Individualism - The Strength and Weakness of Evangelicalism

I deeply believe that each person needs to make a personal decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I am an evangelist at heart, and I want to see each person experience the transformation that begins at conversion.

But, too often, my evangelical zeal to see individuals come to faith is divorced from the biblical reality of community. God's gospel work is the creation of the New Humanity - beginning with a new community called "The Church."

When we forget that the goal of the gospel is not simply individuals coming into right relationship with God but also in right relationship with others and with God's Creation, we truncate the gospel and it loses its power to truly transform.

Tony Jones writes,

"Millions of Individuals 'inviting Jesus Christ into their hearts as their personal savior' at megachurches and Billy Graham crusades has done little to stem the moral dissolution in America. And ironically, it's the very individualism engendered by evangelicalism that has resulted in this predicament. The primary emphasis of evangelicalism is the conversion of the individual, but that emphasis has also handicapped evangelicals in their attempts to tackle systemic issues like racism and poverty and thus has left them open to manipulation by political forces." (The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, p. 13)

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Brent Barger said...


Couldn't agree more. How do we get past this individualistic bend? Great quote from Jones. I see part of the problem also being that when many evangelize they don't talk about a complete change of direction and the beginning of a whole new life, but instead many simply ask the person to raise a hand or pray a prayer and then maybe throw in something about going to church and reading the Bible. And then we feel the person is fine and that we've done our job. It's all so strange. How far are you into the book and what do you think so far?

preacherman said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us all. I think that are headed toward a 2nd reformation in America through the "emerging" theology and church.
I think it should be an exciting time for us as ministers.
I want you to know that you and your ministry is in my prayers brother as you strive to reach out to the emerging generation and make a real difference for the kingdom of God.
I will be visiting your blog regularly brother.
In Him,
Kinney Mabry

Byron Harvey said...

Hear, hear, Bob. Dead-on. Does the concept of the church not merit at least mention when we are sharing our faith? I've long been skeptical of so much of our "evangelism" that gives a 5-minute presentation of the "gospel", calls for a "decision", leaves a pamphlet, and moves on (OK, I know, that's a caricature to a degree, but you get the picture). I wonder if our "individualism" isn't more an American thing than a Christian one...no, check that, I don't wonder...

Bob Robinson said...

It is all so strange!!
It springs out of the Revivalist background of American Evangelicalism. In order to get as many people saved as possible, Revival-leading evangelists truncated the gospel. They moved away from process and commitment toward one-time decisions with little sense of counting the costs and all-life discipleship. We carry this as our heritage.

I'm enjoying Tony's book quite a lot. His prose are witty and warm. I think I expected more harshness, but it is irenic.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks Kinney!
The college campus is the front line of ministry in a postmodern context, so please do keep us in prayer!

Bob Robinson said...

Oh yes! It IS an American thing! Good point!

The challenges are these (and I'd like your input on this):
1. As a preacher, how are you presenting the gospel from the pulpit in ways other than individualistically? How can we proclaim a gospel that is larger than Jesus died for your personal sins and wants to be your personal savior?
2. How has American libertarianism undermined the communal nature of the transforming gospel?
3. How has individualism, in the words of Tony Jones, "handicapped evangelicals in their attempts to tackle systemic issues like racism and poverty and thus has left them open to manipulation by political forces"?