Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jesus is all I need ... NOT!

I just sat through yet another interminable “worship” session this morning, at which song after song repeated one form or another of the notion that “Jesus is all I need” or “Jesus is more than enough for me.” I suppose I’m going to raise serious doubts about my spiritual condition here (nothing new in that), but I’ve just got to say this:

Jesus is NOT enough for me. I believe he could be, but he ain’t!

I bring this up because I have an overwhelming suspicion that I’m not alone here, and more importantly, I really feel for the internal conflict that this (over)emphasis may cause for those who, like me, have not found full satisfaction in their spiritual experience (whereof more below).

So let’s break it down a little bit. What, in fact, does it mean that “Jesus is (more than) enough for me?”

1) Does it mean my physical needs are provided for? Maybe. I just had a new job land in my lap, taking away the very real fear that my former job (at which we were on reduced pay to try & save the company) was going away. My family continues with no lack of income, and for that I’m deeply grateful. . .to God and to those who helped me land the job. My daily bread is still coming.
But what about those who believe in Jesus as much or more than I, but whose physical needs are NOT being met? This could be a failing of their church body, who ought to support each other (a topic for another time), but the harsh reality is that there are people who DON’T have their daily bread, but who diligently seek Jesus. Is Jesus really “all they need?” What about a square meal? Man shall not live by bread alone, but he has a tough time living without ANY bread. . .

2) Does it mean salvation itself? Of course this must be part of it. I’ve written before about the fact that Jesus is the beginning and end of salvation and redemption (but please follow this link to clarify what I mean by salvation; it’s not just fire insurance). I would submit that most churches where I’ve heard the “all I need” language repeated ad nauseum are teaching—by implication if not explicitly—that Jesus without appropriate doctrine is most emphatically NOT enough. This needs examination.

3) Does it mean relationship or friendship or love? Sure sounds like it. And to be perfectly candid, this is one place where I simply have to say “no, Jesus doesn’t cut it here.” I have spent a lifetime believing in Jesus, trusting Jesus, and doing my fallible best to seek to be a disciple of Jesus, but I have never “met” Jesus. I have heard lots of justifications from lots of people, but I’m sorry—I do not accept a definition of “relationship” where the communication is all one-way. Reading a guy’s book and talking into the air believing he hears you, but never seeing his face or hearing his voice in response, does not a relationship make. I accept and acknowledge that God loved the world and gave his son; that Jesus demonstrated his love for “us” collectively in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8). However, “us” collectively, by which I mean the whole of humanity, is not at all the same as a personal relationship with an individual—me.

I value my friendships and relationships highly. My wife Janine is my best friend and I deeply cherish my life with her. Could I survive without her? Sure, but it’d be a severely diminished existence. Likewise, though at a different level, my three children, and a few dear friends around the country. And in a still-different, but significant way, some of the friendships I’ve developed with readers of this blog—you know who you are, and I hope to meet you in the flesh someday. Each of these relationships adds something vital to my existence, and while Jesus may (and probably did) have a hand in my meeting and developing relationships with each of them, Jesus in their absence is NOT enough.

4) Does it mean fulfillment or satisfaction? The context of the singers would suggest as much. But here in particular I take issue with the implication of the songs. I have spent nearly twelve years doing work that, while it’s certainly responsible work for a Christian to do, it has absolutely nothing to do with my passion and desire to serve in health and development for the poorer parts of the world. And with limited time off and remuneration, it doesn’t even provide me a lifestyle that allows me to volunteer in that realm. It may very well be that God is preparing me for something I’m not yet ready to do. . .in fact I want to believe this is so. But the reality is that God has not given me the privilege to see the point of what I’ve been doing for the past decade-plus. I want to trust that I’m in God’s will here, but the harsh truth is that I’m clueless on this point. God hasn’t given me any indication of what else I ought to be doing, or that what I am doing is wrong. I just have this deep conviction (reinforced every time I engage the field) that there’s something else I could do that’s much better. . .if only I could find a way to do it without leaving my family in the lurch.

But the reality for now is that, in the realm of fulfillment or satisfaction that I’m in God’s will, that my life has a purpose beyond what I cynically call the “circle of life,” Jesus has provided me nothing.

In defense of Jesus, I’m not actually convinced that he ever promised to be or do any of these things. So it’s not really Jesus’ fault. It is, though the fault of a church/faith system that trumpets this sort of language in nearly every “worship” service. And therein lies the real problem, I think. If people who are less the independent, stubborn cuss I am, keep being battered with this message, and if those same people do a clear-eyed self-examination and come up as short as I have, we run the risk of driving them from the faith because of our own false expectations. And if I’m right about this, it would seem to me that Jesus’ comments in Matt. 18:6 (about the millstone) might be relevant.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sorry to double this (I thought I was editing, and ended up deleting).

I think your critique of "personal relationship with Jesus" theology is spot on. Didn't Jesus intend us to view our relationships with each other as the means to relate to Him (e.g. Matt. 25:40)? Many systems of theology disconnect the holy Christ in heaven from the sinful Christians on earth. Just how common is preaching on the communion of saints and the church as the body of Christ in your experience?

jaigner said...

I agree wholeheartedly with each point.

Also, just thinking about being subjected to riding a wave of "worship" like you describe makes me miserable. It actually reminds me of every Sunday morning and Wednesday night of my teenage years when I was forced to sit through these nauseating jam sessions. Ugh. Sorry, I guess I'm being negative. Just something that, as a thinking Christian, musician, and music teacher, I'm completely repulsed by at this stage of my life.

Anyway, I agree with you at all points. The point about your wife hit home for me. Whenever I'm trying to be romantic and tell my wife I couldn't live without her, she plainly reminds me that I might be lonely, but I'd make it okay on my own. Gotta remember not to say that anymore.


Dan Martin said...

Just how common is preaching on the communion of saints and the church as the body of Christ in your experience?

Interesting question, Av, and not one I was expecting! ;{) It will come as no surprise, I suspect, that the answer to your question is "not at all" to the former bit, and "not to the extent it should" to the latter. By this I mean that my upbringing and church experience are a combination of Anabaptists (Mennonites and Brethren) and various Evangelicals. I heard the phrase "the communion of the saints" in those rare times where we recited the Apostles' Creed (uncommon in both traditions), but I can honestly say I never had a clue what was meant by it, nor particularly thought about it, until a discussion with a Roman Catholic friend during my early twenties.

I don't know that I buy into the RC notion of any sort of palpable "communion" with those who've gone before...not because I have any problem with the notion, but because I have neither a good Biblical base nor any experiential basis upon which to accept it. I guess I'd put it pretty well in the same category as a "relationship with God" as something people talk about, but I'm unconvinced that it actually exists in many (most?) cases.

Communion with the present body of Christ, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. This is one place where the best of the Anabaptist tradition gets it--the notion that together we incarnate Christ to each other is something they teach more than most individualistic Evangelicals I've known. I will say that I have experienced relationships with other believers, for absolutely no other reason than our common commitment to Christ, that have been vital and sustaining to me. I don't think, however, that it's helpful--or particularly accurate--to characterize these vital, wholly-biblical relationships as relating to God, though they are absolutely because of God.

Does this approach what you're driving at?

Thanks for stopping by, and peace!

Dan Martin said...

jaigner...thanks for the affirmation. And exaggeration in the vital importance of your wife is no vice. Keep it up! 20 years for us this December and still lovin' her! ;{)

jaigner said...

It's kinda like the antique anti-education, fundamentalist mindset that says "I don't need to worry about the questions because I know Jesus is the answer." I guess it is true in some narrow sense, but it doesn't mean we should stop seeking truth altogether.

Saying Jesus is all I need, even though in a certain Sunday school sense it sounds good, it pretty disengaged and short-sighted.

Unknown said...

I agree completely: and I would be so bold as to say that the sicky-sweet "Just Jesus and me" rhetoric is a massive cop-out on the part of any group calling itself "Christian", to avoid making a serious project of honestly incarnating the Body of Christ! Some people can psych themselves into imagining all sorts of things -- but the Scriptural operation of the Body is not a mind-trip, but an exceedingly practical and observable phenomenon. This after all is how the Lord Jesus said we would be recognized!
"Two-way communication" has been all too rare in our lives, too -- though it has happened a handful of times over 50-plus years. However, I am convinced that genuine participation in an active Body would go a long way toward remedying that situation. The problem is finding a group in which such things are really expected to happen. How many who love to warble "And he walks with me and he talks with me" would send you running to the nearest "shrink" if he actually DID? Just a thought.dershem

RJ said...

Hi Dan. I have been thinking about this topic lately too. The more I study theology the more versions of Jesus I come across. Of course you know that there are more than 35,000 different Christian denominations out there now and each one thinks their version of Jesus is the "real" one. I too get somewhat turned off by the "Jesus is all you need". To be valid this saying need to always have an ending phrase otherwise it leaves the question that you have "Jesus is all I need for what???" I think that almost everyone wants to invent a Jesus that they feel the most comfortable with. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Jesus did not come to the earth to make us comfortable. He said as much when he told us that we must all bear our crosses. I don't know how to discern who the real Jesus is? Everyone says their Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible but they can't all be right. I also am currently preplexed by this issue.

E. A. H. said...

As you commented on my blog, Dan, our worship today is too "me" focused and not "God" focused. We ought to worship God whether we feel like it or not, whether life is going well or not, even whether we feel "close" to Him or not. We worship Him because He deserves it. But far too often we dictate our worship based on how it makes us feel. The "Jesus is all I need" line is like some positive-thinking mantra designed to get us feeling good and encouraged and pumped up to face our challenges with Jesus by our side. But it's not accurate, and thus not worshipful. Now, if the song were to say "His grace is sufficient for me" that would be much more accurate. I think the former is probably trying to communicate the latter in some ways, but as you point out, it can be misleading and even drive people away when it doesn't prove true in their lives.

jaigner said...

I'm with E. There were so many times when I was depressed that talk like this would make me feel physically ill. Made me stay away from "low" church for some time. I stuck with liturgy, which is actually freeing.

It's very hard to be a Christian and be told that Jesus should be all you need when you can't even feel Jesus close by.

I'm still on the road to recovery, but it's still very hard to listen to.

Dan Martin said...

It's very hard to be a Christian and be told that Jesus should be all you need when you can't even feel Jesus close by.

Yeah, Jonathan...what you said...

AmericanVet said...

Rather than Jesus is all I need I would say Jesus is the starting line and also along for the journey and also waiting at the end. God wants to be preeminent in my life and decision making and seeks a relationship with me but these things are not instant downloads.

Sadly, in a world where deep thoughts get packaged into sound bites and many people prefer texting to speaking with you the concept of a deep, growing relationship with God is not presented.

I was fortunate in that I was born again as an adult and I know the difference between where I was and where I am. I knew instant change within. Might be harder for kids who are raised church kids in environments where God is taken for granted and probably not treasured.

There are new churches popping up in shopping malls and schools that promote "people-friendly and kid-friendly worship and fellowship." Like God is being reduced to the Moosehead at a Moose Lodge? Yay, we are all friendly and we acknowledge the Golden Rule and we have a great praise band!

My God wants and expects me to interact with my world and present Him in various ways and means and live out a life that resembles Christ insofar as I am able as powered by the Spirit of God within me. We all have different callings, I am not meant to die on a cross, but it is important to figure out what God gifted me with and use it to build His Kingdom.

Dan Martin said...

Thanks for stopping by, AmVet. I agree with you that people who've come from a background antithetical to faith--who are intimately conscious of what they've been saved FROM--might have a clearer sense of this relationship than some who grew up in the church, though I would not characterize the latter as "environments where God is taken for granted and probably not treasured." God is still treasured, just misrepresented.

But your point that faith is often dumbed-down or streamlined to the point of meaninglessness, is correct in my observation. Even acknowledging that, however, I'm not so sure the "relationship" language to describe faithfulness to God, is either accurate or helpful. At least as I've observed it, it's downright toxic, and in fact bears a strong resemblance to Marx' categorization of religion as an "opiate."

Do I believe there is (could be) a reality of which the stuff I decry is a bad caricature? Yes, I mostly do. Have I ever seen it? No, I'm pretty sure I haven't. I've seen hints of it from a distance, but in those few instances I've come a bit closer, they've vanished like the desert mirage.