Fukuyama Understands Identity

Fukuyama_review_20191025Francis Fukuyama. 2018. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. New York: Macmillan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The issue of identity is on everyone’s lips today. In the absence of the unity provided by Christian faith, American lives are shrinking into ever-smaller communities of self-interest facilitated by media-friendly cell-phones and social media. As day-to-day, face-to-face interactions, our kids’ social skills leave them ill-prepared to deal with the normal ups and downs of life that threaten their self-worth. Without a solid identity, they are anxious and often leave adolescence with more pills than their grandparents. When I found out that Francis Fukuyama had a book on this subject, I snapped it up.

Introduction

In Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment Francis Fukuyama writes:

“In this book, I will be using identity in a specific sense that helps us understand why it is so important to contemporary politics. Identity, in the first place, out of a distinction between one’s true inner self and an outer world of social rules and norms that does not adequately recognize that inner self’s worth or dignity.”(9-10)

In a world where the poorest of the poor anywhere on earth can turn on a television and see how the rich live anywhere else, the sense of what’s fair and what’s not becomes immediately obvious to everyone. Those disrespected through circumstances, law, or persons no longer can be told that that is just the way things are. Dislocation, war, and conflicting demands make it even hard to realize a stable identity and sense of dignity. Fukuyama concludes that the “Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unified much of what is going on in world politics today.” (xv)

Origin and Organization

Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (1952-) is an American political scientist, political economist, and writer. He is best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992), which argued that the spread of liberal democracies and free-market capitalism of the West could end sociocultural evolution. Fukuyama earned his BA at Cornell University, studied at Yale University, and received his doctorate from Harvard University. He is currently on the faculty at Stanford University.[1] Fukuyama writes in fourteen chapters:

  1. The Politics of Dignity
  2. The Third Part of the Soul
  3. Inside and Outside
  4. From Dignity to Democracy
  5. Revolutions of Dignity
  6. Expressive Individualism
  7. Nationalism and Religion
  8. The Wrong Address
  9. Invisible Man
  10. The Democratization of Dignity
  11. From Identity to Identities
  12. We the People
  13. Stories of Peoplehood
  14. What is to be Don? (vii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes, a bibliography, and an index.

The Dignity Problem

The visibility of inequities has become more obvious. Fukuyama writes:

“Between 1970 and 2008, the world’s output of goods and services quadrupled and growth extended to virtually all regions of the world, while the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries dropped from 42 percent of the total population in 1993 to 17 percent in 211. The percentage of children dying before their fifty birthdays declined from 22 percent in 1960 to less than 5 percent by 2016. This liberal world order did not, however, benefit everyone. In many countries around the world, and particularly in developed democracies, inequity increased dramatically, such that many of the benefits flowed primarily to an elite defined primarily by education.” (4)

Economists talk about the law of one price—with free trade, the price of a good or service should be the same everyone, adjusting for shipment, storage, and other costs.

Fukuyama notes the tension created, writing:

“Huge new middle classes arose in countries such as China and India, but the work they did replaced work that had been done by older middle classes in the developing world…women were displacing men in an increasingly service dominated new economy and low-skilled workers were being replaced by smart machines.” (4)

Inequities create indignities because no one enjoys change and we have seen massive changes. Fukuyama notes: “economic grievances become much more acute when they are attached to feelings of indignity and disrespect.” (11) He sees issues like the #MeToo movement and gay marriage as being driven by the desire, not for economic equality, but the desire for equal respect (19).

The Identity Connection

Fukuyama develops his concept of identity writing:

“The modern concept of identity unites three different phenomena. The first is thymos, a universal aspect of human personality that craves recognition. The second is the distinction between inner and outer self, and the raising of the moral valuation of the inner self over outer society. This emerged only in early modern Europe. The third is an evolving concept of dignity, in which recognition is due not just to a narrow class of people [like soldiers and first responders], but to everyone.” (37)

He sees this question of equal dignity motivating the French Revolution and resent uprisings, like the Arab Spring. He tells a story:

“On December 17, 2010, police confiscated the produce from a vegetable cart of a Tunisian street vendor name Mohamed Bouazizi, ostensibly because he did not have a permit. According to his family, he was publicly slapped by a policewoman, Faida Hamdi, who confiscated his electronic scales as well and spat in his face…Bouazizi went to the governor’s office to complain and to get his scales back, but the governor refused to see him. Bouazizi then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, shouting, ‘How do you expect me to make a living.’” (42)

Bouazizi was not a protester or political prisoner, but had been abused and his story set off an uprising—The Arab Spring—that spread across several continents. The problem of indignities of this sort struck a nerve.

Assessment

Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment pictures our current political climate with rare clarity. He writes with philosophical and historical precision and tells a good story. I enjoyed this book; perhaps you will too.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Fukuyama.

Fukuyama Understands Identity

Also see:

Vance Chronicles White Poverty in America

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Transcendence and Identity, Monday Monologues (podcast) 20191118

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Transcendence and Identity.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Transcendence and Identity: Monday Monologues, November 18, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Transcendence and Identity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“Then God said, 

Let us make man in our image, 

after our likeness…

So God created man in his own image, 

in the image of God he created him; 

male and female he created them.”

(Gen 1:26-27)

 

By Stephen W. HIemstra

For us as Christians, our identity is secure—we are created in the image of God. If you want to know who you are, look at Jesus, God’s son and our role model or, as I have said colloquially, Jesus is my denominator. Jesus is the measure of all things human.

So why the interest in identity?

If God the father seems illusive and Jesus is just a man, then the whole denominator analogy falls apart. Like it or not, Americans have a problem with the transcendence of God. The fascination in the identity question is therefore a mirror image of God’s evaporating transcendence or, in other words, if God is not real, neither are we.

The Problem of Dysfunction

Being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) may sound quaint to postmodern ears, but it becomes terribly important in understanding the implications of idolatry, the worship of images other than God. Think of idolatry as a hierarchy of priorities. 

The First Commandment makes this point: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exod 20:3) The Second Commandment reinforces the point of the first one (Exod 20:4-6). Centering our living on the one who made us gives life meaning and stability. Not doing so, leads to many flavors of dysfunction.

Idolatry and Priorities

The focus on carved images in idolatry suggests pagan temple worship, as the Psalmist makes light of:

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. heir idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Ps 115:3-8)

The key verse here is the last one: “Those who make them become like them.” Image theology implies that we grow to become like the god that we worship, even if we worship idols. Our number-one priority, which is a question of identity and attitude, is effectively our god (Hoekema 1994, 84). Giglio (2003, 13) writes:

So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship.

Idol worship threatens all that we are because over time we become like the god that we worship.

Idolatry Hampers Spiritual Formation

Focusing only on time, how much time do you spend each week in activities contributing to your spiritual formation as compared with other activities? 

Many men spend much of their free time in shoot-them-up video games, often developed by the armed forces for training soldiers. Is it any wonder that, in spite of the fact that automatic weapons have been available since the 1920s, it is only in the last decade that we have seen a rise in mass shootings in public places in the United States unrelated to any political or economic agenda? Intensive activities form us and become part of our identity—spiritual formation is not the only formation that takes place.

Poor formation leads us to worship idols that let us down. When our idols crash, we experience an existential crisis because we must completely reorganize our priorities, which is never easy (Hos 8:4).

The Problem of Suicide

Consider what happens if your number-one priority is work and you lose your job. In spite of record low unemployment, anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and suicide are at record levels in the United States, and have contributed to a decline in life expectancy (Bernstein 2018).

Amidst the high level of suicide (Tavernise 2016), two age groups stand out: young people under the age of thirty and older white men, a group not historically prone to suicide. Among young people, the typically reason for attempting suicide is a broken relationship (idolizing a person); among older men, the typical reason is a lost job (workaholism). Both problems suggest a tie to idolatry.

Death by suicide is just the tip of the iceberg according to Mason (2014, 28):

Based on large national surveys, for every fourteen suicides per hundred thousand people each year, approximately five hundred people attempt suicide and three thousand think about it.

If psychiatric problems, such as addictions, anxiety, and depression, have a spiritual root, then talk therapy and medication can only ease the pain; they cannot solve the problem. A solution requires dealing with the root cause.⁠1

God’s Love

Because we are created in the image of God and are commanded to love him and only him, God’s jealousy is part of his care for us. The Jewish daily prayer, known in Hebrew as the Shema (the name), goes like this: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5) Loving God above all else serves to vaccinate us from some serious problems.

Reclaiming Lost Transcendence

The problem of lost transcendence arises because the world screams at us and attempts to drown out the still, small voice of God. Although God has created us and, in sending Jesus Christ to die for ours, has saved us, we need to make room in our lives—both mind and body—to hear God’s voice. 

The whole point of the spiritual disciplines is find space in our lives for God. It is possible to “fake it until you make it” with spiritual disciplines, but this is actually a fool’s errand because God stands outside of time and space—he can approach us but we, being limited in time and space, cannot bridge the gap on our own. Bridging the gap is the work of Christ.

In some sense, our faith in Christ gives us the strength to pursue the spiritual disciplines. The Apostle Paul writes:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)

When we express faith in this way, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and bridges the gap through out faith in Jesus Christ. Transcendence becomes a reality when we experience salvation and we find a firm identity in Christ.

Footnotes

1 May (1988, 14-16) defines addiction as: “A state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire” and specifically relates it to idolatry.

References

Bernstein, Lenny. 2018. “U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I.” Washington Post. November 29.

Giglio, Louis. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.

Hoekema, Anthony A. 1994. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Mason, Karen. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High.” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Transcendence and Identity

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

While writing my recent book, Simple Faith, I discovered that an important distinctive of the Christian faith is that the Gospel is one of the best stories ever told. People do not come to faith through logical arguments alone; they come to faith when the heart and mind are both persuaded. Because rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the evangelist must learn to employ rhetoric in service of the Gospel in order to succeed.

Introduction

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler writes:

“The arc of the book’s argument is to move from a discussion of individual postures of Christian witness (ethos as an appeal to an individual’s character) to a discussion of communal ones (ethos as an appealing gathering place) … In brief, I want to encourage church members to reflect on various aspects of the rhetorical tradition, highlight important and practical ways of establishing ethos when witnessing, and bring rhetorical facets of Christian worship into relief.”(21-22)

In some sense, Beitler has turned deconstructionism on its head and set in service of the Gospel by providing five case studies of how Christian leaders have employed rhetoric in speaking Gospel to power! 

Postmodern Rhetoric

The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Desimond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson. In choosing two white authors, a black bishop, and two women authors, Beitler has deflated the criticism of Christianity as being a white man’s religion that oppresses women and people of color that has alternatively arisen from cultural Marxists, feminists, and Islamists.

Beitler never gives us a cultural context for his own application of Christian rhetoric, but he outlines a model in his discussion of Bonhoeffer’s interface with the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler. Beitler writes:

“Corrupting and parodying religious concepts, Hilter’s rhetorical strategy involved pitting the Rome-like capital of Munich [not Berlin!] against a diabolical portrayal of the Jew…Within this rhetorical geography, Hitler positioned himself at Munich’s center, presenting his ‘inner voice’ as the sole authority of the Aryan nation and demanding ‘the total identification between leader [der Fuhrer] and people [der Volk].”(99)

By contrast, Bonhoeffer spoke out about German Christians standing with Jewish converts (Messianic Jews), who were being excluded by the Nazis, he organized an underground seminary to teach traditional Christianity to church leaders, and wrote about the need for Christian community and Christian ethics. If our identity is in Christ, then we must identify as a community also with the people that Christ loves. (98-105)

Background and Organization

James E . Beitler III teaches writing at Wheaton College in Illinois. His doctorate is from the University of Michigan (2009) while his bachelors (2002) and masters (2004) are both from Wheaton College. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Preparing the Way: C.S. Lewis and the Goodwill of Advent
  2. Professing the Creeds: Dorothy L. Sayers and the Energy of Christmastide
  3. Preaching the Word: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Epiphanic Identification
  4. Calling for Repentence: Desmund Tutu and Lenten Constitutive Rhetorics
  5. Hosting the Guest: Marilynne Robinson and the Ethos of Eastertide
  6. Speaking in Tongues: The Church and the Heroglossia of Pentecost (vii)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on.

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.


[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 1

Also See:

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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Identity, Duty, and Planning, Monday Monologues, December 24, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

In today’s podcast, I offer a prayer for this place and talk about Identity, Duty, and Planning.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Identity, Duty, and Planning, Monday Monologues, December 24, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Advent_Mas_2018

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Identity, Duty, and Planning

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

What motivates us to act? 

We can act out of identity, duty, or planning (telos), but many times we fail to act. This is particularly true when our motivations are unclear or we are unprepared to make a decision.

Rational versus Behavioral Decisions

Consider the case of shopping for toothpaste. If you routinely buy a particular brand or always buy the cheapest, you are purchasing out of habit and no independent decision is made on particular purchases. However, your habit may have begun with a thorough review of alternative brands or research that suggested the brands were equally effective in preventing cavities. The investment of time and effort on that first purchase may then have convinced you to use your current rule of thumb—buy the brand or buy the cheapest. Thirty years later, you may have forgotten the motivation and only remember your rule of thumb. 

Illustration Described

In this illustration, the original decision involved a rational decision process, while using the resulting rule is more of a behavioral decision process (a path of least resistance). Ethics focuses primarily on rational decision processes where we weigh the pros and cons of a decision before deciding and we need to think through our motivations. Behavioral decisions, where we simply respond to positive and negative stimuli, are not unethical, but they may pose occasions when we are not fully aware of our motivations. 

Incentive to Procrastinate

It may be difficult to make a decision when our habits are disrupted and we need to make a rational decision on how to proceed. Rational decisions require more information, skill, and effort than we may be comfortable with, which may motivate procrastination. Typically, we are invested in our previous decisions which suggests that decisions to change those precedents, even in the case of really bad habits like addictions, require an equal or greater investment in the new decision.

If you took up smoking in high school, for example, your habit may be closely associated with a person or experience back then with great personal meaning, even if that meaning has since been forgotten—each puff is like a walk down memory lane and something especially hard to give up if life has not treated you well since then.  Miller and Rollnick (2002, 10) ask whether we are “ready, willing, and able,” which suggests that we frequently are not ready, willing, or able.

Identity and Character

We are created in the image of God, the core of our identity:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)

The context here is important. We are in the first chapter of the first book in the Bible so every implied by these three verses about what it means to be created in the image of God has to appear in the prior verses. How does the text describe God?⁠1

Divine Attributes

Consider these four attributes:

  1. Verse one tells us that God is a creator who, being eternal, sovereignly stands outside time and space. 
  2. Verse two shows us that God can through his spirit enter into his creation. 
  3. Having created heaven and earth, verse three describes God speaking to shape the form of creation beginning with light Note the exact correspondence between what God says (“Let there be light”) and what he does (“and there was light”)—God is truthful, authentic. 
  4. Verse four tells us that God judged to be good and he separated it from darkness—God discriminates good (light) from the not so good (darkness). 

God is sovereign, authentic, and ethically minded. If God has these attributes, then as image bearers we should aspire to them too.

Consider the question of God’s sovereignty. Do you think that God is reluctant or afraid of making tough decisions? For us, sovereignty could mean having the courage to commit the time and energy to make good decisions.

Identity

Identity motivates us particularly in our careers. You can always identify the fire fighters—those are the folks running into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. It part of their identity and training as firefighters that they act out every day. 

Similarly, as Christians we act out of our identity as image-bearers of a Holy God.

Duty within Community

The Apostle Paul makes image theology explicit when he writes: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph 5:1) Paul draws this theme out in more detail in Galatians 5:16-24, where he contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruits of the spirit echoing God’s self-revelation:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

The Apostle Paul alludes to this verse when he writes about putting off of the old self and a putting on of the new self in Christ (Eph 4:22-24).

Context of the Ten Commandments

Still, the context for Exodus 34:6 is that God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments for the second time (Exod 20). God disclosed his character aa an aid to interpret the Commandments, should anything be unclear. The Commandments themselves served as a thumbnail sketch of each person’s duty to God and to the Nation of Israel⁠2 under the Mosaic covenant. 

Duty or Identity?

While many people see the Ten Commandments as their duty under the covenant, another way to look at the Commandments is as describing the characteristics of people who make up the covenantal community. Similarly, Christians can be described simply as the people who follow Jesus and obey his commandments (Matt 4:19-20). 

Do we act out our duty as members of the Christian community or simply out of a deeper sense of identity?

Planning and Leadership

If there was ever a man on a mission, it was Abraham, as we read:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  (Gen 12:1-3)

Abraham became a leader among men possessing his own private army that conquered all the known powers of his day in retrieving his kidnapped nephew, Lot (Gen 14:11-17). But most of his actions were defined by the mission that God gave him: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen 12:1)

Great Commission

God has also given us a mission in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19) What is interesting is that when we act out of our mission, we also gain an identity.

It is also important to recognize the importance of having a vision. Knowing that Jesus rose from the dead and will return for us (John 14:3) means that we know the future. It is like having tomorrow’s newspaper today—we can buy the best stocks without any risk of loss. 

Future in Christ

Knowing the future is in Christ frees us from worry allowing to act boldly and take risks to advance God’s kingdom today that would otherwise seem foolish.

Like Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing to others.

Footnotes

1 Hoekema (1986, 1) turns the discussion of image around. Instead of asking who is God? He asks: who are we?

2 In his survey of the areas of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments with respect to the Mosaic law, Thielman (1999, 2) observes: “Everywhere that Christian thinkers such as Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, or John Calvin attempted to explain the entire Bible within a insole, coherent theological system, it became essential to ask what role the Mosaic law played in the system.” Thielman asks whether the Christian duties outlined in the New Testament were not themselves based on the same Jewish sources, as many (myself included) assumed was the case.

References

Hoekema, Anthony A. 1994. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Miller, William R. and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviews: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press.

Thielman, Frank. 1999. The Law and the New Testament. New York: Crossroad Publishing.

Identity, Duty, and Planning

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Advent_Mas_2018

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Character, Monday Monologues, November 5, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray over formation and talk about Character.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Character, Monday Monologues, November 5, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Salvation and Eternal Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A lot of people scoff at the idea that salvation and eternal life are real because of skepticism about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, for example, writes about the importance of the resurrection for our faith in these terms:  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14) The resurrection of Christ implies that Jesus lives and will return in the future to bring us home to our true residence in heaven.

The Mechanics of Resurrection

Knowing that the future is in Christ, through faith we know that the future is secure and is good, because we serve a God who loves us and is himself holy and good. Jesus is our rock, as he reminds us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)

But not everyone is convinced. How do we know the sequence of events in our salvation and the path to our eternal life?

The Apostle Paul, who met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, answered this question this way:

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

In other words, I know that I will be raised from the dead because I have shared in Christ’s suffering and death.

Faith and the Soul

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes again this subject:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Here Paul is talking specifically about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thinking, we often talk about the soul, which today we might refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thinking the word soul implies body, mind, spirit, and the people who will are in relationship with. When we come to Christ, we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, which means that we are also from that point forward in relationship with God. Our soul has forever changed. Much like we are one body in Christ (the church), we are also one with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with the people of the church and with God. Because God is eternal, being in union with God implies that our identity is now eternal.

Example from Alzheimer’s Disease

For those of you unaccustomed to this notion of shared identity and the soul,

what happens to your identity when your mind is taken over with a disease, like Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you loose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? Not at all. When you meet a person with Alzheimer’s disease, their identity is retained, at a minimum, by the people around them who order their favorite foods and tell their stories. 

It is no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by all of the people that knew us, but also for the Christian by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily recreate us, complete with our identity, our souls, because we are in relationship.

Salvation and Eternal Life

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Appearance: Looking the Part

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD
without wavering. (Ps 26:1)

Appearance: Looking the Part

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Seminary students must grow academically and relationally which requires transitions in both the student and the community. Pastors work for their congregations as well as lead them in a covenant relationship, where one cares for the other. This relationship can, however, get complicated.

When I entered seminary, I worked as clerk of session at CPC and worked closely with the pastor on church business. Because the pastor often serves as a mentor to inquirers and candidates of ministry and session oversees both, my roles conflicted. This conflict proved stressful and within a few months I resigned from the clerk’s role and from session.

The role conflict between clerk of session and pastor in training symbolized a larger conflict in identity. As clerk, my background as economist underscored my technical competence in managing the business affairs of the church. As pastor in training, technical competence can get in the way of relational competence when people become intimidated by one’s technical competence and step back relationally. This dilemma posed a question—how do I get people to reboot their image of me, from economist to pastor?

Call Sermon

In the summer of 2009, CPC invited five former members who had been called into ordained pastoral ministry back to the church to preach a sermon series on God’s call; as a seminary student, the pastor also invited me to preach on August 23. In view of my struggle with pastoral identity, I enlisted the assistance of a couple of friends to introduce the sermon with a little skit designed to kill off the “Dr. Hiemstra” persona at CPC:

Heckler 1: Is this going to be one of those boring sermons that you just read?
SWH: This? [Holding up script]
Heckler 1: Put it right in here [Holding up a trash can].
SWH: [Ripping up script and depositing in can].
Heckler 1: [Walking off a few steps…]
SWH: [Smiling and pulling out a backup script]
Heckler 1: Oh no you don’t….[Returning with the trash can]
SWH: [Ripping up second script]
[Standing there holding jacket lapels and staring…]
Heckler 2: Do you think you can be a pastor by dressing the part?
SWH: [Pointing to self]
Heckler 2: You don’t need a suit coat—what you need is a call from God.
Here take this. [Tossing a CPC tee shirt]
SWH: [Taking off jacket and putting on the tee shirt]

Someone warned me that ministry is a team sport at CPC!

After a prayer, I preached on the story of Stephen in Acts chapter seven, which was my first sermon without notes.

After the sermon, my mother asked for my CPC t-shirt and I gave it to her. The sermon itself softened my pastoral image and after eight years friends and family still remind me of it.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Cover for Simple Faith“In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people
of diseases and plagues and evil spirits,
and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”
(Luke 7:21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Richard Foster (1992, 229) describes authoritative prayer with these words:

“In Authoritative Prayer we are calling forth the will of the Father upon the earth. Here we are not so much speaking to God as speaking for God. We are not asking God to do something; rather, we are using the authority of God to command something done.”

As practiced in the church today, authoritative prayer is also referred to as deliverance ministry and, more popularly, as exorcism. Foster’s term, authoritative prayer, is more descriptive of the actual practice and less likely to evoke the baggage that accompanies other terms.

A reluctance to practice authoritative prayer exists among many Christian leaders. I would like to argue here that this reluctance needs to be reassessed because the need for authoritative prayer has grown dramatically in our generation, because authoritative prayer has been unfairly stigmatized and misunderstood, and because authoritative prayer has a legitimate therapeutic place even when other forms of counseling are available.

Background

Jesus practiced authoritative prayer, as most authors recognize. E.P. Sanders (1993, 149), for example writes:

Exorcisms, which are a significant subcategory of healings, deserve fuller discussions. They were very important in Jesus’ culture and also in his own career.

Sanders then proceeds to list twelve scriptural citations where Jesus performs exorcisms[1] and also lists exorcisms performed by others in the New Testament (Sanders 1993, 15). Significantly, Jesus also commissioned the disciples to preach and cast out demons (e.g. Mark 3:14-15).

The early church took the need to cast out demons seriously because virtually all adult converts had previously worshiped pagan idols, which were believed to be demons. The church accordingly commissioned exorcists much the same as deacons and elders. The church has always recognized the need for authoritative prayer, even if some traditions have seldom openly practiced it.

Types of Healing Prayer

Interest in authoritative prayer in the modern period, outside the Pentecostal (charismatic) tradition, started with a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Francis MacNutt in the 1960s, who taught that authoritative prayer could be described as one of four types of healing needing prayer:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. and
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression) (MacNutt 2009, 130).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many practitioners lump all healing needs into authoritative prayer and fail to distinguish spiritual oppression (common) from outright possession (rare).[2]

The Postmodern Need for Authoritative Prayer

In the modern period, the influence of rationalism in Christian thought led many to question the reliability of scriptural references to exorcism and other recorded miracles. This over-emphasis on rationalism and personal autonomy seems increasingly out of place in the postmodern period that we live in.

Limits to Autonomy

In my own hospital experience, for example, I noted that about half the patients that I visited with as a chaplain intern working in the emergency department were admitted for reasons that could be classified as preventable, problems arising out of poor lifestyle choices, and other self-destructive behavior. In visiting later with the senior surgeon, I was corrected. He reported that the actual proportion of patients so classified was closer to three-quarters. Consequently, if in the concrete reality of medicine, we are incapable of maintaining our physical health in view of rational information to inform us as to how to accomplish this objective, then how much more incapable are we of maintaining our own spiritual health?

Growth of Suicide Problem

Outside of personal observation, we know from recent reports that the United States is currently experiencing a thirty-year peak in suicides, with the largest increase among men aged 45-64 (Tavernise, 2016). I personally know of two men within that demographic who killed themselves within the past year. If people are killing themselves in record numbers, it is safe to say that spiritual oppression is part of the picture, especially when drug abuse and deviant sexual activity are not indicated, because poverty, depression, and despair do not have to lead to suicide.

New Challenges

Outside of the medical and psychiatric fields, three factors suggest a need for authoritative prayer that could be classified as something new. First, the growth of interest in pagan religions and immigration from countries where animistic religions are commonly practiced show spiritual influences previously absent in the West. Second, the mainstreaming of alternative sexual practices and drug use (and the abuse that often goes with them) has the potential to increase the number of individuals susceptible to spiritual oppression. Third, the discrimination of secular institutions practiced against Christians reduces the number of individuals who are nominally influenced by the church and thereby able to resist other spiritual influences.

The Practice of Authoritative Prayer

A number of approaches have been taken in authoritative prayer. Here I will speak only of my personal experience in assisting a seasoned practitioner who is an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Charlotte, NC.

Setup

A typical session involves someone who has come to the pastor with a request for authoritative prayer. No attempt is made to compel anyone to participate or to accept anyone referred against their will. The session takes place in a private setting, usually a church or living room, and normally the pastor has an assistant, such as myself, who takes notes so that he can focus on the prayer.[3] Parents and other loved ones are invited to join in only if the person feels comfortable with them being there. The person receiving prayer does not need to disclose anything. After introductory conversation, the pastor starts by explaining the purposes of prayer and the scriptural authority being evoked in authoritative prayer.

Object of Prayer

The prayer itself starts with praise of God and the person being prayed over. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign over all of creation, he is good, and he cares for us. This praise is important because God already knows what is on our minds and has promised to answer the prayers of his people. Our tiniest request from an infinite God provides more power than any spiritual being can resist. Most of the remainder of the prayer is for the benefit of the person being prayed over.

Triage

The prayer then proceeds to triage the spiritual issues that the person being prayed over may be suffering. Perhaps, the spiritual problem has been passed down through family or started with harsh words from someone important to the person. Perhaps, the person has experienced great shame or guilt due to sinful behavior, especially sexual or drug experimentation. Perhaps, the person has been overwhelmed with grief or pain. Perhaps, the person has refused to grow up in some important way or fallen in with bad company or hurt someone close to them or suffered some terrible tragedy.

Response

As this prayer unfolds, the pastor prays with eyes open to observe the person’s reaction and the reactions determine how long particular issues are addressed. This triage process is important because many of the deepest spiritual problems that we face may have been repressed over years and the person may not even be aware of their emotional impact.[4] Because the person need not disclose anything going into prayer or coming out of it, their own awareness and willingness to confess their issues is not in view.[5] As such, authoritative prayer is not a substitute for counseling. In fact, it may be a prelude to counseling because the person may realize their issues need more attention.

Concepts Supporting Authoritative Prayer

A couple of theological concepts inform this method, but are not necessarily required.

Identity in Christ

First, our souls are composed of our will, our mind, our memory, and our social environment. A modern word for soul might be our identity. The idea that our identity is socially held[6] means that when we make Christ the cornerstone of our identity, we are not easily shaken the way that we might be if some other cornerstone were chosen. Treating Christ as a secondary part of our identity does not provide nearly the stability required to resist temptation and evil. As temptation and evil become more prevalent in the postmodern period, the need for this stability is greater than ever.

Parasitic Spirits

Second, the image of an evil spirit being confronted in authoritative prayer is that of a parasite. An evil spirit is parasitic in the sense that it cannot exist independent of its host for very long, much like tick would starve in the absence of blood host. Driving it out therefore risks that the parasite will seek another local host and the prayer must account for this behavior.

Permission Denied

Third, evil spirits are driven out, not by shouting or employing incantations or any special form for prayer, but by denying that they have permission to inhabit the person being prayed over and appealing to the power and authority of God. Evil spirits act like bad lawyers arguing for their rights to oppress a person. Thus, it is important to have the person’s permission to pray because it implies that the demons do not have permission to continue their oppression.

Return to Biblical Authority

The primary reason that many people question the existence of evil spirits is that the spiritual world is itself thought not to exist, a result of an animistic tradition debunked by rational thinking. But if rational thinking is only part of our own thinking, why would it preclude the existence of a spiritual being who is divorcing itself from God? Furthermore, why, if you believe in God, would you then question the existence of other unseen spiritual beings? The Bible treats angels and demons as heralds of Christ himself (e.g. Mark 5:7). Denying their existence is tantamount to denying Christ’s divinity, because Christ treated exorcism as important in his ministry.

References

Foster, Richard J. 1992. Prayer: Find the Heart’s True Home. New York: HaperOne.

Francis MacNutt. 2009. Healing (Orig Pub 1974). Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.

Jung, C.G. 1955. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Orig Pub 1933). New York: A Harvest Book.

Sanders, E.P. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] Mark 1:23-8/Luke 4:31-37, Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:41, Mark 1:19, Mark 3:11/Luke 6:18,
Mark 3:20-30/Matt 12:22-37/ Luke 11:14-23, Mark 5:1-20/Matt 8:28-34/Luke 8:26-39, Mark 7:24-30/Matt 15:21-28, Mark 9:25/Matt 17:18/Luke 9:42, Matt 4:24, Matt 9:32-34, Luke 8:2, and Luke 8:2. (Sanders 1993, 149-150).

[2] MacNutt (2009, 167) distinguishes deliverance ministry (relief from spiritual oppression) from exorcism (relief from possession).

[3] These notes are taken to allow the pastor to return to issues undercovered at the end of the session and are given to the one being prayed for at the end of the session. No record is retained by the pastor or the assistant.

[4] Jung (1955, 1, 33) saw the unconscious as playing a leading role in neuroses and viewed the unconscious secret as more harmful than one that is conscious.

[5] Jung (1955, 30-31) viewed psychoanalysis as a modern form of confession.

[6] The Alzheimer’s patient is an example of someone whose identity is only held by their loved ones and care givers. When we die, our identity will likewise be held primarily by God.

A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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