Who God Says You Are
In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Klyne Snodgrass discuss identity, focusing on the biblical basis of Christian identity.
- Snodgrass’ background in studying Christian identity
- Why does identity matter?
- What are false identities?
- What is Christian identity?
- Introducing Christian identity to new believers
- The image of God and practice of Christian identity
- The Scriptural basis of Christian identity
- The role of the Holy Spirit
- Christian identity in a hostile context
- Christian identity and Christian living
Dr. Darrell Bock: Welcome to the table. We discuss issues of God and culture. My guest today is Dr. Klyne Snodgrass. He's actually a very good friend. We worked together for several years on a historical Jesus project, and Klyne was the Paul Brandell Chair and professor of New Testament Studies and North Park for years. Recently, very recently retired. Don't want to confess how significant that is, but we'll just leave it at that. And we're glad you're with us, Klyne.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I'm elated to be with you. Good to see you.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So our topic today is a book that Dr. Snodgrass has written called Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity. And before we get into the book, talk a little bit about your own background, your preparation for being a New Testament professor, and kind of the areas that you concentrated on when you were working in New Testament.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I grew up in Jersey, come out of a Southern Baptist heritage, and went to a Bible college, and was confronted with faith in a way I had never been before. Ended up in seminary, and they said, "You should go do doctoral studies," which I told my friends, if I had known God was gonna make me go to school so long, I'd have said no. But went to St. Andrews in Scotland. And my interest in identity actually started within a few weeks of starting my studies there, even though I didn't know it in depth. I was actually working on the use of Old Testament quotations in the New, particularly as they relate to Christ. But early on I came across a statement which I use early in the book. This person said, "People were always coming to Jesus and asking, 'What must I do?' And Jesus in effect answered, 'Tell me who you are, and then you will know what you must do.'" And I can document about two or three months later, preaching on identity in a Scottish Baptist church.
And over the years, it would come up as a topic, but was really only when I was doing a commentary on Ephesians that the subject started taking me over. And I concluded, as some others have, that Ephesians is largely a document about identity formation. And so that's the background and why I got into this. And then, shortly after doing that commentary on Ephesians, I started using language, hermeneutics of identity, because I think that Scripture started to tell us who we are. And if we are trying to interpret the text, we should have a lens that allows us to see what it's really concerned about, and that's to tell us who we are. And the reason for the title of the book Who God Says You Are.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So, and you, in your New Testament career, focused … you did a lot of work on Jesus, and the parables in particular, and did work on Paul as well. Were those your two concentrations? Or …
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yes. North Park, especially when I started, was a small school. And I was a generalist. Had to be. But I taught parables, usually about every other year. And, of course, I taught an intro to the Gospels course, so those concerns were always front and center for me. And largely, Paul took the rest of the focus. I did a few things outside those parameters, but mostly it was Jesus and Paul.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's turn our attention, now, to the contents of the book, and think through the issues of identity. I know early on in the book you talk about how important identity is. So, talk a little bit about why identity, in your view, is so important.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Identity is this complex undergirding, this well from which we live. It is that way that we understand ourselves. We have this sense of who we are, even if we're not conscious of it. And we live out of that. You know, here is who I am, and so therefore I do these kinds of things, and I relate to these kinds of people. And it really guides the total aspect of our lives. And if it's that important, if it's guiding all of our lives, why shouldn't we be focusing attention on it, much more than we have.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So most people go through life … I remember being in college and being given the standard … I went to SMU my freshman year … and being given the standard college line of, you're in college now to learn and discover who you are. That was the way these general classes that we had … we had certain general classes that were part of the curriculum there that were designed, really, to help us think through our identity, in a mostly non-Christian context, actually. And I think if you ask people who they are, the average person on the street, they'll talk about the role or the vocation that they have, or maybe perhaps their religious background, if that's important to them. But most people I think focus on this for a very short time if they focus on it at all, and otherwise, almost fly by the seat of their pants, in terms of their identity. Would you say that's a fair characterization of the way many people approach life?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I certainly would. And I would add, if you look at our society, and particularly the media, everybody's trying to tell us who we are. And especially as Christians, we need to be very discerning, and in fact resistant to say, "No. I've got a higher calling than that." And most people tell us what we are so that we'll buy their product, or do what they want us to.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's talk about some of these sub, false identities to start off with. What are some of the things people tell us who we are that really don't influence is, or probably shouldn't influence us as much as they might?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I think there are all kinds of things. One of the biggest messages is, you are what you possess. If you can buy it and put it on display, then you're important. You are important because you're attached to X group. And for many people, especially males, it's your sports team, which is extremely fleeting. When your team loses and the season's over.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. I know you live in Chicago, and I know that's true of the Chicago Bulls, these days. That wasn't true at one time.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Oh, it's pitiful at the moment. I have to tell you, my nine-year-old grandson is trying to read my book. And he is a sports fanatic. And he got to the part in the book where I said you are not your sports team. And he told his mother, "I found that offensive." [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock: So it's a controversial book. Is that what you're telling me? [Laughter]
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: In some ways. Some people will find it controversial. In other ways, I hope it's more enlightening, and will cause people to stop and deal substantively with the question, who am I, and how do I show it [0:08:35]
Dr. Darrell Bock: Now another identity element that we often talk about today that is probably more impactful in some ways, and can be significant, is what we often attribute to things like what we call identity politics, and that kind of thing, where you get identified with a certain group, and that group, the dynamics of that group are supposed to determine who you are.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. I have a short paragraph in the book where I say, "That's not what really meant." And also, as you may be aware, there's a forgive me ace, inane … I was trying to find a usable, safe word … an inane group that focuses on identity. And it's a supposedly Christian, white supremacist group. What kind of abusive language, to say nothing of theology, is that? But yeah, there's the identity politics, so that whether it's particular race, or particular political party, a gender movement, or whatever, and that's not my concern at all, other than the call of Scripture is just something entirely different.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. And obviously, another category of identity that's important to people might be their nationality. In other words, the nation that they're a part of, the way they view their citizenship.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Right. And I mention that in the book, try to come down on it pretty hard. At one level, yes, you are. It's part of your history. You are born into a society, as part of a nation, part of a community, and so forth. But the fundamental question has to be, what do you give ultimate defining force in your life? And for any Christian, especially one who knows enough to say Jesus is Lord, is what makes you a Christian, there ought to be no question. Here's what gives ultimate defining force. Not my nationality, or the state I'm from, or my ethnicity, nor anything like that. And so, we just take it for granted that our ethnicity stamps us first, and our nationhood stamps us very early. And I want to say, okay, yeah. Those things are fine. And maybe there are things that have to be resisted, and you say that is ultimate defining force, and you think, obviously, about something like Nazi Germany. And a number of Christians in the confessing movement stood up to say, "That nation, to which we belong, does not determine who we are. Our Lord does." And Christians ought to be doing that every day.
Dr. Darrell Bock: You think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in that period in particular.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It cost him his life. But, yeah. And nationhood is important, and don't get me wrong, ethnicity is terribly important. But it's not ultimately determinative. So I want to ask people doing the book, are you more Christian or for me, a white southerner? That is different in Chicago.
Dr. Darrell Bock: You've been in exile for a long time of your life, haven't you?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yes, it’s been a long time. Are you more Christian or Texan?
Dr. Darrell Bock: That's right.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I know Texas is a country by itself.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Oh, yeah. It's a status all unto itself. There's no doubt about that. We ask other Americans to show us their passport when they come here.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. But, you understand what I'm trying to get at.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah, exactly. So, let's begin to talk about Christian identity and really the tensions that that does introduce, because of the impact of these other identities. It isn't like these other identities don't exist, and that they don't impact us, and that they don't even shape us to some degree. People can't … they can't remove, in many cases, the impact of their ethnicity.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: And they shouldn't.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That's right.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: They may have to reject parts of it. I think of people who were children of Nazi killers. They bear that name. And … But they have to create a new story with their lives, and reject a good deal of their past. But this is not about saying, okay, let's just play like we are not the ethnic group we are. So the question is, how do you become who you are? One of the important things … in doing research over for this book over the years,
I ended up reading things that New Testament scholars like us shouldn't be reading. [Laughter] I read a book on neuroscience and religious experience. And an unusual book in a lot of ways. And it's trying to talk about brain chemistry and that kind of thing. But the man makes a point that the purpose of every religion is to create an executive self. And what he means by that is here is this self that takes control and says to all these other selves, these other tensions we might want to talk about in our lives, okay here's how we're going to order things. And no, you don't get a right to speak, and yes, you do, and no, we're not going your way, we're going this way. And I think he's right, that the purpose of every religion is to create a strong executive self that makes good decisions in light of what God expects people to be. And it's really fun, when you start thinking about that. And you'll know the work of Ben Meyer, from a number of years ago. He's got a book in which he talks about the summoning self, that self that is out in front of us, calling us to be what we're supposed to be. We're not there yet, but it's calling us. And you go, "Yes. That's exactly what the New Testament is trying to do is to function as a summoning self and say, 'Here. Come on. This is what you're supposed to be.'" And so I find those things just powerful images to work with when talking about identity and what Scripture is doing.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Okay. So let's talk about the summoning self a little bit. I'm tempted to posit a starting place for this, but I'm gonna let you do it. What's the starting place for the summoning self?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Well, how old is the person we're talking about? [Laughter] Clearly, the summoning self is shaped by all kinds of things around us. Parents are going to be first in line, and they're going to be one of the strongest voices. And, as you know good and well, every kid, they get a little older, they start looking around and saying, "Is my parent giving me the right summoning self? but that's what they're doing. Schools are summoning selves. The church has to be. The church ought to be one of the loudest voices anybody hears, in terms of saying, "Here's the direction. You should go this way."
Dr. Darrell Bock: So these are influences that urge us in either positive or negative directions. Is that what we mean by the summoning self?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yes. And, in fact, when I was … I'd been talking about this with some church group, and my wife asked me, says, "What's Jesus have to do with the summoning self?" And it would be naive to think, well, Jesus becomes the summoning self. No, Jesus may be the model of the summoning self, but you still have the self in there that needs to make the decision to go where you're supposed to be going. And your summoning self is individual, it's very personal, and it won't be the same as someone else's summoning self. So there are a number of nuances there.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So it's a personal stew in some sense, in terms of the kinds of voices that are pulling a given person depends their networks, and their networks are all different.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Precisely. And if we're going to talk about what evangelism is, shouldn't it be trying to communicate to people who they're supposed to be? And I know the purpose of Scripture is … and that's got to be the loudest voice … has is this task of saying, "Here's what you should be." It calls us to that. And I just really revel in the imagery of this summoning self and the executive self. There are other kinds of self to talk about. I mention in the book the accountable self, the one that holds the rest of us accountable. Or, there's the basic drive self that we ought not listen to quite often. So there are a number of ways that we have to think about ourselves. We'd also to know that in this tangent in ourselves … and you just think about Romans 7 for a second, the very thing I want to do I don't do. That voice in there needs a good, strong, summoning self to say, "We're not going the way sin wants you to go. This way." And the next chapter, of course, is the Holy Spirit leading people, and fulfillment of God's law. It's good stuff.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, I'm getting an image in my head makes the person sound like they're this conference room in which there are all these voices coming at them, and they're having to make choices about the different voices that are coming at them.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I think every person experiences that, even if they will not turn on the light and realize they're in a conference room.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Interesting.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Think about the media. Think about what movies do. Think about what songs do. Think about what talk shows do. Think about what the community around us does, whether it's school or family or whatever, extended family. Think of the church. And we're there, in the middle of the thing, listening to all these voices, and paying attention to the ones we think we want to pay attention to, and may never hear the ones we should. And there are all kinds of things that seem attractive at the moment, but later are disaster. I want us to know that.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. So, there's almost this feeling of a person being in all these relational connections, hearing all these voices, exposed to all these things, if I can say it that way, but you've almost given them a personality as well, the things that we see and listen to, that kind of thing. And so, what I like about this way of thinking about things is how relational rooted it is, that we've been made in the image of God, with the capability of interacting and actually perceiving what's going on around us. We've been given a pretty good radio with pretty good antennae, and it's sorting out all those stations that are coming. I keep using pictures, but sorting out all those stations that are broadcasting to us.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I think the pictures are good, but one of the chapters in the book is You Are Your Relations. And I have nine factors in the book in which I talk about the factors that make up your identity. And one of them is your relations, and how you respond to what relations are communicating to you. In fact, people often point out, we are who other people say we are, and how we react to it. And for a Christian then to say, "Okay. I'm being told I'm this, but that message doesn't sound right." It may be a negative message, it may be an overly positive message. It may be a message that say you're a person who should do X, Y, and Z. And to be able to step back from that and say, "No, I need to evaluate what God's calling me to be." And so yes, you remind me of an old gospel song, You know it came out of '30s, I think you know, the last century, Turn Your Radio On.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: And it was, the whole thing was, that God's trying to communicate with you. And so turn the lights down low, and turn the radio on and listen. So, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock: We're examining here the background of identity, and who people say we are, and how they push and pull is in terms of who we are, but understanding who we actually are, as people, and what we're designed to be, obviously, is a core way of being able to respond to what's around us. Now we want to zero in on the second half and talk about that identity and what it should look like, and where it should be rooted. And so, I'm gonna start off, since we started off talking about things like nationality and ethnicity and that kind of thing, I'm gonna start of with probably a very famous passage, when it comes to identity. Maybe not the most famous, but one that certainly marks the group that we should associate with, and that's the idea of being citizens of heaven. Now, that, to some people, is a strange idea, because our feet are quite firmly attached to terra firma. And so, how do you explain a concept like that to someone, particularly if they're a very new Christian?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: I think the most important thing that we can talk about as Christians is attachment to Jesus Christ. In the Synoptics, that's the language you get. That’s the Jesus. You follow him, and so forth. When you get to Paul, and also in the Johannine material, the idea is much stronger. It's in terms of being in Christ. And when I was doing the commentary on Ephesians, you don't get out of the first two verses and you have to deal with the idea of being in Christ. And I thought to myself, "How in the world can you explain this to people in a way that makes sense?" And I landed on the expression, geography is identity. And that's true any way you look at it.
I haven't lived in East Tennessee since I was 17, really, for any length of time. But I am East Tennessean, period. I'm always going to be, because geography is identity. We meet people, we say, "Where are you from?" Because we have some innate sense, if we know where they're from, we know a little bit about them. Well, when you start looking at Christianity, geography is identity, and your true identity is in Jesus Christ. And the church needs to focus on that part of the message much stronger than it ever has. The book I'm trying to work on right now, is the gospel of participation, 'cause I think faith is about participating with Jesus, because you have your existence in him. And if you take that seriously, which Paul certainly did in everything he wrote, you … all of a sudden you say, "Well, wait a minute. My true ethnicity is in Jesus Christ. My citizenship is there. I have a higher calling than the one where I am located."
When I was about 20, I heard a man preach on the first two verses of Colossians. And I'll never forget it. I don't remember many sermons, but he just preached on the fact that these Christians were in Christ in Colossae. And he asked, "What does it mean to Christ that you are in Colossae? And what does it mean to Colossae that you are in Christ?" There's a real sense in which Christians have a double geography. We live in a place, and have a responsibility to it. But we have a higher geography in Christ. And that determines how we live in relation to the other. I think that's exactly what Paul's trying to get at when he talks about citizenship in heaven.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Interesting, 'cause some of the work that I'm doing right now in New Testament relates to what I call theology of spaces and places. It's a similar idea. And the point is … and it's kinda what we've done today in talking about this, that who I am in Christ is directly impacted by where God has me, and what he has me doing, and who I'm interacting with as a result, and the issues that are being thrown at me as a result, and the issues that are being thrown at me as a result. And when we do our seminary curricula, we study the object, the person of God, or the person of Christ, the person of the Spirit, who I am as a person, the nature of the church, that kind of thing. But we tend not to talk as much about the various spaces and places where God has us, where we have to live out that identity. And it seems to me that there's something missing in the way we talk about this. Another way I like to say it is, seminaries are good at taking people from the Bible to life, because that's a way we teach our seminary students to think. But most people, when they come to the Bible, come to the Bible, and they're going from life back to the Bible. They're thinking about where God has them, and asking, "What does the Bible have to say about where God has me at the moment?" And in my view, this theology of spaces and places is a way of thinking through that somewhat coherently, so that you walk into … you go out of Genesis 1 and 2, this world that God has given us to steward, and we steward it in places and spaces. And so, you talk about your home, your community, your work, the pluralism that you live in, the globalization and world religions that you're exposed to, et cetera, and how you approach all that is directly related to how you see yourself.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. One of the most striking texts for me on this is not so much about a place, but how Paul adapts to place. And it's the text in I Corinthians 9, where he talks about his freedom. And he says, "To the Jews I became as a Jew." He was Jew. And I think about it. It's like my saying, "To the Americans I became an American." Here he had this freedom to identify with people culturally in any direction. "To those without the law, I'm as without the law."
Dr. Darrell Bock: To a Greek he was like a Greek, and he wasn't a Greek.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: No. He had this adaptability because of the freedom he found in Christ, that gave him attachment to place. It's not like he doesn't care about it. People often talk about Christianity being pie in the sky. It's only so heavenly minded they're no earthly good. That's farthest thing from anything that relates to Christianity. So here's this man who is so deeply attached to the community he's sermoning, that he identifies with them as closely as he can, because of his attachment to Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. I like to say of that Colossians passage, you're so heavenly minded you are earthly good, because you live out your Christian identity, hopefully so, live out your Christian identity in the character that it forms, in the way in which God has shaped you by the Spirit, that you actually are … you have a useful stewardship of the creation he created us to live in. And we're properly connected to the life we're supposed to live.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah, yeah. And what makes more sense? Whether you are dealing with Romans 8 or Colossians or any number of other places where there is this broader theology of creation that undergirds the rest of the discussion.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And I think we underestimate the importance of the early chapters of Genesis for establishing who a person is, what they're created for, where they fit. Those passages, I think describe what humanity is supposed to be. That doesn't have a Christian religious layer over it that says, "Well, until you become this, you can't be that." No, this is what God designed you to be. This is who God made you to be. The idea of being made in the image of God, which gives people dignity, the assignment to subdue the earth, which is that responsibility of stewardship, you're talking about core ideas about why we're here and what we're supposed to be about.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. I have a chapter, You Are Your Actions. And in that I talk about … I think it's in that chapter … I talk about tending the garden, the imagery from Genesis 2, and what's it means for humans to tend a garden. Obviously it's metaphor. And trying to point out that we're not talking about church work. We're talking about life work.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Exactly. Yeah.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Of course you're dealing with the care of God's creation, you're dealing with the care of God's people, and living productively in ways that contribute rather than are just a drain.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And, of course, the extension in one of the realities of the Reformation was is that it was the priesthood of all believers, which leaves the picture of we're here to be ministers in the places and spaces of the creation where God has us. That's not limited by four church walls, or anything else. That's true of every believer, no matter where God has them.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. And why have we lost that so much?
Dr. Darrell Bock: You tell me. [Laughter]
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Sorry to turn into the interviewer. In all seriousness, all of our Protestant traditions, and I'm sure the Catholics understand it, as well, too, have this focus on the priesthood of the believer. There's a responsibility there. And it fits with one of the things I think is so striking about the early church. Everybody else in the ancient world had temples, priests, and sacrifices, and the early Christians didn't have any. They didn't have a temple, because they knew they were a temple, collectively and individually. They didn't need sacrifices, because the ultimate sacrifice had been made. And the only sacrifice they talk about was giving themselves, their bodies, in fact, Paul says in Romans 12. And they don't need priests because they are priests to each other, or supposed to be. And so you go back and you keep asking, "Well, what do we have to do to get the church to do justice to its own gospel?"
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. I think that one of the failures of our current style of engagement is we're spending so much time talking about how the world has it wrong, we've forgotten how the church needs to get it right, within its own community, in the way it displays its own relationships, et cetera, so that it becomes a reflection, a better reflection of what it is God is intending people to be, so that we not only end up having … talking a good game, but we actually show what it is that we're talking about.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: We should be leading the parade.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: About who God wants people to be. Demonstrating and showing it. And we're not very good at it.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So let me ask you this. Name for me … this is a bad question. I'll tell you it's a bad question before I ask it … and that is, name for me a handful of passages that you think are significant, as a believer thinks about their own identity. Which texts would you take us to, and what's the point coming out of them?
I told you it was a bad question.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: No, no, no. My problem is to only get a handful. [Laughter] You got, say, Philippians 3, and Paul has this litany of stuff he was, that he considers it crud, in order that he might …
Dr. Darrell Bock: Putting it nicely.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: The whole thing is an identity text. You go to …
Dr. Darrell Bock: So I consider all things nothing for the surpassing knowledge of knowing Christ.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Of course. All the way down through the end of the chapter.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Right.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: You get … One of my favorite texts is I Corinthians 15:8-10, which nobody pays much attention to, because the chapter's about the resurrection. And prior to this, Paul's been listing people who've seen the resurrected Lord. But he gets to verse 8 and he says, "Last of all is someone who is of an untimely birth. He appeared to me, also. I am not worthy to be an apostle." And then he goes on and says … and this is the part that blows me away … "But by the grace of God, I am what I am. And His grace was not useless to me, because I worked harder than all of them." And then he catches himself and he says, "Not I, but the grace of God working in me." And so here's this identity text where his life is just totally rearranged. And I think it's the most freeing statement anybody can make if they're doing it legitimately, to say, "By the grace of God I am what I am." And so here's this history that is really a negative history. But it doesn't determine who he is.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And in fact, I often find myself saying, when I'm teaching and preaching, that Christians never … should never forget where they came from, and why they are who they are. And if you do that, then it should lower any sense of insecurity.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yes. Because the grace gives you the added dignity.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Exactly.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Then, you know … Take Ephesians. I know I said Ephesians was for identity formation. It's got five times, explicitly, where the author says, "used to be this, but now you're this." And the one that, again, blows me away, is in 5:8. He says, "You once were darkness, but now you're light in the Lord." And if Ephesians is, as most people think, it's a circular letter, he's not writing even to a congregation he knows.
Dr. Darrell Bock: That's right. Yeah.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: But he's willing to say, "You're light in the Lord." And I'm going, "What, what? You don't even know them." No, you're light in the Lord. If you're in there, the lights are on. And it comes out in the way you live. Another identity text which is great, the prodigal son. Miroslav Volf, in his book includes and embraces, does a lot on identity on this parable. And you look at the boy, and he doesn't like his relations, he doesn't like his geography, he doesn't like his work. And he says, "Okay, give me my stuff and I'll go away." And he goes and gets himself in this mess. And the text says, "He came to himself." It is an identity thing. And the guy realized, all of a sudden, he's not who he's supposed to be. He says, "I'll go home, and I'll be a slave."
Dr. Darrell Bock: And he says, "Even the pigs are doing better then I am." Which is something …
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: What?
Dr. Darrell Bock: He says, "Even the pigs are doing better than I am," and that's something for a Jewish boy to say.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Well, yeah. He goes home and he says, "I'm not worthy of being a son. I'll be your slave." And the dad says, "No, you can't be a slave. You are a son."
Dr. Darrell Bock: That's right.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: And he does the same thing with the elder brother. And so text after text after text, it's identity. The text is trying to tell you who you're supposed to be, and to challenge you to face the question, and become who you're supposed to be.
Dr. Darrell Bock: So, if I'm secure in the Lord, which is what I'm hearing in these texts, "I have what I have by grace. It's not something that I earn. It's something that God … it's a status and the stature that God gives me. It's a dignity that I posses through Christ. That means I have the strength to respond to these different voices that we were talking about earlier, right?
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yes. And one of the voices that is now in the picture is the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Exactly.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: And so here, you're not alone in this discussion. And, of course, the church ought to be there reinforcing the conversation, as well. But the Scripture and the Spirit that are work, and all of a sudden, yeah, you gotta chance, and you have the necessity to live out this faith. And one of the things that became quite clear to me a long time ago is that if you'll focus on identity and understand what's going on, if you understand what the gospel of participation is about, the faith works discussion goes out the window, because you're going to work.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. You trust God, and faith works.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: You're going to work. The question is merely from which identity will you work? And, for me, it's just the faith works is a tired discussion. It doesn't see the depth of what faith is really about. And …
Dr. Darrell Bock: Seeing how identity functions, there's an illustration I used to use years ago. It goes back to my sister-in-law, who wasn't a believer at the time, but she took all here 100 percent polo shirts, not synthetic threads in them, handed them to my … She took the shirts that she had that did have synthetic thread in them, handed them to my wife, her sister, and said, "I only wear Ralph Lauren polo tee shirts, and you can have these." And she was saying, "I have a certain identity of myself and who I am and how I carry myself, and that determines the decisions I make about how I present myself." And my joke was, that was the most theological statement I ever heard in the 1990s. [Laughter] 'Cause that's exactly what's being talked about here. Your identity is so formed and shaped by what it is that you are in Christ, and by him, and by the fact that you represent him. The other picture of identity, of course, is you're an ambassador for Christ in participating in the ministry of reconciliation. And so, that directs how you respond, which means you can deal with push back. That's the whole second half of Jesus' ministry was preparing his disciples, "You know, if you follow my way, there are gonna be some people who aren't happy with the direction you're going. And they're gonna give you a hard time."
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah, yeah. And the proof is in the way the life is lived out. In fact, at one point in the book, I've got … here you go. The most important factor in your identity is what I call the internal, self interpreting, self directing memory. 'Cause you don't have an identity without memory. And so think about how important memory is in worship, and what worship is trying to do for memory. But with this internal memory, it's interpreting everything about us. This is true whether you're a Christian or not. Here's this self interpretation that's going on inside. And then it directs your life. Here's your sister-in-law saying, "I wear this kind of shirts, not that kind of shirt." But there's an external community that's telling us who we are. And the only way you can disprove the external community is by performance, by the way you live. And for me, the classic example was Susan Boyle.
You remember the Scottish singer? She won the British version of the music show, the dumpy little woman. And she was asked, "What do you want to be?" And she says, "I want to be a professional singer." And everybody rolls their eyes. And then she opens her voice. She sings, and blows them all away. And so here's, for me, the classic image of you can only disprove what other people are saying by the way you life, which is what Christians should be about all the time. Because they will. They will get the push back, both in how do you live with the push back, and how do you demonstrate what it means to be a person created in the image of God, who's geography is in Jesus Christ. How's it look?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. And so, you end up responding out of a place that seeks to represent God well, to reflect the character that He's asking you to have, and to live accordingly.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Yeah. And it's a good life. And it’s one of the things about the summon on the mount for me, people often talk about it being too hard. And I go, "No, no. What's hard is a life of sin. And wouldn't you want to life in a community like that described in the sermon on the mount, where people tell the truth and they don't even get angry? They don't violate other people sexually. They keep their contracts, and they don't even … the contract of marriage. And they don't seek revenge. That's the kind of community I think I'd like to live in.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Yeah. It's a community that's rooted in the identity of being a follower of Christ. Klyne, I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us and help us think through our identity and who we are, and listening to the voices that are inside of us, and listening to The Voice that is inside of us, and our identity in Christ. Thank you for being part of this.
Dr. Klyne Snodgrass: Delighted to be with you.
Dr. Darrell Bock: And we thank you for being a part of the table, and we hope you will join us again, soon.
About the Contributors
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from 2000–2001, served as a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.