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Individualism

My roommate Ryan has written a stinging critique of individualism on his blog. He asked some of the following questions,

“Why is it that as such social beings we want to be so individualistic? We want to block people out, we want to keep people out of our own personal “me” box…We have to bribe people to travel together with things like carpool lanes, or cheap public transportation, and yet we still have freeways jam-packed with cars filled with four empty seats going the same way at the same time. We have made a science out of personalizing things, personal meals at restaurants, personal computers, personal music players…personal bathrooms (his and her sinks). And I could go on…”

Brent, over at his blog, is also talking about this very American topic:

“To the modern sophisticate, salvation has become something merely and completely personal. It is your personal “salvation experience” and it is about you going to heaven. Yet, it seems that the biblical proclamation of the Gospel was not only much less individualistic, but also more kingdom oriented. Jesus message was about the arrival of the Kingdom.”

If Ryan is correct, and we really cannot deny his assertions that we live in an individualistic society, then we must wrestle deeply with Brent’s thoughts on the kingdom orientated community of Jesus Christ. Jonathan over at his blog argues that “individualism has such a grand effect on evangelical Christianity the question is then raised: Should ‘decisions’ be a measure of success for evangelical churches? Rather the question is ‘are decisions for Christ significant and of ultimate importance if they do not represent an individual’s actual decision to follow Christ into a life of discipleship and become part of the kingdom of God via the body of Christ? When it really comes down to it, it’s not about how many people raise their hand while everyones heads are bowed and eyes are close…rather, it’s about ‘successfully immersing lives into the life of Christ and his kingdom.”

All of these questions are extremely important in considering Christ in culture. Our culture has created certain “boundary markers” to define what makes someone a Christian, and these boundaries are largely superficial (for more on this read Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted). The goal for the Christian is to move beyond these classic American cultural values and create markers for the Christian life that are not superficial. This means that certain views on salvation may have to change, certain church practices may have to be more transformative, and that church may be a more uncomfortable place where people actually bump shoulders communally.

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4 thoughts on “Individualism

  1. in the area that i am in, i have observed that their is a strong sense of belonging to a larger community, but that the ‘boundaries’ of the community are not first and foremost ‘kingdom boundaries’. rather, people have learned to fit their faith into compartment of the ‘personal life’ that joins everyone else’s ‘personal faith life’ in a corporate gathering on sunday. if you bring your ‘personal faith’ with you on sunday, then you are good.

  2. hey dude good post. this is an important thing to talk about given that we are to be in the world but not of the world (primarily, we ought not value the things of the world such as individualism, materialism etc).

    on a separate note. it’s rad that you worked with UP. i spent a couple months in camden with UP back in 2003 and have worked since then with UP in toronto!

    peace.

  3. hey. second comment in a day. i didn’t see your comment on my post. but regarding baptism as a significant marker of commitment to the way of Jesus, i think what you’ve said is correct. often times baptism is a superficial marker, as you say, “It often means that they have been in the church a few years and it does not necessarily mean that God has begun transforming their lives. Many teenagers who are baptized do not understand the full weight of their decision.”

    i realize that this is often the case, however, i think that this is as a result of *how* we have been discipling (or lack thereof) people. as the Church we need to actively display a different way of living, the way of Jesus. the way of denying yourself and picking up your cross. *then* when the watching world sees this, and make a decision to join in on the fun, they are ALREADY aware that this is a way that involves dying to oneself and being reborn in Christ. *then*, when people have this understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, baptism will make sense as a good marker of commitment to Jesus.

    however, when we make being a Christian about believing a, b & c with no real change in lifestyle then of course baptism will not be a good marker.

    sheesh, i hope that made sense. sometimes i ramble on!

    peace.

  4. Hi Chadwick,
    I have a long and short reply to your comments. I may post more on some of the things you are talking about. If you read stuff by Father Stephen here:

    http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/how-the-orthodox-read-scripture/

    you will see that different people have interpreted personal faith differently over the years. I would agree that there is a very personal aspect to faith, and I think the language you use is beautiful. Individuals coming together voluntarily to form the kingdom of God. The question is where the personal aspect of faith draws their authority from.

    jt,
    All of your comments are spot on. I agree that baptism can be significant if there has been discipleship going on. This, however, does not seem to be happening in many of the churches I have gone to. Right now I am helping out at a small youth group in West Covina, CA, and we are doing our best to help these kids (some of the leaders lead small groups), but this is, at best, only about three to five hours of time spent with them a week. We try to help them in those hours, and I know that it is doing them good, but I really struggle with what true discipleship looks like. I continually pray that God would reveal these things to me as I continue to seek him.

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