Identity Crisis in New Testament Studies

In NT studies, there has been, for some time, a lot of talk about “identity” – Paul’s “Identity.” “Identity formation.” “Social identity.” In a lot of these conversations, it is presumed that identity is important and the influence and formation of it is crucial for the NT writers. But what is identity? How is it understood cognitively, socially, emotionally, physically, spiritually? Often the methodological questions about “identity” are ignored. Well, in the last year or so we have seen some progress in this. I would like to point out a couple of them.

Joel Green has been doing work on identity and how texts shape identity. He has also done research in neuroscience to investigate how person identity is shaped cognitively. This comes out in his 1 Peter commentary in the “theological horizons” section, but I think it will be critical for his

Body, Soul, and Human Life (Baker, 2008).

Product Description
Are humans composed of a material body and an immaterial soul? This view is commonly held by Christians, yet it has been undermined by recent developments in neuroscience. Exploring what Scripture and theology teach about issues such as being in the divine image, the importance of community, sin, free will, salvation, and the afterlife, Joel Green argues that a dualistic view of the human person is inconsistent with both science and Scripture. This wide-ranging discussion is sure to provoke much thought and debate. Bestselling books have explored the relationship between body, mind, and soul. Now Joel Green provides us with a biblical perspective on these issues.

From the Back Cover
“Few biblical interpreters have delved as deeply into the science of the human brain as Joel Green. Here he draws upon that learning in conversation with Scripture to put forth a fresh picture of human existence, one that makes sense from both perspectives. He does not shy away from hard questions, especially those about life and death, body and soul.”–Patrick D. Miller, Princeton Theological Seminary

“If you think nothing new ever happens in theology or biblical studies, you need to read this book, an essay in ‘neuro-hermeneutics.’ Green shows not only that a physicalist (as opposed to a dualist) anthropology is consistent with biblical teaching but also that contemporary neuroscience sheds light on significant hermeneutical and theological questions.”–Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Joel Green serves as the vanguard of interdisciplinary research on this topic. No one combines the requisite background in theology, biblical studies, and the natural sciences as adeptly as Green, and with the critical thinking needed to move along the interstices of these disciplines. Indeed, he succeeds at closing the gaps between these disciplines. This ‘progress report’ is another timely and welcome contribution from Professor Green.”–Bill T. Arnold, Asbury Theological Seminary

“In this outstanding work, the author provides a scholarly and thoroughly biblical analysis of human personhood in dialogue with the neurosciences. This book is likely to provide the definitive overview of this topic for many years to come.”–Denis R. Alexander, director, The Faraday Institute, St. Edmund’s College

“Some are students of the Bible. Others are students of neuroscience. Joel Green is both and more. In Body, Soul, and Human Life, he helps us listen more attentively both to the Bible and to the unfolding music of the neurosciences. What you hear may surprise you. Far from telling different and irreconcilable stories about human nature, Joel Green helps us to see that these two sources–the Bible and the neurosciences–actually tell mutually enriching and complementary stories about what it means to be fully human and fully alive. I heartily recommend it!”–Kevin Corcoran, Calvin College

Another one that I just received for review is from a conference and it is entitled

Identity Formation in the New Testament

Ed. by Bengt Holmberg and Mikael Winninge

This conference volume focuses on showing that investigating various aspects of the Christian movement’s identity helps us to understand its historical reality. Whatever is known about identity from ancient times reaches us mostly through ancient texts. Thus many of the essays in this volume are devoted to analyzing New Testament texts and showing how they reveal the processes of identity formation. One type of evidence here is how New Testament texts compare with or treat older texts which are in the same normative tradition, in other words biblical and Jewish texts. Another group of essays deals with specific literary techniques used in the service of creating identity, such as personification, stereotyping or marginalizing others as well as looking at the relationship between different kinds of social identity. A third group of essays directs attention to the light that gender analysis casts on the shaping of Christian identity, pointing both to surprising similarities and differences from the surrounding culture. The final group of essays applies the insights of postcolonial theory and its sensitivity to power relationships and the political dimension of human reality.

I am very interested in seeing more scholars pay heed to such an important topic. Let me know if others find good resources on identity and how it is understood and shaped (especially cognitively/personally, though I am also interested in socially).

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