Identity and Idolatry


When you ask people, “Who are you?” they usually answer first by giving you their name. A name, however, is only a label. It does not reveal the identity of the person to whom it is attached.

If you persist, “Yes, that is your name, but who are you,” then people invariably begin to give you answers grounded in their relationships to individuals, objects, and activities. They will identify themselves as the son or daughter of a particular person, or perhaps as the spouse of another. They will tell you about their job and their hobbies. They may identify themselves as fans of a particular sports team, followers of a particular author, or as devotees of a particular kind of music.

What all of these identifiers have in common is that they are external to the individual. People can say who they are only by pointing to things outside themselves. We know who we are only in terms of our relationships to other things, be they persons, activities, or objects.

In other words, our identity is not in ourselves. In order to know who we are, we must look outward. Our identity is formed by the persons, objects, and activities with which we bring ourselves into relationship.

God is not like that. God knows who He is, not by looking outward, but by looking inward. Nevertheless, God’s identity is still relational. He knows who He is, not by His relationship to persons, objects, and activities within the created order, but by His relationship to Himself.

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Book Review - We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (Ancient Christian Doctrine)

We have previously reviewed the first four volumes of IVP’s Ancient Christian Doctrine series (see the reviews here). This series is a commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed drawn from the writings of the patristic period of church history (AD 95-750).

Volume 5 concludes the series by commenting on the final portion of the creed: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church…and the life of the world to come. Amen.” The series editors perhaps took a risk by assigning this volume to Roman Catholic Angelo Di Berardino, but Di Berardino is a responsible contributor who does nothing to slant things toward a view of Roman exclusivity. Focusing on the doctrinal pillars of the church and end times, this is probably the volume that fundamentalists will have the most difficulties with, but also the one that they most need to consider.

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Book Review - Volumes 3 and 4 of the Ancient Christian Doctrine Series

Previously, we have reviewed volumes 1 and 2 of the Ancient Christian Doctrine series from IVP. This series of five volumes is a commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The commentary in each volume is drawn from writings from the patristic period of church history: AD 95-750. Among the purposes of the Ancient Christian Doctrine series is “showing how the new ecumenism is today being nourished and renewed by the ancient ecumenical consensus” (p. vii). For those who bristle at the mention of “ecumenism” (a word sprinkled liberally throughout the book’s editorial matter), Oden takes care to contrast “the true meaning of ecumenism” as found in the Fathers versus “a century of often dubious modern ecumenical experimentation” (p. xiv). Oden, at the forefront of the paleo-orthodoxy movement, unsurprisingly states that the “ancient faith is the rightful patrimony of all global Christians today, whether Protestants, Orthodox, Catholic or charismatic,” adding that “there is a dawning awareness among Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox laity that vital ecumenical orthodox teaching stands in urgent need of deep grounding in its most consensual classic Christian sources” (p. xv).

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Book Review - Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy

It has often been said that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” This is not just a warning for political, educational or social leaders. It is a warning for the church as well. If there is anything that recent theological controversies have shown us, it is that knowing the history of doctrinal development—and specifically orthodox theological development—is key to understanding where we are and why we are here (rather than somewhere else), when it comes to the church’s articulation of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Time and time again, theological controversy drives the church back to its history—especially to the first few hundred years after Christ. And it is history that will help today’s church rediscover the oft-repeated, doctrinal controversies that shaped orthodox doctrine and learn how those who have gone before us responded with Scripture and wisdom.

With this view in mind Bradley Green has brought together eight contemporary scholars to create Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians. This book covers eight early theologians from Irenaeus to Thomas Aquinas. The impetus for this book is the belief that the past has something to say to and to teach the present. Theology is not hammered out in a vacuum nor does each generation reinvent the theological wheel (though some may try).

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I Carried You

“you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.” (Deut. 1:31)

Richard Dawkins, the most prominent apologist of atheism in the world today has said,

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dawkins isn’t the first to say such things about God, just the most adamant. He is above all a propagandist, with a deep-seated antipathy to the Christian faith. For a Christian—even the most brilliant one—to reason with Dawkins on these points would be like two generals trying to parley before a battle, when one of them has dedicated his life to destroying the other.

As a former atheist recently said to me, “I read Dawkins’s God Delusion, and concluded that if arguments so weak, so circular, given by a man who obviously has a serious problem with God—if this is the best atheism has to offer, then God must really exist.” She later became a Christian. She admits though, that she still has her problems with the Old Testament. So do many Christians. At times they can be nearly as critical of God as Dawkins is.

After all, isn’t the God of the Old Testament the same one Who:

  • Destroyed the earth with a flood?
  • Called for the death of the first born of Egypt?
  • Called for the extermination of some of His own people?
  • Called for the extermination of all the Canaanites?
  • Let David off scot-free after he planned the death of a man then took the man’s wife into his harem?
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He Is God and We Are Not

Casting Crowns popularized a song titled, “In Me.” Some of the lyrics follow:

How refreshing to know You don’t need me.
How amazing to find that You want me.
So I’ll stand on Your truth, and I’ll fight with Your strength
Until You bring the victory, by the power of Christ in me.

I was impressed at the depth of these lyrics. They serve as a jumping board for my topic: He is God and we are not. Hopefully, these thoughts will serve as a tonic to remedy a popular—but weakened—view of God.

Our Need

The first principle suggested by the song is that God does not need us, but we need Him. The Scriptures are clear on this:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (ESV, Acts 17:24-25)

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