individualism

What is Revival? 4 – Hindrances: The Root Cause

26 September 2023

10.4 MINS

In the previous article, I covered what is required from us to prepare for revival, namely prayer, repentance and reordering. Now, we’re ready to deal with “the habits and practices in our lives that God puts His finger on” in order to facilitate this process. Last year, in a similar article, I noted the double-mindedness (James 1:6-7) in relation to events at the time:

“… the Holy Spirit gave me three words that highlight this current attack on the Body of Christ: Diversion, Deception, Division. Satan is attempting to divert Christians from their true devotion, development and direction by deception in relation to false narratives and fear about world events. This leads to the division that is a consequence of the conjoined dominating mindsets of doubt and distrust, scepticism and cynicism, which are the antithesis of faith and trust in our good God.”

In part, I believe this double-mindedness results from losing our bearings in relation to being “in the world but not of the world”. And I see those who are involved in warring for our culture as being susceptible to the pressures and the doubts. Even more prevalent are those who involve themselves in “culture war” issues where and when they’re not called to be. They can end up very battered and bruised in the same way as those seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva who took on demons in Ephesus with Paul’s mantle of authority (Acts 19:11-17).

These can both result in an increased and unhealthy focus on what is (or even what is rumoured to be) happening in the world. A direct consequence of this is a similarly unhealthy and diminished focus on the majesty, purpose and influence of God.

There are particular issues that I believe still stand as major hindrances to revival, which I will look at in subsequent articles.

But first, it is important to be able to understand where the mindset responsible for those hindrances originates. Underlying these, I see a single cause. That root cause is an overly strong streak of individualism. And like most of the ideas that we see percolating into the cultural mindset, its strongest manifestation is in the U.S.

But unlike the majority of these issues, like those we tend to place under the banner of “Cultural Marxism” or “Wokeism”, this root cause doesn’t come from extremes of the political Left, but from the further reaches of the Right. And perhaps it’s because it’s not from the Left that its harmful and divisive effects on Christian unity are less apparent.

Expressed politically, this individualism manifests as Libertarianism, which is further Right than classical Conservatism. By being that much further from the Centre, it becomes as equally corrosive of the notions of “the common good” that distinguish classical liberal democratic ideas as the “Woke” identity politics on the Left.

As the far Left empowers the state at the expense of the society, so right-wing Libertarianism, and the individualism from which it arises, empowers the individual at the expense of the society.

For this reason, I believe that Christians have no natural affinity, and therefore no business, with either.

But my business here is not with the politics, but with the way this individualism has crept from the surrounding secular culture into the mindset of many in the Body of Christ, and how that limits our preparation for revival.

Apostolic Teaching

With that in mind, I want to provide a snapshot of the history of Individualism, from its proper anchor in Scripture, through the loosing of the moorings in the Enlightenment, and finally to its shipwreck on the shores of the contemporary worldview. For my purpose, I will do so through three influential thinkers: the apostle Paul, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Ayn Rand.

In his book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Sir Larry Siedentop explains how Paul turned the pillar of all previous ancient cultures, which was the principle of natural inequality of different social strata, on its head:

“Instead, Paul wagers on human equality. It is a wager that turns on transparency, that we can and should see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. A leap of faith in human equality reveals…the universal availability of a God-given foundation for human action, the free action of love… of a moral agency potentially available to each and everyone, that is, to individuals.

Paul uses Jesus’ emphasis on the fatherhood of God to insist on the brotherhood of man… ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

Paul overturns the assumption of natural inequality by creating an inner link between the divine will and human agency….It is what Paul means when he speaks of humans becoming ‘one in Christ’. That birth marks the birth of a ‘truly’ individual will, through the creation of conscience…

Now, the identity of individuals is no longer exhausted by the social roles they happen to occupy. A gap opens up between individuals and the roles they occupy. That gap marks the advent of the new freedom, freedom of conscience. But it also introduces moral obligations that follow from recognizing that all humans are children of God.”

That last phrase, linking as it does “freedom of conscience” and “moral obligation”, is key to this issue of individualism. It is the balancing act on which everything rests. I’m also certain that most of us as Christians would endorse this as an ideal that we all aspire to in our Christian life.

Philosophy

From Paul, we move to the Enlightenment, where we find the notion of Man being on a progressive trajectory to some vague Utopian perfection. But this ultimately destroys the balance between freedom and obligation in favour of individual freedom, or as it was expressed, “autonomy”. And in its most notable social commentator, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), it was first and foremost autonomy from authority in general and religion in particular.

On the issue that relates most closely to this, Nancy Pearcey’s apologetics landmark, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, has proved invaluable.

Pearcey first identifies the importance of Rousseau’s influence:

“Most of the ideologies that bloodied the twentieth century were influenced by Rousseau. His writings inspired Robespierre in the French Revolution, as well as Marx, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, and Mao. Even Pol Pot, who massacred a quarter of the population in Cambodia, was educated in Paris and read his Rosseau. So if you get a grip on Rousseau’s thinking, you have a key to understanding much of the modern world.”

She then describes how Rousseau turned Paul’s balanced view of fallen Man, where he enjoys freedom within the boundaries of obligation, completely upside down. That human nature, Rousseau decided, needed to be “stripped of all social relationships, morals, laws, customs, traditions”, what he called the “state of nature”.

As Pearcey puts it:

“In it, all that exists are lone, disconnected, autonomous individuals, whose sole motivating force is the desire for self-preservation – what Rousseau called self-love…What did that mean for Rousseau’s view of society? if our true nature is to be autonomous individuals, then society is contrary to our nature: It is artificial, confining, oppressive. That’s why Rousseau’s most influential work, “The Social Contract”, opens with the famous line, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”. He did not mean chains of political oppression…for Rousseau, the really oppressive relationships were personal ones like marriage, family, church, and workplace.”

In other words, he upends the Fall of Genesis. In fact, as Pearcey describes it, he saw the Fall as “the source of oppression and suffering”.

Pearcey also highlights the dramatic shift this ultimately had in America over the ensuing decades:

“In the colonial period, the dominant political philosophy had been classical and Christian republicanism, which was highly communal. It called on individuals to submit to a set of preexisting, normative social structures – family, church, state – instituted and sanctioned by the Creator. Virtue consisted in accepting the responsibilities attached to one’s prescribed role within the social organism, practicing self-sacrifice for the common good. But in the new liberalism, social structures were not instituted by God; they came into being only when individuals created them in order to protect their interests. The ethos of self-sacrifice was replaced by one of self-assertion and self-interest.”

If you ask me, “self-assertion and self-interest” are certainly two of the strongest distinctives of contemporary American life.

Base Assumption

Fast forward to the mid-20th century, and we come to Ayn Rand (1905-1982), best known for two of her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These two books have had a significant negative influence on both the Left and Right of politics in America right up to the present day. Pearcey describes the trend this way:

“Unfortunately, most American political thought – both liberal and conservative – continues to rest on the atomistic view that society is made up of autonomous individuals. It is the unconscious assumption that students bring into the classroom today… In fact, I suggest that the assumption of autonomous individualism is a central factor in the breakdown of American society today.”

Rand’s novels were an expression of her own philosophy, which she called “Objectivism”, and which she described in a famous 1959 TV interview with American ABC network journalist Mike Wallace:

“First, my philosophy is based on the concept that reality exists as an objective absolute. That man’s mind, reason, is his means of perceiving it. And that men need a rational morality. I am primarily the creator of a new code of morality which has so far been believed impossible. Namely, a morality not based on faith, not on arbitrary whim, not on emotion, not on arbitrary edict, mystical or social, but on reason. A morality which can be proved by means of logic. Which can be demonstrated to be true and necessary.

My morality is based on man’s life as a standard of value. And since man’s mind is his basic means of survival, I hold that if man wants to live on earth, and to live as a human being, he has to hold reason as an absolute. By which I mean that he has to hold reason as his only guide to action. And that he must live by the independent judgment of his own mind. That his highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness. And that he must not force other people nor accept their right to force him. That each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own, rational, self-interest.”

Where Rousseau upends the Fall, Rand offers us the fulfilment of taking and eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17), which the Serpent described: “…your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Of course, without God’s perfection, this was the lie wrapped in the truth.

This exchange in the Wallace/Rand interview I find particularly pertinent to what, as Christians, we face today in a culture that celebrates unbridled individualism:

Mike Wallace: We’re taught to feel concern for our fellow man. To feel responsible for his welfare. To feel that we are, as religious people might put it, children under God, and responsible one for the other. Now, why do you rebel? What’s wrong with this philosophy?

Ayn Rand: But that is, in fact, what makes man a sacrificial animal. That man must work for others, concern himself with others, or be responsible for them. That is the role of a sacrificial object. I say that man is entitled to his own happiness. And that he must achieve it himself. But that he cannot demand that others give up their lives to make him happy. And nor should he wish to sacrifice himself for the happiness of others. I hold that man should have self-esteem.

Mike Wallace: And cannot man have self-esteem if he loves his fellow man? What’s wrong with loving your fellow man? Christ, every important moral leader in man’s history, has taught us that we should love one another. Why, then, is this kind of love in your mind immoral?

Ayn Rand: It is immoral if it is a love placed above oneself. It is more than immoral; it’s impossible. Because when you are asked to love everybody indiscriminately, that is to love people without any standard. To love them regardless of whether they have any value or virtue, you are asked to love nobody.

To all of this, I think the words of Rousseau’s contemporary, Edmund Burke, are an appropriate response:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their greed; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and arrogance; and in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

As Christians, we, like Mike Wallace, are rightly repelled by Ayn Rand’s philosophy. In fact, despite Pearcey being correct about such ideas being an “unconscious assumption” for most people, if you showed that exchange to most non-Christians today, they would consciously reject Rand’s ideas.

In fact, when push came to shove, as Adam Curtis showed in the first episode of his 2011 documentary series, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, Rand could not live consistently by her own philosophy either.

Yet we can also see how this exalting of the self has become the unconscious driving force of the modern mindset, in Australia as well as the USA.

Atomisation

In a recent article from City Bible Forum’s Third Space, Dr Sarah Irving-Stonebraker observed:

“Our culture’s vision of what life is all about can be described as “finding your personal happiness through being your true self”. This is a culture that emphasises the highly individualistic creation of our identities and lifestyles. The cultural axioms of today… embody the idea that your true potential needs to be unleashed, and this is the key to life: finding happiness… as personal wellbeing through self-fulfilment. It’s “live your best life” and “you do you”.

We have detached the individual from any transcendent story that gives an account of the big questions, and any grounding for ethical and moral categories. Yet these are precisely the kinds of conceptual tools we need… to have a conversation in which we can genuinely, respectfully, disagree… We reduce ethical reasoning to emotivism; we just assert our wills and feelings. We fumble around with crude ideological categories rather than engage in a genuine conversation…”

The question that arises from this is how is this behaviour evident within Christian circles.

But in an article at Public Discourse, “Unlearning Ayn Rand’s Relentless Individualism” by academic Josh Herring, we find a description of the “common good” alternative that flows from our Christian worldview, as well as the danger of its removal:

“Through dialogue and mutual sacrifice, we shape and encourage each other in what Edmund Burke called “little platoons.” In our communities, we, as Adam Smith might put it, divide the labor of life and multiply our ability to thrive. Throughout life’s difficulties, we develop sympathy for one another… remove the different communities, and you remove the substance of who that person is.”

In other words, we are designed and created by God, and “in His image”, to be innately other-centred, finding our “ability to thrive” in ensuring that others around us are equally valued and equally empowered. The best description of this is found in the American Declaration of Independence. In it, the Founding Fathers declared what to them was “self-evident”, the equality of all in the pursuit of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. In other words, “the common good”.

But though this “relentless individualism” is one of the aspects of modern culture that, as Christians, we rightly reject, even so, as with a number of distinctives of the “spirit of the age”, this is also seeping into the Body of Christ.

In the next couple of articles, I will outline some of the issues where I believe this leads to those three things the Lord showed me last year: Diversion, Deception, Division.

___

Photo by Mary Taylor.

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2 Comments

  1. John Burr 8 October 2023 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    A scholarly article with important and insightful thoughts. WHAT IS REVIVAL? The paper explores philosophical reasons which might hinder Revival – the discussion of Rousseau and Rand is interesting these concepts have flowed into theological debate and the training of pastors of today.

    I’d like to leave this thought when contemplating REVIVAL

    Revival happened IN every century but normally outside of existing churches every new move of God requires new wineskins the old could not accommodate the Spirits fresh imperative.

    The Jesus Revolution and Asbury is a case in point –

    In addition the existing church always persecuted the new move of God in every century not just Catholics even Evangelicals were just as murderous, wrong and guilty –

    See John MacArthur’s disparaging comments on the Jesus Revolution – in another century
    Luther saw nothing wrong killing dissidents Calvin was involved in Servetus being burned at the stake as a heretic and a number of women burned for being witches, he hated Anabaptists he would have liked to be kind of meglomaniac or Pope but had to leave Geneva when he was opposed .

    IMO the existing church is unfit to receive God’s imperative of Revival- God is not
    willing that any should perish BUT he can’t use us and therefore He goes outside of the
    existing church.

    The church in Australia and throughout the world has been INSTITUTIONALIZED into
    what it it a comfortable self serving complacency in the Laodicean church model wealthy but
    blind.

    Turning to the root cause the article is really helpful –this individualism has turned out hundreds of years of theologically trained pastors who have trained congregants to be compliant to the church structures and to government. Its man’s way or God’s- the former has prevailed hence God goes outside for new moves of his Spirit.

    Its concerning to see that NO CHURCH stood against the draconian overreach during the Covid times not one – today NO CHURCH excepting the Presbyterian Church in Australia has stood against aboriginal spirituality exposing it as polytheism.

    The future for the Anti- Christ in Australia seems assured No Church will stand against government directives.

  2. Kim Beazley 16 October 2023 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Thanks for such a detailed response, John.

    It’s true to an extent that revival has often come from outside the mainstream, but I think that the closer you get to the present that’s less so. And that’s because of the rise of multiple denominational streams in countries like Britain and Germany, which were the sources first of the Protestant Reformation, then of other denominations which sprang up over time.

    So by time you get to Zinzendorf, his Moravians were more the victims of persecution by the establishment churches, both Lutheran and Catholic, than Wesleyans were in Britain.

    And in the 20th century, the Welsh Revival was definitely mainstream, as was so much of its spread around the world, with its manifestation on the West Coast of the US leading to a new denomination, Pentecostalism, which suffered no persecution beyond a rejection on theological grounds.

    And the number of Christians following the likes of John MacArthur’s radical anti-Charismatic ideas is diminishing and insignificant, and though noisy and financially strong, will gradually disappear.

    But I disagree with your estimation of the established churches, that they are “unfit to receive God’s imperative of Revival”. Any denomination which adheres to sound doctrine is certainly fit, and there are enough people within them seeking revival. After all, where do you think the 33,000 followers of “Canberra Declaration” go to church? And we’re just one organization of many addressing cultural and social issues and seeking revival.

    I also disagree with your take on the pandemic lockdowns, as to make a blanket judgement that everything they did was with Draconian intent. In fact, it’s that kind of attitude which I dealt with in the article following this one, as it is the fruit of the very individualism you have joined me in criticising here. So in that you fortify my premise.

    And no more so than your assumption regarding “the Anti-Christ in Australia”, the negative mindset producing that being part of the 6th instalment, and again the fruit of individualism.

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