Identity - Lesson 1

Introduction: Culture and Identity

In this lesson, you delve into the topic of human identity, its fluidity and influences in today's society. With a keen focus on the perspectives of the Christian faith and Jewish experiences during the Holocaust, the lesson unravels a complex look at identity through the lens of cultural, ethnic, and spiritual aspects. You also gain understanding about the impact of globalization on identity and the questioning of traditional norms. The lesson emphasizes the Christian perspective that identity is restored and transformed through Jesus Christ back to God's primary design, likening humans to the 'Imago Dei', or the image and likeness of God. Additionally, you explore a historic and anthropological perspective on the origin and spread of humanity according to the 'Table of Nations' in Genesis. You learn about the distinction between aetiological and figural identities in the Old Testament, and their implications on the understanding of identity. By the end of this lesson, you are well-versed in the idea that our identities are not just who we are, but also a reflection of our collective histories, cultures, and faiths.

Lesson 1
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Introduction: Culture and Identity

I. Contemporary Discussion on Identity

A. Fluidity of Identity in the Current Culture

B. Impact of Globalization and Controversies on Identity

C. Identity as a Research Discipline since the 1960s

D. Influence of the Holocaust on Identity Discussion

II. Christian Perspective on Identity

A. Connection of Identity with Jesus Christ

B. The Concept of the Imago Dei

C. Impact of Secular Hostility on Christian Identity

III. Examination of Old Testament Figures and Identity

A. Difference between Aetiological and Historical Figures

B. Role of Adam, Eve, and Noah as Aetiological Figures

C. Abraham, Moses, and David as Historical Figures

IV. Genesis and Identity

A. The Table of Nations in Genesis 10

B. Tracing the Origin and Spread of World Population

C. Contribution of Shem, Ham, and Japheth to Humanity

  • You gain insight into the complex interplay of cultural, ethnic, and spiritual aspects of identity, understanding it through the lens of Christian faith and anthropological history, and realize that identity is both individual and a reflection of collective human history.
  • This lesson offers an intricate examination of the contributions of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, unfolding their spiritual, technological, and intellectual offerings that have been foundational in shaping humanity. The distinctive richness of the Old Testament is explored, showcasing its uniqueness in antiquity and breadth of content. You encounter the ongoing experience of God's presence in the lives of the Israelites, challenging traditional divine principles and introducing the notion of divine pathos. Finally, the importance of family narratives is discussed, illuminating how these stories have formed Israel's unique identity and relationship with God.
  • Unpacking the role of narrative, you realize its pivotal function in shaping Israel's national identity, how it offers a divine interpretation of history, and uncovers God's providential acts. You understand the power of narratives in providing life meaning, as argued by modern philosophers. Finally, you delve into Abraham's life, witnessing a realistic portrayal of faith and its struggles, observing God's unyielding faithfulness despite human failings.
  • Embark on a journey with Ruth, a Moabitess who emerges as a true Israelite through her unwavering faith, unprecedented loyalty to Naomi, and selflessness. Through her radical choices, she illuminates the power of loyalty and love over logic and societal norms. Her legacy, threaded into the lineage of David, positions her as an archetype of the Virgin Mary, offering profound insights for reflection.
  • As you learn of the life of the prophet Jeremiah, you will gain an understanding of his prophetic identity shaped by his background, personal sufferings, and intimate relationship with God. You'll explore his significant literary contributions, his call for repentance, and how his prophecies were fulfilled. Finally, the lesson offers insights into broader theological concepts and encourages reflection on narrative, identity, and biblical interpretation.
  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels, exploring the themes of human tunnel vision, the patience of God, the image and likeness of God, and the unique portrayals of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, emphasizing the fulfillment of the law and the mission of Jesus to bring salvation and a new reality to humanity.
  • In studying this lesson, you will gain comprehensive insights into the unique portraits of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, including his challenging of the Classical world, sociological legitimization of Christian identity, and emphasis on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, while also exploring the distinctiveness of John's Gospel and the importance of personal mystical experiences in understanding and experiencing intimacy with Jesus Christ.
  • The lesson explores the personal and communal identities within the Christian faith, emphasizing adaptation to different cultural contexts. It delves into Paul's teachings on being "in Christ," justification, sanctification, and the believer's relationship with Christ. The lesson examines the challenges and contexts faced by specific churches, highlighting the significance of peace in Paul's teachings.
  • In this lesson, you'll understand how Christianity's identity formed in 2nd-century AD, tracing its origins to diverse demographics like slaves, Jews, and Greek merchants, and how these groups influenced Christianity's spread and resilience.
  • Gain insights into Augustine, a key figure in the Church, and his Christian journey in Christendom. Explore his prayer life, the beginning of Christendom, tensions between identity and Christendom, intellectual brilliance, postmodern influence, controversies, classical education, and lasting legacy.
  • Gain insights into the identity of Christian women as virgins in Late Antiquity. Explore their roles, martyrdom, and the spread of Christianity through captivity and persecution. Understand their endurance and recognition, even under Muslim rulers. Discover the historical context of this fascinating period.
  • Gain knowledge of influential women in early Christianity, their impact on theologians, and the development of the Virgin Mary cult. Explore the need for a new attitude towards women in the Church and the call for a new feminism. Reflect on personal growth and living fully in Christ.
  • Uncover the life and influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, the last great interpreter of the Early Fathers, who transformed monasticism, made significant contributions to spirituality, music, and art, and reflected on the humility of Jesus and the symbolism of the apple tree.
  • Uncover profound insights into Teresa of Avila's spiritual formation and Christian identity. Explore Morranos movement, her revolt against conventions, and transformative readings. Gain a comprehensive understanding of her life and lasting impact for personal growth.
  • Gain in-depth knowledge and insights into John Calvin's life and contributions through this extensive document. Explore Calvin's education, conversion, literary works, personal relationships, and political role in Geneva. Understand Calvin's significance in the Church and his impact on the Protestant Reformation. Delve into the details of his life to comprehensively understand his influence and legacy.
  • Gain deep insights into Dietrich Bonhoeffer's complex identity expressed through prayer. Explore his background, education, and encounter with Karl Barth. Examine resistance against Nazism and identity in a secular culture. Learn from Levinas and Ricoeur. Discover the significance of living by faith.

In this series of lessons, you embark on a captivating journey through the intricacies of human identity in the context of various historical and theological perspectives. Each lesson offers a unique lens through which you'll explore identity's fluid nature, its profound connection to faith, and its impact on society. From examining the narratives that define Israel's national identity to unraveling the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels, you'll delve deep into the intersections of culture, spirituality, and personal beliefs. These lessons also shed light on influential figures like Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Calvin, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose lives and teachings have left a lasting imprint on Christian identity.

Dr. James Houston
Introduction: Culture and Identity
Lesson Transcript


In this unprecedented culture that we live in today of fluidity, our identity has also become fluid. And this is clear in all the controversies about sexuality, gender and, with globalisation, ethnic identities as well. And it’s in this context that I wanted to prepare a series of lectures last year that would be a preliminary to a jubilee volume for the celebration of Regent College, which in 2018 will have celebrated 50 years. We collected together distinguished alumni and other distinguished scholars, so a book is being published with 41 essays that will celebratory of our event. But it’s also very appropriate for the times that we live in because the whole subject of what is our identity has become a great industry in the humanities in the contemporary world.

This started in the 1960s and today in the humanities identity has become a huge central issue of discipline research. But for us, the other source of identity that is far more troubling was what happened in the Holocaust, when, for the first time, it was questioned why the Jews should be allowed to have an identity. We think of the Holocaust as the darkest stain in perhaps human history, certainly Western history. And it was in a poignant essay that the noted Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel asked desperately what does it mean to be a Jew. What is it? He notes there’s a high cost of living in this way. He has to be exalted to live normal in a world that is neither propitious nor sympathetic to his survival. His Jewish identity—is it worth the cost?

We as Christians can risk the same thing, but we do not do so so hopelessly, for Jesus Christ has come as our Messiah and Saviour of the world to utterly transform our identity back to God’s primary design before He created the cosmos, to become transformed into the Imago Dei, the image and likeness of God, as true humanity, the noblest blessing a human being can ever have. Today then, what is at stake? It’s not the fate of Christians in this generation of such secular hostility. It is the future of remaining human with the threat of merely becoming hominids. Never has there been such an upheaval as the deliberate attempt to remove the whole history and culture of Western civilisation as if it had never existed. As Herschel concludes, we are ‘God’s stake in human history’. We are the dawn and the dusk, the challenge and the test. God purposed this before even the creation of the cosmos. No wonder then, the Christian identity, grounded upon the incarnation of Jesus Christ, exceeds all our comprehension of what it is to have an identity in the purpose of God’s creation.


As we reflect on this, I want to begin by distinguishing in the Old Testament, and that’s what we’ll focus on in this first address, the aetiological and figural identities of the Old Testament—they’re distinguished. Adam and Eve, Noah and his sons, are these stories aetiological? By this word from the Greek aitia, or cause, we mean what is causal, not what is historical stories. We’re claiming that Adam and Eve, and Noah are non-historical; whereas, Abraham, Moses, David, are historical figures. For the essential focus and burden of Biblical scripture is the redemption of man, of all the ethnic races of humanity, so it conveys this through many literary genres. Perhaps 60% of the Bible is historical narrative and the poetry is another perhaps 10%. We also have wisdom literature and among the other smaller sources of genre that we have is this new concept that I’m introducing to many of you of the aetiological.

The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 is the oldest document to record how the present world population originated and spread after the flood in three distinct families of Shem, the Semitic; Ham, or the black race; and the Japhethite or the Indo-European. According to the scientific evidence, the Hamitic are the originators of all humanity which evolved in the Cradle of Africa, in the Rift Valley of the Great Lakes—perhaps 60 million years ago was the evolution of homosapiens. Shem, or the Shemites, evolved in the Middle East, and the Japhethites evolved in Asia. The Japhethites then spread throughout the rest of the world, moving into Southeast Asia, northwards through Siberia, across the channel of the Aleutian Islands to North America, as well as spreading all the way down through Southeast Asia into Australia. They have the most significant spread in the history of humanity.


The table of Nations in Genesis 10 is a historic table in the sense that it indicates how the present populations of the world have been derived from Shem, Ham and Japheth. This threefold division is more than merely, however, a genetic variation of certain racial types. It appears each was divinely appointed to fulfil a characteristic capacity, which has been reflected in the unique contribution that each branch has rendered in the service of mankind as a whole.