Individualism and Community

April 2, 2013 — 2 Comments

I think, therefore I am. One simple phrase that Descartes penned helped define a worldview for a future generation.

No longer would humanity be fettered with group-think, old wives tales, and crude explanation. No, we would be released into the glorious future of rationalistic reasoning and society would soar to new heights.

Centuries have passed, technology has thrived, and yet there is trouble in paradise. Behind every great historical advance, unintended consequences lurk.

With the establishment of rationalistic philosophy, we began to view ourselves as autonomous creatures. We think for ourselves, so we decide what is true, right and godly, right?

The proof is in the proverbial pudding of the failings of this idea. When combined with consumerism, the product has been crumbling communities, failing marriages, and a general sense of narcissistic ennui.

Individualism, the insidious little idea that “I am a rock, I am an island”, is the predominant theory of authority in our day even in the church. The problem is that the Bible, our experience and common sense would cry “false”.

Consider our the implications of our salvation that Peter highlights in 1 Peter 3:

[9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

Our salvation in Christ is radically communal – we are a part of a people, whether we like it or not. We fight like crazy against this idea, but it does not make it untrue. Most of us know we belong to community, we need community, but it grates against our autonomous decision-making.

It shows up in how we view church authority as well. Consider the explicit commands of Hebrews:

[17] Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

Just hearing that statement often makes me bristle, and my experience in our church community tells me that others do as well.

Finally, consider Romans 8:14-17:

[14] For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The radical truth of our salvation is that it culminates with our adoption into God’s family. We are sons and daughters of God in Christ! The implication is that we are therefore brothers and sisters, and this is a far stronger, deeper, and longer bond than any earthly family has.

What if we fought for the person sitting next to us in the pew, or the person across from us in the group, like they were our actual brother or sister? What if we believed those outside the faith were potentially new family members?

I think a lot would change.

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

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