10 Characteristics of an “Individualistic Gospel”

10 Characteristics of an “Individualistic Gospel” March 9, 2016

What is an “individualistic gospel”? It’s common to hear people criticize evangelistic presentations as “individualistic.” However, that is a rather vague description. How do people know if their gospel is “individualistic”?

Credit: Flickr/Gwydion M. Williams
Credit: Flickr/Gwydion M. Williams

In this post, I’ll suggest 10 features that tend to characterize an “individualistic gospel.” I don’t claim that such a message always has every attribute. I simply want to identify tendencies.

Also, don’t confuse “individual” with “individualistic.” Although the gospel does speak to individuals, it does not need to be “individualistic.”

What is an “individualistic gospel?”

1. Personal Benefits

One’s gospel primarily appeals to personal benefits such peace, eternal life, etc. It nurtures a focus on self as opposed to God, the world, sth outside the subjective self. Christ seems more of a bridge to some good rather than the goal of faith itself.

2. Personal Autonomy

An “individualistic gospel” appeals to autonomous or independent self. Particular emphasis is given to making a “personal decision” to trust in Christ. It pays little to no attention to group identity, including who they are and could be in relation to a group. As a result, this message fosters the idea that membership in Christ’s church is a voluntary rather than essential.

3. Faith

It presents faith as something private rather than public. Thus, public expressions of faith (e.g. obedience, church participation, etc.) are often regarded as optional or secondary facets of the Christian life. Such faith should not impede greatly on normal social interactions.

4. Sin

Sin is primarily described from an individual, subjective not social perspective. “Sin” is what “I do wrong” without significant reference to others. Anger, greed, lust and bitterness are commonly noted. One’s conscience not community best equips a person to discern sin.

5. Evangelism vs. Discipleship

“Individualistic gospels” lay special emphasis on evangelism as distinct from “discipleship.” This point naturally stems from the previous comments about faith. Personal decision and destiny prioritized. In contrast to becoming a “convert”, the demands of being a “disciple” challenge personal autonomy and the expectation that faith be expressed within community.

6. Church Discipline

An individualistic gospel produces churches that fail to practice church discipline. After all, a message that primarily highlights personal rescue rather than public allegiance to King Jesus will not undermine the fundamental assumption that moral decisions are private matters. To enact church discipline on wayward congregants proclaims that individual Christians belong to Christ and His kingdom. In order to avoid offense, immorality is overlooked, hidden or excused.

7. Church Identity

Because the church functions like a club or volunteer organization, those who accept an individualistic gospel will more readily disregard the authority and perspective of the church. In practice, one’s blood family or friend group exercises more influence in shaping the direction and decisions of a person’s life.

8. Church Tradition

Not surprisingly, individualistic gospels tend to produce attitudes that are suspicious of church tradition. Such Christians are prone either to reject or minimize the importance of church history and liturgy. Spontaneous and customized worship experiences are valued above those that stress than conformity.

9. Church Unity

An “individualistic gospel” makes unity more difficult to achieve because individualistic church give increased emphasis on secondary distinctions, whether doctrinal, stylistic, denominational, etc. Practically speaking, church unity is based less on Christ and mutual love and more on personal affinity. As a result, people engage more in “church shopping” where they look for a church that will “meet their needs.”

10. Biblical Interpretation

An “individualistic gospel” affects how one understands truth. When interpreting the Bible, individuals emphasize the fact that the Holy Spirit can teach him/her directly (thus relativizing the need for pastors, theologians and formal study). When talking about theology, much weight is given to personal experience.

What do you think? Would you add anything?

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