"Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self" book review

"Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self" Matthew Roberts


How do we respond to the secular culture’s presumption that you can find who you really are by looking within?

Desires, worship, idolatry, identity. Matthew Roberts shows how each follows on from the other as he exposes today’s worldview whose idol ‘the free self’ promises freedom but in fact enslaves. Who we are and who we understand ourselves to be is grounded in whom we worship.

For Western secularism this means particularly our freedom to fulfil our desires. Self-expression, authenticity, self-identification. It’s all around us. He quotes Elsa from ‘Frozen’:

“It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through,

No right, no wrong, no rules for me,

I’m free.”

The book falls into two sections, part one: defined by worship, part two: restored to be true worshippers. In part one, chapter 1 he outlines “We are one thing, we believe ourselves to be something else”, “we do not know ourselves by focusing on ourselves; we know ourselves by focusing on God”, as Augustine said “you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you”. Chapter 2 is about the idolatry of the self, chapters 3 and 4 the slavery and sinfulness of sexual desire. Are we guilty before God not only for what we have done, but also for our desires? They are not neutral and not to be confused with temptation. He follows John Owen “the lusts of our hearts render us guilty before God”. This is against a background of a culture and parts of the church that says it is sinful to be told that your desires are sinful.

Part 2 chapter 5 explains the significance of sex, chapter 6 the gospel of who we are, chapter 7 redemption of identity and chapter 8 Christian worship and losing and finding ourselves. Roberts describes how ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ is really an idolatry, it is “a problem so fundamental that they must be rejected by Christians not simply as justifications of certain sorts of behaviour but as concepts in themselves”. It is a fallacy to simply assume that ‘same-sex attracted’ is ‘what I am’, a morally neutral orientation and that God made me that way, concluding that same-sex acts are bad, same-sex identities are neutral or good. He takes issue with those Christian authors who have assumed and adopted LGBT identifiers as valid, which implies that identity is defined by desire.

God’s Word gives a better account of what is going on in the world’s obsession with identity than the world can give of itself. At the heart of the secular narrative is a desire to control one’s destiny.

“Idolatry tells compelling lies about the nature of reality, about the significance of ourselves, about how we can find fulfilment, about what behaviour will lead to blessing and what will lead to curse, about what is good and what is evil. It first legitimises sin, then normalises it, then demands it, promising blessings that it cannot deliver and threatening curses for non-compliance that it cannot carry out. And the human heart, with sinful desires unchecked by the grace of God, cannot escape from the power of such idols.” p.120

God’s good design and order in creating human nature in his image, male and female, has not changed. The Bible is clear “we are called to be men and women as part of our created purpose as images of God.”

He adopts ‘Pride’ as an umbrella term rather than the ever-growing LGBT+ acronym for a complex of ideas, people, literature and culture. He calls the LGBT ‘community’ something of a fiction, cleverly marketed with positive words such as ‘pride’, ‘celebration’ with a rainbow logo whilst fighting for ‘rights’ and ‘equality’.

This challenges us in the church to put our orthodoxy into practice and call out error, (as in the Jerusalem declaration, article 13), not limited to a defensive response, but recovering and demonstrating our confidence in God’s promise that obedience leads to abundant life. The church has been slow, yes it should make its statements of what it is against, but even better, tell the story (see Glynn Harrison’s book A Better Story) of reflecting the glory of God and the passionate nature of Christ’s love for his bride, the church. Within the church this is hardly a secondary doctrinal issue over which Christians can legitimately disagree - like different views on Brexit or the Covid pandemic as one church leader has said.

The author is uncompromising in his analysis and goes further with his application than some might expect, for instance in what godly maleness and femaleness looks like and how he picks up on those who try to describe identity. Is it just semantics? Elsewhere one might wish for more on the pros and cons of counselling therapy, deliverance ministry and what pastoral support means in practice.

In summary, the book is enormously helpful in revealing biblical truths as they engage with the message of the culture that surrounds us, which is also tragically found in false teaching within the church.

“Our crisis of identity is at root a crisis of worship. The Christian gospel, being God’s call to worship Him alone, uniquely has the resources to remedy this.” p.14