Western 21st century Assumptions upon a 1st century Text: Individualism.

The New Testament came through first-century writers who held to particular assumptions and a particular worldview. As twenty first-century Christians seek to discern what those writings are saying to them, they carry different assumptions and a different worldview. This discrepancy often causes contemporary Christians to interpret the Bible in a way that the authors never intended. For those Christians who hold to a high view of scripture, the author’s intended meaning is inspired by God and the guide and authority for faith and practice today. It is crucial, therefore, to be aware of our assumptions and the subtle ways they steer our understanding of the text.

Today’s blog addresses individualism. Western 21st century culture sees everything through the lens of individualism. Merriam-Webster defines individualism as “the belief that the needs of each person are more important than the needs of the whole society or group.” Western Christians unconsciously adopt this individualistic worldview because it surrounds us every day and in every interaction. In contrast, the biblical writers and their audiences were surrounded by assumptions that emphasized the community. While the biblical texts also addressed individuals, they did so through the communities these individuals belonged to. Contemporary Christians tend to read the Bible in the opposite direction–as if the Bible is addressed primarily to individuals and secondarily to the communities these individuals belong to.

The disconnect between 21st century versus 1st century assumptions manifests itself both in theology and practice. From my experience as a pastor, the affect on practice is more pervasive because assumptions guide every person whether they think about them or not. Churches are filled with people who interpret the Bible, their lives, their relationship to God, and their relationship to others through the lens of individualism.  Continue reading

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