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You Who? Rachel Jankovic is Wrong on Identity Extended book review and commentary67 min read

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Rachel Jankovic Wrong Identity

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Rachel Jankovic Wrong Identity

Interview with Kerry Baldwin about this review

by Theology Gals

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Overview: You Who? Why You Matter & How to Deal With It, by Rachel Jankovic

In, You Who? Why You Matter & How to Deal With It, Rachel Jankovic writes to Christian women about identity. She wants to enlighten you about all the lies you believe. And she wants to convince you that obedience and submission to the law of God is superior to (so, at odds with) self-actualization. In one manner of speaking, it’s the antithesis of Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face. However, Rachel Jankovic is wrong on her view of identity.

Jankovic builds a case that our modern concept of identity is strictly based on “unbelieving philosophies,” and she strongly discourages any behavior that could be construed as self-actualizing. She dedicates the first eight chapters to criticizing the philosophies that, in her mind, have informed our concept of identity. She spends the next thirteen chapters vilifying concepts of “the self,” personality, emotions, and makes many calls for “self-denial” and “obedience” to the Word of God. The final five chapters serve as her concluding remarks. 

In what follows, I intend to draw out the problems with her content, identify her hidden religious and philosophical commitments, and explain why Christians absolutely must explore their personal identity.

On philosophy …. and identity

Philosophers are people who ask questions about reality. In ancient times there were three general areas of philosophy: the physical (which evolved into what we would call the natural sciences and mathematics), the metaphysical (that which is beyond the “physical,” like “who am I?” and “why are we here?”), and also ethics (what is the good life, and how does one properly live the good life?).

Some systems of thought became religious. The Pythagoreans, for example worshiped mathematics. 1 + 1 = 2 was literally a matter of religious belief to them. But Christians don’t consider this a matter of divinity but a fact about reality. I’m sure Jankovic would agree this elementary mathematical equation doesn’t amount to a pagan practice we must reject as “worldly” and therefore sinful.

The concept of identity is much more complex though. Maybe the complexity of the concept makes it worldly, sinful, and something we ought to reject? So what is identity? Jankovic, says ‘identity’ is ‘meaning’. (pg. 22) This unfortunately is her first major mistake which makes the rest of the book not worth reading. But I want to parse this out because I’ve noticed similar things in other “how-to-be-a-christian-woman” sorts of books.

In philosophy, identity entails questions like, what makes you a person (eg. having a ‘will’, ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, ‘sentience’, etc)? And, how are you the same person today you were ten years ago? among other abstract questions. For this review, I will call this ‘personhood’. Personhood does not deal with questions about qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions unique to each individual person. This is a socio-psychological perspective, and what I’ll call ‘identity’.

So, personhood (the philosophical) is an idea that brings all persons under a single category, and identity (the socio-psychological) is an idea that separates each person out as unique individuals. Now, even in the socio-psychological sense, identity can be positive or destructive. This is an important point I will come back to.

As much as I would love to, I can’t address all of Jankovic’s philosophical points (errors) but I want to home in on one theme she continually comes back to: this idea that “unbelieving philosophies,” which in her mind begin with a (unstated) false premise, that there is no “Creator Father God,” and as such, whatever conclusions they arrive at are inevitably wrong. I will say, she gets this idea from a simple rule of logic, known as modes ponens:  It is a true rule. However, Jankovic doesn’t apply the rule correctly.

Remember the Pythagoreans? The Pythagorean theorem is: a2 + b2 = c or, 1 + 1 = 2. Nowhere does it say that, to hold true, you must deny the existence of God. It doesn’t say, “If there is no Creator Father God, then 1 + 1 = 2.”

The Pythagoreans were correct because the theorem reflects reality, not because it’s a religious belief. So even though they held to it in a religious manner, we don’t need to and it‘s still true. How can this be? In Reformed theology we distinguish God’s special and general revelation. Special revelation is where God reveals Himself and salvation in Scripture; which can only be truly known through saving grace. 

General revelation, on the other hand, includes not only the revelation of Himself in creation, but God’s revelation of creation in creation. In other words, He reveals what things are through reality. For example, He reveals what mathematics is through the reality of quantities of things. (1 egg + 1 egg = 2 eggs). And common grace enables even the unregenerate to understand reality, even if in only a partial or distorted way. So even unbelievers can learn true things about the world, like 1 + 1 = 2. This knowledge is insufficient for salvation, but is not untrue simply because it’s “of the world.” God created the world and he wrote truths into the fabric of reality.

I’ll bet Jankovic isn’t prepared to call elementary school math teachers to repentance for “foolishly” following an “unbelieving philosophy.”

Jankovic’s Hidden Philosophy

While Jankovic attempts to disprove existentialism, she doesn’t tell you about the philosophy that existentialists are responding to. Existentialism broadly posits that existence precedes essence. Setting aside for the moment that she oversimplifies existentialism, the term ‘essence’ has a precise meaning, and she never defines it or explains where it comes from. She argues that “many of us would not recognize a Christian philosophy of identity …” (pg. 10) but then, presents her own case for a Christian philosophy of identity … and doesn’t define her terms.

She says of other philosophies, “if these beliefs are founded on the assumption that there is no God, what business should we have with them?” (pg. 13) These and countless other statements throughout the book are so obviously hypocritical. Existentialism rejects a long-standing philosophy known as essentialism. Essentialism is the idea that everything about your personhood and identity is predetermined prior to your existence; that you aren’t an accident but you also don’t really have any choice about who you are. Well, that sounds like it could be Christian, right?

She says, “The Christian concept of the soul makes most of these questions [concerning socio-psychological identity] irrelevant. The soul is not located in one place in your body.” (pg 22). Jankovic uses Rene Descartes’ concept of mind/body (substance) dualism. Descartes conceived of the soul in the manner in which Jankovic describes. However, reformational philosopher, Dr. Roy Clouser has this to say about Descartes’ dualism:

“… many theists believe dualism to be taught by scripture … Thus it is widely held that only the body dies while the soul never does, so that the body is not essential to being human … this view has been successfully challenged in recent years by Bible scholars … who have shown that this popular view is derived from the influence of Greek philosophy rather than the Bible itself. Scripture does not view the body as merely an external, unnecessary shell for the soul. Neither is the promise of everlasting life based on the teaching that the soul is naturally immortal. Rather, the scriptural idea of everlasting life is that it is assured only by the promise of God, and that what God promises is the resurrection of the whole person—that is, the resurrection of a new body—at the day of judgment.” (9.4 Human Nature, Myth of Religious Neutrality)

So if your interest in this book is to gain an understanding of a Christian concept of identity, you’re not going to. Jankovic is simply wrong. Whatever her resources were for the book (she cites none) are outdated.

Jankovic is confused in her understanding of the philosophical vs the socio-psychological perspectives of identity. And many of these “how-to-be-a-christian-woman” types of books, also get confused about identity. But if Jankovic is educated in philosophy, then she knows she needs to define her terms well and present an intellectually honest case. And she doesn’t.

On theology … and identity

From a theological standpoint, this book is even worse. In reformed theology, we have a doctrine of God and a doctrine of mankind. These doctrines probably speak more to “personhood” as I’ve described above, rather than socio-psychological “identity.” I believe that various errors have crept into the church whenever these doctrines have been expounded upon and used in such a way as to circumvent general and special revelation on matters of “identity.” Most immediately, I can think of the debate on gender roles. Jankovic, who holds to strict interpretations of complementarianism, is here in this book circumventing historic reformed doctrine on the law in the hands of Christ. 

Jankovic’s hidden theology

Obedience and Submission

Throughout her book, Jankovic uses the term “obedience” and “obey” approximately 95 times; variations of the term “faith” occur 70 times, but roughly 12 of those instances appear to be orthodox uses of the term. In the remaining 58 uses, they carry the weight of “obedience” or more precisely a faithfulness of your own personal effort. This is significant. 

Once again, Jankovic doesn’t define her terms, so that leaves us to infer their meaning. Consider the following examples:

“… small obedience and faithful work is glorious and honors Him. What is more, He sees it all. He commands it for His glory, and when we obey, He …. takes pleasure in us.” (pgs 84-85)

“Your small obedience means something … Be steadfast; be immovable. Stand firm. Let nothing move you! Let no feelings of unimportance or insignificance sway you from the course of this very simple obedience. Be in the Lord. Labor in the Lord. Let all the importance and value of your work be done by the Lord, in His time, and according to His purposes.” (pg 98)

“When we embrace the fact that obedience now is always the calling of a Christian, we find that we have more than enough to do. We are not to be the lost travelers hanging out at all the bus stations in life looking for our potential ticket to something that matters. Read the Word. Obey the Word. Obey it now. Obey it again.” (pg 113)

What’s so strange about Jankovic’s use of ‘obedience’ is that I can substitute the word ‘faith’ or ‘believe’ for ‘obedience’ in much of her writing. As I read this book, there were several moments where I’d read a sentence that seemed to be agreeable until arriving at the word ‘obedience.’ In each of these instances, I expected to see the word ‘faith.’

For example “Far from living a life of waiting and expectation, wondering when our journey of a lifetime is going to start, the Christian should be one of almost breathless and constant ….” Jankovic says obedience, I say faith. What do you say? 

Notice that the use of the word obedience changes the sense of “breathless and constant” to one of overwhelm where the sense of “faith” changes it to one of relief. If obedience and faith go hand-in-hand (and there is a manner in which they do), then why is Jankovic’s use of the term so burdensome?

What about this one? “When you are oriented to glorifying God, hard decisions are made simple. What is obedient here?…We don’t need to measure the costs and bet against the odds. We need to ….” Jankovic says, “glorify and obey.” I say, “rest and believe.” What do you say?

Are the hard decisions of life simple just by having a general mindset of obedience to God? This is why an understanding of biblical obedience under the new covenant is so vitally important to understanding why Jankovic is so grievously mistaken.

The teaching of Covenant Faithfulness

Covenant faithfulness sounds reformed, right? But it’s not. This term (aka covenantal nomism) comes from a scholar named E. P. Sanders and he defines it in this way:

“The view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement from transgression.”

This is essentially the idea that one “gets in” to salvation through grace, but once in, you must keep yourself there through your faithfulness to the covenant, or obedience to the law – specifically the Mosaic law. This is the same principle followed by the Judaizers and the Pelagians. This immediately changes the implications of various other doctrines like justification, sanctification, assurance of salvation, good works, and so on.

Lee Irons, on the Glory-Cloud Podcast said, “When you’re not careful with your words, in defining them properly and precisely, it confuses your mind. And then pretty soon you can end up confusing the Gospel itself.” The last thing God-fearing women (and men) need is to be confused on the Gospel. 

Self-denial, die to self, death of self

Matt. 16:24 is the verse where Christ calls Christians to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This verse along with several others which speak to our death in Christ have also been the source of misapplication. Jankovic’s usage is no different.  While this goes hand-in-hand with her use of the term ‘obedience’ as described above, what she instructs her readers to deny are things Scripture does not call us to reject.

Jankovic takes the philosophical concept of personhood and calls for its death. 

There will be no resolution to these struggles [of identity] in your life if you do not willingly give your self-fashioned identity to Christ that it might die. It will die anyway, so let it be in Him.” (pg 77)

How does Jankovic propose that you die? Through asceticism.

Chapters 14 through 21 all discuss concepts of asceticism. Asceticism, is closely tied to monasticism. This practice is observed by several religions including Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, and certain sects of Christianity.

Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, characterized by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures, and time spent fasting while concentrating on the practice of religion or reflection upon spiritual matters.

I want to make one thing absolutely clear: Paul speaks to our being baptized into Christ’s death in Romans 6. (I’ll link sermons and resources in the notes below). If you are regenerate, the old you is already dead! It died 2000 years ago on the cross, when Christ bore your sins. Christ didn’t die that you might kill your identity now for his sake. Your death has already occurred. And our new life has been inaugurated. Regeneration is the gift of new life! New spiritual life as we await the final consummation of the Kingdom of God at the Judgement when we receive our new bodies. (This is the correct understanding of the now and not yet). The mortification of sin in the believer’s life is the process of sanctification, which is directed by the Holy Spirit, not by bootstrapping your religious convictions, or denying God’s very blessings to you through asceticism. Jankovic wants you to “ask for less” be “unconcerned” for your self, have your personality changed, find your identity in other Christians, suppress the “monkeys” of your emotions, and spiritualize body and health concerns. 

Consider Colossians 2:6-23

Alive in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Let No One Disqualify You

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Reformed theology doesn’t promote asceticism unless for temporary (personal and private) prayer and fasting. Abject denial of self is actually a neglect of the proper stewardship of God’s creation … you … you are God’s creation, and therefore you must steward yourself. Self-care is not only completely acceptable, it’s necessary.

Worshipers

Chapter 9: The Worshiper is another strange one and one that may not immediately jump out at you as problematic, but it is. Jankovic cites question 1 of the Westminster Smaller Catechism as her support.

What is the primary purpose of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.

It’s true that we were made to worship God, but Scripture, especially in the new covenant, refers to the elect as “children of God,” not worshipers. But Jankovic twists the wording of Westminster and makes it sound as though we’re each drones “for the glory of God.” She refers to Christians as “worshipers” which has very dehumanizing implications when considering the rest of her asceticism.

I think her intent is to inform you that we do glorify God in the mundane things of life, and that’s certainly true. We don’t need to be the next Rachel Hollis to be glorifying God. But the strange thing is in how Jankovic suggests going about glorifying God … it’s literally through mantras, which ironically is a tactic that Rachel Hollis uses.

Jankovic uses mantras both in Chapter 9 and 10 (Planting Flags), in order to “orient yourself” to Christ. She does this by way of example where she describes some things about herself, then to illustrate her point, inject the phrase, “to the glory of God” before each sentence in her description. So “I live in Idaho” turns into “To the glory of God, I live in Idaho.”

If mantras are useless in Rachel Hollis’ paradigm, it’s because they’re useless in Rachel Jankovic’s paradigm. The offensive aspect of the Gospel is not that we are sinners who must be righteous to earn heaven – everyone on the street knows this. Ask someone if he’s going to heaven when he dies and his response inevitably is, “yeah, I think so. I’m a pretty good person.” Rather, the offensive aspect of the Gospel is that you are incapable of orienting your life to the righteous requirement of the Law and that God had to do it for you through his Son. It’s offensive because it’s something you can’t bootstrap to save your life … literally!!! 

A note on Jankovic’s response to Rebekah Womble’s review:

On Facebook, Jankovic had this to say to Womble: 

” I do not consider this book to be a work of theology but rather a book about practical Christian living.” 

I would expect her to say this, after all the patriarchist views of her community are that women don’t get to write works of theology. Maybe this is why so many books geared toward Christian women are such nonsense. Jankovic and other writers like her cannot escape writing a work of theology. Her worldview informs her theology and her theology informs her worldview. What she believes about practical Christian living is derived from theology which is written into her book. She simply can’t escape this. 

“I wanted it to be a conversation starter about what it means to be a Christian, and what that would actually look like in real time in real lives if women were to get serious about applying their faith.”

That’s great, but the practical application of Christian living in the individual lives of women isn’t going to look the same. That’s the problem. All books in this genre do the same thing: they give a sense that the Christian life for women are carbon copies of each other with only relatively innocuous nuances. Jankovic’s error is in thinking we can get a bird’s eye view of female Christian living. But you can’t. The variously independent manifestations of identity make that impossible apart from what Scripture has already identified as, fruits of the spirit. 

“where I talk about obedience I am assuming obedience as the fruit of faithfulness in the life of a believer, not suggesting the means by which we should save ourselves.”

Okay, this doesn’t change anything I’ve said here. “The fruit of faithfulness” is not in Scripture. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit. Jankovic’s tell is that the entire book is written from the wrong subject/object perspective. Her message is an erroneous view of the “third use of the law,” as though it were “do this and live,” rather than the use of the law in the hand of Christ, “live! and do this. ”Whether Jankovic intended this or not, the message of her book is, faith is of your own effort and you may not rest until you’re dead. This is not the message of the Gospel. Jankovic reinforces this in her Facebook comment here, ” The old man is already dead, and yet we need to continue to put him off.”  No, the old man is dead and gone. It’s not the zombie apocalypse where it keeps coming back. Jankovic’s assertion here means that Christ’s death was not sufficient to put the old man to death once and for all, and therefore we must do it ourselves. 

“I believe obedience to be the duty of a Christian, and an area that Christians have not done well in teaching without legalism.” 

Jankovic’s focus on obedience is why this book is legalistic. She doesn’t understand the third use of the law in the hand’s of Christ. We are set free from the law as a covenant of works and breathe a sigh of relief that doesn’t go away when God works into us the Image of Christ. Again from Lee Irons, “Now the law isn’t this heavy burden that is condemning you and weighing you down. The law is something you delight in that you want to do. It enables us to delight in the law to obey Christ as our head and husband, and to want to serve Him and want to be renewed in His image, which is the whole goal of salvation.” 

“What I think has made you concerned is that I am not teaching theology formally, but trying to teach application of it.”

Application of the Gospel isn’t supposed to come across as this heavy convicting thing, that leaves you feeling guilty. Moreover, you cannot teach application without teaching a formal theology. Application devoid of theology is impossible. 

Does this book promote Federal Vision?

A resounding yes! All of these things are not only aspects of Federal Vision, but more broadly can be attributed to the New Perspectives of Paul, monocoventalism, and works-based righteousness. Jankovic insists that she doesn’t promote works-based righteousness, but her book clearly exudes this, even if she didn’t intend it. At the very least, we can say this book is NOT reformed; it does not hold to historic Christian orthodoxy and is against the summary explanations of the reformed confessions, and the teachings of Luther and Calvin. 

Whether Jankovic is espousing Federal Vision in particular (and she can plausibly deny it since she doesn’t use that term directly), the ideas Paul objected to are clear in her writing. It’s not only found in Federal Vision, but also in variants derived from the New Perspectives of Paul. So proponents of N.T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, and John Piper also fall under this category. One doctrinal issue at stake here is bicovenantalism vs monocovenatalism. Historic reformed theology is bicovenantal; The variants I’ve mentioned here are monocovental. This may seem like some ethereal debate not relevant to the layman. But there are very real ramifications for believers depending on which teaching they’re sitting under.

On spiritual manipulation … and identity

You might be wondering what Jankovic’s book has to do with spiritual manipulation. It’s quite simple, you see … it’s a question of, “did God really say?” When Satan tempted Eve in the Garden, he didn’t suggest to Eve that 1 + 1 = 2 or that her identity was something she could create. Rather, he used a technique of psychological abuse that we know today, as gaslighting. Gaslighting is something done to cause a victim to question what she believes to be true of her reality. Satan, gaslighted Eve by suggesting that Eve misunderstood God, “did God really say …?” and then proceeded to rewrite her reality. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

This is not to say that Eve wasn’t responsible for her sin. She surely was. It wasn’t her fault that Satan tempted her, but it was her responsibility to be who God created her to be, ezer kenegdo. Likewise, it was not Adam’s fault that Eve offered him to eat, but it was his responsibility to be who God created him to be, the federal head.  Aimee Byrd, in No Little Women, points out that men and women are to be co-belligerents against evil. This is why we cannot merely shift blame of the problem of sin onto Satan, nor make God the author of sin. The same holds true of manipulation; being manipulated is not your fault, but it’s your responsibility to protect yourself from it. But how can we protect ourselves from being manipulated? 

By understanding our identity!

Both the federal head and ezer kenegdo are (archetypal) identities, and Adam and Eve were responsible for their respective identities. There’s another rabbit hole that I could chase down here, but for the purpose of this review I’ll refrain. My point in bringing this is up to say that God created our personhood and identities, not some unbelieving philosophers. 

But Jankovic makes it seem as though our identity is something to be subdued with bit and bridle. That we must grapple it to the floor and put it in line. Any inkling of identity apart from her preconceived notion ought to be shut down. Just because we have identities created by God, doesn’t mean that we’re carbon copies. She says, “We struggle with the self because the self is everywhere we go, getting its grubby little hands into everything that we do.” When Christians vilify “the self” and a sense of identity, they’re setting the stage for false narratives that lead you away from the freedom of the Gospel and into manipulation and even spiritual abuse.

David Johnson and Jeff van Vonderen have this to say about about spiritual abuse:

“Spiritual abuse results when a “person in need … is sent the message that they [are] less than spiritual, or that their spirituality [is] defective … shame [is] used to get someone to support a belief, or … to fend off legitimate questions … it can be heaped on leaders as well as followers … [and leaves the individual] bearing a weight of guilt, judgement or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian.” – The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pg 22.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Jankovic’s book is itself abusive. I am saying, that it opens the doors for abuse to enter the reader’s life elsewhere. And this is not only true of her book, but those like it. 

Spiritual abuse causes struggles in several areas of life, but here I’m highlighting it fosters a distorted self-identity as a Christian. This often comes from a false sense of shame resulting from a negative picture of the self.*

Distortions of the self

Since Jankovic’s book is on identity and vilification of “the self,” it’s important to understand what studies of general revelation have revealed about lost identity. Dr. Harriet Braiker says that an unclear sense of self is both a cause and consequence of manipulation, and thus makes you highly vulnerable to emotional and psychological abuse. You can know if this applies to you if the following sounds familiar:

you don’t know who you are outside of the things you do for other people.
you feel invisible or even a sense of diminishing in size.
your opinions don’t matter, you don’t feel smart or capable.
you are expected to bend to the will of others more powerful than you.

In Christian circles, the stage is set for abusive situations through the following dynamics:

Out-loud shaming: name-calling, belittling, put-downs, comparing one person to another; the message sent is, something is wrong with you.

Focus on performance: How people act is more important than who they are; love and acceptance are earned by external behavioral standards. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids because children are imperfect, messy, loud, rambunctious, or ask perplexing or embarrassing questions.

Manipulation: relationships and behavior are manipulated through unspoken rules. When spoken out loud, they sound ridiculous (eg. a child riding his bicycle might become dangerous therefore intolerable). Along with unspoken rules is the “can’t talk” rule which keeps people quiet by labeling them as problems for what they notice or for confronting a problem. Where one might be seeking counsel on a matter, the abusive leadership calls it gossip or slander.  

Idolatry: Even if the God of Scripture is invoked, the character of the said god is anything but. He comes off as the impossible to please judge, obsessing over behavior from a distance, who’s mood is dependent upon those behaviors. This is a false god. But more to the point, it’s a projection of the abusers themselves. In other words, they’ve set themselves in the place of God; a sort of vicar of Christ on earth. 

Preoccupation with fault and blame: Since performance is so important, much is done to ensure control of behavior. Reaction is swift and furious to the one who fails, even if unwittingly violating unspoken rules. In these systems, the victim feels like they can’t do anything right.

Obscured reality: Members must deny thoughts, opinions, or feelings that are different from the ones had by those in authority. Anything that has the potential to shame leadership is ignored or denied. Trial-and-error is an unacceptable means of living life. Interactions with those outside the system threatens the “peace and order” of the whole system. 

Unbalanced inter-relatedness: Everyone is either under-involved (neglect) or over-involved (enmeshed). No one is responsible for him or herself, unless or until the abusive leadership decides to enforce the unspoken rules or punish those who point out problems. 

How does Jankovic’s book set the stage for spiritual abuse?

Out loud shaming: She prepares the reader on page two to accept her “hard words” so that they may “soften hearts.” She calls names as early as page three (“we are turning ourselves into a bunch of brittle, crackling liars ….” Jankovic even shares her own story of how her family (rightly, in her mind) shamed her as a young child for wanting to become a cheerleader. (pg 4-5) There’s more of this throughout the book especially in chapter 7 where she belittles women’s choice and rights as merely rebellion (because of the word association with abortion). She does the same with emotions, calling them ‘monkeys’ that need to be subdued. And she also does this with body image; “do you have health problems? Thank Him that you have a body at all.” 

Focus on performance: Well, the whole book is a focus on performance since her formula is “abject self-denial + obedience = good Christian.” 

Manipulation: Jankovic very much wants you to avoid negative emotions. This is manipulative. “The command to be constantly glorifying our God is essentially a command to be living in constant joy, with constant clarity of purpose and constant pleasures forevermore. Only to a sick heart could this arrangement sound like bondage.” (pp. 120-121) There’s an unspoken rule that feeling negative emotions means you’re not glorifying God, and the “can’t talk” rule also applies; obviously if you object to Jankovic’s formulation here, you must have a sick heart, right?

Idolatry: Ironically, in an effort to avoid focusing on the self and self-idolatry, Jankovic’s hyper-focus on our obedience and being mere ‘worshipers’ is in fact self-idolatry. Not to mention the kind of god she thinks is interested in this. 

Preoccupation with fault and blame: Jankovic does this by blaming the reader (and Christian women in general) for unwittingly being duped by ‘unbelieving philosophies.’ Even though she says she wants to encourage you in the truth, it’s not without back-handed blame for falling for worldly ideas. The reader clearly isn’t smart enough to understand this, therefore just ‘obey’ and forget of anything having to do with the self. It’s too complicated; best to avoid it.

Obscured reality: She begins by telling the reader how confused they are. This is a classic gaslighting technique and she vilifies trial-and-error. Consider, “…very few people who read this book are denying Christianity … but you may still struggle with identity because it seems so complicated sometimes.” (pg 69) “…many of us would not recognize a Christian philosophy of identity if we ran into it in the street. We are so muddled about the self and the purpose of humanity that we no longer even know where to begin.” (pg. 10) “The problem is not that we discuss ultimate things (obviously), but that we lie about them, or listen to lies. There is no gentle way of saying that the Christian world today has largely been deceived.” (pg. 11)

Unbalanced inter-relatedness: In this case, Jankovic is over-involved. She’s telling you what you can and cannot believe about your personality, your emotions, your body image, your meaning in life, etc. 

Chew the meat, spit out the bones?

I hate this phrase. It’s one that I’ve learned only recently from Christian women who seem to think they can sift out the useful from the useless in books like this. (Seriously, is the tripe being fed to Christian women nothing more than scraps that must be scavenged from the table of poor theology?) These sorts of books frequently call women to discernment, but with one problem: women are never taught the doctrine necessary to be able to discern. But even for myself, someone who is naturally intellectual and educated in theology and philosophy, this book was a hard read. Not because it was “convicting” but because it was so condemning. Condemnation is not conviction! This goes against both Romans 8:1 and Galatians 5:1.

Even so, this book is nothing but gristle and bones; no substantive meat to glean. 

The importance of identity to the Christian life

Where Jankovic tells you to ignore self-reflection and just obey the commands of God, John Calvin says that the knowledge of self and of God are mutually connected. In other words, you cannot avoid self-reflection and personal identity if you are to know God. I think the reformed confessions and catechisms resoundingly reject Jankovic on her theology, I’ve posted relevant excerpts below. But I want to draw out some vital points that explain why Christians ought to explore their identity. 

Biblical personhood is inextricably bound to the image of God in man. Identity then, is how that image manifests in its various ways. Since identity is what differentiates us, it makes sense that our identity in Christ differentiates the elect from the non-elect. But our identity in Christ is not a monolith which creates male and female drones. It informs our individual identity. Where persons reflects the refulgence of God’s image, that light illuminates our individuality in much the same way the sunlight reveals our unique physical features. And where fallen man’s image is corrupt and hopeless concerning salvation, the elect are being transformed into the image of Christ, making their individual identities pleasing to God. 

Recall identity can be either positive or destructive. This is true of all people. There are indeed aspects of our identity that can be used toward destructive ends, but positive ends as well, though not in themselves toward meriting salvation. For example, sexuality is a part of identity. A healthy sexuality reflecting God’s design is positive. Sexuality that violates God’s design is destructive. See? How about this: introversion is a part of identity. Using introversion in service to others is positive. Exploiting introversion as a crutch and excuse for treating others poorly is destructive.

One’s identity in Christ means that these positive expressions of identity are within our Christian liberty and glorify God without added spiritual bootstrapping, while destructive expressions are an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. But our identity in Christ doesn’t change our personality, as Jankovic posits. You may be an introvert, and need to stretch yourself in areas of weakness (eg. public speaking or hospitality), but regeneration and sanctification won’t take an introvert and make them an extrovert. Likewise, our suffering becomes a part of our identity. It may be positive in that you use your experience to serve others suffering similar situations. It may be destructive if you take on a victim mentality. Moreover, having a sense of self and your identity, makes you a less likely to habitually subject yourself to abuse. While Americans are talking about how many victims fall into abusive situations, without realizing it, we can help prevent future occurrences by encouraging a healthy exploration of the self. 

The Christian life is not all peaches and cream, and it’s unnecessary to avoid negative emotions. God created emotions; Christ experienced a gambit of positive and negative emotions, and never sinned. Properly used, they’re indicators of something reality that should be acknowledged, not something to be quieted or subdued. (Actually, suppressing your emotions, especially negative ones has a detrimental effect which can turn you into an abuser). 

The Christian life is certainly one of repentance, but it’s not one that demands abject denial of life’s pleasures or who we are. It is a beautiful thing that God created us to reflect his image in individual ways. We enjoy God, in part, by enjoying God’s creation. You are God’s creation and there’s nothing wrong with knowing and understanding yourself. In fact, when you go through trials, knowing who God made you to be aids you enormously. There will be times when friends and family abandon you, or your church elders betray you, or tragedy strikes. In those times of life, it will most likely be just you and God. If your sense of self is wrapped up in those around you, as Jankovic advises, then these moments of trial will be far worse, more painful, and may even undermine your faith. 

Conclusion

In some ways Jankovic’s book is the opposite of Hollis’ book, but in many ways, it’s just a spiritualized version of it. Where Hollis believes you can create your own identity, Jankovic believes that there’s nothing to discover in your identity except the worshiper she’s conceived of. Though it is true that God created you, identity and all, you are nonetheless an individual and your identity is as discoverable as the rest of general revelation.  

This book is difficult for several reasons. First, while building her case against Christian acceptance of nihilism, existentialism, and self-actualization, she does not inform the reader where her philosophical agreements are. The same is true of her doctrinal commitments. She doesn’t expect her target audience to know these things. 

To be sure, she ascribes herself to particular philosophical and theological/doctrinal commitments; she just doesn’t name or define them. To the astute and discerning reader, her fundamental philosophical and religious commitments are obvious. 

Another difficulty is that there are some things to agree with in the book. Unfortunately, where she’s correct, she’s correct for the wrong reasons, and where she’s wrong, she’s grievously wrong. I’m afraid the popularity of her book comes more in solidarity for what she hates, rather than for whether it’s teaching women good theology and a correct understanding of identity. 

In contrast to the misguided vision presented in Jankovic’s book, regenerate believers can rest knowing that our sins are paid for, our relationship with God is restored, and that the Spirit is in control of conforming us to the Image of Christ, enabling us to delight in the law in the hands of Christ. 

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Footnotes

NOTES:

*Consider what Jankovic says here:

“…you will find that when you have a question about your self, it will be one with a real answer. “Does this glorify God?” That is a question that has a real answer. You will find yourself spending approximately zero time on questions like, “But who am I really?” and spending more time on things like, “What is my duty here? How can I glorify God in this phase of life?”

At best, there is cause for confusion here. It’s too easy to think that pleasant things, whether grand or simple, are what glorify God. But what do you say to the woman suffering from anxiety? When she’s in the midst of a panic attack and unable to simply will herself to stop? Here’s what Jankovic says:

“Let’s say that you are naturally disposed to worry, and, right in the middle of an anxiety fest, you open your Bible to see this: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7). Now let’s imagine that you apply the admonition from James and immediately obey. You pray and ask God to take your worry. You lift up your concerns with thanksgiving. What does this passage tell you will happen? The peace that passes understanding will set about you like a guard dog. You will be protected from yourself! So here we can see a very straightforward way in which obedience to God transforms you.”

If calls in Scripture to not be anxious are commands of God that must be obeyed by our own bootstraps, then we are woefully lost. If we are mere worshipers, we have to cure our own anxiety or risk coming to the throne of God lying about our mental-emotional state. Even if it’s going through the motions of reading a passage of Scripture and waiting for it to work as a spiritual bit of Tylenol. Going through motions is not the point of redeeming faith. Rachel’s formula here immediately creates a negative picture of the self. Anyone who suffers from anxiety already knows how negative it is. Finding relief from it is not a matter of the will, nor is it a matter of reciting memory verses as though they are mantras. This is as erroneous as any “name it and claim it” prosperity Gospel.  

Rather, as a child of God, it’s a greater act of worship to go to our Father without being cured and seek comfort from him. Obviously, this is done through prayer or Scripture reading. But it’s also through fellowship with another believer who suffers-long with you, or taking advantage of various self-care and coping mechanisms. Being transformed does not mean curing ourselves of the “thorns in our flesh” through sheer will power and compliance to behavioral standards, “to the glory of God.” Rather, being transformed entails knowing that God is the only source of our comfort, and he’s provided a great many ways in which to provide that comfort that may not even be overtly “religious” in appearance. 

RESOURCES:

On Philosophy

The Consequences of Ideas by R. C. Sproul
Is There a Christian View of Everything From Soup to Nuts?” 
The Idea of a Christian Philosophy by Roy Clouser

On Theology

Glory-Cloud Podcast: 036 – The Law in the hand of Christ: Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, Law & Gospel
Dr. Irons on “The Righteousness of God and the New Perspective on Paul” (Video)
Covenant Theology under Attack 
Married to Another” Sermon Series by Lee Irons (Especially lecture 5)
No Little Women by Aimee Byrd

On Manipulation & Spiritual Abuse:

Who’s Pulling Your Strings?
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

On regeneration:

Q. 67. What is effectual calling? (Westminster Larger Catechism)

A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace [1] whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) [2] he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; [3] savingly enlightening their minds, [4] renewing and powerfully determining their wills, [5] so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein. [6]

1. Jn 5:25Eph. 1:18-202 Tim. 1:8-9
2. Ti. 3:4-5Eph. 2:4-57-9Rom 9:11
3. 2 Cor 5:202 Cor. 6:1-2Jn 6:442 Thes 2:13-14
4. Acts 26:181 Cor 2:1012;
5. Ezek. 11:19Ezek. 36:26-27Jn 6:45
6. Eph 2:5Phil 2:13Deut 30:6

On Justification:

Chapter XI: Of Justification (Westminster Confession of Faith)

I. Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies;[1] not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,[2] they receiving and resting on Him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.[3]

II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification:[4] yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.[5]

III. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf.[6] Yet, in as much as he was given by the Father for them;[7] and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead;[8] and both, freely, not for any thing in them; their justification is only of free grace;[9] that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.[10]

IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect,[11] and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification:[12] nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit does, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.[13]

V. God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified;[14] and although they can never fall from the state of justification,[15] yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.[16]

VI. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.[17]

On sanctification:

Article 24: Man’s Sanctification and Good Works (Belgic Confession)

We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a “new man,”^57 causing him to live the “new life”^58 and freeing him from the slavery of sin.

Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned.

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? (WLC)

A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification,[330] yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ;[331] in sanctification of his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof;[332] in the former, sin is pardoned;[333] in the other, it is subdued:[334] the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation[335] the other is neither equal in all,[336] nor in this life perfect in any,[337] but growing up to perfection.[338]

On good works:

Chapter XVI: Of Good Works (WCF)

III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.[12] And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of his good pleasure:[13] yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.[14]

IV. They who, in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possibly in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.[15]

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