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Popular Christian Myths - Jesus is not Your "Friend"
This is one of the myths I believe cause harm to the church as a whole ranging from simple
cognitive dissonance in individuals to outright apostasy in those who cannot
reconcile the inconsistences.
God is my buddy, Jesus is my friend.
The modern hymn calls Jesus a "friend" and some may appeal to a verse in John where Jesus calls his disciples "friends". But the understanding of the word is decontextualized. People of the time of the Bible did not "get to know" each other as modern persons in the West do. A "friend" meant a person who looked out for your practical interests -- not someone you had beer and watched football with.
Even some preachers today (I am thinking of John MacArthur, but there are others) have lamented the modern view of God as a "buddy" as detracting from God's holiness. The result has been numerous corrupt theologies which see God as one who dispenses wealth like a gumball machine, and whose voice is constantly in one's head, sometimes defeating sound practice and doctrine but sometimes even just giving advice on what house to buy or what have you. This myth is a common one perpetrated by some persons of influence listed below.
But really, even a more common view can be misleading. Many evangelists speak of a "personal relationship with Jesus". The phrase is used to mean something not too far from the "God is my buddy" idea, in essence meaning we can talk to Jesus any time, and so on. If I had to correct this, I would say that what is required of us is a patronal relationship with Jesus. The New Testament explains our relationship with God in terms of a client-patron relationship, one in which God, patron, is remote; and Jesus, as a broker, mediates between ourselves and God. Then we do have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a broker as well; but though the Spirit supplies us with mediation and perhaps power, there is nothing to show that the Spirit is some sort of intimate conversation partner. And finally, since people of the ancient world seldom "got to know each other" personally (as is taken for granted in modern, Western society) there is no way that New Testament writers could have had an idea like a "personal relationship with Jesus" in mind in the first place -- not as we perceive it. The word "personal" is so broad in meaning that it could include a "patronal" relationship; but that is obviously not what most people have in mind when they use the word. They usually mean something like, God is approachable in the same way one of your sports buddies is. It is not the words that are so much the issue as the particulars of expression.
Ironically, the view of God as a remote patron is the one that is most conducive to the view concerned Christians like MacArthur wish to see us return to. Perhaps then we would see a greater respect for God and His holiness, and less obsession with self-fulfillment, ranging from best-selling books having titles like The Purpose-Driven Life to our most popular songs being titled, "I Can Only Imagine" (focus on experience, not on fact).
A reader recently noted a point related to this: The myth that "the purpose of coming to Christ is happiness, joy, all the feel good emotions we love (instead of forgiveness and atonement for sin)." This is tied in with such modern conceptions as use of personal testimony as the primary form of witnessing (when in the first century, it was the evidence for the resurrection and the life of Jesus that lay at the heart of evangelism) and the self-focus that makes people live as though God will not hold us accountable for our deeds.
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