Ecclesial Theology—The Missing Theology in an Age of Individualism

By Uriesou Brito    |    May 9, 2022


We cannot think through the Scriptures without considering its formative text.1 Genesis establishes a chronology of events and provides a pattern for future events. Without Genesis, the Scriptures would lack cohesion and purpose. Thus, the initial chapters of Genesis serve as a microcosm for the entirety of the Scriptures, setting the stage for every text that follows.2 The first three chapters of Genesis divide into three themes: creation, fall, and redemption.3 Genesis 1–2 establish with consistency the chronology of God’s creational work (creation),4 while Genesis 3 describes the terrifying interruption of Edenic bliss with the sin of Adam and Eve (fall) and simultaneously gives us the prophetic promise (redemption)5 of a Seed who will crush the head of the Serpent (Gen. 3:15).

Adam’s Temporary Aloneness

The relationship between God and Adam is central to understanding how these themes unfold. God is a God of eternal communion and forms man in his likeness (Gen. 1:26) to share in that communion. In the beginning, God’s relationship with Adam doesn’t show any signs of lack as Adam, following God’s divine imperative, works and keeps the garden (Gen. 2:15). God places Adam in a position of functional authority over the garden, and, at the end of the sixth day, Yahweh puts his imprint on the creation of man and calls it very good (Gen. 1:31).6 However, the complementary narrative in Genesis 2 implies that another creation took place on the same day. From the rib of a man, Yahweh creates a helper (Gen. 2:22), a helper that will change the way Adam relates to God.

The text speaks of Eve’s creation in sophisticated terms, packing an enormous amount of theological data into a few words. God does not merely make a woman—he makes her meet a need in Adam’s aloneness: “Then the Lord said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Gen. 2:18). There was not a deficiency in Adam, as if God created the first man as a trial. Instead, Adam was the first of many; he was the federal head of the garden.7 Nevertheless, God knew from the beginning that Adam could not, by himself, represent to the world what God is in his triune plurality.8 Though Adam received the mandate to rule as vice-regent in God’s likeness to represent God’s will on earth, yet that Adam was alone was not good.

Companionship in the garden was the foundation of an ecclesiastical theology. From the beginning, Adam was predestined to be in communion with another. As a singular self, Adam could not do theology properly. He could not understand the creation around him in all its fullness without another person with which to share it. Thus, the Bible provides a foundation for understanding how God intends theology to be done in community.

Modern theological discourse, both at its popular and academic levels, has surrendered the pristine corporate nature of the Bible for an isolated variety. The result is a bewildered church lacking a coherent vision to engage the culture’s attempts to destroy her witness. This harsh reality is reflected most clearly in the abandonment of theology as an ecclesial endeavor, an endeavor for people to undertake together. Theology, in our day, has become the domain of the individual theologian who works not with, but in isolation from the church. A clear example of this problem is reflected in how some churches responded to COVID-19. While some churches took precautionary measures, many others willingly gave up the corporeal necessity of worship for streaming services on Sunday morning. While the intention was noble, the result of this strategy was that within a short period after the streaming option was offered, 32% of practicing Christians stopped streaming altogether, replacing it with devotional habits or no other alternative.11 The practical implications of individualism in church life often lead to dangerous repercussions. Thus, it is imperative to restore an ecclesial theology in an age of individualism. But this cannot occur unless we address the vestiges of individualism within the culture of the church.

In many ways, the church lived as an exile before any of this came into being. But back then, there was no all-consuming Coronavirus news; there was just the mundane. Back then, many in the evangelical landscape lived flippantly and apathetically toward the church’s rituals. Times of peace often provide rationales for complacency. Thus, in times of uncertainty, we must remember that the best period for the church to sharpen and hone her worship skills and practices is now. Biblical history bears this out.12 The church’s response to individualism is to persevere in practical and corporate rituals even in times of peace and times of trial.

For this to occur, Christians can no longer view the church as an afterthought or an addendum to the Christian life.13 She must exalt this alternative city as the very heart of the kingdom of heaven. When we speak of the church, we speak of an institution created when human plurality became a reality in the Garden. Adam was a priestly figure over a sacred environment. Eve’s creation established the first church in the sight of God and man. This Edenic community blossomed in profound ways through the Old Covenant era, finding its ultimate re-birth in the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). She now labors as a theological enterprise and cannot revert to an isolated Adamic symbol. She is the embodiment of a corporate theology to the world, an unparalleled marriage between the second Adam and the renewed Eve. Thus, the church practices a hermeneutic for God’s redeemed people.

Adam’s creation was not the end of the story, nor could it be since God planned to express his plurality by creating another person. While God is self-sufficient, God’s creatures are wholly dependent on one another for prosperity and fruitfulness. It is good and right to say that Adam functioned well alone with God, but that wellness was predicated on the temporary absence of a plurality of beings.9 Thus, Adam’s solitary interactions with God served only for a short time until God completed his work of creation and established an ideal order for the world.

God’s displeasure with man’s aloneness is not a fault in God’s plan for the creation week, but a temporary incompleteness. In Genesis, God narrates his creation with factual details consulting with himself,10 and moves without conflict through his plan, planned from all eternity, to create all things. The plan from eternity past was always to provide Adam with a companion—to form a new creation.

The Roots of Individualism

Individualism is the antithesis of the garden-church motif. It destroys the significance of plurality in the pursuit of truth. Individualism ruins the entire biblical paradigm by embracing what Charles Taylor refers to as a new “social imaginary.”14 The social imaginary refers to the way people think about the world and how they imagine the world to be.15 Individualism perpetuates a view of the world through the lens of self-creation.16 The self apart from others creates new norms, so that human nature becomes whatever the self decides it is.17 The principle of the social imaginary applies also to the hermeneutical task. If an individual applies the interpretive lens apart from the corporate wisdom of the church, he too will generate interpretive paradigms that contradict not only the orthodoxy of the Church, but also the very foundation of society.

The church in its corporate assembly is a liturgical re-training for all those catechized by the social imaginary of modern individualism.”

—Uriesou Brito

Individualism makes the self the sole guardian of truth and forbids alternative realities from challenging its dogma. Undoubtedly the grammar of sexuality in our day receives the full support of individualism as a system since their social imaginary allows for a revolt against common sense. Thus, individualism purges traditional forms of societal language in exchange for whatever the self decides is best. However, it is worth noting that individualism does not mean it works in isolation from others in every way. In fact, it is a system whereby like-minded linguistic and sociological revolutionaries gather to expand established boundaries and open the terrain of the profane. Individualism normalizes the abnormal and seeks to establish new categories of interpretation.

The Ecclesiastical Response to Individualism

The church must operate in direct response to the social imaginary of individualism. She must offer an alternative hermeneutic, one whose tendency is always to preserve orthodoxy, rather than recreate it after her own image. The beginning of wisdom is to fear God (Prov. 9:10), therefore the beginning of hermeneutical wisdom is to worship this same God. The church must offer a holistic vision in an age of self-created realities. She cannot hide from her mission but, instead, should call upon Christians to embrace the one true reality, the corporate reality of this creation formed in the early days of history in the garden. Christians are made to glorify God and enjoy him forever by incorporating the individual into a worshiping body.

The church in its corporate assembly is a liturgical re-training for all those catechized by the social imaginary of modern individualism. In worship, individuals reorient their affections and desire the permanent and lasting truths of God’s created order.18 The church does not promote new realities advocated by the latest hashtag trend, rather she proposes, promotes, and preaches the heavenly reality. This reality is rooted in the ecclesia of all ages, the company of heaven, and all the church on earth.

Ecclesial theology fails if she succumbs to the pressures of individualism in its revolt against Christian orthodoxy. Instead, the church perseveres by upholding the dogma established in the creation account. She must not operate in a temporary aloneness, but in the newly established created order of the first community. Indeed, the Edenic image reshapes our ecclesial theology by reminding our twenty-first-century audience that God never intended that man be alone. He composed his masterful story in a context of a society committed to his call to be fruitful and multiply.

The church must be ready to call individuals back to their primary duty of lifting voices corporately to the God of truth whose reality does not change with the prevailing winds of doctrine. She places the self in union with her Lord where all selves find ultimate refuge and meaning. In Christ, the Edenic image is restored; there, she finds her true voice in all her glory and might as she sings to the Triune God. In union with Messiah Jesus, the self finds his worth restored to his true purpose and identity in the church and theology finds its proper place in society again.

  1. Matthew S. Harmon, Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020), 8.
  2. Colin E. Guntown, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 3.
  3. Rich Lusk, I Belong to God: A Covenantal Catechism (Monroe: Athanasius Press, 2014), 61.
    Question 94: “What is the Bible about?” Answer: “The Bible is the true story of the creation, fall, and redemption.” One may properly refer to this three-fold summary as a Neo-Kuyperian triad. Some authors may add “Restoration” to refer to the New Creation Paul describes in I Corinthians 15. I chose the three-fold structure merely as a basic template to cover the first three chapters of Genesis.
  4. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Old Testament in Seven Sentences (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019), 21. Wright notes that the purpose of these initial chapters give shape to the creation narrative, and he uses the creation of male and female as a way of connecting the two accounts to speak of the same thing with different emphases. As Christopher Wright notes, “The first two chapters of Genesis give us two different but quite complementary portrayals of what it means to be male and female.” Christopher J. H. Wright, The Old Testament in Seven Sentences (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019), 21.
  5. “This promise of a serpent-crusher from the line of the woman was the foundation of hope for the human race from this point forward.” Harmon, Rebels and Exiles, 16.
  6. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: From Adam to Noah (Skokie: Varda Books, 2005), 59. Cassuto notes that “an analogy might be found in an artist, who, having completed his masterpiece, steps back a little and surveys his handiwork with delight, for both in detail and in its entirety it had emerged perfect from his hand.” U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: From Adam to Noah (Skokie: Varda Books, 2005), 59
  7. G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 51, 59. Williamson states in summary form the headship of Adam when he explains question 12: ‘We too sinned in Adam and fell with him.” See also question 16: “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?” Answer: “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity, all mankind, descending from him, by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.” G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003), 51, 59.
  8. Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 55.
  9. Adam functioned well alone as a necessary part of the yet unfulfilled eschatology of creation in the garden which culminates in the creation of woman and the pronouncement of God’s benediction of creation on the seventh day.
  10. John Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003) 1:92.
  11. Barna Research, “One in Three Practicing Christians Has Stopped Attending Church During COVID,” Barna, July 8, 2020,
  12. Uri Brito, “Worship in Exile,” Theopolis Institute, March 31, 2020,
  13. Peter Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1993), 142. Leithart observes that “comparatively few believe that regular association with a specific group of people is a necessary and central part of a genuinely Christian life.” Peter Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1993), 142.
  14. Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 36.
  15. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern, 37.
  16. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern, 42.
  17. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern, 42.
  18. Uriesou T. Brito, Ed. The Church-Friendly Family (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Foundation, 2012), xvii.
Uriesou Brito

Dr. Uriesou Brito is senior pastor of Providence Church in Pensacola, Fla.

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