“Personal relationship with Christ”
Posted: 20 July 2007 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I don’t believe this phrase is that old—perhaps only 30 years—but I don’t know for sure.  I wonder if anyone knows who coined it?  I don’t want to start a religious flame war.  Can we just treat it like any other phrase, and see if it has a definite origin?

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Posted: 20 July 2007 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I found a cite for “personal relationship with the Lord Jesus” from the 5 February 1940 New York Times. It’s attributed to Bishop William Manning given in a sermon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine:

It is the church which brings us into this personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.

The next similar citation in the NYT is by Billy Graham on 15 June 1969:

They’ve been baptized; they’ve been confirmed, but they never had a personal relationship with Christ.

I suspect that if you scour religious, especially evangelical, literature you’ll find many more earlier citations. Don’t confuse the coining of a term with when it enters into the public consciousness. In many cases, terms are around for decades before we notice them, especially when they are part of the jargon of a social subgroup, like this example.

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Posted: 20 July 2007 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks Dave.  I see what you mean.  I am only trying to get a rough idea of when it started to become a sort of “code phrase”, as you allude to.  I don’t think my estimate of 25 - 30 years is far off.

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Posted: 20 July 2007 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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In this coming again of Christ by the Spirit, there is included also the fact that he will be known by the disciple, not only socially, but as the Christ, in such a way as to put us in a personal relationship with him, even as his own disciples were in their outward society with him.

Title: Christ and his salvation: in sermons variously related thereto (page 341)
Author:  Bushnell, Horace, 1802-1876.
Publication Info: New York,: 1864.
Collection: Making of America Books

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Posted: 20 July 2007 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Brilliant catch, Doc.  In terms of the history of Christianity in America, Bushnell would be the right source (though, I confess, not my first guess).  Jonathan Edwards, I would have thought, might have been a place to start (first Great Awakening and all that), but this personal relationship stuff is quintessential Bushnell.  It’s contradictory in a certain way, since Bushnell is considered the father of Christian liberalism and the “personal relationship with Christ” is considered a cornerstone of modern (post WWII) Christian conservatism.  Oh my, how things come back to grab ya.

Brilliant, Doc, thanks.

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Posted: 20 July 2007 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks for the compliments, but they are undeserved.  My knowledge of modern church history is weak, and Bushnell to me is a brand of binoculars.  I did a search at MOA on “personal relationship with” and that’s what turned up.

But as a teacher I always find it gratifying to trigger an “aha!” moment, even when I can’t share it.

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