Psychology Professor Richard Mullis joins Mark to explore the often noted yet also often misunderstood concept of identity in Christ. Over the last decade the church has stressed finding your identity in Christ but it has not always clearly defined what is meant by the phrase. Appealing to their shared spiritual formation backgrounds, Mark and Richard look to define what it is and what it isn’t.
Welcome to Jessup think I’m your host, Mark Moore. And today on the show, I’m really excited to be joined by a psychology professor Richard mullis. Thanks for coming on the show. Happy to be here. And we actually have a connection that maybe, you know, many of our listeners don’t know about. Kind of a connection. We didn’t know each other there. But I did my graduate studies at Biola, and Talbot, and I was a part of the second semester of the first year of the spiritual formation Institute. And you were also at Biola, Talbot around the same time,
correct? That’s correct. Yeah, I was a graduate student doing my doctorate in clinical psychology. And I was teaching as an adjunct professor in the Institute of spiritual formation,
Hey, I know and I missed you, I missed we didn’t even I missed you, man. We will, well, we’re gonna we’re gonna connect later on our Biola connection. Even more, so it’s just it’s all gonna be full circle. But I was really excited to kind of bring you on the show, based on that kind of spiritual formation background and that blend of formation and psychology and theology. And and I’m really want to talk about the topic of identity and identity in Christ. I think it’s, it’s really, maybe kind of like a buzz term. Now, if we can say that, like a buzz Mo’s term. term. And, and I think we use it a lot. And I think it’s been good that we’ve been kind of stressing that to younger generations. And we’ve really been kind of hyping that I think if you talk to a lot of maybe even high schoolers, your highs and about their youth groups, they’ve probably heard that phrase, identity in Christ, we’ll see that within the church as well. But it’s also we do this a lot in the church, we have phrases that we use, but we don’t really define them. And we don’t maybe know. And we all just kind of nod and say, yeah, I think I know what that means. And we don’t maybe really know what it means. But it’s kind of like when you’ve met someone, and you’re past the point where you’re gonna ask them their name again, right? Like, you’ve met him a couple times. And so we’ve all like used the phrase a couple times. So we can’t ask now, what is this mean? Because then you play your cards that you don’t know, you know, anything of what the identity in Christ, what it really means. I mean, I think we have a general knowledge. And so I want to kind of really explore that, you know, and I think identity is just a huge issue for not only young people, but everybody struggles with kind of identity and understanding who they are their role in the world. But particularly, I teach a freshmen class, and we spend our entire session on our week on identity. And it’s, it’s just really interesting to see, maybe lights going on of them realizing I’ve been finding my identity here or there, and just noticing that struggle. And as you and I know, Richard, it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. It’s not like you solve the identity problems. At 18. That’s for sure. And then and then move on. And so I guess with this, for me starting it, and maybe starting to define it, I’d like to, to get a grasp on the terms too. And and so just when we say identity, what do we what do we really mean when we say identity?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think at its rock bottom core identity is that which you are most deeply and profoundly constituted by okay.
Yeah, like that deeply and profoundly constituted by Yeah. And I have to define constituted,
yeah, like, you know, like our Constitution. No, exactly. We the People, Conjunction Junction, like, yes, no, so yeah, it’s like that, which most deeply in comprehensively like, forms us. Yeah. shapes us. Yeah. Kind of grounds, I would say even grounds us, helps us have a sense of in the deep, like who we really are. And there are a lot of things that are competing with, right, we really are. Yeah, and they tend to be I think we tend to use some of those other characteristics, and maybe even mistake them for our real identity. So right. I mistake them for the things that are really the deepest about us the most profound things yeah, to form us and shape us.
Yeah. What are some of those issues? I mean, why when we can list so many, even in my own life, but what are some of those issues that that maybe draw us away from identity in Christ as we get closer to that, but that those things that we can be drawn to identifying as our maybe deepest and most profound selves.
Yeah. I mean, it can be a whole host of things, both what we might generally think of as positive things, even crime take on a potentially a false sense of identity and even negative things. So, for example, I might think of things that we do. Like, I am a professor, I am a or Yeah, I’m a professor, I’m an athlete. I’m a reader. Right. So those I’m a live action role player or live action role player, yes. Find your identity, your identity. I am a movie watcher, right there. There’s so many things that and those might be just, you know, kind of general garden variety things about Yeah, they’re also you might think, might think in terms of functions, like things that we do. You might think in terms of, how about vices, or virtues? Yeah, if I’m kind, if I’m loving, if I’m, and those are all can be good thing. Right? Right. But there may be something even more deep behind all that, that we want to, that I would want to explore. Or that I think is kind of more fundamental. Because when it comes to functions, any one of our things that we do in the world, in any one of those things could change in a heartbeat. And that often leads to a sense of identity crisis, right? I mean, even something really good like mothering. Right, right. There’s this empty nest syndrome, yeah, has poured so much of themselves into one activity. And there’s a shift in that activity or that function that can lead to a kind of a destabilization. And so there are many good things that we would say that, you know, are part of that identity. But, but, but there’s something even more profound, I think, something deeper, and the deeper that we invest in that, that thing. Yeah, I think the more that we can receive all these other things potentially as his gifts. Like in our culture, we have a lot of discussion right now about gender identity, right? sexual identity, yeah, or any of a number of other kinds of identity. And again, gender is a good thing can be is a gift, right? I think sexual. sexual desire is a gift, right as vocational desire, you know, hobbies, recreations, etc, etc. But, but to think of, to think of some of those things as our deepest, most core sense of identity, I think might be the miss something just like, that mistake my profession, right? My body type my good looks not good looks, my 401k the toys that I have the kind of what’s a 401k? Some kind of kind of investment strategy?
What do you do with those? Do you have to put some into it? Yeah, there’s some like, What’s something like saving? You know, yeah, but all of those things that you could, that could be good or bad. That if you start to see as, as defining that deepest and most profound part of who you are, it can we can run into problems with identity. When life changes, maybe when those roles change.
Can I give a couple quick? Yeah, that would be great. So like, as a as a high school athlete, I remember how important my athletic ability or my allowance alleged prowess and and that was, that was fun, but I didn’t quite have the skills to play in C to A at my, you know, division one university. Yeah. So had I grounded my identity in that I would have been completely shattered and shaken. Right? When I didn’t make the team it you know? Yeah, vision was cool. Right? So So is a therapist, and somebody who does spiritual direction. I’ve met with a number of people who their athletics was so much a part of who they thought they were, yeah, that when they don’t make the next level of competition, that they’re shattered, in turn, right. They have to find a new sense of themselves. And so yeah, I think in a different way to go would be, let’s work on the deepest sense of oneself. So then we can enjoy like, an activity, right? Various practices, hobbies, we can enjoy those things as gifts that we received but not confuse that gift. With our core essence, right, who we are, and
that may be like one of the main problems with adult recreation sports leagues is that everyone’s out there reliving their identity. That’s right. finding their identity. I’m like, Hey, calm down, everybody. Like we all have to go to work on Monday. That’s right. Like, no one’s winning the championship. Yeah, on this. But yeah, but it’s part of you, if you found your identity, yeah. Especially in Yes, something you have done. And then life changes, or that talent isn’t enough to get to a next level. It is, yeah, we see that. So, so many times. I think along with the athletic kind of analogy as well. Or, or illustration. I also see this in like musicians, as you watch, like, as you watch a popular band age, you can see that identity crisis happen. And what was popular 20 years ago, isn’t popular. And where do you find it that has is that is your identity, and you see really tragic scenarios to where musicians who were popular in the 80s end up overdosing taking their own lives. Yeah. And, and it’s, and you can imagine, like, if your identity was, I’m the lead singer of warrant. Right. And I have may have to explain to our younger listeners here Warren as you have to do you can Google it and do some research Google that. Yeah. But but the anna and i believe he did, tragically and his life you know, and it was because man look at I’ve had this and now I don’t so it’s this this this scenario where you’re like, Who am I? That has been my identity? Yeah.
And again, a lot of good things that could be right. Right? I am I am I like being the lead singer. Warren Yeah. All right. I am my artistic ability. Yeah. How about I am my beauty. I am I the curves on my body or size of my
which I see if you looked at at kind of social media and culture right? We’re going to talk about this. If you take a look at Richard’s biceps, you can see why he would find his identity. But yeah, that if you look I mean then with the Kardashians and all that, that it is there such a stress speaking of biceps speaking. Yeah, such a stress on on beauty and external beauty. Yeah. And identity is so wrapped up into that. Yeah.
Or, or think about, like, how many likes you have if your identity is and the number of likes you for identity as in? How popular you are? Again, those could all be could be good thing, right? Yeah, just not bad. Not the kind of thing down to ground your existence on right. And, yeah, so yeah, but also, let’s say, Alternatively, if hobbies and those kind of fun things or entertainment, things could be, maybe generally could be positive, or what about when people have certain struggles? If somebody says, I am an alcoholic? Yeah, I’m a drug addict, I struggle with porn, right, whatever those things are. But also like the, you know, I’m a big fan of the 12 step meetings, the 12 step moving, right. And a lot of really good, right in terms of recovery. But the opening statement, it’s some groups and I am fill in the blank with your advice, right? I think is really problematic.
Yeah, the identification of I am in
that I am my vice I am my brokenness, I am my disease, I am my fill in the blank, whatever it is, and there’s rageous thing. Those could be characteristics, things that describe certain things or brands, but there
may be part of it in the heart behind it is a reminder, like I struggle with this. And so I need to always be aware exactly that I think it’s a struggle. Can we really help but separating that from identity? Yeah, yeah, it’s really important. Do you think it also would connect with mental illness as well, like I, I struggle with anxiety, I struggle with depression, and maybe even in some ways you find your identity there?
Absolutely. Sometimes we find people literally develop a kind of attachment to their issue to the disorder to their illness, yeah, almost as a sort of replacement for other healthy things, right, or healthier things to which we can attach and bond with. And so sometimes even our own narrative about ourselves the spin, whether positive or negative, or mental illness or or just even healthy, functioning, Sometimes we get attached to that certain thing and and that can be problematic.
Yeah really can’t well let me I want to throw some throw some stats at you about throw me some stats about Gen Z because I mean everybody loves to hear like some middle aged guys talk about younger generation oh man is just people tune in to but I think this is really interesting this is it was a Barna group study. And it’s actually a part of an article that was in Talbots recent magazine so I’m alumni there. Yeah, a couple of times. Same here. I stayed around for two, it’s not my identity, but it was like a fun thing I did. Yeah, it was part part of our history. But I really thought this was interesting. It was Barna group did a survey of American teenagers today and so they they surveyed almost 2000 and ask them about sense of self. And and I think it’s really interesting over 40% indicated that professional slash educational achievements and hobbies and pastimes were very important to their sense of self. And 37% highlighted that their importance was their gender, sexuality, their sense of self 35% their group of friends, and then 34% you get family and religion. And, and less important to their identity was racing ethnicity at 23%, local region 21% social economic class, their teen political affiliation, like negative 20 knows 13%. But I just thought those were really interesting that especially they’re over 40% their identities and their professional educational achievement or their hobbies pastime, right? In my athletic prowess, my musicianship, my artistic ability, my acting ability, or in my professional art, or educational achievement, as well. And one of the things this is comes from an article by Ryan Peterson is a theology professor there Talbot, one of the things that he noted that I think is really interesting is that it makes sense that that would be there in that top percentage, because if they looked at the adults in their lives, that would be how the adults identified themselves, what they have accomplished, what their hobbies or pastimes, what their occupation is, I thought that was a really interesting insight that we kind of, we kind of pass on this identity struggle, each new generation, we sure do, and we don’t really set the best example of, of finding a core identity that is not connected those things that celebrates those things as gifts. And, and, and talks about him and engages ism. But yeah, if you if you just looked at our lives, if our children lived our lives would be like, Oh, I need to find my sense of self in the role as Professor or pastor. Or both. If you want to, you know, just get crazy. What do you got to pick up my stuff? critical? Well, I’m talking about myself, we’re where I’m pointing at myself. Yes. But if you if you see those, now, it would make sense that that’s what I need to do to, to define who I am. Yeah.
Yeah, I think a dimension of that is, yes, the models that we’ve had, and the degree to which those models or even mirrors are broken mirrors, right, then we’re got the reflection it’s going to give to us or what we’re going to see back as is also going to have some distortion in it. So this is an eternal or this is an age old problem. Yeah. And, and with, I think, with mass media. I mean, you could be in a very small region of Indiana, or Iowa, or it, but I would prefer Indiana and you could still have the same access to all the same images and influences is somebody living in the heart of La? Right. And so but if we
Yeah, that has that has really changed for, for our experience, yeah, rather than 5060 years ago, where you’d be maybe less exposed.
Yeah, I would. Yeah, I would agree with that. I often disagree with you. But on that point, I think I’m gonna thank
you for agreeing. That’s perfect. And so so with this now, I’m sorry, I cut you off. Do you know I’m sorry, I had a joke. But
it’s developmentally appropriate that young people teenagers are working on and it’s really important their relationships or social group, writing skills with which to use out in the world and create We’re so there’s some normalcy to those things. And yet, when you lose that job when you get bounced out of a social circle when you fill in the blank with whatever loss Yeah, again, a crisis can come when we’ve over invested in a certain thing. So, so and that might be a might be a segue to to talk about, well, what is that certain thing? Or what what other language will be used to describe? Yeah. And but yeah, you go Yeah,
I mean, I think that it is, I think looking at it as a problem. Now moving to so what does that mean then to, to maybe understand that those are false senses of identity, false senses of grounding, and move to this elusive identity in Christ? Like, how does someone make that transition?
Yeah, so I think we do this maybe by negation by negating or So first, that starts with acknowledging, so like an assignment that I give to my students, for example, I asked them to describe everything they can about themselves, in terms of their hobbies, their activities, their relationships, many would say, I am a son, I am a daughter, and I am a friend, I am a husband, a wife, a pastor. So you’re describing functions and relational things. And then at the very end of that list, I have my students say, and, and even to pray, and something like, and, Lord, thank you for all those things. Those are great gifts that I have, yeah, but each one of those things can be stripped away from us. So getting to that core thing, that core thing, our identity in Christ is, as we’re saying, and as we often hear, is kind of reminding ourselves that who we are at our deepest level, is who knows us, who is relating to us at the most profound level, and that, I think, is God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. So literally the Spirit that dwells us that lives inside of us. And if you think about this journey from birth until death, every thing we ever do, every relationship, human relationship we ever have, will slowly be stripped away from us. And at death. We come naked, just as we entered the world naked, right? I was trying to attract your younger listeners. Yeah. No, but people perked up there. Well, what are they talking about? Yeah, literally, naked, we enter the world, right and naked, we shall depart. And I’m so in some sense, in prayer and in our relationships with one another and with God. We can do this stripping, stripping of false sense of identity, or maybe using a better a better phrase. We can clarify god, this is my core. Yeah, you are my core. And these are good gifts that I can enjoy and express and and even really, like, connect with, like, passionate about. Yeah, but also acknowledging. This too may pass and yeah, doesn’t mean that my identity passes, right means I’m, I need to continue to clarify, I need to get grounded and eternal things. And the eternal God and one who lives inside of us. Who love who knows. Yeah, my name knows the number of hairs on our head, right? Some of those passages that we maybe think of, but
yeah, I’d love to hear your thoughts. One, I love that picture of the one of finding your core sense of self in in the one who knows you at that level. And realizing that no one else in the world knows you at that level. Not the closest people to you. And you yourself. Don’t even fully know yourself at that level. But God does, and he not only knows us there, but he loves us completely. Right? Yeah. And so we can meet him there. One thing that I loved in the in the spiritual formation Institute, and I stress this too, to my students as well, is part of formation is knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Right, the more it’s not just you don’t come to William Jessup just to learn about God learn facts about God. And then that’s how you grow closer to him. Part of it is you learn about who you are, you learn about yourself and the more you learn about yourself. I think the more you can see God meeting you in that most profound place. Yeah, and loving you and, and that’s I’ve always been a huge fan of Henry now and Henry now. writings. I’m a sucker for Dutch Catholic priests, psychologists like it’s just if you have that it’s the Triple Crown. Right there.
Are we really like? twins in separated?
Yeah, I think we were and and I’ve always been struck by his writing on identity, and particularly the idea that we are the beloved of God. And and he highlights three sources of false identity. And we’ve kind of talked about them, right? So his three sources are I am what I do. I am what I have. And I am what other people say about me. Yeah. And, and he, again, and I just reiterate what you were saying, it’s so important for us to acknowledge what we do. It’s not saying like, well, I can’t do anything. And I don’t know, but acknowledge what we do. But then remind ourselves, that’s not the core of who I am. That’s not my most profound sense of self, in my possessions, and then particularly what other people say about me, which I don’t care who you are, if someone says something about you, you kind of perk up. And if it’s a negative comment, you feel that positive, you you get, you get built up and, and even there, you have to remind yourself, that is not who I am. Because it’s so easy to chase that affirmation. Yeah. It’s so easy to try to correct someone who has a incorrect view of you or have said some bad you want to prove them wrong. Yeah. And it’s because it’s that sense of identity and, and now and highlights those, and ends on that more common theme and all of his writing that, that we are at our most fundamental self, the beloved of God. Yeah, so he knows us and he cherishes us. And, and if I start to if I can even begin to slowly identify with that, then yeah, as things change in my life, I can it’s not the this huge crisis. I mean, I think there’s going to be the mini crisis, you know, where as things adjust, and as we’re human beings, and when people say things, but the more you can identify that way, man, the the stronger that sense of self is than something that even good things that can change.
Yeah. No, I absolutely agree. And I really appreciate Nolan’s insight on that, and you’re bringing it back to mind. Yeah, just I couldn’t agree with what you said more. And I’m not trying to be overly wise that you’ve agreed with me? Well, and I also use your name more. Oh, more. Oh, I see what you did. That’s another level. Yeah, so yeah. So I am. So that would be, again, could be a good practice both for for young people and for old people, or middle aged or whatever stage is practicing. You know, maybe even on paper and your journal and a quiet time saying, you know, God, thank you for these things. Right. And yet, Lord, I want to negate that I know that my sense of identity is not and what I do, right, it’s not and whether people say about me on social media, or in a classroom, or I in the dorm in the caf, and it’s also not and what I have my possessions, my jeans, my car, my 401k, whatever that right, yeah, when we’re gonna research that later. Yeah, but probably they’re different. at different stages of development, we all have some different issues with those things, right? Talk to the 50 to 60 year olds in Newport Beach, from where I just moved a couple of months ago, like some of the temptations of that region are in status of what you have, right? What kind of car do you drive? Oh, what kind of glasses are you wearing? or things like that? When I go to DC? It’s, there’s some similar things, right? So I hear things like, oh, did you go to private school or public school more? Yeah, different ways. We have a rating and evaluating and, again, it’s probably just human of us. And yet to ground ourselves at any one of those ratings. Yeah, or any one of those things that we do, or that we have, or that other people say is, is to kind of set yourself up for a fall. And you can you can tighten your grip on those things. And God will need to peel your fingers back from that false identity. Right? Right. Or you can freely and volitionally and willfully or in a willing sort of way you can open your hand and say Lord, I want to I want to release any false identities I have. Yeah, I want to be grounded in you. And thank you for the gift of a good friend and things Thank you for this class I get to study for and, and this excitement of my passion and my hobby and whatever that is. But Lord, I want to I want my identity to be grounded in you. Yeah. So I think that’s a practice we could all engage in, in a very practical even kind of sometimes throughout the day, Brian, that guy Mark Moore said this about me and I’m still upset about I’ve got it. But let the Lord help me to let
that go. I’m going to do the same. Let go and those comments that you’ve made about me, no, I think that I think that’s a, that’s kind of a great place to land. Just with that, leaving people with that practice, that this is not a one time thing, not like you do that once or on a weekend workshop or seminar. But that is a daily practice, or at least weekly practice of acknowledging all of the things where you could be finding your identity that that grip is tightening on and negating those things, giving those to God and saying, This is not and that’s for the 18 year old to the 98 year old have exactly. And I think that that was so valuable to me. And I think so valuable to the listeners of being able to do that and remind ourselves that we are at our most profound level known and loved by God. And that’s where we find our sense of self. Yeah, and our our identity. So thank you for sharing that. Thank you for coming on the show. And and there’ll be many more shows and other topics. We’ve already brainstorm some and so I’m excited to read that. But as we as we kind of wrap up, I want to move into another segment, a smaller segment, one that I’ve been doing, by surprise, maybe with all my guests. Oh, so it’s a little bit of a game, a little bit of a game. But I like to call it nerdy Would you rather nerdy. So we’ve done we’ve done this thing on the first these first episodes, and it’s just a way for us to get to know you a little better. And I try to make them specific to your field. So so some people may not know, names, but I think that that you can maybe explain so you have to kind of give me an answer and but you have to explain so you can’t just choose one but nerdy Would you rather So would you rather have dinner with Carl young or Freud? There we go. Silence.
Yeah, I probably rather have dinner with Karl yune. Yeah. And why why? Carl Jung was both of them were geniuses of that era, by the way. So Ryan both had a lot of incredible insights, though. I have to integrate and critique them as well. But recall you didn’t pathologize religious people, he actually thought there was a lot of interesting, good reasons to look at. Freud kind of thought if you believed in God, you were kind of was kind of pathological. Like, you’re just projecting all your father issues and right. So I think frayed. Yeah, so I would like to have dinner with both. But yeah,
to start with. Okay. All right. What would you what are some things you would ask him? Maybe? What would you talk about?
Wow, what inspired him to write the red book? Yeah, he has this really, he had a breakdown in his life and did some journaling and painting and writing and things in a very interesting period. Wow, that’s great, actually, is only as of late coming to coming to light. So. So. Yeah, so that’d be I’d like to ask him about that.
Would you? would you ask him to psychoanalyze yourself, Mike, would you? Did you want him to take a passage?
I would welcome that. I would, I would welcome him to Yeah. to, to spend time getting Yeah, getting to know me in the deep. Yeah, yeah. Both. Both. Both those fact both of those authors that you asked about nerdy as you are, right. What’s nerdy? Would you read? In nerdy Would you rather? Yeah. But they they both can be helpful guide on uncovering our false senses of identity. Oh, yeah. I’m not sure that they either one has the gets us to the deeper core. Right. But they are really good at helping expose the false senses.
Yeah, it was maybe a start, start that helped us maybe be able to build on that, too, and be able to help society start to realize, Oh, yeah, I have these issues. Maybe, you know, yeah, I would like to talk about the issues before. Before that. Yeah. And at least now talking about the issues and looking at identity. Well, thanks again for being on the show. I’ll set up that dinner between you guys next week. So we’ll set that up. But Hope you have a great day and I hope that you find your identity today. Thank you. Thank you very much. Good to be on the show. Thank you for listening to Jessup. Think Be sure to follow us on Twitter at Jessup think we would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and engage with any questions you have. Our aim is to provide a framework for further reflection and deeper exploration of these important topics. You can also help the show by leaving a review on iTunes these reviews help the podcast reach new listeners. Until next time, I’m Mark Moore and this is Jessup thing.
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