The very first ngram I did in this series was on the word “identity.” Today I dive into that subject a little more, and I’ll tie in a theme from Evangelicalism. You see, in Evangelical circles a great deal of emphasis is placed on our “identity in Christ,” as something central to the Gospel message.
How central was that concept, say, 50 years ago?
As always, if you aren’t familiar with Google’s ngram viewer tool, take a read through the first post I wrote in this series for a brief explanation.
I covered the word “identity” in the first post, and noted that it was interesting how that word increased in usage only about half a century ago. What else is interesting is how phrases that utilize that word also increased, as shown in the chart below.
About the same time that we started placing more emphasis on “identity” we simultaneously started experiencing an “identity crisis.” There was a steady rise in the use of the word “identity” that occurred around the time the phrase “identity crisis” cam eon the scene. Indeed, the concept of an “identity crisis” was unheard of before about 1958 or so.
What I also find interesting is how the word “identity” continued to increase in usage after around 1980, but our “identity crisis” apparently didn’t get any worse after that. Nor did it improve. It would seem we are still stuck with the identity crisis that showed up, overnight, in the late 50’s.
(Once again, the turning point is the 1960s. Is anybody else noticing this trend?)
Around the same time the phrase, “identity in Christ” showed up on the scene, though it was much slower to take off. There is a second boost to the word “identity” around the mid 1980s, and around the same time as that second boost the phrase “identity in Christ” also took off.
So when you hear Evangelicals talk about our “identity in Christ” as though that were the central concept of the Gospel, please gently remind them that the phrase was virtually never used prior to 1960. There are a couple of blips prior to 1900 but for all intents and purposes the phrase was not used to describe the Christian Faith until society went through some kind of major “identity crisis.” And now, in the shadow of that crisis, we treat the concept as though it were central to Christianity.
I would agree that it is important, and true to the Bible, but perhaps the emphasis we give it today is a little blown out of proportion.
And for those facing an “identity crisis” maybe you need to go have a talk with your grandparents. Folks who were alive closer to the beginning of the previous century apparently had things a little more together than we do today. Perhaps we should learn from them.