"Self" and "Identity"

"Self" and "Identity"

by Pastor Joshua Reifsteck on March 03, 2022

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reading a new book: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, by Carl R. Trueman. It’s complex and academic, but it has challenged and expanded my thinking regarding the relationship between our surrounding culture and the Church. I won’t even try to summarize it here, but I want to give you a taste of what I’ve learned, as it has been so rewarding! I think it’s especially important as we all make complex choices regarding our faith and life together in the pandemic. (And before you run out and buy it, I should note that Trueman is releasing a lay-level version of the book this month! That book will be called Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution. Initial reviews are very positive, and I’d be happy to read it with you when it releases. Send me an email if you’d be interested in a class or discussion group on that book.)

Both books are about “self” and “identity.” What makes us who we are? What gives our lives meaning? Trueman argues that our answer to these questions has changed, that the “modern self” is wholly different from the “self” of earlier times. For people today, meaning is—forgive the pun—self-determined. People today look inside and make their own meaning. 1000 years ago, however, meaning was primarily discovered outside the self. Meaning was given to us. In case that’s still a little too abstract, in our religious context, it has a very concrete application: 1000 years ago, people received their identity primarily from God. Today, however, people typically find their identity by looking inside at their own thoughts and feelings. 

Trueman spends hundreds of pages unpacking how this happened and what this means, but in my one-page here, I don’t want to do that. I just want you to ask: When Jesus calls me as a disciple, is that just one piece of input about who I am? Or is that the very core of my identity? I suspect that most people in church would give the latter answer, and rightly! But think about the impact that it would have if religious people gave the former answer. Think about the clash that would exist between these two worldviews if they coexisted in our society! Trueman argues that this is not hypothetical; it’s our society now. And we’re only beginning to realize how far-reaching the consequences are for our culture and the Church.

What’s the solution to this societal rift? After writing the book, Trueman answered an interviewer this way, “There is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all [solution] here. But being in church on a Sunday, being part of a worshiping community, is the place where it must start. And having Christian friends to encourage us – and whom we can encourage in turn – to think deeply is vital.” I encourage you this month to consider Trueman’s encouragement, both for yourself and for your family. How are you making your connection to the Body of Christ central to who you are? Are you a disciple first? A forgiven child of God first? Or something else? This may be the most important question you ever answer.

God’s Peace,
Pastor Josh Reifsteck

Keywords: Identity, Self, Modern