It's often said that many men are turned off by church because many churches have become too feminine in terms of sermon content, "praise songs," and the like. In the same vein, I wonder how many men find the phrase about "having a personal relationship with Jesus" off-putting.
Of course, the fact that something is off-putting doesn't make it wrong. But this isn't a Biblical formulation.
To be sure, a concept can be present absent a particular form of words. But is this "relational" language Biblical?
In fact, this is more than just a popular evangelical phrase. It's becoming a theological paradigm: relational theology–in contrast to Reformed theology and/or classical theism.
In fairness, I believe the "personal relationship" slogan was introduced to counter nominal Christianity or ritual piety. The notion that we relate to God primarily through the sacraments, or liturgy, or that church attendance makes you a Christian. It's a corrective to that outlook.
But an on obvious problem with the "personal relationship" language is that it has the wrong connotations. Take a recent illustration by William Lane Craig:
You don’t communicate with another person through a third-person relationship. You enter into what has been called an “I-thou” relationship. You speak to another person, not just about that person. Your girlfriend or wife would be decidedly unimpressed if you rationalized never telling her “I love you” on the grounds that she already knows that! Anybody that obtuse is on his way to a break-up! Two people who are in love with each other want to speak to each other, to build an intimate relationship with each other.
A "personal relationship" has romantic connotations. Boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife.
At least in my experience, normal men wouldn't use "I want a personal relationship" in any context other than a romantic relationship. It's not something they'd normally say in reference to their father, mother, sister, brother, son, or daughter.
Imagine if one teenage boy told another teenage boy: "Ryan, I want to have a personal relationship with you!"
That's just not how two straight males communicate with each other. Even if the teenager in question wants to be friends with Ryan, that's certainly not how he'd put it.
Also, many men express affection less by what they say to others than what they do for others. Love in action rather than love in words. Even if they want a personal relationship with a woman, this doesn't mean that's what they'd say to her.
The incongruity is compounded by the fact that Jesus isn't God in the abstract, but God as male. The Son became Incarnate as a man.
We have that mental image of Jesus. To tell a normal man that he should have a "personal relationship with Jesus," when "Jesus" naturally evokes the image of an adult male, cuts against grain of how God created men to think about other men–at least in colloquial English parlance.
Although Scripture uses marital theological metaphors, these are corporate metaphors. They were not designed to operate at an individual, one-on-one level.
Another problem with that lingo is that God isn't ordinarily available to Christians in that tangible, audiovisual respect. God won't hug you.
That linguistic conditioning can accentuate a sense of divine abandonment if you expect God to "be there" for you. It's not so much that God is absent in times of trial. For God was never present in that sense in the first place. It isn't physical.
Up to a point, I don't think it's wrong for Christian men and women to have different ways of "relating" to God. Men and women are psychologically different from each other. A metaphor that's suited to one sex may be less suitable to the opposite sex. The problem is when a feminine paradigm gets imposed on men. That rankles.