The first thing to say is that all human beings live stories. Our identity is our story. And the really intriguing thing, which goes against the notion of expressive individualism, which says that you belong to yourself and you look inside yourself to find yourself and you are a self-made self—is the fact that we live in shared stories. All of us live in stories that are bigger than ourselves.
Stories have to do with our ethnicities, our nationalities, our families of origin, and all those kinds of things. So, for example, my father was an Austrian Jew with his parents in Vienna. In 1938, after the Anschluß Österreichs when Hitler took over Austria, they fled and lived in Shanghai for ten years, became Christians, and came to Australia.
And then I popped out another ten years later. I asked myself, Why? Why is that important to my identity? Why is that any part of my story? But it still is.
This book challenges the popular idea that expressive individualism—looking inward—is the sole basis of one’s identity. Brian Rosner provides an approach to identity formation that looks outward to others and upward to God, which leads to a more stable and satisfying sense of self.
Now, what are the big shared stories that we are living in the West? There are really two. One is secular materialism: the idea that we don’t need to look up because we have within ourselves what we need. All we need is technology and education. We look back to the things of the past which show that we are making progress and we are progressing to a great future. Now, the problem is that world history shows that, in many ways, we’re not progressing to a great world future. And the human heart, in the end, is the great spoiler because all of us are capable of evil.
The other big story these days is the story of social justice. People are saying, Discrimination and prejudice are the big problems in the world. We’ve made progress, but we need to keep addressing them.
There are three groups: the oppressed, their loyal allies, and the oppressors. And the oppressors need to be dealt with. They need to be taught to think differently, or they need to be canceled. One way to think about the problem with that life story would be like putting on very thick lenses and having blinders so we see everything through the same lens. Everything’s about discrimination and prejudice.
You die with Christ to self-interest and to sin, and you rise to live a new life in him.
And the truth is human evil is not just confined to one group: the oppressors. Human evil pops up across the whole spectrum of humanity. All of us are capable of evil acts—the kinds of things that ruin our lives and the world—of greed, pride, sexual exploitation, anger, foul speech, etc.
What are we going to do then? What’s the story we should be living? Christians are offered a story in the life story of Jesus Christ, when we died with Christ in the past. You see it in baptism. You die with Christ to self-interest and to sin, and you rise to live a new life in him. Paul puts this beautifully in Colossians 3 where he says that you died and your identity is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ appears—who is your life story—you will appear with him in glory.
Now, the interesting thing, though, is that even though that identity is a gift, we still have to put it on. And Paul goes on in Colossians 3 to say that we need to put off the kind of evil behaviors that ruin us and our world, and instead put on kindness, gentleness, humility, and love. This is in keeping with that defining event from our past, the cross of Christ, which showed how to live in service of others in a sacrificial way, and looking ahead to our defining destiny, when we’ll be revealed as God’s children.
Brian S. Rosner is the author of How to Find Yourself: Why Looking Inward Is Not the Answer.
Brian Rosner (PhD, Cambridge) is principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He previously taught at the University of Aberdeen and Moore Theological College. Rosner is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity. He is married to Natalie and has four children.
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