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

Rousseau to Freud to Cyrus for the Double…Entendre

Written by: on November 3, 2022

In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman delves into a historical and philosophical study of identity. The premise comes early in chapter one, “the underlying argument of this book is that the sexual revolution, and its various manifestations in modern society, cannot be treated in isolation but must rather be interpreted as the specific and perhaps most obvious social manifestations of a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self.”[1] What is mankind? What does it mean to be human? What is the best life a person can live? These kinds of questions, and others, receive serious attention beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and ending with the recent transgender movement. Trueman claims, “no individual historical phenomenon is its own cause.”[2] He views the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s as a result of centuries of important shifts in the understanding and redefining of human identity. His line of reasoning through the book is that “the self must first be psychologized; psychology must then be sexualized; and sex must be politicized.”[3] Trueman demonstrates through ample research that cites influential thinkers to conclude, “that’s how we got to where we are today in terms of sex, sexuality, and sexual identity.”
From the outset, Trueman acknowledges the works and influence of Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor, and Alastair MacIntyre. From Taylor, Trueman uses the concepts of mimesis and poiesis.[4] Mimesis sees the world through an established order and given meaning. Human beings can find that meaning and conform to it. Poiesis views the world as a place of meaning created by the individual. Much of the philosophy, psychology, and politics unpacked in the book show how Western culture moved from a mimesis view to a poiesis view. Is there objective truth and reality that exists outside of the human experience or is truth and reality what we make it?
Trueman cites Rieff as the one who coined a key concept in the book, first, second, and third worlds.[5] These terms are applied to a particular source of meaning that a society embraces. First worlds define moral codes in myths that express accountability beyond themselves and a sense of fate. Second world possess faith, exemplified by Christianity. The Law found in the Bible shaped Western culture for centuries as to justice and morality. Third worlds do not look to anything transcendent but, rather, they justify themselves on their own basis. The author traces how the West shifted from a second worlds to a third worlds view in a recent amount of time historically speaking.
I found it interesting when Trueman contrasted the theological views of Augustine against those of Rousseau. Augustine believed that “human beings are born depraved and subject to internal moral conflict and confusion that renders sentiment and instinct unreliable, even positively deceptive, guides to moral action.”[6] Rousseau conversely believed “individuals are intrinsically good, with sentiments that are properly ordered and attuned to ethical ends, until they are corrupted by the forces of society.”[7] That nature-nurture debate remains a current hot topic. Personally, there is some influence of both, but to dismiss the notion of a broken humanity misses the biblical mark. (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18)
What is a second worlds person to do to influence a third worlds culture? More specifically, in a culture that rejects many biblical values and ethics, how can Christians influence a post-Christian culture? I fear that many followers of Jesus have turned to a political solution. My understanding of Christian Nationalism mixes faith and politics in ways that cannot separate the two from each other. The hope gets placed in policy. In my opinion, such a strategy leads the church to give its birthright away for a bowl of porridge. As I’ve noted in a previous blog post, the church has been here before. The early church existed in a culture where the majority of beliefs were decidedly unchristian and yet, the church made a positive and profound impact. At a time when the question is no longer, “Is it true?” (second worlds question) but “Does it work?” (third worlds question) the church is better served by living an embodied faith. Unfortunately, the various studies of Christian behavior versus the culture show no marked difference.
Summarizing the remarkable influence of Christianity upon a pagan culture, Ruth Tucker, in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya states, “Christianity penetrated the Roman world through five main avenues: the preaching and teaching of evangelists, the personal witness of believers, acts of kindness and charity, the faith shown in persecution and death, and the intellectual reasoning of the early apologists.”[8] I would argue for combining personal witness and acts of kindness and charity as essential characteristics to influence this cultural moment. Living out a joyful faith that engages the surrounding culture with compassion born from biblical principles speaks a winsome word in a time of rage. Rather than winning seats of power or a culture war, followers of Jesus can create the kind of first-century community where a slave worshipped next to a Roman official. Trueman states, “Yet there is hope: the world in which we live is now witness to communities in flux.”[9] The church can be a positively different kind of community where anyone was welcome and anything is possible because of the power of God.

[1] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 35

[2] Ibid., 25.

[3] Ibid., 221.

[4] Ibid., 39.

[5] Ibid, 74.

[6] Ibid., 123.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 33.

[9] Trueman, 404.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

9 responses to “Rousseau to Freud to Cyrus for the Double…Entendre”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful post. You picked up on things from the reading that I missed.

    Among many things, one of my main critiques of Trueman’s book was that he completely ignores the deeper, relational, and experiential aspects of sexuality found in the Scriptures. For example, why not pick up on Song of Songs/Solomon to see that human desire and open sexual expression are a part of being human? Why not talk about the fact that God created our bodies to experience pleasure from sexual encounters, but for most of Western history, the emphasis on enjoyment was what a man gets out of it? What about the fact that he failed to cover the fact the word we translate today as “homosexuality” was not the meaning of the original term used within Paul’s letters but something more akin to the practice of childhood prostitution, which has nothing to do with monogamous homosexual relationships?

    If Western Evangelicalism has missed the mark on just these three things alone when it comes to the sexuality conversation, what else are they missing?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Andy, thanks for you interaction with my post. As I read the book, I wish Trueman had included some section of a biblical perspective but he did not. His conclusions about sexuality bleed through at many points, making his claim of only presenting a historical account blunted. Do you take issue with his position on sexuality or his historical account, or both? For me, if you are going to claim tracing history, leave your opinions out of it. If you are going to include your position, then support it biblically if you admit coming from a faith-based source.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nice thoughts on the book, Roy. I also got a lot out of the historical description of how we got to where we are today. Did you think the time Trueman spent on the history was worthwhile? For all the faults of the church, we remain the hope of the world.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Troy, I found Trueman’s historical research to be helpful as I knew many names he mentioned, but I did not understand their role in the progression of the sense of human identity as it relates to sexuality. I do wish he had included a theological section since he makes his position clear through certain statements along the way. Perhaps he will write a sequel that biblical shows how he gets to his position. I fear that the conversation today contains so much emotional reaction rather than biblical grounding – one man’s opinion.

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Roy, well written. What I appreciate most is your mentioning this quote:

    From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya states, “Christianity penetrated the Roman world through five main avenues: the preaching and teaching of evangelists, the personal witness of believers, acts of kindness and charity, the faith shown in persecution and death, and the intellectual reasoning of the early apologists.”

    I love that you are thinking through, prayerfully and graciously, how one ought to respond to our current cultural norms and challenges. I can only imagine that if we can take on this posture, the posture of Christ, the truth will be made known, and His restoration will come. Thanks for challenging me to stay the course of being a faithful witness and NOT a defensive jerk!

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, I am awed by your skill to be open and a critical thinker! Thank you for your wisdom in this post.

    Like Eric, I appreciated this quote, “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya states, “Christianity penetrated the Roman world through five main avenues: the preaching and teaching of evangelists, the personal witness of believers, acts of kindness and charity, the faith shown in persecution and death, and the intellectual reasoning of the early apologists.”

    The power of this history is it reminds us of what sacrifice looks like. It challenges our consumeristic “DNA”

    As you wrestle with living in the tension of ” combining personal witness and acts of kindness and charity” what is the cost for you walking with those who polygamists?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, thanks for you question. We have decided that are going to love everyone we encounter and engage them with compassion. It opens relational doors like nothing else. Specific to polygamy, we are investigating if there’s a way to help women who are escaping it. We would seek to provide a safe “half-way house” and skills training so the ladies can be self-supporting.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thank you for your balanced critic of Trueman. Your statement, “Unfortunately, the various studies of Christian behavior versus the culture show no marked difference,” particularly resonated with me. You expanded on it later in your blog, but how do we inspire one another to reach out in compassion, in the current climate of divisions, and increasing isolation within our communities?

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