“On Losing and Saving the Self”

Given the thoughtful response to Bruce Herman’s Oxbridge 2008 lecture topic, we are pleased to post Wilfred McClay’s abstract of his Oxbridge 2008 lecture, “On Losing and Saving the Self.” Please write in with your thoughts.

“On Losing and Saving the Self”

By overthrowing all older sources of moral authority, modern culture has enthroned the individual as the sole valid source of meaning, and promoted the pursuit of happiness as the chief end of life. But if we accept this state of affairs, we make a dreadful mistake, one that places upon the self a greater burden than it can bear, and cuts us off from the very happiness we so avidly pursue.

But the Christian faith does not make this mistake. It envisions life as a steady parade of astounding reversals, in which the appearances are regularly turned on their heads: the first becomes last, the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone, and our weakness becomes our strength. So too, will the wounded and needy modern self find restoration and wholeness, not through its own introspective efforts, but by acknowledging that its chief source of meaning is something outside itself. The search for the self should lead us to what is beyond the self.

My title comes from words near the end of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, in which this : “The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.”

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think what is mentioned in the abstract is the most difficult part of living out Christianity. I liken the journey to when I was a small child and used to hold a mirror beneath my chin so all I could see when I looked down was the ceiling reflected in the mirror. By walking through the house that way, my feet were on the floor, my eyes were looking down, but all I saw was the ceiling (it was a ceiling of various heights and, I guess, an interesting exercise for a small child). But I had to walk something that felt, to my feet, completely different from what I was seeing.

    I guess part of the dying to self is living the opposite of what is going on around us. In a world that does not acknowledge authority, we are to base our lives on the authority of Word of God. Period. There really is nothing that can be done to make it more palatable (keeping in mind, however, that I am reducing it to its most basic essence and leaving out the joy that comes from obeying — or as Michael Card said in “Joy in the Journey” — “there is freedom for those who obey”). This dying to self does not come naturally. Searching to “find yourself” does come a bit more naturally. Is there a reconciliation between the two, a redemption of the “finding yourself” when you die to self and look to God?

  2. I think Peter shows this concept in the most extraordinary way when he take that step of faith out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus, leaving all of his worldly foundations and logics behind to be completely relied on God. In a way we should do as Peter; leaving ourselves in the world and finding our true, pure selves in God, giving ourselves up. However, believing or mere faith of finding ourselves is just talk; it’s our every action that shows and proves our reliance on God. Peter did not talk himself out on the water, he walked himself out there.


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