Not at all to distract from the Rob Bell discussion going on in the previous post (how in the world did that happen, anyway?), but here’s one to chew on. I’ve been thinking some about ecclesiological minimalism and its relationship to the exaltation of the individual. N.T. Wright addresses it from the front end (that is, with the gospel itself).
If the ‘goal’ of the gospel is to convert an individual sinner into an individual Christian, the church ends up being a support system (whatever that may look like) for a collection of individuals with individual needs and agendas. If the goal is to convert an individual sinner into a vital part of the community, something closer to right seems to be in view.
The gospel creates, not a bunch of individual Christians, but a community. If you take the old route of putting justification, in its traditional meaning, at the center of your theology, you will always be in danger of sustaining some sort of individualism. This wasn’t so much a problem in Augustine’s, or even Luther’s, day, when society was much more bound together than it is now. But both in Enlightenment modernism and in contemporary post-modernism, individualism has been all the rage, with its current symbols of personal stereo and the privatization of everything. Tragically, some would-be presentations of ‘the gospel’ have actually bought into this, by implying that one is justified or saved first and foremost as an individual. Paul’s gospel could never do that; nor could its corollary, the doctrine of justification. Of course every single human being is summoned, in his or her uniqueness, to respond personally to the gospel. Nobody in their right mind would deny that. But there is no such thing as an ‘individual’ Christian. Paul’s gospel created a community; his doctrine of justification sustained it. Ours must do no less.
I agree with him, though this does, I think, put me against the flow of the modern evangelical river.