Whenever I see the name of James Fowler in print, I perk up. He was a major part of my research for my last degree in 1997. That is 15 years ago already and Fowler’s theory first came on the scene in the 1980’s but it often takes some time for significant research to make it into the mainstream. Today I received an alumni mailing from Tyndale University College and Seminary [Ontario Theological Seminary when I was a student] and I quickly scanned the pages but stopped when I saw James Fowler’s name mentioned in the president’s address. I don’t remember which book or article it is from, but this is a good quote.
“When the spine of identity is well established, I can dialogue with anyone. When the spine of identity is weak, everything is a threat.”
There are many evangelical Christians today who feel threatened by many things: pluralism, postmodernism, secularism, liberalism, universalism… the list of “isms” goes on. Yet if we are secure in our identity in Christ, we are free to dialogue and learn from with those who have different ideas or perspectives. We do not have to feel threatened and defensive or feel that we have to have all the answers.
The president, Gary Nelson, goes on to use the book of Colossians as an example of this identity. Colossians 1:15-20 is one of my favorite biblical texts because it encapsulates in eloquent language the good news of Jesus Christ. This is my identity. And then after a few chapters of explaining this identity Paul unpacks the kind of life that results from this identity: “bearing with, forgiving, serving, and loving.” This is the strong character of one who can dialogue with diverse ideas. I pray that I might be such a person.