Has individualism affected our doctrine and practice? Most certainly. If individualisms tendencies are to jettison all external authority and tradition, leaving construction of meaning for the individual, then all doctrines and practices are potentially at risk. An individual may “pick and choose” from among the options, but also feel free to “mix and match” as he or she sees fit. I do believe there is hope. Many today are working to reclaim theology and practice from radical individualism.
One of the difficulties in discussing individualism is that at its heart, it affirms and negates. On one hand affirms our created worth. On the other, it separates us from everything else. For someone to say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus can be affirmed as a good thing. However we cannot slip from the communal aspect of that claim. Christ cannot be had apart from his body. We must affirm both the corporate and the individual. To swing back with the pendulum into a pure communitarian perspective would diminish the created individuality of all people. Perhaps there needs to be a reclamation or clarification of terms. If individualism is about self realization and self-re-creation perhaps a better understanding of individuality versus individualism would be in order. Perhaps people are afraid of being swallowed by the corporation – to become a number. Rather than being born as individuals, we are born with individuality. We are uniquely created beings who seek to cultivate those particulars for a greater good beyond oneself.
If individuals cannot be fully autonomous from others, neither can doctrines. As you begin to lift one doctrine the rest come along with it revealing their participation in the conversation. What follows will be a meager attempt on my part to explore the actual and potential distortions that radical individualism effects upon Christian doctrine and practice.