Each of our gospels clearly portrays a picture of Jesus’ character, values, beliefs and practices that is suited to the contextual needs of the gospel community. Our own Christian communities have also actively been part of the formation of the identities of their people, based on a picture of Christ. The sociologist Manuel Castells speaks of how we all have a part to play in the construction of the identifying attributes and values of our own communities:
It is easy to agree on the fact that, from a sociological perspective, all identities are constructed. The real issue is how, from what, by whom, and for what. The construction of identities uses building materials from history, from geography, from biology, from productive and reproductive institutions, from collective memory and from personal fantasies, from power apparatuses and religious revelations. But individuals, social groups, and societies process all these materials, and rearrange their meaning, according to social determinations and cultural projects that are rooted in their social structure, and in their space/time framework.
I propose that our Christian communities need to continue in a process of constructing their communal identities by becoming aware of the picture/s of God upon which they base the behaviours and beliefs of their people. This will call for critical self-awareness of leaders who intentionally engage in identifying the picture/s of Christ that construct the identities of their communities. There will also need to be a willingness for people outside of these communities to help them identify the picture of God which drives behaviour. Obviously, our own special cultural contexts are founded on our local contexts, and on the joys and challenges our people face within them. These experiences will also inform the needs that our communities seek to be fulfilled, with reference to their particular picture/s of God.
People tell themselves stories based on what helps them to frame their identities. The communities to which we belong offer believers meaning in the context of their real-life situations. Becoming aware of the needs that drive us to seek a particular picture of Christ will develop our awareness of the picture of Christ upon which our communities are founded. As self-awareness increases, it will help us to engage in a self-critical process of growth, where we seek to journey with the living Jesus of the Spirit as we continue to construct our identities.
by Dr Andy Hardy
Andy Hardy is the Undergraduate Programme Director for the BA Hons in Theology and Mission. He has also authored and co-authored three books recently, Pictures of God: Shaping Missional Church Life, Forming Multicultural Partnerships: Church Planting in a Divided Society, Power and the Powers: The Use and Abuse of Power in the Missional Context.