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.” 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.” 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.” 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. 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. 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” The church can be a positively different kind of community where anyone was welcome and anything is possible because of the power of God.
 Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 35
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 221.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid, 74.
 Ibid., 123.
 Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 33.
 Trueman, 404.