Moving right along, Tim Keller continues his discussion of identity in chapter seven of Making Sense of God, “An Identity That Doesn’t Crush You or Exclude Others.” You can check out an index of all my posts in this book study HERE.
- Keller argues that the foundation of identity is approval. We live for someone whose opinion we care deeply about to affirm us and for that approval to guide who we are and what we live for. In reality, no human person or experience can provide this for us.
- A spouse or child will disappoint us and we will disappoint them, or they might die or choose to be estranged from us. They are therefore not a dependable source of approval to which we can anchor our identity. (135)
- Professional acclaim or accomplishment is vulnerable to our own failures or “the failure of others to rightly value your work.” (135)
- Keller therefore argues that we must look “neither outward nor inward but upward,” to an identity that is “not based on our performance, one based not on the desires of either the individual or the community but on God.” (134)
- Why is Christian identity more durable and stable?
- It’s not subject to what anyone else thinks – It’s not even subject to what you think. It is subject only to what a faithful and unchanging God thinks. (136)
- “It is not achieved but received.” – Contrary to other religions “in which individuals are expected to achieve their own salvation through moral effort and religious observances,” (136) Christianity teaches that nothing we do earns us God’s love and favor. Our relationship with God is a gift. All the effort has already been completed in Christ, who lived the righteous life we should have lived and died the death we deserved for our failures.
- It provides a new motivation for living – For example, a career is no longer the source of a Christian’s self-worth. It is simply a means “to serve God and the common good…Work is no longer something you use desperately to feel good about yourself. It becomes just another good gift from God that you can use to serve others.” (137-138)
- It is firmly grounded in affirming truths
- We are made in the image of God and therefore “there is an irreducible glory and significance about every single human being.” (139)
- We are adopted into a family with a perfect Father who delights in us and whose standards are not burdens for us to bear because they have been fulfilled in Jesus. (139)
- It is consistent in any situation – If we are who we are before God, our identities are not subject to our constantly changing desires, circumstances, or the demands of all our roles in life. (140-141)
- It neither inflates or deflates ego – Christianity doesn’t let us become too prideful because in it we recognize how sinful and dark our hearts really are. But Christianity doesn’t make us feel like nobodies because we are affirmed in being made in God’s image and treasured enough that God would sacrifice His son to rescue us. (137)
- It promotes peace – Much of God-less identity formation requires that one create “an Other.” There is no “us” if there is no “them.” Fear, disdain, and revenge on “the other” leads to exclusion or downright oppression. In contrast, the core principles of Christianity are forgiveness, humility, and confidence in every human’s inherent value before God. It is these values that promote a stable identity not threatened by people who are different, and lead to a peaceful and just society. (143-147)
- It is culturally flexible – Keller notes that Christianity is “the only truly worldwide religion.” Over 90% of Muslims live in a limited geographical band from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Northern Africa. Over 95% of Hindus are in India and the immediate area. 88% of Buddhists live in East Asia. Christians, however, are spread all throughout the world on every continent. There is no disproportionate percentage of Christians limited to a certain geographic area. God invites and calls all people, all races, all socioeconomic statuses, everyone, to follow Him.
- It is less culturally imperialistic than other religions – This may sound surprising to those who immediately think of the colonizing, abusive “Christians” who have made their mark in the world. However, these actions are inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. True Christianity says that “our race and national identity, our work and profession, our family and politics and community ties can all remain intact. They are no longer the ultimate basis for our significance and security, but that does not mean they are flattened or eliminated. Rather we are free to enjoy them as God’s gifts to us, but we are no longer enslaved to them as our saviors.” (150)
- In conclusion, “If I build my identity on what Jesus Christ did for me and the fact that I have an everlasting name in him by grace, I can’t, on the one hand, feel superior to anybody, nor do I have to fear anybody else. I don’t have to compare myself with them at all. My identity is based on somebody who was excluded for me, who was cast out for me, who loved his enemies – and that is going to turn me into someone who embraces the Different.” (151)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
My daughter’s second birthday is next week and the post I’ve been brewing for that milestone actually fits with some of these identity concepts from the last couple chapters. So I’m going to just leave it here for this post but revisit the concepts soon.
On another note, if you’ve been following this study thanks for journeying along with me! I quickly realized this is not an easy book to work through but hopefully at least some of the posts have been thought-provoking in some way or another. We’re about halfway through the book now and even though part of me is honestly like, “Argh, I’m only halfway??” I’m determined to finish this! It’s been nice to sprinkle in some non-book study posts just to give my brain a little break and hopefully those will keep coming even as I’m chugging along with the book.
Have a good weekend!
- If you’ve read the chapter, were there any quotes or sections that were particularly thought-provoking to you?
- Whose approval would you say you currently live for? Consider how durable their approval is.
- Did any of the reasons Keller listed for why Christian identity is more durable and stable surprise you or strike you in particular? Why?