WRITTEN BY: MATTHEW CASTRO
If you type the word “dyadistic” on your computer, your word processor will immediately signal to you ,with the embarrassing red line under the word, that you have stupidly misspelled something. I was unfamiliar with the term until reading it recently in Timothy Tennant’s book Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Dyadistic is the antithesis to individualistic. It means a social or communal identification.
Timothy Tennant tells us in his book that the 1st century Mediterranean world was dyadistic rather than individualistic. He writes, “In other words, in that setting one’s identity is formed by the group one belongs to and by the larger social context within one lives.” Someone’s self-image is formed more by the group than by themselves. This is the context that the New Testament was written in. Therefore, the Christian Faith for the 21st century world should be understood with dyadistic implications.
However, in the American church we speak more often with individualistic overtones, which causes us to erroneously neglect the dyadistic affects of Christianity. The purpose of this article is to identify three implications of the dyadistic context of the New Testament on our Christian communities today.
1. Group Identification over Individual Identification
The Bible often addresses the group rather than the individual. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4 that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 says God has made “you all are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession ….” Paul also in Titus 2:14 says that Jesus “has redeemed us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Our identification is embedded with a group who share the same identity. We should never look to ourselves to define, who we are. Rather we should like to the body of believers to understand, who we are. The group’s identification becomes the individual’s identification.
2. Dependence on Others for Self-Examination
If our identity is defined by the shared collective identity of all followers of Christ, we have a standard image to reflect. This was the issue in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul tells us of an individual in the church that was projecting a lifestyle that did not agree with the image shared and believed by the group. Paul writes, “It is actually reported that there is ‘sexual immorality among you, and of kind that is not tolerated even among pagans … Let him who has done this be removed among you.” He also tells them in verse 11 “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, greed ….” When a Christian ceases to live according to the projected image of the body of believers, he shames himself before others.
This is the reason that fellowship with one another is essential to the Christian life. The author of Hebrews 10:24 instructs “us to consider how to stir one another to love and good works.” We are dependent on others “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” (Eph 4:1), so that we may also live according to the projected image of the people of God.
3. Sinners and Saints Before God
In the American church, we speak often of our individual guilt before God due to our sinful acts. We articulate an image of a person standing alone before God. However, the Bible presents the picture of each individual as embedded members of a race who together stand guilty and ashamed before God due to our shared sinful condition. We are all in a sinful race. Humanity as a whole stands before God under judgment.
This gives Paul the reason to identify himself with sinful humanity in Ephesians 2:3 “among whom we all lived in the passion of our flesh … were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of humanity.” Sin is not an individual problem, but it is a condition that consequential for everyone brings death.
Therefore, our salvation in Christ is a corporate reality as well. In the modern West, our understanding of spiritual redemption has become hyperprivatized. We forgot God’s program for grace that is consistent throughout scripture. He saved the nation of Israel, and the family of Noah. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us ….” He redeemed a people from the slavery of sin to be His holy people. We are a nation of saints before God our Father.
As American Christians living in a individualistic culture, we reflect on our salvation through that lens. Other societies that think from the perspective of the collective over the individual have better understanding of this essential concept of the Christian life. A dyadistic focus will appropriately appreciate the beauty and power of what it means for the redeemed community to be found collectively in Christ.