The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 3, You Are Beloved

The other biblical scholar who responded to my lectures at Fuller was Dr. Love Sechrest, NT scholar at Fuller Theological.

Dr. Sechrest responded to my second lecture where I attempted to analyze the identity of Jesus looking for clues as to how we are to form our identities, in imitating Jesus, so that we might be emancipated from our "slavery to the fear of death" (Hebrews 2.14-15).

In the lecture and in The Slavery of Death I follow the lead of Arthur McGill. Specifically, McGill argues that Jesus had what McGill calls an "ecstatic identity." I prefer the label "eccentric identity" borrowing from David Kelsey, but the idea is the same. Jesus receives his identity from the Father. Jesus's identity isn't a possession or an accomplishment that has to be protected or defended in the face of loss or threat. Jesus's identity is received as a gift. An ongoing gift. And because Jesus does not possess his identity Jesus cannot ever be dispossessed of his identity. This is what makes Jesus non-anxious, non-rivalrous and non-violent: that his identity is located in a place where "death has no dominion."

Reflecting on this psychological analysis, Dr. Sechrest turned our attention to the baptismal narratives of the gospels. These accounts, Dr. Sechrest argued, wonderfully illustrate how Jesus's ecstatic/eccentric identity was received from the Father:
Luke 3.21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As Dr. Sechrest noted, Jesus's identity is rooted in "the prior love of the Father." At his baptism Jesus's identity is poured into him: You are my child. You are beloved. And I delight in you.

I agree with Dr. Sechrest, the baptismal narratives are the primordial accounts of Christian identity-formation. Christian spiritual and psychological formation involves finding ourselves, moment by moment, standing in the waters of the Jordan river and receiving our identities from the Father. Over and over.

You are my child. You are beloved. And I delight in you.

And nothing much can happen in the Christian life, especially facing the neurotic shame and stigma in taking up Jesus's cross, until this eccentric identity has firmly taken hold of us.

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9 thoughts on “The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 3, You Are Beloved”

  1. This looks to me to be a better accounting of what it means to be "born again" Richard. What you're describing is the real human situation of a human person beginning their lives with an identity formed of their birth-right-- parents, culture, etc.. Yet, the unique thing about all human selves, is that there's something within wanting to be 'me' before I'm even able to be conscious of it. The human becoming the person it is, happens in a way that's unique to human selves: for every other biological organism, their becoming happens lock-step through its biology-- becoming is simply a matter of maturing.

    We, on the other hand, 'maturing' isn't enough for becoming a fully human self. We need something else. At some point in our lives we have to compare the self I have by 'birth-right", and compare it to my personal experiencing of this 'thing' that wants to be me-- even before I do. I'm compelled to find my "second birth"- if you will, a birth that is merely an extension of my ego, or one that is an extension of my "ultimate contingency"- transcendent of my ego and inviting me into me through grace; an invitation to shed the self cobbled together by the fears and prejudices of my culture, and cultivate the self that aches to be me, regardless of my local culture.

    What's interesting, is that if what you're getting at in your post here, is a legitimate accounting of 'being born again', then Psychology has been a means to interpret our situation- of seeing our need, but itself, can't lead us out of our situation.

    Thoughts anyone?

  2. Hi Mike, I think I'm tracking with you. A comment on psychology pointing to grace and, thus, (social) science pointing beyond itself.

    Last fall my adult bible class worked through Brene Brown's awesome book Daring Greatly. (Highly recommended.) In the book Brown says that the critical ingredient needed to live a life of courage, connection, vulnerability and whole-hardheartedness is that we have to have a fundamental sense of worthiness.

    But that poses a puzzle. Where do you get a sense of fundamental worthiness? Especially if you lack the accomplishes or privileges that our culture deems as significant? What if, to put it bluntly, you're a "failure" in the eyes of others?

    If the whole ball game is worthiness where does worthiness come from?

    From a Christian frame, the answer is the one described in the post: worthiness comes from outside yourself. Worthiness is an eccentric experience of grace. Worthiness is eceiving the prior love of God.

    In the words of Henri Nouwen:

    "Our true challenge is to return to the center, to the heart, and find there the gentle voice that speaks to us and affirms us in a way no human ever could...[To experience] God's unlimited and unlimiting acceptance of us as beloved children; an acceptance so full, so total, and all-embracing, that it sets us free from our compulsion to be seen, praised, and admired and frees us for Christ...

    Through a disciplined life of contemplative prayer we slowly can come to realize God's original love, the love that existed long before we could love ourselves or receive any human love."

  3. "Christian spiritual and psychological formation involves finding ourselves, moment by moment, standing in the waters of the Jordan river and receiving our identities from the Father. Over and over."

    Yes. This resonates with me. Xtian identity is not something static, written in stone, but rather a dynamic, living thing that must be ever renewed and received - like waves, like heartbeats, like breaths. Anything that you can grasp is not it.

  4. I think you are on it, Mike. For the last twenty five years or so I have believed that we do not BECOME indwelled by God, but ARE of God; that "salvation" or the "new birth" is simply coming to that realization. Though he may be too far out there for some who have grown up in traditional Christianity, Matthew Fox in his book ORIGINAL BLESSING sets out his teaching of CREATION SPIRITUALITY, his emphasis being "ALL THINS IN GOD & GOD IN ALL THINGS". He includes many quotes from some wonderful teachers, past and present, that takes over your curiosity and imagination.

  5. Here's what I like where all this is going. Tillich points out that Theology can't produce our questions, it can only be answers to them. While on the finite side of things, we can formulate questions but the answers, in terms of ultimacy, have to come from somewhere else-- the theological answer.

    Through your post above, and its engendering dialog, I could see more clearly, the real human question that the theological answer- "you must be born again" might be closer to.

    In other words, we look around and see how "selfing" happens in every other organism, and just assume that ours is happening in the same way except for some moral dimension added in. The 'kerygma' then is pointed to the question of morality. This feels short of a better human/existential though. The struggle you so aptly map out above, can't be reduced to morality-- which makes our struggle into one of behaving and obedience, as if the human adult is stuck in some state of being a three-year-old. (Until he gets to heaven where something magical happens and one "behaves" with a compliance that's automatic.)

    As you describe a way into a fully human self as you do here, you are also illuminating what I'm trying to do as well: what ever a human self IS, a person lives its being in the world entails more than morality- way more. When one is endowed with a human self, they now have the duty of steward ship-- duties that involve cultivation and even the work of curator as one collects from all that's available for soul making that which pertains to their own soul and eventual becoming their "calling". Which, as you point out with the clarity of "our friend" Becker, is no simple task. For me, what I like about our 'human predicament', is that somehow, I'm created in a way that gives me a lot of say of who I am. I'm not merely some kind of cosmic pet: I'm a co-creator-- both with god and the 'others' around me--in the making of my soul; in the experiencing god's original love.

    This is a "born-again" that I could get excited about!

  6. Ah yes, I remember my first reading of Mathew Fox and the pure shock I felt as he put forth his argument that before there could be an "original fall" there had to be an original blessing, and so he was determined to start there. And yet I kept going....

  7. Beth,

    You write that a Xtian identity (I would say a human identity because what Jesus was about-- is that general...) must ever be renewed. I agree! But then you use waves, heartbeats, and breaths as the metaphors of description: all of which are mindless and described aptly by science. And yet a magic is happening for me as I read the sentence that you wrote; I get what you're pointing to: Eternity, is valued by Xtianity when it can be made into stone. You are valuing the opposite. Stones can be grasped by the human person whether they scale Everest, light dynamite, love the geological table, or love the law inscribed in it.

    [Whatever the Antichrist is, would we declare one the Antichrist (previous post allusion) by way of his "wayward" way of not being stone, or by his inability to be stone?]

    I used brackets in my sentence because I'm admitting an implication that you made. An implication that deserves our full attention. [Can revelation ever be something other than an implication on god's behalf, when god's hope is for intimacy rather than fame?]

    What is god's hope of the likes of you and I-- that we can be stones easily held in "his hands", or ones who can swim with "him"?

    Somehow, Jesus shows up with an answer that appeals to the likes of you and me (and King and Gandhi, but not Hitler...) Yet the Messiah, was a hope. A hope of what? A hope derived from the culture?

    You, Beth, went past this culture derived from a kind of want into a second kind of want: What was that like for you?

  8. A couple of ironies emerge from this (fascinating) post.

    The first has to do with the withering condescension and horror that were heaped on John Eldredge after he published his popular books The Sacred Romance, Wild at Heart, etc., and men from around the world responded from their insatiable thirst, drinking deeply of precisely these ideas: we receive our truest identities from our Father, and as fathers we are to model that same identity-giving love to our children and our wives. Of course Eldredge was seen as just one more Mark Driscoll - misogynist, sexist, partriarchalist. But it turns out, according to this thread of posts, that the root of Eldredge's appeal was squarely on the mark.

    The other is that, at a superficial level at least, Christian discipleship begins as...a self-esteem project?

    Thought-provoking, for sure.


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