The Shape of Identity
Who am I?
This question has always been and will always be the million-dollar question. Issues with identity are not anything new, but as Fukuyama points out, we might be in a new era of what is genuinely shaping people’s identity. In his book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, he writes about how globalization has affected the identity of many and the quest for dignity. He writes about how the modern understanding of identity is constructed of three parts 1) the idea that humans possess an innate longing for social recognition; 2) a belief that an inner self exists that has greater value than society; and 3) a concept of universal dignity: that all people deserve basic recognition.
In the Christian faith, the revealing of God as the triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit speaks to a multiplicity of theology subjects, but at the core, it speaks to the relational nature of God. In speaking of the triune relationship, Kathryn Tanner writes, “The triune God is a God who perfectly communicates the goodness of Godself among the three Persons of the Trinity in perfect self-unity. Dr. Terry Cross picks up on this understanding, and he applies it to the nature of the church and human beings. He writes, “It is not the mutual perichoresis of human beings, but rather the indwelling of the Spirit common to everyone that makes the church into a communion corresponding to the Trinity, a communion in which personhood and sociality are equiprimal.” Simply put, our identity is (should be) rooted in the image of God, which informs our relational connection with others.
Shifting the focus to leadership. One of many issues with current church leadership models, at least in American-Western Christianity, is the focus on leaders as CEOs who stand over people, in contrast to shepherds who come alongside them. David Fitch asserts that “the idea of ‘leadership’ has captivated evangelicals in the last twenty years” and “has led to the meteoric rise of CEO style ‘pastor-leadership’ among evangelicals.” In critiquing CEO-style church leadership, Ray Anderson emphasizes that Christ did not leave us with techniques but with the promise of the Father, “the empowerment of the [Holy] Spirit.” Therefore, in Anderson’s view, theology and practical theology in particular “must reflect on the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit as the praxis of the risen Christ.”
As I am laying out a construct for Spirit-led leadership, current trends and research are indicating that Millennials and Generation Z desire leadership that incorporates the transcendent, personal identity and relational equity. Such leadership would be deployed in a complex and rapidly changing world of global connectivity while meeting the fundamental relational and aspirational needs of a generation navigating a fluid landscape.
- Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 35.
 Cross is quoting Volf, After Our Likeness,213. Cross, Terry L. The People of God’s Presence (p. 61). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 David Fitch, When Evangelical Pastors End Up in Moral Failure (unpublished manuscript, 2004), 2.
 Anderson, Shape of Practical Theology, 46.
 “Overall, 18–35-year-olds around the world express an overwhelming openness to spirituality—or, at least, the possibility of a spiritual dimension. Three-quarters are either certain spiritual forces that exist (47%) or admit they think they may exist, even if they are unsure (28%). Only 8 percent reject the idea altogether. Though certainty wanes among young adults who identify as atheist, agnostic or irreligious, nearly half are open to the possibility of a spiritual realm (18% are certain spiritual forces exist, 29% think they might).” Barna Research, Connected Generation, 58.
 Among the aspirations relevant to the emerging generation and its leaders is an identity that is “grounded in Jesus” and a sense of being “emotionally connected to others in our communities and in our households.” Barna Research, Connected Generation, 131.
6 responses to “The Shape of Identity”
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Bro, that is my favorite image of the Trinity. None of them “identify” as being above the other. They are all at a round table, sharing a meal. Such beauty, such imagery, such power.
Thank you for using that in your post, it has completely re-framed the way I read Fukuyama.
Amen and thanks bro.
Just piggy-backing off of what Jacob said, I love the idea perichoresis brings to mind. It’s one of those terms the Church Fathers repurposed to describe the Trinity since there was no words at the time that made sense. Timothy Keller does a fantastic job of explaining this in one of his books, but the etymology of this word describes a choreography as in a dance. There’s a “moving around,” “stepping in and out,” “go forward” and “contain” imagery as in coordinated movements when people dance. Lots of stuff to say about this. Lesson here: need more dancing in our theology classes. 🙂
More dancing sounds like a plan to me. Hopefully in Cape Town!
Great job weaving in your research focus. How recent is your Barna Research source? How do you see your Spirit-led leadership model answering the desire of Millenials and GenZ? Great post that will aid your research project. Many thanks.
Barna research is last year. Working on that answer now Harry, but tying back into the understanding of Trinitarian based identity will be key.