Thursday, October 18, 2007

Individualism and Christianity: A Personal Relationship with Jesus

People who read this blog often will recognize that the reformed mafia is frequently in debate over issues with The Watson Brothers, commonly known as Exist Dissolve and Deviant Monk. We disagree over a great deal of things. However, I believe these two guys actually see something that perhaps us reformed folks might miss.

Our Western Culture is very individualistic, and that is also prevelant among modern Christianity and in our churches. Modern Christianity talks about fellowship and unity, but do we really foster true biblical unity?

The way that Christianity has been going follows the individualistic trend of the culture, instead of biblical community. Perhaps one of the reasons this is true is the language that Christians employ when speaking of Christ.

It is common to hear Jesus Christ referred to as "Personal" Lord and Savior. While Jesus is referred to in this way by today's Christian, never is this title of "Personal" Lord or "Personal" Savior employed in the Bible, and never is Jesus given this title in the scriptures.

Perhaps it was originally derived to distinguish from an impersonal savior, someone who has no concern for humanity. In this sense, yes Jesus is personal. He cares about his people. He is present amidst his people.

However, I think in our day and age, I think the idea more conveys a personal savior who is somewhat like a personal trainer. This fosters the mentality, "Me and Jesus have our own thing going over here, hes my "personal" savior." This quickly creates an individualistic Christianity.

Also the concept of a "personal" relationship with Christ is not a concept in scripture either, yet we employ this terminology ever so often at the end of Just As I Am after the 30 minute, 3 point sermon in the Southern Baptist Church. This fosters the whole, "Me and Jesus and nobody else" mentality as well.

I actually think that this terminology is damaging to the Christian faith. As I am studying the Old Testament this semester, I have been entrigued with the concept of the covenant theme, and as I read scripture it is every where. While God established covenants with particular individuals: Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. God's covenants were not just for these particular individuals. God's covenant was with a people, Israel. God's covenant was with the descendants of thise individuals. In the Old Testament, God's relationship to his people was not individualistic, rather it was with a community of people.

I don't think it is any different today. God has established a new covenant with a people he has chosen. God is not merely dealing with individuals, but with the church, a community of believers.

I think it is very easy to get trapped into the individualistic mindest of our western culture and foster that mentality in Christianity when we think of having a "personal" relationship with Jesus. However, this individualism is foreign to the pages of scripture, and I think the Watson brothers actually rightly observe this, and we too, need to see this and do what we can to guard against it and do our best to promote biblical community within the church of Jesus Christ. Be Blessed!


TheoJunkie said...

I agree with you that "personal Lord and Savior" is not found in the bible... and I agree that it "might" lead to a personalization of Christ / cafeteria theology syndrome.

We probably should state the Gospel this way: "Repent and trust that God will forgive your sins through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, confessing Him as Lord."

However, I don't think the "personal Savior" statement started out as the proverbial invitation to manufacture your own "Personal Jesus"... but rather, it (or so I would think) started as an opposition/clarification to the post-modern mindset that would say: "Yes, I agree, trust, and confess that Jesus is Lord and Savior-- for some people... and for me, it's [insert personal salvation plan]."

That said, all this (even this concern to make the person "think right") probably stems more out of the same bad-theology that brought us the "need to recite the sinner's prayer-- preferrably to a witness" in order to be saved.

Gordan said...

Okay, that's it, Joshua. Your great learning is driving you mad. Agreeing with the Watsons...[shudder]...and here I was thinking better of you!

Just kidding. I know what you mean, and in fact I'd go you one further. As a Southern Baptist, I think the SBC goes too far, not only with individual autonomy in the area of faith, but also with local church autonomy. Local church autonomy merely moves the Personal Jesus up one step, so that now he's the Jesus of this particular group of 40 or so individuals.

I'm not saying I want to unite us all under the banner of some top-down authority structure, as in episcopalian forms of government. But, from Acts 15 specifically, and the government of Israel in the Old Testament in general, I think a bottom-up appeals court system is the more Biblical way to go. The Presbyterians have it right on this point, I'm sayin'.

kangaroodort said...

There is another way to look at the issue. Perhaps the focus on individual election contributes to the problem. The OT understood election corporately, and it would seem that Paul understood it in the same way. The Bible sees God's children primarily as the corporate body of believers.

Shank made the observation that election is primarily corporate and secondarily individual only from the perspective of how the individual comes to participate in the group.

Rom. 11:16-24 vividly and concisely illustrates this concept. I recommend the following link which develops this concept over and against the individualistic Calvinist conception of election.

Gordan said...

I read part of the article. I admit that I could not wade through all twenty pages of it. I read enough, I think, to see that the author ignores the elephant in the middle of the room. That is, yes, Jacob and Esau represent nations (which no Calvinist denies.) But when these things were said of them, the two were individuals. One was elected and one was not.

If you prove that the the passage includes the idea of corporate election (which I've never seen a Calvinist deny,) that is a much different thing than proving that it has nothing to do with individual election. Especially since the Jacob and Esau portion of the passage only mentions the indviduals, Jacob and Esau. The fact that they are representatives of larger groups does not nullify the fact that they were also two individuals, one elect and one not.

Corporate election without individual election is anti-logical. It would have God in charge of the "big things" like nations, without having Him in charge of the the little things that make up the big things.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

IMHO, this individualism is more a part of our culture than any theological understanding of election.

Consider all of all the Southern Baptists who know NOTHING AT ALL about election one way or the other), yet, we still see many within the SBC who are very prone to this kind of thinking.

(Even when we were Synergists in a Pentecostal church, my wife and I were ate up with this thinking too!)

Think about it:

In our day, people try to sell Jesus by pitching a man-centered message about felt needs, prosperity, and "living your best life now." It's all individualistic and anthrocentric. It breeds "self-centeredness."


kangaroodort said...


It's a shame that you did not continue to read, because he addresses your elephant. He also makes it plain, as I also did, that the corporate election view does not discount an individual element, ony that the individual element is subordinate to the corporate element. Your misunderstanding is the same as Schreiner's which the article is trying to correct.

So again: primarily cororate, secondarily individual. Calvinism has election as primarily individual, and [maybe] secondarily corporate. See the difference?

BTW, how do you understand Rom. 11:16-24? I have brought it up many times on this blog and it has been consitently ignored.

rpavich said...

I read the article also. The person that wrote it brought in his own ideas instead of letting Paul make the argument. There is nothing corporate about Paul's argument. In the context of the whole of chapter 9 and the preceding chapter's individuals...not nations. There is nothing in the context, grammar, or argument that would signal a shift for this one verse to make it "nations" instead of individuals...


M. Maslin said...

Enjoyed your post. I know it's old but only just found it. If you are interested, I did a post on the same thing. I know we have different theological perspectives, but tell me what you think!