I am reading James Wellman’s Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. It raises several questions which have puzzled me over the years, about both liberal and conservative Protestants. I have honest questions for both, if anyone is out there.

What do evangelicals mean by “a personal relationship with Jesus”?

Wellman interviewed one woman in an evangelical church. she said

I grew up in a very devout Catholic home. We were in church whenever we were supposed to be and practiced the sacraments and religious holidays.

She dated an evangelical Methodist and her experience in his church raised several questions:

he would direct me to the Bible, which I had never actually opened at that point

I realized what the truth was and that I needed a relationship with Jesus as opposed to pursuing a religion.

I can believe that she had never opened the Bible. Catholics of all stripes are remarkably ignorant of even the New Testament. I read the Bible cover to cover when I was 12 or 13; it was a quasi-miracle for a Catholic boy to do this.

But no relationship to Jesus?

I was born in 1946 and grew up in the pre-Vatican II church, which was if anything sentimental. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus emphasized his sympathy with our troubles. The Stations of the Cross asked us t sympathize with is physical and emotional pains. We were taught to speak to him intimately at Communion. This produced in many people a highly affective, if not downright sentimental, relationship with Jesus.

How does this differ from “a personal relationship”? Or did the Catholic practices not work for some people?

This is an honest, not an accusatory, question. Can anyone help me understand?