If you think there will be a relief in the cultural tensions, you’re kidding yourself. I’m afraid it will only get more challenging as we see individuals double down on the embrace of individualism and love of self over the biblical call to follow Jesus.
Like with any illness, you will remain sick if the symptoms are the only thing you address. You’ve got to get to the root issue.
The root issue in our cultural divide is expressive individualism. Carl Trueman, a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, originates the term “expressive individualism.” He defines it as a cultural phenomenon that elevates personal autonomy and a person expressing themselves as the principal value a person can have.
Trueman says this is a rapid departure from the values and traditions once woven in Western society’s fabric. In his book Strange New World, he gives an in-depth progression of how the thinkers like Rousseau, Marx, Nietzche, Freud, and even the sexual revolution have been the means to how this thinking has seeded itself in so many. Social media and the ability to express one’s opinions and “truth” without consequence or in-person pushback have inflated this even more.
With that in mind, the tension you feel with culture right now is a fight between the values of Christianity, which is simply a value of self-denial and the lordship of Christ, and the values of expressive self. These two values are in apparent conflict with each other.
I feel this daily as a church planter. Each person I meet who is not a follower of Jesus has a unique expression of faith and their reasons based on experiences and their realities of truth on why they do not follow Jesus. Each person is an individual case to understand and untether. We are no longer in a world where we can address culture in broad strokes. Each person’s experience and internal feelings are their epistemology.
For a while now, church leaders have been engaging the symptoms, not realizing that underlying our cultural divides is the insidious nature of expressive individualism. It’s true that culture is not aligning with biblical sexual ethics. However, that’s one consequence of the root issue. The evil and grotesque abortion laws in our state, again, are a symptom and means for the expressive individual to preserve self.
And as I mentioned, this pervasive individualism isn’t going anywhere and will not get clearer for leaders to navigate. But if we know what kind of fight we are in, we can bring the right weapons. No one brings a knife to a gunfight.
We are fighting for people to crush the idol of expressive individualism. The weapon we have is the proclamation of the Word of God. The Word says true life and identity are self-denial and following Jesus. It’s an unapologetic belief that the lordship of Christ in a person is the aim of life, the source of satisfaction, and the road to restoration in our society.
Brothers and sisters, our fight is not against flesh and blood but against evil, spiritual forces. And those spiritual forces are driving individualism in society.
Yes, we need to spend time dissecting the nuances and intellectual points regarding the cultural issues of our day. But more than that, could we pivot dramatically to a posture of radical prayer and intentionality that intends to see a radical shift from self-autonomy to submission to Christ? Doing this will confront the evil, spiritual forces deceiving others into individual expressiveness. This is a battle worth fighting, friends.
Here are some practical ways to do that:
- In our preaching and disciple-making avenues, could we express and integrate the beauty of our submission to Christ when we speak about our walks with God? What if we emphasize the call to die and self-denial just as much, if not more, than the soteriological aspects of the gospel? Let’s preach and share a gospel that exalts Jesus as Lord and Savior.
- Pray desperately and specifically for a worldwide revival of people coming to an end themselves and heralding Jesus as their Lord. Pray people would truly become dissatisfied and fed up with being their own rulers.
- Could we also be courageous by exposing the idol of personal sovereignty for what it is? We can do that by showing that society is sick and that individualism only robs the individual. It overpromises and under-delivers. It sells itself as true freedom when it only offers bondage and destruction to the individual and others. There’s no debating that. There’s enough evidence to show that individualism without the guardrails of the gospel is making society unmanageable.
- Could we collectively change our language when we respond to cultural issues from “Here’s what I think…” to “Here’s what God has to say.” Our intentions have probably been the latter, but this small rephrase communicates that we look to God and his words, not our internal discernment.
Again, it’s not going to get easier. But if we know the type of fight, we can engage the cultural divides with more resilience and enthusiasm.