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God, Freedom and Human Dignity

So, as I’ve fallen a little bit off the edge of the blogging world. That’s okay. Between work, school, and family life I’ve been a bit swamped, as you may be able to tell from the long standing Guest Post by Jeremy Spainhour on why he thinks apologetics is inimical to Christian proclamation. I will, in due course, respond to his post. There are many things which I find myself agreeing with and many things which I don’t. But I am big on starting conversations and from the attention that post received this seems to have been the case. This is always a good thing and I know he appreciates the thoughts.GFHD

I’ve read a few books on lately which I want to throw out there. Let me tell you about one of them today. Ron Highfield’s God, Freedom, and Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture (IVP, 2013). Highfield is Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University and this book comes out of some of his classroom experiences there. Highfield notes that one of the things which he has been convinced of as of late is the general sense that God somehow threatens our freedom and dignity.

The book is broken up into two parts: 1) The Me-Centered Self; 2) The God-Centered Self. Constituting these two parts are sixteen chapters devoted towards the development of these two ideas in Western thought. For example, Highfield walks us through how modern philosophy has developed the idea of the autonomous self as the most free and dignified entity possible. From Plato to Kant to Nietzsche, Highfield notes the evolution of the modern self in philosophy and, now, into theology. This Me-Centered Self, as he argues, is to be contrasted with a God-Centered Self, which he finds to be the essence of our identity as portrayed in Scripture.

Central to Highfield’s argument is the rejection of the notion that we are somehow in “competition” with God (46). “It should not surprise us, then, to find that the modern person feels a weight of oppression and a flood of resentment when confronted with the demands of traditional morality and religion. In the face of these demands the me-centered self feels its dignity slighted, its freedom threatened and its happiness diminished” (17-18).

Instead of rejecting our freedom and dignity, however, a proper understanding of God allows us to realize that being made in his image means that we are most free and most dignified. God, rather than setting himself against our freedom, desires to cooperate with us in it and draw us into being the most dignified we can possibly be. Obedience, then, is our freedom. Submission, then, is our dignity.

  • Ron Highfield

    Randal: Thanks for commenting on my book. I’d love to hear more of what you think about it. Are you from the South? I was born and raised in North Alabama. God bless you in your studies and in your ministry! rch