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Concomitant Individualism

01 Apr

Concomitant.

Now that is a good word.

Don’t worry, I didn’t know what this word meant either until I looked it up today, but it is a good word. Worth adding to your vocabulary.

Con-com-itant: (adj.) accompanying especially in a subordinate or incidental way [Dictionary]

The phrase “concomitant individualism” came from a quote from a book I was re-reading today– Worship, Community, & The Triune God of Grace by J.B. Torrance (1996). JBT taught systematic theology at Aberdeen Scotland and he has done a lot of work on the Trinity. In this book he discusses the practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity in our view of worship. I blogged on this book last year (click here).

Torrance uses the phrase “concomitant individualism” (go ahead and say “concomitant” out loud….it will be good practice for when you use it in a sentence and show off your intelligence to all your friends) when wrestling with shifting values in American culture and how the church should respond.

Individualism and concomitant individualism (go ahead and say it out loud again) is the unavoidable byproduct a over obsession with reason in Western culture. What so wrong with individualism you ask? Read JBT below:

But what happens in a secular culture where belief in the objectivity of God and of moral law recedes? Then, as Allan Bloom has argued so powerfully in The Closing of the American Mind, everything goes into flux (Heraclitus), and we witness a closing of the (American) mind, with a resultant collapse into narcissism, a preoccupation with the self—my rights, my life, my liberty, my pursuit of happiness. Religion then becomes a means toward self-realization. All the interest is in self-esteem, self-fulfillment, self-identity, the human potential movement and possibility thinking, leading either to nihilism of post-modernism or to the neo-gnosticism of the New Age movement which identifies the self with God. Know yourself. Realize your own identity. Then you will know God in the depths of your own spirituality…”

“What is the Christian answer? Is it to go back to Plato’s Republic, as Allan Bloom suggests, to recover the objectivity of truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Is it to revive the older notions of natural law and moral law discerned by the kindly light of reason, with their concomitant individualism? Or is it not rather to return to “the forgotten Trinity”—to an understanding of the Holy Spirit, who delivers us from a narcissistic preoccupation with the self to find our true being in loving communion with God and one another – to hear God’s call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit in Christ’s communion with God and one another—to hear God’s call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit in Christ’s communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world—to create in our day A NEW HUMANITY of persons who find true fulfillment in other centered communion and service in the kingdom of God?”

J.B. Torrance, Worship, Community, & The Triune God of Grace, pg. 41


Concomitant individualism drives the consumerism that is eating away the soul of the Church in North America. I know that may sound like a pit of an overstatement, but I am NOT trying to exaggerate here. The “Me Church” is absolutely killing us. Check out this parody video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9dvVp0Nxjo

The idea that church exists to meet “my” needs distorts the church Jesus is working to build. Christians are good at dressing up their concomitant individualism in God-talk and Scripture verses ripped out of context. Think of how we often view worship in Christian community. We so often hear people talk about how worship made THEM feel. We hear about THEIR favorite songs and how the preacher gave THEM such wonderful insight on how to live THEIR life.

I am not becoming a cynic. I have my favorite worship songs. There are musical styles in church music that I like and some I don’t like. I don’t like old songs. And in our church we define old as anything written before 1991. Nothing from the 80s please! It isn’t really old lyrics that bother me as much as old music. So I have things that fit my tastes when it comes to worship. There are certain Christian pastors and teachers that I like to listen to and there some I don’t. The point is we cannot let these thoughts dominate our view of worship.

I found Torrance helpful in connecting the experiential significance of the Trinity to corporate worship. He describes the Trinity as a self-contained, self-sufficient, self-giving community of persons. God was intimately happy with the enjoyment of himself (Jonathan Edwards). He did not need anything to make him more God or more glorious.

We are standing on the outside like children in a crowded room of adults who are chatting passionately. We are jumping up to try to get a view into their conversation, but we are too little. Trinity community is just like that. God is a self-sufficient community. He does need anything. He certainly doesn’t need us to add to him in any way. But because of this grace, he has opened himself up by the Son and the Spirit and invited us into to participate in this divine community. Now that will stick a dagger into the heart of consumer Christianity!

The new humanity (referred to by Torrance) is made up of persons wrapped up in Trinitarian life. We do not live for self like the old humanity. We do not live for self in any of its forms: self-actualization, self-ish pleasure, self promotion, etc. We live in Trinitarian community, a community focused on God himself and not us.

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Posted by on April 1, 2008 in Theology

 

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