The Christian Identity

The Christian Identity

The new year is a great time for reflection and re-commitment and a good time to ask ourselves, what does it mean to be a Christian. I have wrestled with this concept for a long time. I have always sought to “find myself” in some sort of esoteric way and am pleased to share some of my thoughts. I hope and pray that my reflections will in some way help you to find a deeper meaning in your relationship to God.

The “Question of Identity” has been well studied and hotly debated in philosophy since before the time of Plato.  While in college I came across a paradox that illustrated the question well.

The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' paradox, is recorded as follows;

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
— Plutarch, Theseus

The paradox is meant to illustrate a question of identity, mainly, would the ship remain the same if it were entirely replaced, piece by piece. 

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes complicated the problem centuries later by asking what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship. Which ship, if either, would be considered the original Ship of Theseus?

This puzzle has always fascinated me because people change all the time, often piece by piece. On a strictly physical level every cell in our body is completely replaced over an 11 year time frame.  Psychologically, ideas, opinions, attitudes and beliefs often change much more rapidly.  For me there was a distinct moment when my identity changed, yet I remained the same ‘me’ and even felt more myself. So what happened?

I believe that the true solution to “The Problem of Identity” is one of ownership. In the case of Theseus’s ship we will notice that the main descriptor of the ship is whom it belonged to. No matter how many planks are replaced it can always be said that some version of this ship belonged to Theseus at one point in time.  His ownership of this ship gives it distinction and ties whatever state it may be in now to a historical context.  The ship without his name is just as any other and would lose all value beyond its parts or utility.  This then begs the questions, ‘what’s in a name?’

Assigning names to things is a very ancient and human act. We are the only species that names things and according to Genesis this was mankind’s first God given task. The act of naming is no simple task. It defines responsibility for both the namer and the named.  The namer takes a position of authority, deciding what a thing is to be called. The named by default cedes some degree of authority to the namer. Naming generates a certain level of ownership and belonging but in turn also demands a certain level of responsibility and care for the named.

If we take a historical view of this perhaps the best example is one of marriage.  A wife used to take her husband's last name to symbolize that she was no longer under the care or guardianship of her father’s house and now is under the care of her husband. We can still see this very ancient practice in our modern world in a few ways;

  • Parents will name their children.
  • Founders or a democratic people will name their country.
  • A biologist who discovers a new species will get to name it 
  • Astrologists who discover a new planet or star get to name it.

All men in this sense then have a distinct power, not just in naming others but in the way we name ourselves. This is what I fundamentally believe human identity is all about. Not so much what others call us, so much as what we call ourselves. After all, it is one thing for another to call someone a drunk but quite another when we say it about ourselves. As such a self proclaimed rich man must necessarily identify himself with his wealth and a lawyer with his profession. Somehow the things that we give ourselves over to take a part of who we are. 

Part of the human condition is one of belonging and we as humans will always belong to something. In our western world a man names himself after a fashion. He will base his identity off of what he perceives himself to be.  If he is a “Rebel” he may dress a certain way and espouse certain ideas.  If he is a smoker he will smoke; a drunk, then he will drink. A fun person will have fun and a serious person will not. Things and habits that we claim possession over claim a certain level of ownership over us as well. Yet in the end all of these identities are ones that we choose for ourselves.

It is under this lens that the Christian identity comes into focus.  We Christians often identify ourselves as ‘called’, ‘named’ or ‘belonging to’  Christ and we are in no way exaggerating.  In fact I think that in our unfamiliarity with the idea of ‘naming’ we perhaps miss the significance of what this means. 

For a Christian this view of identity is upended. We are now in the less powerful position when it comes to the named and the namer. The Christian does not name himself, he himself is named. When we are saved, we no longer belong to the vices and identity tags that we once labeled ourselves as but instead belong to Christ, having been bought with his precious blood. Our identity is no longer about what we choose, but by who has chosen us.

While previously we gave ourselves over to various sins and idols and labeled ourselves as such, when a man truly is saved, he can’t think of himself as his career (lawyer,volunteer, judge, activist, senator, doctor, mother, revolutionary) or his possessions (poor, rich, children) or where he is from (Ugandan, American, Californian, Texan) or his sins (adulterer, alcoholic, liar, murderer) but instead thinks of himself as belonging to God. 

Christian identity is something that God gives us. Truly saved individuals are continually in a process of renouncing the idols and sins which detract from our identity our focus and worship from the one who purchased us, the one we belong to.

Loving Obergefell

Loving Obergefell

Christians, we woke up to a new world on June 27th 2015 and we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we had loved the LGBT community as we are called to love our neighbors or even our enemies, this court case would have been completely unnecessary.

For too long we have been in the majority, enjoying the privilege of the law. With the privilege of the majority came options regarding people who do not fit within the framework of our religion. Our options as the majority ranged from the heights of love; all the way down to the depths persecution and hate.

The Christian Worldview Part 2

How our worldview stops us from talking to others

When I first became a Christian one of the things that shocked me the most was how difficult it was to express myself to my non-believing friends.  It was like we were speaking the same language but the words had different meanings and I am not talking about Christian jargon or "Christianeese" but really basic words.

Words like "truth" just had a much more concrete meaning to them, and curse words really began to sound like their name implies; like actual curses.

"Pray" went from a word that sounded cheesy and corny to a word that sounded powerful.  The word "sex" turned from a goal and pride to something entirely different, something complicated that wasn't just a bodily function but more connected to commitment and marriage.  It had a more intense meaning and was colored darkly as my past experience had never known it in this light.

It felt like I was seeing all of these words through a new lens and everything had become much sharper. I wanted to make the world a better place both before and after I gave my life to Christ, but these two versions of myself had drastically different views on what a better world looked like and how to get there.

In my Agnostic worldview, the only thing that would make the world better was happiness and societal and technological progress.  We could cure disease, unite the world in language and politics.  Give people freedom from oppressive leaders, jobs and lives. Enable ourselves and others to find love and follow after meaningful passions. Human nature that was harmful could be rehabilitated. We could fix things.

From a secular standpoint it would seem that the greatest men in history are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, or Albert Einstein.  These men advanced human knowledge and social progress. These things are good goals but do not fix the fearful and selfish nature of man that lies behind all of these problems. The Christian worldview is quite different in this respect.

In the Christian worldview, Jesus Christ's death on the cross and resurrection are the most important and greatest events in human history. No human can or will ever do anything as good or important as what Christ accomplished during his earthly ministry 2,000 years ago.

For the Christian, Jesus Christ defeated death and the sinful, fearful, selfish nature of man.  He defeated our shortcomings and failures and in doing so enabled mankind to come into relationship with a perfect God and be redeemed. He allowed us to become son's and daughters of God and in doing so allowed us to be reshaped into the image of Christ so that we can be holy and justified before God. His presence in us enables and motivates us to do good things.

To the Christian the best and greatest thing to make the world a better place is to encourage others to come into a relationship with Christ, whereas from a secular point of view, things that save lives and improve the quality of life on this earth are of the highest importance. I do not believe that these differences may be resolved, however just knowing this fundamental difference makes communication with the other side much easier.

The Christian Worldview Part 1

I am trying to give people who know nothing about Christianity an opportunity to sit down with a christian and just ask whatever they want. But before I mire this blog with details about rebuffing different arguments against Christianity it is important to layout what the Christian worldview actually is.

The Christian worldview hinges on 3 basic beliefs;
1. The existence of God
2. Objectivity or "Truth"
3. The Divine Perfection of the Bible (ie. it is 100% true)

These points are explained in futher detail below

1. The Existence of God
Simply put Christians know there is a God. Christians know there is a God because they know him and are known by him. You cannot be a Christian and not believe in God.

2. The Concept of Truth
Most modern interpretations of truth are that it is relative and depends on culture, science and other various circumstances. The phrase "Well that may be true for you" is probably the best example of this.

The Bible lays out a meaning of truth that is completely opposed to this.  The Bible clearly states that God is truth  and His truth applies equally across all ethics and circumstances.  Psalm 119:160 states "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal."

3. The Divine Perfection of the Bible (ie. it is 100% true)
Christians believe that God communicated with mankind. Christians believe that when God interacted with man he divinely inspired certain men to write down the historical events, poems and wisdom that surrounded His interaction with mankind. These collected works constitute the Bible. To believers the Bible is the ultimate source of wisdom, inspiration and history. Non-Christians cannot look at the Bible as anything more than a historical document and it will not govern their lives or be seen as a source of wisdom, history or poetry anymore than a copy of the Iliad would.

Non-Christians do not view God, truth or the Bible as Christians do. 
These assumptions make debate between Christians and non-Christians difficult and it seems like neither side is speaking the same language. In many senses, they are not speaking the same language.