Frustration: The Frustrated Jesus

frustrationThis is the fifth post in a series on frustration. View them all here.

Quick survey. We first talked about outward only frustration, to only care about appearances, with us all lifting a fashionable fist while sitting on the couch. So maybe the answer is a frustration that’s inward only? But when we looked at that we found that form will only lead to childish foot stomping—not getting our way. In both of these takes on frustration, they appear very immature. Continue reading

The most beneficial and harmful sentence in Christianity

The most beneficial and harmful sentence in Christianity: “I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”


The other day I met Jeff. He lives in my neighborhood, is retired from the army and owns his own lawncare/landscaping business. I found out he knew I went to seminary when he said,

“So you go to seminary, huh?”

“Yeah, I go to Reformed Theological Seminary just up the street.”

His response (“praise God”) I took as secret code for, “Hey, I’m a Christian, too. Cool.”

He asked what I wanted to do when I was done with school.

“I would love to work for a church…” etc. etc.

I asked him if he goes to a church nearby.

“No, haven’t been to church in a while”

“Yeah, the church has burned lots of people.” (I didn’t realize until now that could be taken more than one way.)

Jeff: “I just have some weird views of church.”

And then he said it: “But I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”

He went on to repeat that he had some “interesting” views on church, then continued,

“I just try and be a better man each day than I have before. Some days that doesn’t work out, but most days I do pretty well with that.”

I wanted to ask him more about that comment, but I was running late for participating in a chapel service, and he had work to do, so I ended the conversation with, “I’d love to talk to you about that sometime.” He seemed genuinely interested. Maybe we will.

John and Kim

That conversation reminded me of John and Kim, two friends who started up a coffee house. They hadn’t been to church in some time, I got the feeling they had some bad experiences. They definitely had some funky biblical views and their son, whom they were worried about, was kind of off doing his own thing. They would ask me, an early twenty-something first year seminary student, what to do to help their son. They would often say the phrase that I know I’ve heard many times before, “We don’t go to church, but we know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.”

Pros and Cons

I believe this summation of the gospel has been very beneficial, but is not without its harmful results, of which I’m sure were not originally intended.

“I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”

It is a bold statement, there is no question of the affiliation with God.

“I know…”

It also says something about this God: he can be known, and man can know him and (maybe by induction) He knows me.

“…Jesus Christ…”

Even more than a bold statement about a vague God, it specifically identifies Jesus Christ, something even some churches are reticent to do.

“…as my personal Savior.”

There is an identification and a relationship being communicated- also, no other mediator other than Jesus is being mentioned. It is obviously a personal faith. And saying “savior” means you are saved from something, so there’s seems an inherent theology of hell.

That said, this snippet is also very harmful to the gospel, and here’s why I think that:

Ultimately and by itself, this statement makes Christianity’s validation experiential: I know, personal savior. The justification is only subjective, and not just subjective, but individualistically subjective. Especially given the equal relevance for all religions/worldviews in our current society, this can be harmful. (I’m thinking of the typical “That’s great for you, but not for me” routine.)

This statement also makes redemption seem like it’s all about us. God’s redemption does include us, but is so much bigger than just us. God’s plan of redemption has in mind the entire world, us included.

Maybe my biggest beef with this statement is there is no community aspect: I can have Jesus and do whatever I want. It’s typical American individualistic fare. Yes, our faith is a personal faith, but it is most definitely not just a personal faith. The Christian’s life is one that must be lived with others. Without going into too much theology (look here and here instead), the existence of the Trinity is a constant call to community. An individualistic Christianity is one that does not affirm the Trinity.

One other assumption inherent in this statement goes back to the first point. My assurance and sanctification is based solely on how I feel. Should I got to church or not? Doesn’t matter, Jesus is my Savior. Should I study my Bible or not? Doesn’t matter, Jesus is my Savior. How should I live? Really, it doesn’t matter, Jesus is my Savior.

There is such a flattening of the gospel, it almost makes life on earth something meaningless in itself, or at least the only purpose is to get to a point where you can recite the sinner’s prayer.

Often in statements like these, there’s no room for taking up the cross and dying to oneself. All the inconvenient parts of being a Christian get wiped away. Of course, probably any small sentence that attempts to say what the gospel is will always come short, and that’s one benefit of conversation and social interaction. Small sentences like these, though helpful at times, can be damaging to such a glorious plan of redemption.

The Gospel and Death Metal

Arts and TheologySo I got my new issue of Paste in the mail yesterday and ran across a great article.  I was even able to use it in my worship-leading class I teach at ICS. You can read an online version of it here, it’s on page 18. It’s titled Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath and draws connections between death metal and old hymns, specifically their morbid focus on blood and death.

This is not just a funny juxtaposition, but I believe contemporary Christianity can learn a lot from the past hymns and current death metal.  Today during my chapel talk at my school, I was going through Psalm 51.  In this psalm, David takes some time dwelling on his sin- the first 5 or 6 verses are just filled with darkness and despair and grief over his current condition. For example, in verse 3 he writes, “my sin is ever before me.”

In the contemporary church when we talk about sin, we don’t often leave much room before going to forgiveness.  How often do we dwell on our sin, realize that it is “ever before us”? Probably not too often.  Instead of bringing up forgiveness as if the word was connected to death or sin, I think we would do well to dwell on our humanity- our fallen, dirty, disgusting humanity.

The main reason for this is not morbidity in itself, but it is to see how far down in the pit we really are- because of that, how far down our Savior had to reach to get us out of the pit, ultimately we see a Savior bigger than one who is applying band-aids.  He’s providing life to the dying- to those who are dead.

And dwelling on the cross in all its wretchedness gives us a picture of the length our Savior went to secure a people of his own.  We love the fluorescent-lighted, happy-grinning, thumbs-up giving Jesus, not the down-trodden, spat-upon, cross-bearing, bleeding Jesus. We (myself included) can easily turn Christ’s death on the cross into a joke.  By recognizing its bloody reality, we get the real picture of hope- the death of death in the death of Christ (probably the coolest name for a book ever).

So let’s learn from death metal, as we above all people get hope from something that seems hopeless- death and spilled blod. And go out there and do a hardcore version of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”