What Is The Basis For Security And Identity In 2020?

Dec 12th, 2020 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

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In a recent article in The Atlantic, columnist David Brooks commented on the necessity of personal security for human flourishing to occur.  Correctly, he observes the multi-faceted nature of “security.”  It involves financial, emotional, social and personal identity categories, each of which demonstrates how complicated human beings are when it comes to what produces security in their lives.  Here are his observations: “Human beings need a basic sense of security in order to thrive; as the political scientist Ronald F. Inglehart puts it, their ‘values and behavior are shaped by the degree to which survival is secure.’ In the age of disappointment, our sense of safety went away. Some of this is physical insecurity: school shootings, terrorist attacks, police brutality, and overprotective parenting at home that leaves young people incapable of handling real-world stress. But the true insecurity is financial, social, and emotional.”

  • “First, financial insecurity: By the time the Baby Boomers hit a median age of 35, their generation owned 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. As of last year, Millennials—who will hit an average age of 35 in three years—owned just 3.2 percent of the nation’s wealth.”
  • “Next, emotional insecurity: Americans today experience more instability than at any period in recent memory—fewer children growing up in married two-parent householdsmore single-parent householdsmore depression, and higher suicide rates.”
  • “Then, identity insecurity. People today live in what the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called liquid modernity. All the traits that were once assigned to you by your community, you must now determine on your own: your identity, your morality, your gender, your vocation, your purpose, and the place of your belonging. Self-creation becomes a major anxiety-inducing act of young adulthood.”
  • “Finally, social insecurity. In the age of social media our ‘sociometers’—the antennae we use to measure how other people are seeing us—are up and on high alert all the time. Am I liked? Am I affirmed? Why do I feel invisible? We see ourselves in how we think others see us. Their snarkiness turns into my self-doubt, their criticism into my shame, their obliviousness into my humiliation. Danger is ever present. ‘For many people, it is impossible to think without simultaneously thinking about what other people would think about what you’re thinking,’ the educator Fredrik deBoer has written. This is exhausting and deeply unsatisfying. As long as your self-conception is tied up in your perception of other people’s conception of you, you will never be free to occupy a personality with confidence; you’re always at the mercy of the next person’s dim opinion of you and your whole deal.”
  • “In this world, nothing seems safe; everything feels like chaos.”

In his wide-ranging essay, Brooks also explored the decline of social trust in America, which he defines as “the moral quality of a society—of whether the people and institutions in it are trustworthy, whether they keep their promises and work for the common good.” The sharp, deep divisions in America are on prominent display throughout American culture.  One answer to what Brooks calls America’s “moral convulsion” is a recommitment to reform and renewal of American social institutions. “Social trust,” observes Brooks, “is built within the nitty-gritty work of organizational life: going to meetings, driving people places, planning events, sitting with the ailing, rejoicing with the joyous, showing up for the unfortunate.” It is built, fro example, through volunteering at polling places and schools, houses of worship, and charities.  “Social trust, in other words, exists within the social and institutional context of solidarity and love, which are expressed in the Paul’s mandate in Romans 12:15, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’”


Two thoughts about building social institutions and social trust, as well about security and a feeling of safety in this chaotic, disruptive world:


  1. Jordan J. Ballor, senior research fellow at the Acton Institute, offers the Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) as someone who reinvested and reinvented social institutions and social trust, to which Brooks refers above:  “Kuyper faced a society with many differences from our own but many similar dynamics as well. Social, economic, and political upheaval and uncertainty marked a Dutch society increasingly divided along ideological and theological lines.  The central insight of Kuyper’s comprehensive program was the priority of the gospel over fallen humanity’s pervasive unbelief in God. The hubris of sinners necessarily leads to idolatry, which takes the modern form of an unbelieving and atheistic revolt against God’s created order. The French Revolution was for Kuyper the most recent and stark example of this pervasive corruption, and in the 20th century, we have seen manifold expressions of this path that leads to death, including violent revolutions, world wars, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and most recently the political and social challenges of a global pandemic.  The gospel concerns all of God’s originally good and now fallen creation. For Kuyper, this perspective provides a powerful impetus to follow Christ faithfully and fully, both in terms of one’s own individual life as well as corporately as the body of Christ throughout all of society.  This is one of the central scriptural insights animating Kuyper’s socio-theological vision. Grace—whether preserving (common) or saving (special)—reaches all of life. The idea that our salvation has significance not only for the life to come but also for our lives now is what has attracted so many Christians to the Kuyperian worldview, and it should continue to inspire us today.  Against the comprehensive corruption introduced by the fall into sin, God has acted to maintain the world and save a people for himself. That people, in turn, is called to live redemptively and sacrificially for God’s glory in his world.  This means that the church is tasked with living for the world and not merely seeking to survive in it. It means that Christians proclaim the gospel corporately in worship on Sundays and live out that gospel in their daily lives. The gospel likewise leads us to what Kuyper called an “architectonic critique,” which is a technical way of referring to a world- and life view that brings the radical corrections of special revelation to all aspects of the created order, especially the social order.”  For Kuyper, “Social trust can only be restored and regained in the crucible of social life. This requires building and maintaining Christian institutions of all kinds. But it also requires moving outside the walls of those institutions and engaging, challenging, and even serving our neighbors—Christians or not.  Kuyper spent a lifetime building Christian institutions—a denomination, a university, newspapers, a political party.”
  2. In a 2017 essay, David Brooks also observed, “We’re living in an age of great moral pressure, even if we lack the words to articulate it . . . Technology gives us power and power entails responsibility and responsibility . . . . leads to guilt.”  Because we live in a thoroughly secularized culture, “people still have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness.  There is sin but no formula for redemption.  The only reliable way to feel morally justified in that culture is to assume the role of victim . . . Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt.  But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution.  Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either as individuals or groups.”  This sense of sin and guilt Brooks has observed affects the human search of security and safety.  The solution to sin and guilt and the quest for security and safety can only be found in Jesus Christ.


There are two aspects of our new identity in Christ:  (1) As humans, we are created in the image of God, which establishes our infinite worth and value. It is the baseline for the value of humanity at every stage in development. This weighty truth establishes one aspect of our identity: We both resemble God (in His communicable attributes—intellect, emotion and will), and we represent Him as dominion stewards of His world.  (2) The Bible also makes clear that when we place our faith in Christ’s finished work on Calvary’s cross and His subsequent resurrection, we are a “new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Our new identity is that we are “in Christ,” a powerful and profound phrase used 242 times in the New Testament. The power of sin and the power of death have been broken (see Romans 6). When we place our faith in Christ, we are declared righteous by Almighty God (justification): Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to our account. Further, we are adopted into God’s family, with all the rights and privileges of being a joint heir with Christ (see Galatians 4 and Romans 8). God is now our heavenly Father and we are His children. We await the wondrous family gathering of all the brothers and sisters of God’s family in His coming kingdom. Finally, we are being transformed into the image of Christ (Galatians 4:19, Romans 8:29). We now belong to Jesus, who bought us with the price of His shed blood and we are indwelt by His Spirit (1 Corinthian 6:19). Galatians 2:20 perhaps best summarizes our new identity in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The struggles, tensions and confusion about personal identity in this world are resolved in Jesus Christ. To be “in Christ” is the vital center of a new identity offered by God. As with all things in this broken world, the Gospel is the answer.  Who am I in Christ?  I am accepted; I am secure; and I am significant.  My identity comes from what God says about who I am and by what God has done for me through Jesus.  Faith in these grand truths should determine my behavior for I am a new creature in Christ.

See David Brooks, “America is Having a Moral Convulsion” in The Atlantic (5 October 2020); Jordan J. Ballor, “What Kuyper Can Teach Us 100 Years Later” in www.christianitytoday.com (5 November 2020); and David Brooks in the New York Times (31 March 2017);

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