Less To Do With Sex & Everything To Do With Identity
“Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Author Rod Dreher introduces The Rise of Triumph of the Modern Self by connecting to the famous words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He then says,
Ordinary Christians need – desperately need – a more profound and holistic grasp of the modern and postmodern condition… The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is an indispensable guide to how and why men have forgotten God.
A solid forward that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Carl R. Trueman, the author of this immense work, is a Christian theologian and ecclesiastical historian currently serving as a Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies at Grove City College. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is comprised of four parts:
- Part 1 provides some basic concepts to explore the historical narrative that has unfolded over the decades.
- Part 2 zeroes in on the 18th and 19th centuries to discuss the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin and what Trueman calls the psychologizing of the self.
- Part 3 unfolds the sexualizing of psychology and the politicizing of sex.
- Part 4 deals with contemporaries to demonstrate how vast the West has been influenced and transformed by Parts 2 and 3.
Just as swift as Dreher was to introduce the book, one is not left wondering what Trueman believes and the position he is advocating for throughout the text. He says,
At the heart of this book likes a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph – the normalization of transgenderism – cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood.
Before we can understand the complexity of the sexual revolution, which he refers to as “the radical and ongoing transformation of sexual attitudes and behaviors that has occurred in the West since the early 1960s,” we need to understand the broader historical context.  The distinctiveness of this particular topic is that it has normalized such things as transgenderism and other sexual phenomena over the years. He writes,
Many Christians were amazed at how swiftly society moved from a position where in the early 2000s a majority of people were broadly opposed to gay marriage to one where, by 2020, transgenderism is well on its way to becoming more or less normalized.
Given the density of this book and the sensitivity of his topic, I will highlight a few concepts introduced in the book and provide a short commentary.
Trueman suggests that the problem is with how we view sin. He writes,
For Augustine, the moral flow is ultimately intrinsic to him. He is by nature wicked, a sinner… For Rousseau, by way of contrast, his natural humanity is fundamentally sound, and the sinful act comes from social pressures and conditioning. He becomes depraved by the pressures society places on him.
It is my opinion that this is an important distinction. How we understand and define “sin” indicates where we fall on the spectrum regarding theological differences.
Plastic people, wow! Trueman states that the psychological man is nothing more than a plastic person, meaning that “he can (or at least he thinks he can) make and remake personal identity at will.” In other words, it is the “idea that we can be who or whatever we want to be is commonplace today.”
This is a loaded statement. Yet, I believe he is on to something. Looking back to the introduction, the book’s origin focused on how this statement has come to be accepted, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” As followers of Jesus, believing in a holy and divine God with a deep conviction that the Bible is His spoken word, it is my opinion that to make such a statement is to question the very creation account of Genesis 1-3.
Freud and the sexual influence and degression. With insufficient space to write, I will be succinct: it is all about SEX for Freud, even the sexualization of children, for “the taxonomy of all life’s stages is sexual.”
8 is a solid read on Playboy and porn. The impact of porn, Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the normalization of sex was huge. In sum, SEX SELLS.
Lastly, while reflecting on my time with the Lord through a study of Colossians, I couldn’t help but think about this book and Trueman suggesting that we are witnessing a furthering of the 1960s sexual revolution. The baseline of this revolution has less to do with sex and everything to do with identity (or the loss of it). Here is what I wrote in my journal:
Regarding concluding thoughts on Colossians 2:9-10, commentator Max Anders writes:
#1) Jesus is fully God. Nothing needs to be added to Him. And,
#2) You have fullness in Him. Nothing needs to be added to you.
Simple, yet profoundly true. We find our sense of “self” solely in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a game-changer for us on so many fronts. As I am reading about our current sexual revolution (i.e., LGBTQ+), it has everything to do with our identity. This was an interesting read, though also challenging to engage as it was academically heavy. However, I believe there is a lot of truth to Trueman’s conviction that ultimately what we are witnessing is an identity crisis.
 Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 11–12.
 Ibid., 27–28.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 111.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 209.
10 responses to “Less To Do With Sex & Everything To Do With Identity”
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Eric, your summary of Trueman is superior and frames the conversation very well. Thank you!
Obviously I fundamentally disagree with Trueman’s perspective on many levels. You quote him here pertaining to his concept of “plastic people” being those who, “can (or at least he thinks he can) make and remake personal identity at will.” In other words, it is the “idea that we can be who or whatever we want to be.”
Do you see it as a possibility that Trueman’s concept of plasticity is better understood as antifragile? If understood this way, what affirmation could you offer for LGBTQ!A+ and BIPOC people who’ve gone through the tempering process. How may they respond to Trueman’s judgement of being plastic?
Good question Michael. I’ll be honest. That is a challenging framework you are asking me to adopt as I believe it to be fundamentally wrong – as I stated in my post, I really believe that sexuality has hijacked our sense of true identity in Christ, as have many other things. Now, that said, as I mentioned in your post (I think), I am challenged to realize that things are more gray that I may have traditionally thought 5, 10, 20 years ago. Could it be that this is one of those areas? For sure. We all have blind spots; this could be one of mine.
Great summary Eric. I also found it interesting to learn the critical differences between Augustine and Rousseau. I’m more of an Augustine man myself: society is just a collections of individuals and Rousseau puts too much emphasis on the negative effects of society. Each one of us is fallen and needs Christ for redemption. Did you think the historical review was worthwhile? I thought it was helpful to understand how we got here today.
Thanks Troy. Yes, I like you found the historical review very helpful. It was insightful and a solid argument. As we have seen from other posts, I know that thee are those who would argue that it was very one-sided. I can see that. It would be interesting to read an opposing view on the matter and discuss.
Eric, excellent summary and commentary along the way. I also noted the contrast between Rousseau and Augustine and I believe our basic view of human nature factors into many of the ethical issues we have ever faced. Are we inclined to good or bad? It’s the one part of Calvinism on which I agree – totally depravity. Are you suggesting at the end of your post that our culture has turned to sexuality rather than a biblical source of identity or am I over generalizing?
Yes Roy, that is my personal opinion on the matter. What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
Eric, I do agree but I have often wondered why the sexual part of us dominates this day in America like it does. Our sexuality is certainly part of who we are but it seems to an “all or nothing” issue. I would hope that anyone, regardless of their sexuality would be seen as a lot more than that!
Eric, Thank you for a lovely summary of the book! I appreciate it!
What, in your opinion, has been the impact on theology of sex from the church’s inability to actually consider sex more than an act of procreation?
If we can agree that privilege of power has been enjoyed by men, how does this privilege not only impact power inequality in race but also in sex?
Eric, thank you for your thoughtful engagement with Trueman’s book. I appreciated hearing what you gained from his insights. I agree with what you write to Troy: “It would be interesting to read an opposing view on the matter and discuss.”
I agree with your statement: “We find our sense of ‘self’ solely in the Lord Jesus Christ.” I also find that my friends from the LGBTQ+ community who are followers of Jesus also find their sense of self solely in the Lord Jesus Christ. I can’t help but think that they may understand that differently from you and even me. Could you share a bit more about what your statement means to you?
Erik, I really appreciate your perspective on Trueman. In some ways I feel like you were able to articulate aspects that I was challenged to find the words. I am curious how you see how our identity in Jesus manifests itself? How does it differ between someone who sees their identity within the LGBTQ+ community and those who engage in extra marital sex, or pornography?