Protestant Problems – Part 4: Radical Individualism (a.k.a. the Tyranny of Me)
I have been writing (very!) occasional posts in a series called, “Protestant Problems,” highlighting some of the systemic problems we face as Protestants–all with the goal of further reform (or should I say, weeding out our more flagrant abuses and homing in on being the church Christ intends?). See also parts one, two, and three.
American Protestants in particular have developed a very unhealthy, deformed sense of the importance of the self, as it is in our American culture. “It’s all about me.” “I’m kind of a big deal.” “People know me.” Unfortunately, in many Protestant quarters–evangelicals, liberals, and conservatives alike–the Divine Individual has become the center of the Protestant religion–a personal pope, an advisor to the transcendent God, even a demi-god itself. The thinking goes, “I am the final arbiter of truth, the decider of what binds my conscience and what doesn’t.” Of course, when Protestantism was born, this re-focus on the individual, personal salvation, and freedom of conscience as held captive to God’s Word were a needed corrective to the oppressive Medieval church. But what we see today is only a joke–a false religion that baptizes Western narcissism.
Consider John Shore as Exhibit A: In approaching a particular cultural phenomenon (in this case same-sex “marriage”), he lays out his own theological method, sets the boundaries of the information for formulating his own truth, establishes his own canon of Scripture, and, rather intentionally for the particular case, fixes the formula from the beginning so he will get the desired outcome all along. Sprinkled among his method of interpretation is an ignorance of basic Bible facts and an utter lack of humility when it comes to understanding Scripture and conversing with the larger body of believers. Shore demonstrates how if we put on blinders and read only what we want to see, if we rule some parts of Scripture (and basically all tradition and church teachings) as irrelevant to our new religion, and if we bend everything to our rationalizations, that we can make Christianity be whatever we want it to be–our own personal religion with our own personal god.
This is as dangerous as it is sad. For many Protestants, we have come to a point where Scripture–although we may still claim that it’s God’s Word–means anything and nothing. What if interpretation is not a matter of the Almighty Self? (I keep thinking about 2 Peter 1:20: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.”) What if we need the wisdom of the church throughout the ages, not to mention the community of the faithful now, in order to know the truth? What if not all theological and biblical methods are necessarily Christian?
Granted: Holy Scripture is plain enough on the big things, and, in many cases, reading = understanding = believing. But just picking up a Bible and digging in, stumbling upon and seizing upon whatever tickles our ears and satisfies our longings (take the time to look up 2 Timothy 4:3!), is about as responsible as someone with a toothache picking up a dentist’s drill and a mirror and thinking to himself, “Hey, this isn’t so hard; I should be able to figure this out on my own!”
The truth is that we need boundaries in our faith. We need fences and markers that let us know when our fallen intellect is wandering off the path of Christ. We need the collective wisdom of the church in all times and places to help guide us, rather than personalizing everything and shirking off anything that disagrees with our almighty Self.
As Protestants, we need to practice a little humility and place God back on the throne instead of us; we need to admit that we already recognize creeds, confessions, and statements of faith that shape our faith, even if we say we don’t; and we need to admit that solo scriptura (that is, absolute authority of Scripture as interpreted by each person; see here and here) is no longer a tenable position for Christians.
Soli Deo Gloria! (Glory to God Alone)