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 3.21-22As 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.
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.”
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.