Who are you? What is your identity?
These days, that’s not an easy question to answer. Identity goes to the heart of life; it frames our status in every conversation and encounter that, together, formulate our days.
Within the span of my lifetime, that question – and, its answer – has become far more complex. As a kid, “American” was a label that was worn with pride and distinction by everyone who surrounded me. At home, at school, at church: it seemed that common denominator was worth a high-five, anywhere, for any reason (though, back then, “high fives” were not yet a “thing”).
Today, “American” doesn’t have the same effect. Famous people – in politics, entertainment, business, sports – have been quick to denounce our country. Even more telling has been the applause and support they’ve earned through their condemnation of our nation. Unity is extinct. Flying the Stars & Stripes has become divisive: lines are drawn and tensions are heightened.
Are you an American? A growing number of people living in the United States demand qualifiers before they will embrace that identity: they link more specifically with a faction than they do with a nation, which is no longer “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Debate and discussion among people of differing views are no longer socially acceptable; verbal assaults have taken their place, and shouting has accelerated to shoving and shooting in the public square.
Are you a Christian? What’s happened with “American” has happened with “Christian.” Ask a suicidal ISIS terrorist: they’ve determined that American = Christian. Ask Americans if they’re Christian, and that generalization evaporates like August rain in Arizona. Maybe; it depends…
Even within the self-identified Christian demographic, the need to qualify the identity remains. Are all Christians cookie-cutter comparable? Is there a distinction that culls the Christian community to the vital core? If being a follower of Jesus means more than attending a 70-minute event every other week, is there a name for those who live as if their faith is their primary distinction, affecting their every thought, word and deed in a 24/7/365 context?
“Evangelical” may be that identity. That’s not just a seminary exercise; the influence of the deeply committed Christian electorate has become a factor in American politics. Recently, The Atlantic addressed the question in a feature article, Defining “Evangelical.” No one could accuse them of positive bias, but their journalistic objectivity landed pretty close to reality.
Evangelicals hold three key tenets: 1) The Authority of Scripture: the Bible is the Word of God; 2) The Necessity of Conversion: every person must respond to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ; and, 3) The Responsibility of the Great Commission: the directive by Jesus to take the Gospel to the whole world is binding on everyone who calls him Savior and Lord.
Are you an Evangelical? Accepting one’s identity is foundational to finding and fulfilling one’s role in the world. Identity matters; it has always mattered.
After Jesus’ arrest, the mockery and humiliation – leading to the public execution that fulfilled God’s perfect plan – created personal crisis for the followers who had, to that point, been willing to be counted among Jesus’ close collaborators. In the melee of Jesus’ mock trial, Simon Peter was called out as one who was associated with Jesus; three times he rejected that identity to avoid the risk it held.
Identity matters: everything else flows from that essential determination. The conditions of life in 2018 are becoming terser and tenser than ever before; connections between people are often made or broken based on the answer.
Who are you? Let me give you my answer: I am a Christian, best described as an Evangelical: I recognize the Bible as the Word of God; Conversion is the only way to be saved; and, the Great Commission is my #1 lifetime assignment. Everything else is secondary…