Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Who am I? Some thoughts on identity

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Tom Beardshaw – Identity

This is a mashup from a Facebook thread on the topic of identity:

<<Ultimately, I am not who others say that I am. I am not even who I say that I am. I am fundamentally who God says that I am.

So no to a social constructivist anthropology. No to subjectivism. Yes to theological anthropology.>>

I’m obviously painting with broad strokes, using subjectivism in a slightly idiosyncratic way. I’m thinking of subjectivism as making up one’s own identity – a sort of self-constructivism and self-definition.

The issue can legitimately be problematized in a hermeneutical and epistemological direction. Discovering what God says about me (what I call ‘theological identity’) is no small matter indeed, but it can be done, notwithstanding the difficulties associated with, among other things, cognitive ability, hermeneutical ‘locatedness’, ‘the inclination of one’s heart, interference from others etc.

Invoking the work of the Holy Spirit at this point feels like a fideist copout. It is not a copout. The Spirit of Christ is graciously involved in forming and disclosing our theological identity (‘in Christ’), just as it is involved in forming and disclosing other swaths of meaning in the Scriptures. This is no pedantic ‘element’ that we ‘factor in’ our deliberations. We are, in fact, speaking about the reality of God the Spirit in illuminative action. No small matter indeed! In fact, I would argue, a more significant ‘matter’ than all the problems raised by my contingencies put together!

One of the way in which the Spirit of God will work relative to forming and disclosing my theological identity is through the ecclesial community – the church. I need Spirited others to discover my-self , to communicate and to confirm my theological (objective) identity – who I am sub specie crucis et aeternitatis (what is eternally true in light of the Cross of Christ). Put simply, with Bonhoeffer, I need brothers and sisters in Christ to help me learn and re-learn that I am a creature, and not my Creator; that I am God’s beloved in Christ, not a fraction of a speck of dust in a brutal universe; that I am a servant of God and others, not the captain of my fate and master of my destiny.

(UPDATED: 1 December 2015)

Touching on different but connected issues, Christoffer Skogholt wrote:

It appears to me that there is a tendency in protestant Christianity to think of truth as that which “God says”. In morality, this would be exemplified by voluntarism. My impression is that this perspective can figure in other areas as well. It would be a sort of theological counterpart to what you labeled subjectivism; if we remove God, then it is up “to me” to define what is morally right or what I am. The underlying idea is that reality is determined by a sort of definition, not that a definition is trying to mirror or capture a reality which precedes it. In the theological perspective it would be in virtue of the authority of God that what he says is true; not that there is a correspondence between statement and reality. A theological anthropology obviously needs to be informed by Scripture. But the reason that what God says is true, is not, in the last analysis because God says so, but because it is so. God re-veals a reality that is partly hidden, but still can be re-cognized.

This is complicated by many things, among which I would say that one of the more important is that “human nature” or “my nature” is not a static entity but has a plasticity and is in the process of becoming. When God is naming me, he is also calling me towards a goal, to realize my potential; it is in this sense a sort of legitimate self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides: How I interpret myself does affect my identity, but in a more nuanced way than just merely putting on a label. The process of understanding my self is a part of my becoming, part of achieving an identity. (*my highlight)

 

To which I replied:

My use of ‘God says’ does not presuppose let alone endorse voluntarism. I reject it and decry the fact that a lot of theology is quite voluntaristic. However, I do believe we must say that some things are indeed what they are because God wills them to be and says that they should so be: think, for example, of the ‘God said… and there was’ pattern in Genesis. God’s word is creative. God creates through the Word the reality to which our beliefs and words may correspond. I wouldn’t name this voluntarism, but there is a priority to his Word in its creative function. Some of the things that God says (no mere utterances!) about me are fixed and unchanging: that I am a creature, for example, that I am loved by him (of course I am working from a particular theology here) etc. Other things he says are in response to my development (which is never unaided by him, of course): from rebellious creature to lover of God etc.

 

 

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