Friday, February 1, 2013

Christian Personhood... What's the Big Deal?

The definition of personhood is an extremely heated debate within the Western culture and especially within the United States. Ranging from issues of abortion to animals, the definition of personhood has great implications on how humans live their lives. In preparing for this blog post I came across a sermon by John Piper titled, "Christian Identity and Christian Destiny". This sermon really challenged me on what it means to have your identity in Christ and how it relates to defining personhood.

To begin we ask, "What is personhood?"

The argument for personhood within the political and scientific world always relies on a legal ruling or material aspect to determine who or what is given personhood. But relying on legal and material aspects to define personhood is very dangerous because of the subjective reasoning used in determining what is a person. For example, slaves in the United States were considered property and not humans simply because of their skin color. It was not until the enacting of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments that African Americans were legally given the definition of personhood and given the right to be citizens of the United States of America. More examples of the problem with relying on only legal and material definitions of personhood include the Holocaust in Europe and forced sterilization within the United States. In both cases, a certain group of people decided that another group of people were not worthy enough to have personhood. This resulted in the deaths of approximately 6 million Jews and in Virginia  alone almost 8,000 people were forced to be sterilized.

As Christians, we agree that the definition of personhood does include a material and legal aspect but we also believe in an immaterial aspect of personhood. This immaterial aspect is called the soul or spirit. and comes with the belief that an immaterial being, God, gives purpose and life to all of creation. The secular and scientific world does not care about the immaterial aspet of person because science is the study of the natural world. Leaving out the immaterial aspect of what it means to be human is a grave mistake and I believe that history proves my point through the results of slavery, the holocaust, and forced sterilization.

So how does this apply to Christian counseling?

Earlier in this post I asked, "What defines personhood?" I think a better question to ask is, "Who defines your personhood?"

Do you rely on scientists to define your personhood because you have a brain, heart, and mind that functions? Do you rely on a group of people calling themselves the government to declare with their power that you have personhood? The problem with relying on humans to define personhood is that people are sinful and broken. Their power, reasoning, and ability to give you personhood and meaning is limited. Just ask the victims of the Holocaust and slavery. People defined personhood can be taken away but God defined personhood is everlasting.

As Christians we must realize that our personhood, meaning, and identity as humans is ultimately from God. God created us in His image for His purpose and for His glory. When we are working with clients that are feeling oppressed and worthless we must remind them that nothing can separate them from who they are in God. The government might take away their personhood and enslave them but it cannot take away their identity in Christ. Parents may oppress their children and make them feeling worthless but those children are loved by an Almighty God who wants to give meaning and purpose to their lives. Everyone as some point experiences pain from another person that makes them feel less human and not important. It is in these moments that Christians can rely on their identity in Christ but non-believers can only look to subjective definitions of personhood.

How does this apply to me?

The point I want to make is that as Christian counselors we must show clients that establishing an strong identity in God is the only way to establish true meaning in life and the only way to establish a lasting definition of personhood. As Christians our identity in Christ cannot be separated from our personhood. Because of this I must look into my own life and investigate how I define my personhood and my life's meaning. I am sure there are things in my life which try to give my life meaning and purpose which do not honor God. I must trust and believe God's definition of what gives my life meaning and how He defines my personhood.


  1. Great blog Rusty!! Loved the references to Piper (one of my favorite guys). I am very thankful that my true identity is found in God - TRUTH!!!

  2. Rusty,

    I really like how you brought in history, and the tendency that mankind has to distort the definition of personhood. It is so true that if we depend on man's definitions, our perceptions with always be stained with sin.

    I also like how you brought identity to the table. I was a little confused on if you were saying that identity and personhood are synonomous. Identity in Christ is central to a counselee's definition of who he is, but does it actually define what makes us people? If someone doesn't identify himself with Christ, is he essentially not a person?

    You did a great job Rusty! A very thought provoking post.

  3. Rust,
    Amazing blog! I struggled with the question "who defines Personhood" We as Christians know that God defines it for the world, but how do you explain it to an atheist or someone who simply does not care. I also enjoyed how you brought in history. African-Americans and Jews were considered a sub level person. They were considered as a true person, and now America is doing that to their unborn children. When will this stop?! Unfortunately never because we live in a fallen world that is extremely far from perfect. If we look throughout our history we have defined personhood through society, which is wrong!! We need to define it through what God tells us through His infallible word!

    Thank you Rusty! Great Job!

  4. Great blog Rusty!
    As Christian counselors it is so imperative that we not only help others embrace their identity in Christ, but that we embrace our own identity in Christ. If we, as Christian counselors, are to help counselees endeavor to become one with their identity in Christ, we must also be struggling to become one with our identity in Christ. Any other means to define our identity will ultimately lead to emptiness.
    Thank you for sharing Rusty!


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