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.
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”