February 8, 2006

Knowing Jesus

1504 page5 capecently a friend sent me a letter that touched a nerve. It raises a disturbing question: Could we Seventh-day Adventists, who know so much about Jesus, fall short in the essential element--knowing Jesus Himself?

?Very early one morning Cathy [not her real name; a woman with whom he is closely acquainted] and I were talking, and I realized that her remarks arose out of a real acquaintance with Christ Jesus. That was not the subject of the conversation, just detected by me as we spoke,? he wrote. ?Along with every other graduate of Adventist colleges of my era, I can whip out a proof text on any doctrine we hold precious: the 2300 days, Sabbath, Second Coming, or health reform, although I admit I am a bit foggy about the king of the north.?

My friend went on to mention that Cathy belongs to a different church. He was left wondering why the conversation made him see himself as lacking what she has. ?Did I really meet Jesus in college? Or since? I worry that though I think I did, maybe I did not and have not.?

1504 page5He shared his concern with members of his Sabbath school class. Others expressed a similar sentiment, leading my friend to write me and ask: ?Are we isolated in our wonder? Isolated in perhaps being shy of a deep friendship with Jesus? Or just not as expressive as she??

My close acquaintance with the Adventist Church over many years leads me to conclude that as a people we don?t usually speak freely about Jesus Christ in personal terms. We?ll spend hours arguing about His human nature, but have little to say about what He means to us at a deep level. Some other Christians, weak though they be in theology, speak with a freedom about Him that by comparison leaves us tongue-tied.

Granted, much of the talk and writing coming from evangelical Christians is shallow. But consider how personally the apostle Paul could speak of Jesus: ?I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me? (Gal. 2:20, NKJV).

Or John the Beloved: ?Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him? (1 John 3:1, NKJV).

Adventists? reticence to talk about Jesus in personal terms is all the more surprising in view of the Ellen White corpus. Much of her writing is deeply devotional, proceeding from a life of intimate friendship with the Savior, such as the following selection: ?It is your privilege to trust in the love of Jesus for salvation, in the fullest, surest, noblest manner; to say, He loves me, He receives me; I will trust Him, for He gave His life for me? (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 517).

Why this reticence? Perhaps because our faith has a strong intellectual component, emphasizing doctrine and deemphasizing emotion. If some Christians err on the emotional side, we tend to err on the intellectual side. We have overlooked Paul?s warning: ?Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up? (1 Cor. 8:1, NIV).

I wonder if here we see a root cause for the loss of so many young people who go through our schools. They?re required to take Bible classes and earn passing grades in order to graduate, but have we--all of us, home and church, as well as school--put the emphasis on intellectual attainment rather than knowing Jesus personally? As a former Bible teacher at the levels of academy, college, and seminary, the possibility makes me shudder. I know how great is the pressure in academic circles to emphasize the intellectual, for religion classes to be respected alongside other disciplines. We must not disparage intellectual attainment, but it should not be made the ultimate goal.

So why don?t Adventists talk much about knowing Jesus?One possibility is shocking: we don?t talk about Him because we don?t know Him.

But for most of us, I suspect the reason is that our Adventist subculture doesn?t encourage it, and often discourages it. We just don?t feel comfortable with such talk. Could we be losing our young people because of it?