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The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution Hardcover – November 10, 2020

4.7 out of 5 stars 22 ratings

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From the Publisher

Christianity Confronted with New Ideas of Identity: Q&A with Carl R. Trueman

Reformation historian Carl Trueman says traditional Christianity and the very idea of being made in the image of God is besieged today in the West. In his new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Crossway, November), he writes, “The framework for identity in wider society is deep rooted, powerful, and fundamentally antithetical to the kind of identity promoted as basic in the Bible... Any return to a society built on a broad religious, or even a mere metaphysical, consensus is extremely unlikely.”

But the author, a professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College (Grove City, Penn.) and frequent contributor to conservative Christian sites such as The Gospel Coalition and First Things, neither rages nor wails about what he calls a spiritual, theological and cultural crisis. Instead, he calmly examines forces in history, philosophy, psychology and art he says propelled a radical social shift from Scripture’s vision of “male and female He created them.”

PW asked Trueman about where Christianity is headed and why the hottest topic in identity politics today – transgender identity – is so fraught for the faithful.

(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity)

What do you mean by “expressive individualism?

As a Christian, I would say we are made in the image of God and this is my God-given identity. My book traces the transformation of human identity into a primarily psychological understanding of personal identity as a state of mind or a state of feelings. What happens if I believe my mind says one thing and my body says another? Expressive individualism would say God got it wrong. But I would ask, what if God got your body right and your mind is what is wrong?

How does the idea of a transgender identity encapsulate your argument that the Biblical worldview is in danger?

It represents a radical shift in how to understand self and identity. There are fundamental differences in the way the gay debate is set up and the way transgenderism discussion is set up. Although the debates are politically connected, the idea of being gay is still based in a binary understanding – male and female roles. Transgenderism says gender is negotiable, not tethered to biology, not absolute.

Why is this more troubling to many Christians than even gay marriage?

Most of us have gay friends, gay neighbors. The battle over gay marriage is over. The L, G, B part of the acronym doesn’t affect how we live our life on day-to-day basis. But the T in LGBT is important; the normalization of transgenderism is the point in the sexual revolution that affects everybody and creates challenges and conflicts in many directions. Think of school sports or bathroom policies tor the definition of “privacy.” We all have a stake in the outcome.

Rod Dreher’s foreword to your book charges that “erasing the boundaries between male and female” has led to “a general spirit of demonic destruction that denies the sacredness of human life.” But you don't offer any "polemics or a laments.” Why not?

Arguing about “natural law” is contentious. And shouting Bible verses at young people isn’t going to persuade them that the Christian way is the best way. I want to look objectively, thoughtfully at how we got here and where we’re heading. I don’t see a peaceful resolution. One side will lose and I suspect it will be the religious side that will lose. We have already conceded the vocabulary – allowing sexuality and gender to be determinates of identity. And once you tear identity away from physical embodiment and to root it entirely in the psychological world you are operating on the same trajectory as transgenderism.

You write that Christians can find a model for the future in Second Century “when the church was a marginal sect within a dominant pluralist society.” Why would that work?

Human beings need to belong, to be recognized, to have a community. So we need new communities, small communities of faithful Christian citizens, living by moral principles, trying to be the church and to build relationships.

Editorial Reviews


The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is perhaps the most significant analysis and evaluation of Western culture written by a Protestant during the past fifty years. If you want to understand the social, cultural, and political convulsions we are now experiencing, buy this book, and read it for all it is worth. Highly recommended.”
Bruce Riley Ashford, Professor of Theology and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; coauthor, The Gospel of Our King

“Carl Trueman has a rare gift for fusing the deep social insights of a Philip Rieff, a Christopher Lasch, or an Augusto Del Noce with a vital Christian faith and marvelously engaging style. Psalm 8 names the central question of every age, including our own: ‘What is man?’ In explaining the development of the modern self and the challenges it poses to human identity and happiness, Trueman makes sense of a fragmenting world. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned for sustaining the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture.”
Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia

“This is a characteristically brilliant book by Carl Trueman, helping the church understand why people believe that sexual difference is a matter of psychological choice. Indeed, Trueman shows how the story we tell ourselves about normalized LGBTQ+ values is false and foolish. With wisdom and clarity, Trueman guides readers through the work of Charles Taylor, Philip Rieff, British Romantic poets, and Continental philosophers to trace the history of expressive individualism from the eighteenth century to the present. The rejection of mimesis (finding excellence by imitating something greater than yourself) for poiesis (finding authenticity by inventing yourself on your own terms), in addition to the Romantic movement’s welding of sexual expression as a building block of political liberation, ushers in the modern LGBTQ+ movement as if on cue. This book reveals how important it is for thinking Christians to distinguish virtue from virtue signaling. The former makes you brave; the latter renders you a man pleaser, which is a hard line to toe in a world where there are so few real men left to please.”
Rosaria Butterfield, Former Professor of English, Syracuse University; author, The Gospel Comes with a House Key

“Moderns, especially Christian moderns, wonder how our society arrived at this strange moment when nearly everything about the self and sexuality that our grandparents believed is ridiculed. This genealogy of culture, clearly and elegantly written, will help all of us understand how we got to where we are, so that we can plot our own futures with more clarity and confidence. This book is a must-read for Christians and all others who are disturbed by the dictatorship of relativism that surrounds us.”
Gerald R. McDermott, Former Anglican Chair of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School

“Carl Trueman is a superb teacher. Sharp, perceptive, and lucid, this book is the worthy fruit of learnedness and insight. But more than a teacher, Trueman also has the voice of a prophet. He speaks truth masterfully, with power. In bringing clarity on how we got to our present desert wilderness as a culture, Trueman helps us understand our crooked ways―and situates us to make straight the way of the Lord.”
Adeline A. Allen, Associate Professor of Law, Trinity Law School

“This is an amazing piece of work. Blending social commentary with an insightful history of ideas as well as keen philosophical and theological analyses, Carl Trueman has given us what is undoubtedly the most accessible and informed account of the modern self and how it has shaped and informed the cultural battles of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. It is a fair-minded, carefully wrought diagnosis of what ails our present age. This book is essential reading for all serious religious believers who rightly sense that the ground is shifting underneath their feet, that the missionaries for the modern self are not content with simply allowing believers to practice their faith in peace but see these believers and their institutions as targets for colonization and involuntary assimilation. For this reason, every president of a faith-based college or university should read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self more than once.”
Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy, Baylor University

“Those looking for a light read that provides escape from the cares of the world will not find The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self their book of choice. But this volume will richly reward readers who don’t mind thinking hard about important (though sometimes unpleasant) topics. Christians have been taken off guard by how rapidly cultural mores have changed around them, but Carl Trueman demonstrates that radical thinkers have long been laying a foundation for these developments. Readers should press on to the end―the final paragraphs are among the best.”
David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, Westminster Seminary California

“Carl Trueman’s gifts as an intellectual historian shine in this profound and lucid book. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self needs to be read by anyone who wants to understand our current cultural distempers.”
R. R. Reno, Editor, First Things

“Carl Trueman has written an excellent book: ambitious in its scope yet circumspect in its claims and temperate, even gentlemanly, in its tone. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self will prove indispensable in moving beyond the superficiality of moralistic and liberationist interpretations to a deeper understanding and should be required reading for all who truly wish to understand the times we live in or are concerned about the human future. I very much hope it receives the wide readership it deserves.”
Michael Hanby, Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy of Science, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America

“Our culture did not simply wake up one morning and decide to reject sexual mores that have held civilization together for millennia. The sexual revolution that has overthrown basic human and teleological assumptions over the past sixty years has a history. With the adroit skill of an intellectual historian, the patience and humility of a master teacher, and the charity and conviction of a Christian pastor, Carl Trueman offers us this necessary book. We cannot respond appropriately to our times unless we understand how and why our times are defined such as they are. Trueman’s work is a great gift to us in our continuing struggle to live in the world but be not of the world.”
John D. Wilsey, Associate Professor of Church History and Philosophy, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, God’s Cold Warrior and American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion

“I don’t think there will be a better-researched or more fascinating book in all of 2020.”
Tim Challies, blogger, Challies.com

About the Author

Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is an esteemed church historian and previously served as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Trueman has authored or edited more than a dozen books, including The Creedal ImperativeLuther on the Christian Life; and Histories and Fallacies. Trueman is a member of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 1.59 pounds
  • Hardcover : 432 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1433556332
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1433556333
  • Dimensions : 6 x 1.38 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : Crossway (November 10, 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 22 ratings

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