Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

Word study: personal

"Personal" seems like an obvious word everyone understands: a "personal word" would be a bit of consultation from your mouth to your contact's ear, or vice versa, out of range of the hearing of the rest of your group. A "personal choice" is something you decide to stand for after thinking through your principles, opinions, or beliefs; something that doesn't have to be put to a vote. If you're a student, some one-on-one attention from your teacher is regarded as "personal."

But "personal" has thelogical meanings that are not universally agreed upon and make it ambiguous (having two or more meanings). The God of the Old and New Testaments is personal, which means He wants to be regarded as a "person," even as a "Father," who wants His "children" to talk to Him, listen for His replies, seek His will and obey it, and make a major goal of their lives getting better acquainted with Him and eventually become so like Him that they can go to live with Him. In the New Testament God becomes even more personal, coming from the spiritual plane to the physical one in the body and soul of a miraculously born baby who grows up to be a Man, the Man Christ Jesus. He tells His followers to consider themselves His brothers and sisters and make their goal in life to be more like Him.

Most other belief systems in the world have a less "personal" God and many people exposed to Christianity but who consider it not to their liking reject it because they don't like this "personal" God. A less personal one might be less judgmental, less interested in being obeyed, worshiped, or even "followed," willing to let them play God to themselves for this life and then take their chances when they arrive to the next life if it should turn out there is one. Deism believes in such a God; a God who serves as the glue that holds societies together but not so "personal" we should expect or want to know Him. This was the religion of some of the most famous of the founders of the American republic, most pointedly Thomas Jefferson and, though he seemed an orthodox Christian in his early years, almost certainly in his later years, George Washington.

Theism, a midway point between deism's agnosticism and orthodox Christianity, may have a Father God who can be appealed to for the big crises in life but would rather not be bothered the rest of the time. This was the religion that C.S. Lewis evolved to in his late twenties after having been an atheist from about age 15 until that point. And it is often the default "Christianity" many practice while professing a more orthodox creed which they, "personally," find too hard to "feel." But as one not given to doing anything halfway, C.S. Lewis continued studying Christian theology, the Bible, and philosophy, and under influence of some very persuasive arguments by some of his most brilliant friends, within a couple of years he concluded that if God is personal at all, halfway makes no sense. Jesus Christ was the "necessary" vehicle through which God the Creator entered the material realm and made it His own in new, eternal, and "personal" ways. But the point is that "theism" is a second theological definition of "personal God" and Christianity is its fulfillment.

Another theological use of "personal" that is often ambiguous and controversial is the evangelical catch phrase used to describe salvation: "I know Jesus as my personal savior." Critics often miscontrue their meaning as "I know Jesus as my own, private savior," as though the phrase is intended to distance evangelical "salvation" from the salvation offered in the more traditional churches. And there are probably plenty of evangelicals who are uncertain about the phrase and may even think something like that, but the "educated" evangelical meaning of the phrase (speaking as one who was an educated evangelical for 30-odd years and continues to follow it despite moving on) is that Jesus is my deliverer from my own personal offenses against God's holiness (my sins) because I have come, personally, to know and love Him. And though more traditional churches may not have come up with this "formula," I don't know any orthodox communion that would have a problem with it theologically, understood that way. Personal faith is always a key to salvation from sins.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy



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Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. From May 9, 2007 through July 2, 2008 his blog entries or "Jonals" were articles inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series. The book is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and is also available on Amazon.



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