Book Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

If the inner psychological self of the individual is sovereign, then identity becomes as potentially unlimited as the human imagination. Yet this would still leave some questions unresolved, questions that have a particular urgency in our current political climate. Why, for example, have the politics of sexual identity become so ferocious that any dissent from the latest orthodoxy is greeted with scorn and sometimes even legal action? A moment’s reflection would seem to suggest that this is, on the surface at least, a rather odd phenomenon. What does it matter, to borrow a phrase oft used in the gay marriage debate surrounding the Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges… what people do in private? Why should my agreement or disagreement with what consenting adults do behind closed doors be of any great public importance? If two men have a sexual relationship in the privacy of their bedroom, my disagreement with such behavior neither picks their pockets nor breaks their legs, as Thomas Jefferson would say. So why should disagreement with current sexual mores be regarded as somehow immoral and intolerable in the wider public sphere?

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, pp. 50-51

If there is one truth that should be evident from this podcast, it’s that I enjoy reading. I’ve reached that “I need more bookcases” stage, a problem which is furthered by visits to the local used book store (one that has a surprisingly wide selection of even decent Christian authors, rather than the usual Barnes & Noble offering of prosperity gospel nonsense cloaked as Christianity). Books, reading them and talking about them, are one of the biggest drivers for conversation between Jarod and myself. And yet the book I’ve just finished is one of the most important ones I believe I’ve had the opportunity to dig into, one which will provide a great deal of new information to guide our future ministry.

That book is theologian and professor Carl Trueman’s latest offering, entitled The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. With a title that long, you can see already that this book will not be playing games. Trueman’s writing is dense but there are no wasted words: each section lays out in clear terms, backed up with extensive footnotes, that draw out a truth that we as Christians, especially American and Western Christians, need to know. Namely, that the seemingly sudden change of attitudes among our fellow countrymen towards issues like sexual morality and the fundamental rights that are necessary to a free society are not new, nor are they simply the result of this strange, alien millennial generation. Rather, they are the fruit borne of seeds planted in the very foundation of the Enlightenment itself, with roots that threaten to tear apart the foundations of the society that enabled them to thrive at all.

Setting expectations

It seems like the last few years have seen a lot of titles released attempting to wrestle with both the ongoing “culture war” as well as the struggle within the church to figure out how to engage with the culture. What does it look like to be faithful to biblical doctrine in the face of a culture which has no patience for such concerns, and in fact is becoming openly antagonistic towards them?

The paragraph quoted above is not quoted because it is the question the book answers, but as an example given by the author of the sort of argument that is drawing many Christians and cultural conservatives into a place where we are fighting battles over the wrong things. Firstly, because we are letting our opponents draw us out with absurd charges and setting the battle lines, and secondly because we don’t truly understand that the debate has eroded any form of common ground upon which we can stand with them.

That is probably one of the most important things to draw as you walk through this book: the ground on which the cultural and sexual revolutionaries of today stand is not simply a matter of opinion variance. It is a markedly different worldview, one that has been a very long time in the making.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”

Kings Highway Radio: Fighting the Wrong Battle

The last Kings Highway Radio was back at the beginning of the new year, before the infamous DC capital riot exposed the rotten fruit of QAnon. After spending an hour talking about the dangers of conspiracy thinking to the beliefs and attitudes of Christians, we are feeling rather justified in our concerns.

This episode, we wanted to take a look not just at that, but at the big question of: what does it mean to be a faithful Christian and engage with politics? We got a bit ranty this time, because both of us have been very frustrated by the increasing focus of many fellow believers on the idea that we have to achieve political victory in order to “save America” and maintain our way of life.

The last Spurgeon Audio was on the sealing of the Spirit, and what that means for the lives of believers. I believe that what we are seeing in the behavior of many confessing Christians is that they don’t actually trust God to do what He says He will. They may believe that Scripture is truly God’s inerrant, infallible Word, but their actions say, “I don’t trust what it says.”

In particular I want to emphasize something important, something that I think speaks to all of us: do we believe that following Jesus is better than success in the world? When we see charging into battle with one another over this issue or that cultural struggle, we as Christians need to consider that carefully. Is this battle something that is giving glory to God, or is it part of a call to glorify ourselves as smarter and wiser? If we are walking and speaking in a way that is disrespectful and unloving to God and to our neighbor in the pursuit of “owning the libs” or fighting for what we believe is “justice” do we actually trust God to define those things, and to work His will in our world?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

We also talked about an excellent book that I’ve been reading, and plan to write a full review of once I’ve finished. The book is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individiualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. It bears directly on what we discussed today, and I can’t recommend it enough as a book Christians should read and seriously ponder.

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Kings Highway Radio: Deadly Dichotomies

Happy New Year! Dave and Jarod are kicking things off with a discussion of the dangers Christians enter into when trusting to earthly political power, and the lure of conspiratorial thinking for people trying to understand why things aren’t going the way they want. Listen and share, and please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Kings Highway Radio: Grab Bag

Jarod and Dave chop it up about a few topics in the aftermath of the last few heavy episodes. In particular they dig into stories and reactions online to the continued national controversy over racism. This has produced no small amount of opportunities for many to try to prove their self-righteousness, and the guys talk about a few of those, as well as the positive influences they’ve been looking to in this difficult time.

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Kings Highway Radio: Labeled

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Jarod and Dave sit down to a conversation about the dividing lines that we often find, and the terms we use to try to both understand and shut down the other side in these debates of the day. We often find ourselves feeling like we’re in the middle of a culture clash, and this one is no exception, as we seek to point to the truth of the need for reformation while also rejecting the calls for undermining the entirety of society or for “decolonizing our faith.”

Scripture alone is sufficient as the infallible rule of faith for the church, and when we try to add another level above thing, things get rather tricky. Listen in and join the conversation.

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Kings Highway Radio: Carnal Conservatism

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The last few weeks saw a tragedy explode into furious and righteous anger across the nation and even into other countries, in the aftermath of the cell phone video of a police officer recklessly and carelessly killing a man in the street. I tried to address the outcry in the last Spurgeon Audio, but in the time since, quite a bit has happened and many cities still are experiencing everything from regular demonstrations and rioting to even certain cities losing control of areas to activists.

The question on the minds of so many is, how should we react to this? Many are calling this a revolution and the tendency of many on the conservative side is to see this as at least destructive to any idea of national identity, let alone peace and safety.

While they aren’t wrong, it’s also not wise for us to begin digging into this without first looking to our own hearts. Jarod and I were inspired by the term “carnal conservatism,” coined in the Power Religion book by R.C. Sproul, to consider how political allegiances affect the way we relate to those around us, both inside and outside of the church.

Listen in, and stay tuned for further debates as we start to go deeper into these issues–what does a right response to this look like from a Christian perspective? How do we engage in disagreement in a way that upholds what we believe is true–that all of us have inherent value as humans made in God’s image?

We welcome all feedback, and whether you want to interact with us here in the comments, through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or on YouTube, I hope you will take the time to check out this episode and join us in trying to think through the implications of what’s been happening for the church and for society.

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Spurgeon Audio: The Sorrowful Man’s Question

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[O]ften, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ’s sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master’s purpose, and brought you near his side.

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 2666: “The Sorrowful Man’s Question”

Yesterday while I was thinking about this next sermon in the Job series, I was also wrestling with the frustrations and failures and injustices that led to the recent horror we witnessed together in Minneapolis via someone’s cell phone camera–namely, the slow choking death of George Floyd as he lay in handcuffs on the ground, with a police officer’s knee on his neck. I thought about the fact that he probably left his home with the idea that it was any other night, and it would end like any other night. I’m aware of the statements about the forged bill and all that, but it hardly seems relevant, let alone in proportion to what happened.

I find myself looking at this as another in a long series of microcosms pointing to the evils and injustices not just hiding in a corner, but out in the wide open ruling over this world. I thought about how so many people have to consider their actions carefully every day, not knowing what may happen to them just like George Floyd had no idea what would happen to him. We all value our ability to live safely and feel safe at home, yet it’s such a shell, so easily broken whether on purpose or accident.

It’s easy, when considering these things, to begin to feel their weight very deeply. I have to often remind myself that when I confess faith in Christ, I’m not simply saying “I believe Jesus exists and that He did a thing.” What I’m saying is, I trust Him with my all. I trust Him to be who He says He is–the King, the Savior, and the One who is guiding me every step of the way. That reminder, that confession, is needed when despair creeps in, and it creeps in easily at times like this.

It’s difficult for Christians often to process the horrors and evils and frustrations, both personal and corporate, of living in a sinful and broken world. We look at our holy, just, and loving God, and we ask the same question any other person would ask at such times: Why? Why does a just God allow injustice to continue its iron-fisted rule? Why does a loving God allow loveless fury to reign in the streets and in the hearts of so many?

That we may be one

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 CSB

We’ve spent a lot of time on various podcasts talking about the ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Jarod and I have discussed it from perspectives of big-picture government responses, doctors and researchers exploring the spread of the virus and how it may be stopped or treated, and of course, the ways churches have tried to respond to this in a way that balances respect for local government authority and safety of their congregants with the need to gather and worship the Lord. It has produced for so many of us an intense time of longing for a return of the community we’ve been denied for several weeks now.

As all this has progressed, I’ve also watched individual responses and interactions, both close friends as well as far, laymen as well as leaders. I have wrestled a lot with how to speak to what I’ve seen. I’ve started writing many times on different platforms and deleted it, left it alone, rather than speak in anger and frustration or without trying to be fair in considering different viewpoints. Where I’ve landed is honestly not about where one falls on the spectrum of “open it all now” to “not until there’s a vaccine and even then I’m gonna wait a couple weeks.” Rather, my heart has been heavy with frustration more about the way I’ve seen us, believers in Christ, interacting over this.

I’ll be real honest with you people. I am very disappointed with how we as Christians have dealt with this. This experience should be a time for us to shine. Christians everywhere who have any kind of means should be out searching for any neighbors who are just hurting right now whether from lost work or illness or something else and pouring themselves out. They ought to be devoting themselves to service, to prayer, to crying out to the Lord to protect the sick around us and to provide for the poor.

But what I have seen has not looked like that, at least not from so many who have a high degree of visibility. I have seen leaders, godly men who I have looked to for wisdom and truth on so many issues and circumstances, arrogantly reacting unlovingly to everything from gentle correction to news stories. I’ve seen good brothers and sisters who previously had been gentle and sweet to each other now turning against one another in bitterness and division. And it has me deeply saddened and hurt to see so many not walking even remotely in a way that demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ words above: His desire that we would be recognized as His disciples by our love for one another.

Love one another

I’m not going to screenshot stuff. I’m not going to “get receipts” or whatever it is that the gossip-mongers and drama channels say when they dig up the latest dirt on someone with even the smallest amount of clout. Instead, I want to speak directly to each person who takes the time to read this: it is time for us as people who profess to love Jesus Christ to put up or shut up. It is time for us to stop regarding the Scriptures as a series of technicalities that allow us to disobey one thing in order to obey another. It is time, in short, for us to feel the weight of the Lord’s discipline on our hearts and to look to His example in giving up ourselves for the sake of love.

If you are new to this blog and podcast, you may not know that I spent the better part of last year working through the concept of unity in the Christ for the church. If God is willing, I am not done doing that either; Jarod and I are making plans for other projects that will involve this central and critical topic. If there is one thing that I hope is clear from all that, it is this: unity involves both a definition of what we are unified around, as well as a clear view of what walking in that unity looks like.

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t look like: it doesn’t look like “owning the libs.” It doesn’t look like your favorite TV or radio host Snarky McSmartAleck who cracks wise in precisely the right way that lets us look at those who disagree with us and go “Yeah, ya big idiots!” It doesn’t look like screaming like a lunatic about the president, no matter who it is. It doesn’t look like circular logic that begins with the conclusion you desired in the first place. And it doesn’t look like assuming the worst about your brothers and sisters.

“Aren’t you kind of doing that now?” you might ask. But I don’t want to assume anything. I just said: many of the people (on both sides of this fight) are men and women I respect and love. They aren’t people who are normally across the ideological or evangelical divide from me, but those who I have always regarded joyfully as fellow servants of Christ and brethren in the faith. And it is my desire that all of us in Christ, no matter where we fall within that aforementioned spectrum, would recall to mind that the one with whom they are speaking is like themselves: human firstly, saved by grace secondly, an heir of a greater gift by the blood and the Spirit.

No excuses

Firstly: are you serving? Are you giving, and asking, and looking for those around you who are hurting? Or, are you so busy thinking about the fear of government takeover that it prevents you from seeing the hurting before you? Are you so driven to argue that it prevents you from listening and considering?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks of the truth that even thought he had the right to the same kind of life that others in the church had, he desired to surrender those rights for the sake of those who he so diligently sought after for the sake of Christ. And he was willing to follow the path of Jesus in giving up all of himself for the sake of Christ’s people. He knew what he needed in order to live. He knew that God was aware of that fact as well, and he trusted fully to the Lord for those things. Yet he was willing to sacrifice it all if it meant Christ would be glorified and hearts would be transformed.

So at the end of this frustrated and frustrating exercise in responding to a whole myriad of arguments, the question I want to put before you the reader and myself is: how are you dying to yourself for the sake of Christ in the midst of this? Is the way you speak to and of others during this time showing a heart that trusts that God is a better provider, or do you cling to His gifts even as He tugs them away? Are you more fearful about losing your freedoms than you are about dishonoring the name of Christ before unbelievers?

I’m not saying I’m flawless in this. But this is certainly weighing deeply on me, and I hope more people will stop bickering and complaining and start thoughtfully considering the best way we can live in these deeply uncertain times with the only certainty that matters. We have an eternal weight of glory before us that ought to press in heavily on the way we consider these things.

Don’t mishear me: I am not saying it’s bad to disagree. I think that disagreements had properly, with love and gentleness, and with our hope fixed squarely on the eternal, are a reality of this world. Even if we agree in faith, we are going to disagree over earthly matters that the Bible doesn’t speak to. You can’t flip to a page and see “Oh, well, it says right here how to handle this outbreak” except perhaps in the sense that Levitical law speaks to quarantining in certain situations.

But you can see how to disagree, and my desire is that those who actually take the time to read this post will perhaps slow down and think about the questions I’ve raised. Brothers and sisters, it is my hope that we can disagree in love and unity, and serve our neighbors faithfully. Let us turn our efforts to love, service, prayer, and repentance, as we ought to, and seek to give glory to Jesus as the one who stands in the way of life, even when death and fear lurk.

Kings Highway Radio: Power Religion and Power Politics

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After making a few references to it before, we are finally starting our discussion of the book Power Religion: The Selling out of the Evangelical Church? The book is actually a collection of essays from various authors, edited by Michael Horton. The book is from 1992 so some of the specific references in the book are a little dated, but the issues they discuss are very much applicable today.

We are starting with part 1, made up of essays by Charles Colson and Kenneth A. Myers. The topic is one that is perennially hot amongst American Christians especially in years like this one, where a presidential election is looming and in the midst of ongoing strife. For many years Christians have been trying to make headway in “the culture war” politically, and have been feeling defeated as they see the nation trending away from Judeo-Christian values and towards secular humanism and a more hedonistic view of pleasure and self-seeking.

Blunted weapons

But this is not what Jesus has called the church to devote its resources towards. We aren’t to take up the same methods used by the world to try to change the world. Jesus didn’t come to raise up an army and drive out the Romans, so He could establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, He defeated death itself by dying on the cross, the king becoming a humiliated and executed servant for the sake of His people. We are called to live and work like Him, while the world looks on in confusion that someone so great would give up His position for such lowly people. Our testimony of the blood of Christ is our greatest weapon of conquest.

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Episode 41: A Prayer for the Church Militant

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Read the sermon text at Spurgeon Gems

On November 5, a little over two weeks ago as of this writing, a man named Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and proceeded to murder almost half of the congregation.  Of the 50 attendees of that church, he killed 24 of them.  When this happened, I was worshiping with my own church in Denton, about five hours north, and the horror of the tragedy struck close to my heart.  Not because I was afraid someone was going to appear at our door next, though that thought certainly did cross my mind, but because of the immense pain that such wickedness brings to God’s people.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and certainly many precious lives were lost that day, even as they were welcomed into glory.

The response of those around me was the response that any Christian should have to such acts: to cry out to our Father in grief, in seeking justice, and in need of the strength and wisdom to move to action.  Yet just as quickly as Christians moved to pray, the response that has been growing louder to that in popular culture came: sneering responses of “instead of just praying, why don’t you actually trying doing something.”  “I’m sick of thoughts and prayers.”  And so forth.

Life and death in Christ

The man who murdered those people took their lives, but he could never take them away from their Lord.  And a Christian who goes to God in prayer is not sitting in inaction, but is in fact performing the most important and primary action anyone who truly believes in Jesus as Lord should follow: going to God for direction, for strength, and for a reminder of Who truly rules even over the tragedies, Who will achieve His great purpose even when and even through man’s wicked acts, because no one can escape the will and design of God.  I wrote to my church in a request for prayer that day for FBC Sutherland Springs:

This is such a dark and wicked act, it is hard to think about how to react.  Anger and sadness both seem appropriate.  But I wanted to post this here and ask for prayer, and take a moment to talk about prayer in particular.  I am not a pastor or elder, but I don’t believe I am out of line to say that prayer is one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of the Christian.  The world sees “thoughts and prayers” and sneers at what they believe is inaction, but in fact we have taken one of the greatest actions a believer can take: going into the throne room of God and asking Him for intervention, for protection, for strength to act and wisdom to know how.

I hope we can all take time to pray for the people of this town, with 400 people living there and a church of 50 who just had almost half of those lost.  Prayer is not inaction, it is a deep and meaningful act Christians take to call upon the name of the Lord and seek the good mercies He pours out upon His children even in times of turmoil and hardship.

Doing all things

One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13.  We’ve all seen it plastered on motivational posters, athletic t-shirts, and all kinds of places with the completely wrong understanding of what is being said.  We tend to take it in a “Yeah, you can do it, you can achieve anything!” sort of way.  Paul, however, is not using it in a “rah rah, let’s go team” sense.  He is giving thanks to the church of Philippi for their prayers, because it was those prayers which cried out to God to give Paul strength to endure much suffering, and it was through those prayers that God ministered to the hearts of both the apostle and the church.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.–Philippians 4:10-13

No matter what the world may believe about prayer, about the power of God shown in weakness, we the church must persist.  I must persist, even as I am weak in my pursuit of holiness.  We must persist in seeking after the Lord, because in that we are putting our hands to the plow and stirring up the soil.  And when we are done praying, we must stand up, and go out into the world and serve, and love, and minister to the broken and downtrodden.

This is what frustrates me so much about the thoughts and behaviors that tend to typify American evangelicalism, because so much of it involves running from the world around us and hating it, not in a “I hate sin and how it destroys my life and therefore I will preach the gospel” way, but in a “I am more righteous than the world and don’t want to get my precious hands dirty touching it” way.  The former brings a drive to serve and love your neighbor.  The latter causes you to hate and hide from your neighbor.

I encourage you to hear the words of Charles Spurgeon, and cry out to God every day, whenever it comes into your mind, to strengthen the church, to feed His sheep, and to lead us to righteousness.  I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to obey Jesus in making Him first and foremost in your minds as you seek for answers to tragedy in a dark and sinful world.  And I encourage you: no matter what it is that you are facing, do not let yourself become discouraged, nor let yourself grow idle.  Walk through all of life looking to the cross of Christ knowing that He is the one all things come from, and to whom all things point.