The Kingdom of God is Within You
In the 2020 book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” by Carl Trueman, a comprehensive explanation of humanity’s need for self-identity, and its various manifestations, is thoughtfully explained to the Church. Trueman interprets these self-identity revolutions as “a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self” (p.35). He poses the question, “How has the current highly individualistic, iconoclastic, sexually obsessed, and materialistic mindset come to triumph in the West?” (p.38). He spends the rest of the book answering this question by explaining the complex developments Western society has undergone the past three centuries.
Part one demonstrates that with “The era of Rousseau and Romanticism a new understanding of human selfhood emerged, one focused on the inner life of the individual” (p. 27). Part two focuses on the developments of the eighteenth century and explains how Nietzsche, Marx, and Darwin altered Western society permanently. Part three deals with “the sexualizing of psychology and the politicizing of sex” (p. 28). The central figure in this section is Sigmund Freud. The fourth and final part brings all these streams of thought together and analyzes how thorough these changes have shaped Western society.
The time spent retracing the historical developments provides the reader with a greater depth in understanding why Western culture is currently in the state that it is. He gives his justification for this approach: “Understanding the times is a precondition of responding appropriately to the times. And understanding the times requires a knowledge of the history that has led up to the present” (p. 31). It is an academic yet accessible approach for explaining the profound cultural shifts to thoughtful Christians. The majority of Christian workers desire more than just another book that complains about our post-Christian, post-Modern culture. This book provides insightful descriptions and historical analysis about Western culture—and how we got here.
Trueman does an excellent job summarizing and distilling three hundred years of history into a coherent timeline. He demonstrates how these past developments effect present day understandings of self-identity and sexual orientation. He states, “Understanding what is happening in our modern culture, cannot be understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the human selfhood” (p. 20). Even though Trueman wrote this book with a Christian audience in mind, anyone interested in Western culture would benefit from this book. There is a universal quality that anyone can relate to. That quality is an individual’s search for their identity (See Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”). All people of all nations in all generations can relate to that struggle. Trueman uncovers many profound thinkers from the past and explains how their philosophical contributions on humanity’s search for identity kept building on previous thinkers until eventually we arrived to where we are today. He has a gift to make difficult ideas easily comprehensible.
I am thankful that Trueman does not spend a lot of time “providing solutions” out of this maze. The purpose of the book is to trace the historical developments in Western culture that helps a modern person understand today’s culture. If Trueman went on to give a playbook on how Christianity should “handle” the mess we are now in, that would only simplify and ultimately not do justice to the complexities involved. That subject is worthy of another book. To include a chapter on “solutions” would prove to be unhelpful. But Trueman does provide a few insights Christians should keep in mind. One insight worth mentioning is a call to the Church to become more of a community in this world: a shelter from the storm where people can feel at home and rest. That has been true since Pentecost and I expect it to continue to be true until the end.
Furthermore, Trueman says, “This book is not a lament for the lost golden age” (p. 29). There are also plenty of books that do exactly that and those are not difficult to write. Anyone can bemoan the state of any society. This book allows the earnest reader to better understand the times we are in, and think for themselves how they can make a positive contribution through their faith. It allows the reader to have the ability to analyze society with the knowledge they have been given through this book.
As an example, after reading this book, a reader might think differently about the Mormon’s legacy of polygamy. Perhaps polygamy might not be as big an embarrassment to the Church of Latter Day Saints as it used to be, nor should it be considered so extreme in today’s society. Might polygamy become accepted in mainstream culture? If marriage can be redefined as an institution that celebrates the love between two men or two women, it is not too far of a leap to say marriage can include a man with multiple wives. And if a man can have multiple wives, why can’t a woman have multiple husbands? “Get the government out of the bedroom and stop trying to legislate love,” says the pro-gay marriage constituency. If I want three wives, I should be able to have three wives; it is my right and no one should infringe upon my rights. It is a solid argument that today’s culture would struggle with refuting. Perhaps marriage can also be between an individual and their pet. It should be up to them and nobody else. The ramifications of same sex marriage, and by extension an individual’s search for their identity, is a never-ending quest and always carries with it surprising, unforeseen consequences. What was once a target for ridicule thirty years ago, has now become mainstream. But as Booker T. Washington once said, “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” I’ll happily continue to find my identity in Christ.
7 responses to “The Kingdom of God is Within You”
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Would you agree that this book reinforced some of your already existing worldviews on sexuality? If so, how do you challenge yourself to read the theological and philosophical viewpoints of those different from you?
Troy, I agree with you great post that the purpose of the book was only to trace the historical changes that influence current sexual ethics. I also got out this: you are open to having three wives. Kidding – how much do you think it would help Trueman’s argument if he included a theological basis in addition to his historical study?
Roy I like this question you pose to Troy! Perhaps I can borrow it for my question to Troy? 🙂
Troy, confession. As I was reading, I thought I was reading Nicole’s blog! I was surprised by what “she” was saying, thinking, “maybe she didn’t read the book!”
You state: This book provides insightful descriptions and historical analysis about Western culture—and how we got here.
I would agree with this statement. My sense is that you and I share quite a bit in common of our theological convictions. What is most challenging to you as you consider the other side, and how might we (the Church) press on in a spirit of love, unity, and truth?
I am usually called Denise, not Troy.
Troy, I rely on you bringing a great historical bent as you appreciate it so much. Thank you for sharing your appreciation and why it is important.
As you consider the whole of Trueman’s thesis, how would you say he defines love and the importance of love in any human relationship?
Thank you for a clear overview of Trueman’s book. I am sure you enjoyed his historical perspective. Your conclusion seems to indicate that there is no end to the possibilities of this line of thinking. How do you deal with the tension between the lines of “sin” and grace of a loving God?