The biggest problem with the evangelical p.o.v. is not so much the whole "personal relationship" issue (which I think is mistated), but the lack of dogmatic content to such a "relationship."
Well, I almost
agree with this. Mark Noll, one of the better evangelical writers, wrote a now notorious book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
, which begins, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Most mainline denominations have some semblance of a process for integrating the tradition of Christendom into theology. The evangelicals, notoriously, do not.
On the other hand, it is thus easy for them to pass what I refer to as the Milton Test. This test is named after Milton, a long-time parishioner. Milton, even back when I first knew him, was a retired farmer. The parish as one of those "Roll of Honor" sheets one sees from WW II list parishioners and their sons who went off to war, and Milton's name appears there. There are gravestones of his ancestors in the churchyard.
But the most important fact about Milton is that when he was young, he was kicked in the head by a mule. He recovered, but as a result he is, shall we say, not the brightest light on the porch. Theological distinctions are pretty much lost on him. Yet he attended faithfully.
To talk of doctrine as something he has to believe is to talk of his damnation. He is an Episcopalian because he always was; if he were Catholic or Orthodox or Methodist or Baptist he would most likely be the same now. He cannot assent to every last doctrinal point because one cannot assent to what one cannot understand. And I mean "understand" in the very weakest sense; if one cannot distinguish between competing positions on an issue, one cannot understand well enough to asset to one or another such position.
As CW rightly pointed out, everyone has a relationship to God, with varying degrees (on our end) of problems in that relationship. What the evangelicals should be doing, is rather than speaking imprecisely of "personal relationship", should be speaking in terms of one's committment to their beliefs - that is to say, the difference between a nominal, lukewarm adherance to religion, or one that is a matter of conviction and heartfelt piety.
Well, uh, no-- that's exactly what they are saying that you are doing wrong. They are saying precisely that commitment to belief does not true Christianity make. And I'll bet I could find the church fathers agreeing with them, here and there, if I searched long enough.
What I like about Orthodoxy, in fact, traces back to the times in which they do
recognize this truth. It's one of the things that makes Beginning to Pray
such a great work. But the thing is that the points that Anthony Bloom made work in other doctrinal contexts; the book is routinely recommended in the Episcopal Church, for instance.
One thing that repels me about Orthodoxy, however, is the incessant squabbling, in which doctrinal differentiation is made to play a major role. (Failing that, one can always come up with a jurisdictional fight.)
However, evangelicals generally do mean more than this (conviction in religion) when they speak of "personal relationship" - implicit to this are also anti-heirarchal, anti-ecclessial ideas about that relationship ("Jesus and me, and no one else's imput is necessary.")
I think this is a bit of a characture, if one that they do surely invite.
If one takes Billy Graham as the arch-Evangelical, and Christianity Today
as their journal of record, one sees how this is wrong. They are not anti-church, but para-
church. The movement as a whole is indifferent to ecclesiology, not opposed to it; evangelicals as a sort of denomination are anti-ecclesial because they were baptist first.
Of course, the tragedy (on our human, creaturely end of things) is that there is a question of "which Christ" and "which Gospel" they've come to accept.
How many times did Jesus of Nazareth live, anyway?
And how many Gospels are there, anyway?
It's statements like this that make people Protestants. There is but one Jesus, and there are but four Gospels which record his words. The Church is contrained by those words.