Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Another White Western Evangelical Telling Us What’s Wrong with the World

Written by: on November 2, 2022

“What I offer here is essentially a prolegomenon to many discussions that Christians and others need to have about the most pressing issues of our day, particularly as they manifest themselves in the variety of ways in which the sexual revolution affects us,” argues Carl R. Trueman.

In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Trueman attempts to paint an image of the last several hundred years of history and philosophy that brings us to where we are today in his view of a culture where sex pervades everything. The biblical and religious studies professor focuses on several key factors:

  • Social Imaginary: a concept adapted from Charles Taylor, addressing the myriad of beliefs, practices, normative expectations, and implicit assumptions that society share and shape their daily lives.[1]
  • Expressive Individualism: finding our meaning by giving expression to our own feelings and desires.[2]
  • “The Third World Nature” of the West: he argues that this is due to the West’s post-acknowledgment of God; a concept taken from Philip Rieff’s Sacred Order/Social Order concept, namely first worlds are pagan but do not lack moral codes rooted in something greater than themselves[3]
  • The Idea of Tolerance: namely, that not all psychological identities are considered legitimate, because society will not allow for the expression of every particular form of sexual desire[4]
  • The Barbarism of Abortion: when personhood is seen as something connected to the sacred and transcending the merely material, then the embryo is a person of potential and protected.[5]
  • The Sexual Revolution: the modern result of these great shifts is the radical and ongoing transformation of sexual attitudes and behaviors that occurred in the West since the early 1960s.[6]

The book is broken up into four key parts, building his historical and philosophical argument to arrive at critique of our modern world. He can even note the primary sources of the West’s decline into “third worldism,” namely any great thinker, mathematician, psychologist, scientist, poet, or artist of the last two hundred years that challenged the power and assumptions of the dominant church.

I get it. Individualism has been elevated over collectivism in the West. I’ve actually written an entire chapter on this in my book for this doctoral program. However, if you want to strike hard at the concept of individualism, you can’t attack all the perceived aspect of culture that you do not believe in without actually reflecting on your own privilege as a white man whose education, career, and platform were built on the fact that this culture determined that his genitalia dictated his place and role within it. If you are going to give an honest and fair historical and philosophical assessment of individualism, male white dominance can’t be left out of the equation.

The first sign that this book would push my patience and try my ability to be opened minded to an alternative worldview was after a quick Google search only to find that Tim Keller’s Gospel Coalition gave the resource rave reviews. Mind you, when I’m looking to challenge my beliefs, I tend to use this platform as a polar opposite sounding board. Nothing embraces my contrary theological worldview than the all-male council of the organization that centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ, just not the one that finds Jesus hanging out with so-called sinners and marginalized and pushing against the self-righteous religious elite. White Evangelicalism has supplanted the Jesus of the Gospels with the fiery prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. Let’s check with Jonah to see how that ego-centric approach turned out.

Instead of taking time to understand what the people of our culture are trying to express about themselves, the church, and how God is at work in their lives, the Conservative Evangelical world continues to take potshots from the sidelines, playing the victim card. Last time I checked in church history, this kind of approach never really turned out well; ask the White church of the American South from the pre-Civil War to the Jim Crow era, the German Lutheran Church’s embrace of old Adolph and his Third Reich, those fun-loving church people that burned the supposed witches at the stake in Salem, who can forget the Anabaptists fiery moment of “heretical” glory, the scorched and scattered post-mortem remains of Wycliffe or the early church people who loved the idea of genital mutilation as a prerequisite of full inclusion.

Within this condemnation of expressive individualism, Trueman fails to recognize that the shifts and changes within the Western culture over the last 100 years have elevated the rights and equity of women, persons of color, and non-white-centric countries. The author attempts to tip his cap to this notion when he wrote, “None of this is to argue that we should simply lament the situation, for expressive individualism is not an unmitigated evil. In some ways, it marks a significant improvement on what which is replaced.”[7]

The reality is that people are not more hedonistic and sinful today than they were 300 years ago. Recent studies have found that people are more spiritual today than ever before.[8] What people are rejecting is the human construct of the religious institution. Even the Barna group recognized that the issues revolve around the church’s response to the exclusionary nature, repression of sexuality, scientific development, rejection of people’s wrestling and doubts, and lack of authenticity.[9] At the end of the day, what people reject today is the Western construct of the institutional church, not Jesus.

Therefore, a little empathy and listening skills might go a long way for the dying construct of the Western expression of the church. If the self-righteous, judgmental church can be more like Jesus, aligning themselves with the so-called sinners, eating meals with them, sharing stories with them, and living life beside them, maybe they just might be saved from the construct of Christianity made in their image rather than the guy from Nazareth.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is another attempt by a white Christian man whose career, power, and desire for control were built on a sense of privilege that they have yet to recognize.

[1] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020) 37.

[2] Ibid, 46. 

[3] Ibid, 75.

[4] Ibid, 52. 

[5] Ibid, 78. 

[6] Ibid, 21.

[7] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 386.

[8] Michael Lipka, and Claire Gecewicz, “More Americans Now Say They’re Spiritual but Not Religious.” Pew Research Center, last modified September 17, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/06/more-americans-now-say-theyre-spiritual-but-not-religious/.

[9] “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church,” Barna Group, Last modified September 27, 2011, https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/.

About the Author


Andy Hale

Associate Executive Coordinator of CBF North Carolina, CBF Podcast Creator and Host, & Professional Coach

12 responses to “Another White Western Evangelical Telling Us What’s Wrong with the World”

  1. You nailed the summary and greatly appreciate your reflection. As I continue to think on Trueman’s book and the many people I serve, I think your strong rebuke is necessary. His critique of the “psychological self” is cynical, arrogant, and dehumanizing. His inability to discern his god-like perspective on all people different than him, is shocking.

    As a doctoral student and leader I feel this book crosses an ethical line and is harmful in how it images people who use non-normative identifiers to communicate their humanity. What dangers do you see with Trueman’s work in the communities you influence?

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    A strong rebuke to this book, Andy. I thought the tracing of the historical developments of the past three centuries was worthwhile and illuminating. It helped me understand how we got to this point in society that we are now in. Did you think that part of the book was helpful?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Troy, that’s a great question. As the saying goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I think Trueman’s wholesale argument that these historical figures and movements led us to the place of sexual “duplicity” was a case of his failing to see that cultures and civilizations have advanced in immeasurably positive ways because of these key figures and movements.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, I appreciate you “putting your cards on the table.” The times I’ve been in non-white Christian contexts, the views on sexuality have been more conservative than Americas are today. So, would you understand the reactions as conservative Christian or does the white conservative Christian present a unique version of critique?

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, also meant to ask you: if you had one place to send me that details the meaning of the word “homosexual” in the Bible/First Century, where would you send me? I’ve been unconvinced by the sources I’ve read previously.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    So, you liked the book;) ?

    You make a solid argument. In my post to Michael, I was wondering what the other side might say in response to Trueman. I believe you captured it well. While I may have differences from you on this matter, I whole heartedly agree with this statement:

    The reality is that people are not more hedonistic and sinful today than they were 300 years ago.

    It is a pet-peeve of mine when we make our current cultural challenges and mishaps, or morality, as worse than the past. I always say, God had to address beastiality in the OT… now that is messed up!

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Andy, Thank you for your honest experience of this book!
    For several years now I have wanted to do a podcast that converses about the issues the church avoids. My first podcast would be, “Sex sells so why doesn’t the church sell it?” As you consider the apparent anxiety Trueman has about sexuality, what do you learn that can help us lead others who share the same fear/anxiety?

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Andy, thank you for your engagement with Trueman’s book. So much of what you write resonates with my internal conversation as I read his book. I kept wondering when he was going to lament the freedom women and people of color gained through the civil liberties work of the 1960s. It is pretty clear though from both the endorsement you note and from others I read that what he writes resonates positively for many within the Christian body. Do you think there is a constructive conversation that can be had between these very divergent viewpoints (and experiences of life)? And if so, what sort of framework would best facilitate it?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Andy, I can appreciate your strong opposition to this book. I would agree that he does not look at other positive changes such as releasing women in ministry and the inclusion of racial differences. I agree that the church has shot itself in the foot by not including the “sinner” at the table. I guess the question I have is where is the line on sin? Even Jesus, in all love and grace called out all manner of sin, saying go and sin no more. Is there a time that it is appropriate? For me, I think the bigger issue is that church leadership has cherry picked which behavior they are going to focus on, sometimes arbitrarily, while not being willing to address their own transgressions.

    • mm Andy Hale says:


      I think the Evangelical construct of sin needs to be revisited. This is the hill they want to die on while their churches are full of people quite literally dying of things the Bible talks about 100x more than their interpretation of what the Bible has to say about sexuality. Why is homosexuality their impassioned enemy while the Bible talks about gossip, gluttony, misuse and misearnings of our money, treatment of immigrants and marginalized, and hatred 10 fold more than sexuality?

      It would be arrogant for one tradition to wholesale the idea of sexual sin while many other church traditions have discerned a different definition. Would we not find validity in how PCUSA, Anglicans, Alliance Baptists, Progressive Methodists, Cooperative Baptists, and Episcopals, among many others no longer Biblically view monogamous homosexual relationships as “sinful.”

Leave a Reply