“Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
If you have ever moved in Evangelical Protestant circles, you’ve probably been asked this question. A fundamental presupposition of Evangelical theology is that each person is called to a “personal relationship” with Jesus, and it is this relationship that brings us salvation.
Driving this “personal relationship” theology is usually evangelization. Most Christians seem to believe that making Jesus more directly accessible makes him more likely to be followed. If we can present Jesus as relatable, the thinking goes, then it’s more likely someone will have a relationship with him.
In recent decades, “personal relationship” theology has crept subtly into Catholic circles. It can be found especially in Catholic youth ministries, as well as apostolates directed towards college students. In Catholic circles this “personal relationship” theology is augmented with the understanding that a relationship with Jesus comes primarily through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and penance.
What’s often not made explicit—and perhaps often not even realized by those who promote it—is that “personal relationship” theology portrays Jesus primarily as a friend. After all, one doesn’t usually have a personal relationship with a king or a ruler, or even with a teacher. We most commonly have personal relationships with equals.
But this image of Jesus as a friend is not based in Scripture; nor does it follow time-tested methods of evangelization.