In Part 1 of this series, I reviewed a new book by Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College. “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.”
Trueman lays out the major shifts in Western thought over the past three centuriesthat produce a statement like the one above. These shifts highlight the priority of inner feelings over biology and community. And this new expressive individualism is sexualized to see gender as a core to individual and social identity.
From the evolution of these ideas Trueman says we can understand this statement, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” as a position that has gradually progressed from centuries of secular philosophy and rejection of Christian thought.
While Part 1 outlined Trueman’s mapping of these philosophical shifts, here in Part 2 I engage more deeply with his book and his application for the Church today. Part 3 (April) will expand on these applications for today.
Trueman mentions that his book is a platform to both present the past and launch into debates of the future. Trueman gives some of his tips on handling this evolution of ideas. Firstly, Christians should know this world is not their home. Christians are strangers in this land and should not worry about a world that appears out of control.
Secondly, don’t whinge about modern challenges. Trueman talks about, “an odd masochistic pleasure” to whinge at the current times and look back at the “good old days.” He encourages people to not fall into this trap but to see God’s guiding and loving rule through all situations.
Thirdly, our current cultural position of accepting “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is not the problem but just the symptom. Trueman says the true root of the issue is a “deeper revolution in what it means to be a self” (p. 384). His point is to remind us that the human condition has not changed since The Fall but the way it is expressed has.
What changes is the imagery we have, to be God. For example, the desire for the newest mobile phone is different from the desires in Shakespeare’s time. However, the desire of something to complete us remains the same across time.
Fourthly, some ideas we see in this movement are good. In the 1500’s individuals had no choice about issues of faith. Most were Roman Catholic. Today, we can choose to be Christians, even what type of Christian church we want to belong to (e.g. Pentecostal, Anglican etc.). Not all expressive individualism is bad. Choice is a good thing.
Fifthly, Christians are part of this change of ideas. Christians cannot be the modern Pharisees hypocritically saying they want to be separate yet enjoying the benefits of expressive individualism. Christians, Trueman warns, engage in the same them-and-us “cancel culture” bias.
For example, preaching can become a therapeutic process of bringing people towards personal happiness based on emotional experiences and what people want to hear. That is, preaching to what people want to hear.
Or look at the example of modern protestant church’s anticulture and iconoclasm towards their foundational creeds and confessions. Churches ignore their creeds thinking them as irrelevant despite being foundational for their beliefs. Christians have been part of the push for change as part of this wider movement.
Sixthly, LGBTQIA+ is not primarily about sexual identity. Trueman explains, “Sexual activity that does not reflect the biblical purpose of sex is wrong and to be clearly confronted as such by the church in her teaching and in her application of that teaching. However, the LGBTQIA + discussion is much deeper than that because it connects to matters of identity, of who we think we are at the most basic level.”
As such, Christians, Trueman suggests, should consider not using the same wooden categories defined by current LGBTQIA + trends. For example, is sexuality the foundation of our identity, or as Trueman suggests, is God the central source of our identity?
As Trueman suggests, ideas matter and shape cultures. He maps out the centuries of ideas that have produced a statement such as “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”
Trueman’s ideas in “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” will also help shape culture and set Christian thought and apologetics for years to come. Part 3 will conclude by exploring the direct application of his ideas to the modern Church.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover1.html