The hallmark of late modern Western culture is that it has forgotten itself. It is largely post-Christian and has not retained God in its knowledge. Failure to see God as He is means that man fails to see himself as he is. There is light all around, but often he fails to see it. Indeed, he doesn’t want to see it, for to see would mean giving the Creator His due. And this, he is largely unwilling to do.
The cultural consequences of this can hardly be overstated. We are now in a situation in which we don’t know ourselves. We don’t know ourselves as we ought because we don’t know God as we ought. For this reason, many Westerners believe that human identity and meaning are self-determined, not God-determined. This idea is not anything new, but it is the ideological air that we breathe. It is so prevalent in our culture that we hardly notice that it is there forming us and shaping our understanding of ourselves and of what it means to be a human being.
Sociologists have given a name to this mindset. It is called expressive individualism. In his book The Fractured Republic, Yuval Levin describes what expressive individualism looks like in the modern world. He writes:
The ethic of our age has been aptly called expressive individualism. That term suggests not only a desire to pursue one’s own path but also a yearning for fulfillment through the definition and articulation of one’s own identity. It is a drive both to be more like whatever you already are and also to live in society by fully asserting who you are. The capacity of individuals to define the terms of their own existence by defining their personal identities is increasingly equated with liberty and with the meaning of some of our basic rights, and it is given pride of place in our self-understanding.¹
The philosophy of expressive individualism was given unique expression in Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion for the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Justice Kennedy put it this way:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
At the heart of this philosophy is the notion that the purpose of life is to discover one’s deepest self, to express that to the world, and then to forge that identity in ways that may contradict what family, friends, tradition, or religious authorities might say.² Your identity—indeed even the meaning of life itself—is determined and expressed by you, the individual. It is not something given to you by God or any other external authority. The individual is the captain of his own soul.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more apt description of our age. And yet—even though this way of construing life is over a century old—it is a Johnny-come-lately in the history of the Christian West. One of the ideas that Western Civilization inherited from Christianity is the notion that our identity—and indeed the meaning of life itself—is not something that is self-determined but God-determined.
One of Christianity’s greatest gifts to the world is the revelation that human identity is God-determined, not self-determined. On this view, if you believe that there is a God who created everything including us, then His design in creation gives meaning and purpose to our lives. To ignore that design is to pursue a path that in the long run brings pain and disorder into our lives.
Consider, for example, the design of a hammer. A hammer is designed to drive nails. You can use a hammer for all kinds of things that it wasn’t designed for. You can use it, for example, to get into your car when the door is locked. That’s not what it was designed for, but you could use if to pry open your car door or break a window if you wanted. It would be far better for you and your car not to use it that way but to use your keys or your key-fob instead. If a person is blocking your view of the television, you could use a hammer to get them to move out of the way. But that is not what the hammer is designed for, and if you use it that way you might be able to see the television but will have brought pain and harm into someone’s life in the process.
Christians believe that God’s design in creation is like that. His design is not there to hurt us but to guide us into the best of human flourishing and wholeness. We can ignore his design in order to individually express our own will and design. And that may achieve some short-term satisfaction or goal. But when our will and design contradict God’s will and design, the long-term effect eventually undermines human happiness and flourishing. It is like taking a hammer to our lives, and we won’t like where that ends up.
The psalmist puts it this way: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3, NASB). If God is the one who made us, then our deepest need is not to assert our own will and design but to discover what His will and design are for our lives.
And that is the reason why the journal Eikon exists. The aim of our inquiry in these pages is fundamentally anthropological. It is our aim in this journal to understand and to explicate God’s design of human beings. We understand above all that God has created every human being in His own image, which is the namesake of our journal Eikon, the Greek term for “image.” In particular, this journal is concerned with setting forth what the Bible and nature teach us about sex and gender.
It is our hope and prayer that this work will illuminate what has become so obscure in our day—that God has created each of us in His very own image and as male and female. These truths define us and have implications for every facet of our lives. May they find resonance in the hearts and minds of every reader of Eikon.
¹Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (New York: Basic, 2016), 148.
²Trevin Wax, “Expressive Individualism: What Is It?,” The Gospel Coalition, October 16, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/expressive-individualism-what-is-it/.
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