because they have turned their own personal experience into a subtle form of self-justification. Their experience has become a 'Law' internalized, psycholgized and spiritualized. Thus they cannot see beyond themselves and so it is that they identify their salvation with their experience. This is just another form of natural theology, so roundly critiqued by Karl Barth. Those who fail to see this are doomed to dwell in their own subjectivity which they project onto the highest category they know (God).
There is a world of difference between discipleship and the modern 'personal relationship' with Jesus. The former teaches persons to follow Jesus, the latter seduces the person into just following themselves (or the group/cult leader). And so it is in these circles we have the never go ending merry go round of self-justification, whether it be by orientation to an external law or orientation to an internal law. Either way it is self-justification. And as such, this type of Christian focus has nothing to do with the gospel of the Lord Jesus and his work on behalf of all humanity.
Please remember that in the parable of the sheep and the goats, it was the goats who 'had they seen Jesus in the 'other'' (that is, had they recognized that the 'other' was Jesus with whom presumably these goats had a 'personal relationship' [sic]), they would have aided them. It was the sheep who 'did not see Jesus in the other' (who did what they did because it was the right thing to do not out of some alleged 'overflow of a personal relationship' with Jesus) who are commended.
April 12, 2015
ps - What I'm Not Saying: "I am NOT saying that one cannot have a personal experience of the transcendent; I am simply saying we should neither make personal experience the meta-narrative of the Bible nor should we confuse our subjective experience with 'Reality.' "
|Michael Hardin, the "Dude of Theology"|
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