The word religion gets a bad rap in our culture. It conjures images of people practicing empty rituals, going through pointless motions, devoid of power and bereft of love. Post-moderns tend to see religion as old-fashioned, oppressive, and false.
So when a person has a life-changing encounter with Christ, he needs a new way of speaking of his faith. He needs terminology that tells everyone he’s not simply practicing the old, dead religion of the past. Twentieth-century Evangelicals coined two phrases that attempt to separate living faith from dead piety. Both have become very popular, and unfortunately, both are somewhat repellent to men.
The first of these terms is, “A personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” It’s almost impossible to attend an evangelical worship service these days without hearing this phrase spoken at least once.
Curious. While a number of Bible passages imply a relationship between God and man, the term “personal relationship with Jesus” never appears in the scriptures. Nor are individuals commanded to “enter into a relationship with God.”
Yet, despite its extra-biblical roots, personal relationship with Jesus Christ has become the number one term evangelicals use to describe the Christian walk. Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman’s deepest desire—a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally. It’s imagery that delights women—and baffles men. Guys have a hard enough time maintaining relationships with people they can see and hear (audibly).
Nowadays it’s not enough to have a personal relationship with Jesus; many of today’s top speakers encourage men to have a passionate relationship with Him. They invite men to rest in his arms, look up into his eyes, and experience a warm, gooey feeling for him. Speaking as a man, the idea of having a passionate relationship with another guy is just plain gross.
The second popular phrase popular with preachers and authors is “intimacy with God.” The term is spreading like a virus through the church, communicated by men with advanced degrees who write religious books. Here’s an example I read just this week: “Through Jesus God reveals that he loves us passionately and longs for an intimate relationship with us.”
So what’s the problem? God loves us. What’s the harm in using this quasi-romantic language to describe what we have with him?
Think of the mental gymnastics that must take place in a man’s mind as he pictures himself becoming passionate with Jesus—kissing him, staring into his eyes, or lying in his arms. If you don’t detect homosexual undertones in this imagery you’re not looking very hard.
Just like personal relationship with Jesus, the Scriptures never use the term intimacy with God. And lest you think I’m dirty minded, whenever the words “passionate” or “intimate” appear in the Bible, they always refer to sex or lust between humans.
When a man loves another man, he uses the language of respect. “Hey Joe, you’re a stand-up guy. I admire you.” Men do not speak of passionate, intimate, or even personal relationships with their leaders or male friends. Can you imagine a couple of bikers having this conversation?
Rocco: Hey, Spike, let’s go for a ride in the desert so we can develop a passionate relationship.
Spike: Sure, Rocco. I’d like to enjoy some intimacy with you.
One more thing on relationships: men really do need to have a relationship with God. Religion without relationship is bondage. The problem is the word relationship. It’s is not a term men use in conversation, except when describing a male-female couple.
Ron: Hey Bruce, it’s Ron from the church. How you doing?
Bruce: Fine, Ron. What’s up?
Ron: Hey Bruce, can we have a personal relationship?
When Christ called disciples, he did not say, “Come, have a personal relationship with me.” No, he said, “Come, Follow Me.” Hear the difference? Follow Me suggests a mission. A goal. But a personal relationship with Jesus suggests we’re headed to Starbucks for some couple time.
We should use the same active terminology Jesus used when describing our faith. The next time you’re sharing your faith with a man, call him to follow Jesus. To walk with God. See if that doesn’t make a difference.
(This blog post is an excerpt from Why Men Hate Going to Church [revised]. To order an autographed copy of this book, click here.)
Image courtesy of Worship House Media.