Foundations 6: Self-awareness and Experience (172)

Module 6 of “First Steps” addresses the development of self-awareness in order to become “full selves” and thereby, for non-Christians to better evaluate the value of Christianity and for Christians to reach maturity in their faith.  Yet the notion of “self-awareness” immediately poses several challenges.  First, the term is often used without sufficient definition, making it confusing or vague.  I will offer definition for the term, upcoming.

Second, when seen from within the current evangelical dysfunction, “self-awareness” seems optional at best.  In other words, self-awareness is often seen as unimportant by evangelicals because they are taught that the primary (and perhaps only real) task is developing what might be called “God awareness.”  God awareness—which means understanding who and what God is (in order to know how best to be obedient to God and promote God’s sovereignty)—is achieved through cultivating such things as biblical literacy and reliance on the Holy Spirit.  Yet the dysfunctional nature of most evangelicalism means that privileging “God-awareness” (again, by prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit as means of developing obedience and promoting divine sovereignty) means that Christians can actually come to view self-awareness as being detrimental.

This is because dysfunctional evangelical contexts typically present humans as servants whose role it to offer obedient service and present God as a divine sovereign whose role is to govern, or exert control over, the events and situations of human life.  So what is the link between the obedient servant / governing sovereign and cultivating “God-awareness” through prioritizing the Bible and the Holy Spirit?

Next, if “self-awareness” often suffers from a lack of sufficient definition, what do I mean by “self-awareness”?

Insofar as self-awareness involves understanding and duly embracing what and who we are, then a large part of the “what” of being human is valuing—and so learning how to evaluate and validate—our human faculties and senses in the context of living our lives.  By “faculties” I am referring to such capacities as imagination, intellect, the will, memory, emotional responses and so on.  By “senses” I am referring to such capacities as sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Now within typical, evangelical culture only two faculties are valued.  First, our intellect (because the intellect is necessary for such things as understanding Christian teaching and doctrine and for engaging apologetically to persuade others of the validity of Christian belief).  Second, our will (because our will is seen as something that we “give over” to God in order become obedient to the teachings and commandments of the Christian Scriptures, and so live the Christian life properly).

Further, in many evangelical contexts most emotions are viewed with suspicion (or are outrightly viewed as negative), although not always (particularly so in more charismatic settings, where certain emotional engagement or responses are seen positively).  Yet typically this is the limit.  More problematically still, the imagination is typically viewed at best as being unnecessary, if not misleading and deceptive.

Another component of self-awareness is the key notion of identity.  Again, when viewed from within an evangelical Christian context, the notion of identity is almost always presented as one’s “identity in Christ.”  In other words, within evangelical contexts it is as though personal identity is neither necessary nor valuable given the need to maximize God and to develop “God-awareness.”

Yet when “identity in Christ” eclipses or undermines personal identity then this “Christian” notion has become dysfunctional.  For while elements of character and morality may well be in conflict with the character and morality that Christians are urged to adopt (such as a “Christ-like” character and a “Christian” morality, although neither term has an obvious meaning and both terms require definition), having an accurate sense of one’s personality and identity are actually key to becoming a mature Christian (and not detractors from such).

In other words, within a dysfunctional evangelicalism the notion of “identity in Christ” is yet another way to diminish and minimize oneself—the Christian as a person—and thereby substitute that unique, believing person for a generic object: “the believer.”

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