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

Mapping the Identity Dialogue with Mounk and Trueman

Written by: on April 8, 2024

“How did we get here?” As a pastor, I often hear this exacerbated lament from people observing cultural conversations and political polarization. It is a valid question. Largely, this question is focused on the dialogue around identity. Identarian politics and practices, such as separating people based on race, gender, sex, or (less often) class, did not happen overnight. The seeds of our modern conception of identity – and political organizing around this conception – were planted by numerous influential thinkers from Derrick Bell to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Understanding the pathogenesis of these ideas (answering “How did we get here?”) is vital for Church leaders pastoring in this contentious cultural moment.

For this post, our guides for exploring the terrain of our identity conversation are Yascha Mounk, author of The Identity Trap, and Carl Trueman, author of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. In this blog, I will attempt to concisely overlay the maps provided by Mounk and Trueman.

Map One: Mounk’s Identity Trap

Yascha Mounk’s The Identity Trap covers the key ideas that together become the identity synthesis. The identity synthesis is, as defined by Mounk, a convergence of the ideas “on a broad variety of intellectual traditions and is centrally concerned with the role identity categories like race, gender, and sexual orientation play in the world.”[1] These ideas, originally sequestered in the halls of academia, are now the center of cultural conversations concerning these identity categories. This, as Mounk displayed, is a result of social network platforms like Tumblr, the embracing of the identity synthesis from legacy media, and the rage ignited due to the rise of far-right nationalism and the election of Donald Trump.[2] Mounk continues by highlighting concerns he has with the identity synthesis, which he calls a trap that allures well-intentioned people.[3] He concludes with an invitation to his readers to see through the allure, to speak freely, and be unafraid to challenge the ideas of the identity synthesis.

A key concern Mounk highlights is the logical conclusion of the identity synthesis. In the identity synthesis, people are separated into different groups based on their identity. These groups splinter off with numerous other groups of intersectional identities based on the ideas of Kimberleé Crenshaw’s intersectionality. Cross-identity group empathizing of experience is impossible. Mounk writes,

It is, I argue, a mistake to give up on the hope that members of different ethnic groups can come to have genuine empathy for each other; to put forms of cultural influence between members of different groups under a general pall of suspicion; to underestimate the dangerous consequences that stem from giving up on a genuine culture of free speech; to embrace calls for a supposedly progressive form of separatism that undermines efforts at genuine integration; and to make race-sensitive public policies the government’s default mode of operation.[4]

The separation of people into groups is the antithesis of Dr. King’s vision. But it is the telos of Derrick Bell’s theory on race, later dubbed Critical Race Theory, in which, due to a history of systemic racism, “a neutral perspective does not, and cannot, exist.”[5] Mounk quotes legal theorist Charles Lawrence with this summary: “We must learn to trust our own senses, feelings, and experiences and give them authority, even (or especially) in the face of dominant accounts of social reality that claim universality.”[6]

Innumerable identity-based groups (where the essence of one’s “self,” whether that be one’s race, gender, or a confluence of identity intersections, is the most important thing about oneself) with an impossibility to understand one another’s lived experience is what we are left with. This is, as Mounk argues, not conducive to a liberal democracy. This does not mean we pretend to ignore the injustices in history (and in the present) to marginalized people groups. But we must not give up learning from one another and the human ability to step into the shoes of another.

Map Two: Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

Carl R. Trueman’s begins his robust work on how we arrived at where we are in our conversation on identity with highlighting the fact that the statement “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is one his grandfather would find incoherent gibberish” and yet nowadays people hardly bat an eye.[7] Indebted to Charles Taylor, Trueman’s book explores how our understanding of “self” became located in an inner-feelings, how identity became “sexualized,” and then how it became politicized.[8] Trueman’s book is more expansive in scope than Mounk’s. However, Mounk focuses on a crucial thinker Trueman hardly mentions: Michel Foucault.

Map Convergence

A thorough convergence of these two maps is impossible in this limited space. But here is how Mounk and Trueman help us navigate this conversation. Mounk brilliantly exposes the logical inconsistency of the identity synthesis with the underpinning of postmodernism – specifically with Foucault and the rejection of grand narratives, which, in and of itself, is a grand narrative.[9] However, where Mounk takes his readers – toward a return to a liberal vision – Trueman goes further. Liberal values that Mounk holds to high esteem are sourced in the Christian tradition.[10] In the words of Trueman,

Yet it is here, in the idea of the equal dignity of all human beings, that one of the problems with the modern political project becomes clear. The idea that all human beings are of equal worth is rooted in the idea that all human beings are made in the image of God. The problem with expressive individualism is not its emphasis on the dignity or the individual value of every human being. That is what undergirded the fight against slavery in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, it is the fact that expressive individualism has detached these concepts of individual dignity and value from any kind of grounding in a sacred order.[11]

[1] Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (New York: Penguin Press, 2023), 9.

[2] Ibid., 80-81, 96.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 225.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibd.

[7] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2020), 19.

[8] Ibid., 22, 26-28.

[9] Mounk, The Identity Trap, 37.

[10] Tom Holland makes this argument in Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, First US edition (New York: Basic Books, 2019).

[11] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 387.

About the Author


David Beavis

David is Australian by birth, was raised in Southern California, and is the Youth and Young Adults Pastor at B4 Church in Beaverton, Oregon. David and his wife, Laura, live in Hillsboro with their dog, Coava (named after their favorite coffee shop). M.A. Theology - Talbot School of Theology B.A. Psychology - Vanguard University of Southern California

3 responses to “Mapping the Identity Dialogue with Mounk and Trueman”

  1. Tonette Kellett says:


    Placing these two authors side by side was brilliant! You did an outstanding job aligning their works. I could’ve kept reading more from you on how they went together. Well done!

  2. mm Daron George says:


    I like that you begin by framing the conversation around the question, “How did we get here?” You seem to be emphasizing the significance of understanding the historical roots and intellectual foundations of contemporary identity politics, noting its evolution from academic discourse to mainstream cultural conversations.

  3. Kristy Newport says:

    You really tackled this!!
    This stood out to me:
    “Mounk quotes legal theorist Charles Lawrence with this summary: “We must learn to trust our own senses, feelings, and experiences and give them authority, even (or especially) in the face of dominant accounts of social reality that claim universality.”[6]”
    Makes one pause and think.
    This is how people think.

    I love the last quote you have. I remember enjoying reading this in the book.
    What a great job at looking at both authors.
    Great work!

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