On the same day the term “expressive individualism” caught my ear, Greg Boyd’s 2004 book Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God caught my eye.
When I Googled “expressive individualism,” I found it defined as “the belief that an individual’s highest loyalty should be to himself or herself. True happiness, from this perspective, is obtained by expression and realization of one’s core identity, which includes a person’s deepest desires, thoughts, and beliefs.”
This idea was contrasted with “Christian discipleship” which “holds that natural inclinations of the self should at times be forsaken in service of a divine purpose.”
These notions were still in my mind when I happened to be flipping through someone else’s copy of Repenting of Religion and saw the following two contrasting illustrations on pages 69 and 70.
Boyd’s key question, and one of my main takeaways from this book, is, “From where do you get life?” By life he means worth, identity, happiness, energy, hope, fulfillment.
Humans were designed to draw life from God, and we have a God-shaped vacuum within us which God wants to fill with himself. He intends to be our source of love and worth. He is the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest desires.
If we don’t allow God to be our center and source, we make ourselves the center, and that means the center is empty. So then we try to fill our souls with things, people, hobbies, etc. in order to get life. Doesn’t this sound a lot like expressive individualism? Life is all about figuring out who I am and what I want and how to get it and how to manage other people’s opinions of me—or better yet, managing my opinions about other people. “Every judgment we think, speak, or act up presupposes that we are in a position of superiority over the person we judge” (p. 71). And this feeling of superiority is a false source of life to us. We’re getting our worth from being so good at sizing other people up.
I haven’t read Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, but Boyd has, and Boyd wrote this book as something of a response to it. I was fascinated by the interpretation (not sure to what extent this is Bonhoeffer or Boyd) of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as the source of our ability and tendency to judge. Instead of living in simple obedience and letting God be the one to proclaim what is good or evil, Adam and Eve chose to be “like God” and make those judgments. The more we judge people, the more we are living out of the Fall. To live out of our redemption and salvation is to leave judgment to God and to approach everyone with the attitude that they have unsurpassable worth to God.
In the last chapter, Boyd discusses the proper place for correction or rebuke within covenant relationships.
Here’s just about the best thing I’ve ever read about the wrath of God. Boyd is quoting Peter Kreeft (from Knowing the Truth about God’s Love):
What is the wrath of God…? Is it real or not? It is real, but it is not part of God himself. God is not half love and half wrath, or 99 percent love and 1 percent wrath. God is love. Wrath is how his love appears to us when we sin or rebel or run away from him. The very light that is meant to help us, appears to us as our enemy when we seek the darkness.
Trusting God is the antidote to judging: a) because if God is enough for me, my center is full and I don’t need to get worth by being a judge, nor am I dependent on other people’s judgments of me, and b) because I can trust God to transform other people without my help.
“When we don’t simply trust God to change others, we effectively claim that our ability to shame, intimidate, or otherwise manipulate people into change is greater than God’s transforming Spirit” (p. 212).
The concluding chapter, “Love, Confession, and Accountability,” calls for strong, uncompromised teaching and leading within the church: “What keeps a community of outrageous love moving in the direction of Christ-likeness, despite its lack of clearly defined perimeters, is its strong center” (p. 223)
Here’s how I hope this book changes me:
1.I want to practice the habit of approaching each person as a creation of God, cherished by Him, and worthy of my blessing.
2.Whenever anything troubles or disappoints me, I want to examine myself to see if I was trying to find my life in something less than God and His love for me.
3.I want to nurture my covenant relationships and be sure there are always a few people who will keep me accountable.
4.When I’m tempted to judge someone who has not invited me to hold them accountable, I want to turn my concern over to the Lord and trust Him to work in that person’s life.