Identity Politics (Anderson)

 Here’s a helpful book about what it means to find your identity in Christ: Identity Theft edited by Melissa Kruger.  It is specifically aimed at women, but I’ve found it helpful as a resource for my sermons on image and identity.  There are ten chapters on biblical topics that have to do with the Christian’s identity, including freedom in Christ, being a child of God, being redeemed, reflecting God’s image, and so forth.

The second chapter, written by Hannah Anderson, is a short explanation of what it means to find identity in being image bearers – made in the image of God.  At one point Anderson talks about today’s “identity politics.”  This is a phrase used to describe a person’s tendency to find identity in social categories:

This term is not limited to government or policy debates but speaks more broadly to how we center our sense of self on one particular attribute of our identity and then define everything else by it.

To be fair, categories themselves are not wrong.  We use the categories of occupation, relationships, family, and biography to communicate how we spend our days and the work we have been called to on this earth.  The problem comes when we ask these categories to do more than they can do – when we ask them to hold all that we are. After all, if we try to stuff complicated, diverse, fully formed living beings into small, inanimate categories, we shouldn’t be surprised when they feel tight and cramped and begin to suffocate us.

Worse still, when we define ourselves with limited categories, any shift in those categories can destabilize our sense of self. What happens to us when life doesn’t play out in the way we expected – when a marriage ends or never happens in the first place? What happens to us when we’re laid off or fail in the marketplace? What happens to us when motherhood doesn’t come easily?

If we invested our sense of self in something small, temporal, and unstable, we will become small, temporal, and unstable people. When they collapse or come to a natural end (as even good things do), we enter a crisis of identity. For without them, how will we know our sense of purpose, calling, and direction? Life will become meaningless and empty.

Anderson goes on to explain the stability of one’s identity when found in the Lord:

The truth about our core identity is so much richer, more glorious, and more soul satisfying than any category or role we could conceive for ourselves.  God…calls us to find ourselves in something more than earthly categories. He calls us to find our identity in Him.  (Being made in the image of God [Gen. 1:27] means that) our deepest sense of self must be found in God. Not in categories, not in roles, not in successes or failure. In him.  …Because by making us in his image, God did more than simply confirm value on our lives; he also instilled in us a deep sense of purpose and calling.  As image bearers of God, we too are called to show forth the glory, power, and might our king. Our deepest sense of purpose and identity is so bound up in this calling that everything about our lives – from the work we do, to the people we love, to the place we live – all somehow connect back to him.

Hannah Anderson, “Reflection: Made in God’s Image” in Identity Theft, edited by Melissa Kruger.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Following in Eve’s Relativist Footsteps (Hatton)

 I’ve been studying up on image and identity in preparation for a sermon series on these topics.  Since our culture has a pragmatic feelings-based view of image and identity, I thought it would be good to talk about what Scripture says about these things.  One book I’m reading is called Face Time by Kristen Hatten.  It is a book aimed more at young women – specifically teens who are struggling with who they are.  But Hatten’s insights are helpful for any Christian thinking about their image and identity as followers of Jesus.  The book has two main parts: 1) Your True Identity, and 2) Facing False Identities. It’s not a long book (130 pages), and it’s not difficult to read, but it is full of Christian wisdom on image and identity.

Here’s one section about Eve’s sin that I highlighted and underlined:

…Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s love, loyalty, and promise to bless them.  He literally had just given them the world!  This is why their response [to Satan’s temptation] is so astonishing.  Instead of responding in shock to Satan’s attack on God’s authority, word, and character, the words of the serpent opened Eve’s eyes to a new version of reality.  At that moment, what Eve perceived to be true held more weight than the truth and authority of God’s word and all that he had done for them and given them.  The once-forbidden tree she now aw as good and she defiantly ate from it.

We might say that Eve is the first relativist; she sees herself as the ultimate judge of reality and truth.  She may be the first relativist, but she’s certainly not the last.  Don’t we often do the same thing?  We decide what’s true based on what we think, not on what God’s Word says to be true.  Even if what we see is nothing more than a filtered Instagram picture, it can carry more weight in determining how we view ourselves than what God says about who we are.

Again, teenage girls aren’t the only ones who are relativists like Eve!  All of us think like this from time to time and we all need this helpful reminder to trust God’s Word and his gospel more than our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

Kristen Hatton, Face Time, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, p.16-17.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Abortion and Dehumanization (Pearcey)

 I’m very much enjoying Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body.  I’ll come back to it again later, but for now I wanted to share an insightful observation of Pearcey’s in the first chapter:

If you favor abortion, you are implicitly saying that in the early stages of life, an unborn baby has so little value that it can be killed for any reason – or no reason – without any moral consequence. Whatever your feelings, that is a very low view of life. Then, by sheer logic, you must say that at some later time the baby becomes a person, at which point it requires such high value that killing it would be a crime.

The implication is that as long as the pre-born child is deemed to be human but not a person, it is just a disposable piece of matter – a natural resource like timber or corn. It can be used for research and experiments, tinkered with genetically, harvested for organs, and then disposed of with the other medical waste.

The assumption at the heart of abortion, then, is personhood theory, with its two tiered view of the human being – one that sees no value in a living human body but places all our worth in the mind or consciousness.

Personhood thus presumes a very low view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us. For if our bodies do not have inherent value, then a key part of our identity is devalued. What we will discover is that this same body/person dichotomy, with its denigration of the body, is the unspoken assumption driving secular views on euthanasia, sexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, and a host of related ethical issues.

Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body, p. 20.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Beauty, Image, Approval, and Social Media

Image is everything.”  While most of us might not agree with that phrase, we still get caught up in the image game.  We want others to like us, approve of us, think we’re great, and admire our talent, body, and looks.  Even Christians can fall into the trap of believing our value and identity is based on what other people think of us.  This is one reason why we suffer from eating disorders, become addicted to exercise, always try the latest fad diet, spend much time in front of the mirror, and count calories like it’s a religion.  Social media also throws fuel on this fire.  Jennifer Strickland does a good job of explaining this for teenage girls, but her words are applicable to anyone who is fixated on image and approval:

“For lots of girls in search of approval – and especially those who have suffered rejection – something twisted can happen.  They can begin to think their likability is related to their online image.  They can begin to place value on the number of likes or even ratings others put on their images.  They can keep switching their profile picture in hopes of getting more attention, and when they get older they try sexy shots to earn approval.  Now that little girl who ran around in princess crowns and gowns is posing like a Victoria’s Secret model and everyone is rating her photos.  ‘Aren’t you gorgeous!’

“…’My page is just for my friends,’ young women cry!  I’m sorry, but no one has 358 friends.  I have fifty, max.  Twenty good friends.  Ten who are super special.  Five, max, who are so close I would share almost anything with them.  And if I had a sleepover with those five, only two or three would actually sit with me and look at all the pictures in my album, and they would only do that because they really love me, not because they want to see every single one.”

“I realize many young women are wise with how they craft their social media pages.  But I also realize that far too many young women are obsessed with their own image.  When I was a young model, I was obsessed with my own image too.  I know how to make a diagnosis about this because I had the sickness!”

“What we see on the screen can be very deceptive.  On the surface we see what looks like an online photo album or a fun way to share pictures or connect with friends.  But beneath that veneer, trouble can be brewing.  If a girl gets a text or is notified every time someone likes her picture or approves of her post, that’s bad.  Because every time you get a text, you are interrupted.  You don’t need to be constantly interrupted from your activities and time with loved ones to be told someone liked your picture or agreed with your thought.  No wonder so many women are on a roller-coaster ride; no wonder they have image problems.  Social media isn’t just a way for people to connect; let’s not be that naive.  It’s also a way for kids to instantly and constantly approve and disapprove of one another.”

“If you are changing your profile picture constantly, you probably need to focus on something other than yourself.”

Again, these things are also applicable to teenage boys as well as grown men and women.  I’ve been studying this topic a bit lately, and I appreciate Strickland’s helpful observations on beauty, approval, and image.  She’s quite wise when it comes to this topic since she struggled mightily with these problems herself.  I’ve edited the above quotes for length, but you can find the entire discussion on pages 119-120 of More Beautiful Than You Know.

{Note: I do have some concerns about the theology in this book; for example, Strickland sometimes writes words to the readers as if God/Jesus were speaking them. I’m uncomfortable with that.  In my view, the practical side of this book is very helpful, the biblical/doctrinal side – not as much.}

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015