The Fall of Individualism in our Biblical Understanding of Walking with Jesus

One of the truly fascinating things about the Bible is that our interpretation of it morphs so much over time. When we say the Bible is living and active… it’s actually living and active.

For example: 40 years ago most people would agree that Christians should avoid the casual consumption of alcohol. This vantage point was supported, enthusiastically, from the Bible. Today? Those same arguments could be taken apart by anyone. It’s that culture has shifted on the issue and we are looking at the topic through a different hermeneutical lens.

Just As I Am is becoming Just As We Are

Over the past five years, in my observation, individualism has begun to fade. Messages that are about “us” are connecting a lot stronger than messages aimed at “me.” The tone has been subtle but the resonance has been noticeable.

The rise of the neo-reformed movement has lead to a general acceptance that the Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t just meant to make my personal life better, it’s an understanding that Christians in culture should be living the Good News in their neighborhood. As Jesus renews our hearts we help renew our community.

But this isn’t limited to the neo-reformed movement. It’s everywhere you turn. Out with the individual and in with community. And that, my friend, is changing how we read the Bible.

A Tribal Understanding of Response to Jesus

From an individual perspective, Acts 10 is hard to comprehend. I remember teaching through Acts several years ago and struggling through chapter 10 because I had a need to call students to accept Christ individually. But I couldn’t do that with any integrity… through the lens of my hermeneutic it was clear– Cornelius’ family came to Jesus as a tribe of people and not really as individuals. It was a corporate response. Do a word study on this passage and you’ll see the parallels between “I” statements and “we” statements.

Through the strict lens of “You come to Jesus individually” this passage is difficult. But through the lens of “sometimes we act as a tribe in making decisions” it makes total sense. Each individual decided to follow Jesus because it was good for all.

From I Speak to We Speak

In our high school ministry we are careful to have a plurality of voices. We’re finding that today’s students distrust the talking head. 24 hours per day for their entire life they have been able to compare and contrast vantage points on TV news, sports, and everything in between. “That’s what CNN is reporting about that… but I read ___ on Huffington Post.” Or “ESPN is saying this about that player but they wrote ____ on Twitter.” Students need to know that what we have to say stands up to scrutiny because they have ready access to scrutiny.

If our high school pastor were to stand up every Sunday and present God’s Word as “I’m the person the church has put in authority so you should trust me” than that would actually foster a sense of distrust. Howver, one reason we are seeing the response we are seeing from the students is because we use a plurality of voices. We don’t just talk at students… we invite them to speak and think for themselves. Why? Because that’s how you encounter truth in a pluralistic society! If Brian just talked students would walk away with Brian’s perspective on things. But if we open it up and allow them to participate, the truth of the Gospel isn’t just Brian’s perspective it’s our perspective.

For discussion:

“A Gospel message about me is no Gospel at all. Let’s kill individualism and embrace community.” Agree or disagree? And why?


By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

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