Christian Faith as Personal Relationship: An Individual or Communal Interpretation?
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In this systematic theological Thesis, the focus was to look at Christian Faith as a personal relationship between God and man. Christian faith is not primarily about agreeing with truth statements but about living in fellowship with a personal God. My aim was to get insight into the nature of this personal relationship: should we interpret this relationship as (1) a relation between two individuals or (2) between two communal entities? As representatives of respectively individual faith and communal faith, I have chosen to analyse the theologies of Vincent Brümmer and John Zizioulas in depth. In Chapter 1, I have developed criteria for systematic theology: a proposal is acceptable to the extent that it is (1) consistent, (2) coherent, (3) consonant with the Christian tradition, (4) adequate for our context and (5) entails a personal understanding of God. Furthermore, we should consider that a model also claims to speak about reality. In Chapter 2, Vincent Brümmer’s model of love as a relationship of mutual fellowship is examined. He speaks of human love relationships, which are personal and which bestow value on the beloved one. By way of analogy, this is applied to the relationship between God and man. God is the one who loves us, by making our good His own. Choosing to live in fellowship with God means to do His will. The relation can be broken and restored. According to John Zizioulas (Chapter 3), the personal relationship between God and man should be perceived as a relation between two communal entities. On the one hand there is the triune God; on the other hand the human person. God the Father is the person to whom we relate, but person should be understood in a relational way. ‘Personhood’ can only exist in communion. This is the ultimate mode of being and therefore God, as ultimate communion (Father, Son and Spirit), is being par excellence. To become human beings without ontological limitations (ecclesial hypostases, or ‘persons’), we should live in communion with God. I have analysed Brümmer’s and Zizioulas’ understanding of personhood, the Trinity, and relationality. Chapter 4 thus has shown us the details and implications of their views. In Chapter 5, we have looked at the conceptual price that has to be paid if we adopt Brümmer’s or Zizioulas’ model. These prices were high, and therefore I inquired: is there a way of conceptualizing the personal relationship without becoming individualists or speculating wildly about intra-trinitarian postulates? With the metaphor of covenantal-relationship, I cover two important aspects: (1) it is a relation between to personal entities and (2) it offers a middle way between a communal and individual interpretation of the personal relationship between God and man. Both parties freely decide to maintain a relationship according to a certain agreement. In theology, the covenant expresses that God is faithful to man even though man estranges from God over and again. It is a personal relation because man is treated as a person (because he is free and loved intrinsically). Human freedom is thus respected. God’s sovereignty is guaranteed because He freely chooses to be a loving God who desires to live in fellowship with His people. Because man breaks the covenant over and again, God has sent His son to restore the relationship. With help of the Spirit, we can still live in the presence of God. Together we form the people of God which is the other party of the covenant of love. This does not lead an egalitarian or collective understanding but gives us space to be valued because of our personal identity. With help of the understanding of the church as a body, i.e. the Body of Christ, we can understand that each part (each individual and each Christian community) is valued by its identity. Without this dimension, Christian faith would become individualistic. The metaphor of covenant thus provides us with a perspective on the personal love-relationship between God and man which opens our horizon for the importance of the community.