Salvation for Me and Me Alone

Soong-Chan Rah writes:

The expression of excessive individualism in local church life is rooted in the excessive individualism of Western evangelical theology. Evangelicalism’s idolatry of  the individual has crippled the church’s ability to view sin and salvation outside of the narrow parameters of a personal faith. Evangelical theology becomes exclusively an individual-driven theology instead of a community-driven theology. In an individual driven theology, individual sin takes center stage.Individual sin leads to personal guilt: I, the individual, did something personally wrong and I feel guilty about my actions.  I am responsible for my personal, individual actions and nothing more.  Therefore, I can personally confess my sins and be absolved of my individual sinfulness and my personal feelings of guilt.  Because the individual is only responsible for an individualized and personal guilt, there is no sense of shame for corporate actions that also expressions of human sinfulness.

Our reduction of sin to a personal issue means that we are unwilling to deal with social structural evils, and this reduction prevents us from understanding the full expression of human sinfulness and fallenness. We have reduced the power of redemption to a personal salvation from personal sin. Evangelism programs and methods, such as the Four Spiritual Laws and the Bridge Illustration, focus exclusively on an individualistic worldview and emphasize a personal salvation  experience.

Our approach to evangelism is shaped by an individualized soteriology (our perspective on salvation) based upon a Western framework. Our soteriology arises from our hamartiology (our understanding of the nature of sin). Our understanding of salvation is contingent upon how we understand what we are being saved from, namely sin and its consequences.  When sin is limited to the individual realm and does not extend into the corporate realm, our understanding of salvation is also limited to the individual realm.  Sin, therefore, is found only in the  individual, not in structures and systems.  The possibility of redemption, therefore, is also limited exclusively to the individual.  A relationship with God limited to a private and individual realm ultimately limits our experience of God.  Our understanding of sin limited to an individual level reveals a personal guilt over wrongdoing. However, lacking an understanding of corporate sin, we are unable to feel, perceive or understand the impact of the shame of corporate responsibility.   The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, pp.39-40.

And we wonder why we struggle with community in the Evangelical context.


2 Responses

  1. Doesn’t the Evangelical reflection of this individuality really back to the founding of our nation where we can practice “our” religion away from those “other guys”? I seem to recall Rhode Island as the only accepting colony in the US for a while.

    A theology of community also flies in the face of the U.S. history that has established a “right to privacy”. IMHO I don’t think it’s an Evangelical thing at all. I know too may progressives/liberals who are just as self focused as the conservatives. They just make the opposite mistake and make everything a corporate expression of sin with no personal responsibility except to drive hybrids and the like. Michael Moore a the poster child for this movement.


  2. I think your right on individuality not being just and Evangelical thing, and I think the author would agree as well. His focus is on the Evangelicals because he is Evangelical describing the many (i.e., consumerism, materialism, racism, etc.,) changes necessary for the cultural contextualization of the gospel. As something of an Evangelical myself, I find this book both fascinating and profound.

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