Expressive individualism gets criticized at lot these days and rightly so. Yet like many other aspects of our Being in the world anything that is done from a Godless perspective becomes a curse. The “Immanent Frame” of Charles Taylor abounds in our culture and the world but as Christians we must realize that individualism is vital to wisdom and discernment in the context of our spiritual lives. As Christ Jesus and the Person of the Holy Spirit works within us, we must be critical and discerning, individualists in our countercultural lives.
Our culture now by and large rejects external authority, yet individualistic skills are crucial to evangelism and Christianity in general. If we can’t think for ourselves and challenge the prevailing culture or orthodoxy of our secular peers and citizens, faith will become difficult. As our culture has been changing over the past years and decades all of us have become expressive individualist to one degree or another. With that said we must also realize that expressive individualism is not evil in and of itself. What if Paul, for example, had not been as expressive in his zeal for the Lord?
Good fruit comes from our individualism as we recognize the dignity of our fellow image-bearers and the affirmation of our inner spiritual life. Our individualism is sanctified by God being at work in our lives. In our culture we see that the individualism of modern capitalism has helped lift millions out of poverty and helped others to flourish.
The faithful individualism of many since the Fall has allowed God’s people throughout the ages to stand against the dominant secular evils of their cultures. The people of Israel, Christ’s disciples during Second Temple Judaism, and early Christians in the pagan world and cultures all had to be expressive individuals. And don’t forget the individualism of the reformers and the Puritans as they stood for the gospel unto death. And then closer to our time William Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, King, and many other Christians in their struggle for righteousness against the collective sin of their time.
As Christians we understand the sins of individualism inside and outside of the church. What we must do is retain enough individualism to question conventional wisdom in our culture. Individualism is what we do together as a church, the Body of Christ. When we come to Christ as individuals, we are then united with one another.