When it comes to identity, our world offers a lot of options. You can find it in sexuality or popularity, in social media or in non-conformity. But do any of these things offer a real solution to our search to find ourselves? All the things our culture claims we can base our identity on are constantly shifting and in flux. Any attempt to build our life on them will leave us anxious, confused, and at the whim of cultural opinions. We are told to be ‘true to ourselves’, but only as long as ‘our self’ aligns with what society agrees with- our societies catch phrase of tolerance runs underneath its worldview:
To be happy, I must be free to choose where I live and what I do; free to love whoever I want and in whatever way I want; free from friends who drag me down or from family who place undue expectations on me. Essentially, I must be sovereign over all areas of my life - and to say otherwise is not just considered strange but, increasingly, immoral. (p.33)
Everyone around us wants to know who they are, so that they can be that person as hard as they can. Or they can create a new identity, based on who they wish they were, or who the world wants them to be. Studies show that most of us don’t truly know ourselves- in general, most people think they are happier, more intelligent, nicer, and more attractive than most of the general population (and that maths doesn’t add up). This obsession with identity turns people to look inwards to their own self, rather than looking outward to people, and doesn’t really offer lasting satisfaction. Did you know that you are more likely to die taking a selfie than being attacked by a shark? (Or maybe you’ll be attacked by a shark while taking a selfie?!) We live surrounded by people who prioritise self.
Ultimately, Matt Fuller would say, we do need to be true to ourselves. But we need to do this by truly understanding who we are- not based on shallow personality traits or hobbies, but based on who the God of the universe tells us we are. It is when we move away from what we were made to be, when we reject God and who he tells us we are, that we move into this anxious space of identity searching. Even our culture recognises and values selflessness and authenticity in its own way, but doesn’t value this enough to put it above the search for and obsession with self.
Matt Fuller is bold in asking questions about the culture around us, and some of the contradictions and confusions we face in trying to be ‘tolerant’. He also is willing to tackle head on a lot of issues such as sexuality and sex where Christian thought runs counter cultural to the world around us. He also examines places where the Christian worldview is being supported by secular research and thinking, to show areas where our world is coming back to agreement with us on some of these topics. Because of this, I would recommend this book to Christians, rather than as something you would give a non-Christian friend to read. For Christians, this book goes through the classic stages of identifying a need in our world, empathising with this need, deconstructing the problems with the way the world tries to solve this need, and offering the true solution in the gospel. This is a tried and true formula, and Matt Fuller applies it well to this problem of identity, recognising that this is one of the biggest needs in our world today. This book also has a strong focus on relationships, from friendship through to romantic, so if you have struggled to know how to relate to others in a counter cultural Christian way, this could give some good guidelines.
One of the things I found most refreshing about this book, was the way Matt Fuller was happy to recognise the limits of his own understanding. The book is honest in its opinions, and has no problem in recognising when the author has questions that remain unanswered from the culture around them. This does mean that if you’re struggling with these questions yourself, he can offer exploration but no answers.
This book sets up the problem: identity. How can we know who we are and express this.
Matt Fuller shows us the solutions this world offers are false and shallow.
So he offers the ultimate solution: knowing confidently who God made us to be, and living this out delighting in him.
Be True to Yourself: Why it doesn’t mean what you think it does (and how that can make you happy)
Matt Fuller (2020, The Good Book Company)
Koorong/The Good Book Company: $14.99