W.I came face to face with these questions in a book discussion group at church. The topic was a little volume called Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt: A Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents, and Other Confused Presbyterians by Ted V. Foote and P. Alex Thornburg (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2000). I suppose one of the reasons we took up this book was because the growth in neo-evangelical Christianity has resulted in its becoming more dominant as a whole. It isn't just survival in the bible belt that concerns a lot of Christians.
W.Prior to this if accosted on the street and asked, "Do you know Jesus? Have you been saved?", I would have probably said, "Yes!" After all I'm an elder in the church and even if I didn't know what these words mean to my questioner I am sure of my faith. And certainly you can be reasonably sure of what someone believes who would approach a total stranger on the street with that question. No doubt we are both Christians. So certainly I'd say, "Yes!" But there are a lot of untested assumptions in such an open response not the least of which is what those words mean.
W.When Presbyterians join the church they don't have to profess to a personal relationship with Jesus. They do profess that He is their Lord and Savior and that they trust in Him. The path to this profession usually involves reading, study and prayer. I think this is one point where we differ from neo-evangelicals. For them an emotional experience of Jesus is at the heart of their faith. This experience forever marks a place and time for them when they were saved. It removes all doubt and replaces it with a certainty in which they live the rest of their lives. They assume that salvation is the same for everyone else.
W.Presbyterians study because they know that the emotions cannot be trusted. Truth is not what we feel alone. Truth speaks both to the heart and the mind and to rely on either organ alone is a mistake. This is not an unbiblical idea. Many places in the New Testament Jesus and his disciples use logic to tease out the truth of faith. It is the heart that moves us but the mind that keeps us from going astray. If it were not so God would not have given us the capacity for both.
W.If Presbyterians had a patron saint it would be the disciple Thomas -- whose doubt of the resurrection was only assuaged when he could see for himself. Jesus does not reject Thomas for this but uses the resolution of his doubt to say something about knowing Jesus and believing -- "Blessed are they who have not seen yet believe." Perhaps neo-evangelicals believe they see Jesus face to face. But according to the story of Thomas this is neither a higher faith nor a necessary prelude to faith.
W.The question of how we know another person is itself interesting. The only person whose thoughts and emotions we ever experience directly is ourselves. We infer that others are like us because they look and act like us (mostly). We also can talk to each other. Though we might say we are sharing experiences when we talk it is really only descriptions of experiences we ever share. Our understanding of another depends on our ability to project and infer from our own experiences or imagination their experience.
W.Knowing another person then depends on having a relationship in which we can exchange information. We listen to what the other has to say. We ask questions and get answers. We explore and study the other person though we don't think of it that way. We don't do this with everyone but then we don't think we know everyone to the same level. Some people are just acquaintances. But if we have a relationship with someone we expect a lot of talking -- sharing, learning and struggling to understand. Communication is the sine qua non of a real relationship.
W.Presbyterian's clearly take seriously the struggle to understand. We struggle with our faith, with the Bible and, yes, even with Jesus. We pray that our understanding is improved. And we study to improve it. We talk with each other about it and help each other in the struggle. We believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. So conversing among ourselves is conversing with Christ.
it is not unjustified to claim that we have a personal relationship
Jesus. It might not be what an neo-evangelicals have in mind when
they say it, but it might not for that reason be wrong. Whose to
say that the neo-evangelical description of personal relationship with
God is right? Whose to say a Presbyterian's is not?