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Review: Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity

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Posted by Robert Brewis, 17 Jul 2020

Rob Brewis reviews Brian Rosner's book on identity.

This is a great book that offers true comfort to broken believers and real insights into deep scriptural themes. Rosner takes a biblical theological approach, looking at what it means to belong to and be known by God, seeking to shown how this over-looked theme is developed through the canon. Rosner’s contention is that being known by God and belonging to God are key to self-identity.

After setting out the nature of western society’s contemporary identity angst and assessing our common identity markers, Rosner turns to Scripture to explain what humans are, what it means to be made in the image of God, being known by God in the OT and known by God and Christ in the NT, how our union with Christ affects our identity, how being adopted shapes our self-understanding and behaviour, and finally, how God’s work of salvation in and through Christ gives us a shared memory and defining destiny with other believers.

The final part of the book looks at the impact this material has for questions of personal relevance, humility, comfort in sorrow, and moral guidance. In the last chapter Rosner explores how Christian practices such as baptism, communion, and church, help us know who we are, and that God knows and love us. It would have been helpful for Rosner to reflect on how God knows our sins and weaknesses and that knowing us in our sin he can meet our needs in ways appropriate to us, as seen in, for example, the woman at the well in John 4, or the disciples’ ignorance in John 11. More thinking could have been done in light of the fact God does not need to discover us either, and the method of his knowing.

Throughout the book Rosner brings to the fore the way in which God knows us intimately and personally. Particularly striking was Rosner’s teaching on Jesus in John’s Gospel and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation; as well as the way his understanding of being known by God is shaped by the doctrines of creation, election, redemption, union with Christ and adoption into God’s family. Rosner’s section on how this offers comfort to people with diminished lives and facing the end of life was excellent. Along the way there was great teaching on lots of other topics too, such as how to read Bible metaphors as God intends them to be read, holy communion and the importance of song in Christian meetings.

The book is pastoral, exegetical, theological, and personal. It is a book to read and re-read as its teaching is so importance for all Christians—we desperately need to grasp who we really are! Those who want to think systematically about this topic will find lots of helpful material on which to build, and those who want to encourage others should buy it for them, or encourage them to buy it.

Robert Brewis is Associate Minister at Christ Church, Chadderton

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