The Rise & Triumph of the Modern Self – A Reflective Response

This has taken me far far longer than I intended it to take, and far longer than it should have taken. It’s not a short book (407 pages) and it isn’t a particularly easy book to read. It isn’t a lightweight book. It isn’t a cheap book. I’ve been told Dr Trueman is working on a briefer more accessible edition. I think that’s good, and bad. Good because more people might read it than otherwise, but bad because so much will need to be left out in order to fit the brief. An idea might be to produce a Study Guide – perhaps on its own. That, I think, would be helpful, perhaps to use in a church setting or reading group. Anyway, I’ve read the book. Having read it, I really could do with reading it again.

After saying that, It’s not my purpose here to review the book, others have done that already. But what I want to do is share some thoughts I had as I was reading it. As I say then, this post is more response than review. I do need to say that this is an absolutely brilliant book. If I get to meet him I ought to thank him for writing it. It is well written. I like his style. It’s divided up well with plenty of headings. It has an index, and footnotes. so what’s not to like. It’s a significant book. It’s a book that should be read by Christians, and especially ministers, seeking to understand not just where we are, but how we arrived at such a juncture.

What struck me most powerfully is the momentous task we face. This was my thinking very early on  as I read, some of which are picked up in the last section of the book – more of that later. The realisation that the ‘cultural moment‘ isn’t a moment at all but is in fact two or three hundred years of movement away from God and his authority. In the West that is anyway. Yes, there have been revivals, and I do not want to minimise them at all, but the trend continues downward. And the trend is not just down, but is picking up speed as well.

I don’t know how true this is (perhaps someone can tell me) but I was told by a friend (no longer with us) that Dr Lloyd-Jones told him that the length of time it takes to get ill, is the length of time it takes to (fully) recover. If that is true of individuals, could it also be true of churches, and of the ills of society? and maybe of Nations too – unless there is a Revolution (or a Reformation) when everything can change. So bearing that in mind will give you some idea of what we are facing. The Catholic church and Islam do not think in moments, but in centuries. Perhaps us Protestants need to have a more realistic perspective of time.

Another analogy I thought of is the Oil Tanker. Once the decision is made to turn round, or to stop, it can take a very long time to for anything happen. Although with that analogy we may be completely unaware the command to stop, or to turn, has already been given. This may be the case. The command has been given, but to us everything goes on as before. Rather, it seems as if everything is going on as before. From our perspective then it’s still moving and it seems as though nothing has changed. But in reality everything may have already changed. We just aren’t aware of it yet. The command to turn may have been given. That’s an encouraging thought. Obviously, the Command I’m talking of here is that given by God.

Encouraging as that thought may be, and it is, the reality is that revival may not come (for us) and God may not intervene in any obvious way at all. When we read of the past it’s sobering to realise the culture still has a very long way down to go, and despite us thinking how bad it is, and it is, it has not yet reached the bottom. When will that be? No one can say. No one can say what is at the bottom either. Carl does make a comment in a footnote, about the culture destroying itself. You would’ve thought we would be crying out to God for help. I don’t see too much of this happening.

How are we then to respond?

In writing to our MP’s, for example, we will have to realise making logical arguments isn’t going to cut it. Here in Wales (and the UK in general) the Assembly are absolutely committed to pursuing policies that push a Transgender ideology. Biology makes no difference now. Even in the church making rational arguments sometimes makes no headway against someone saying ‘how it makes me feel.’ If that’s where we are in the church how can we expect arguments with godless governments to be any more effective! Perhaps, and I’m being quite serious, when we write to our MP’s we need to sprinkle our letters or emails with several references to how it makes us feel. Not a very good idea but surely when we see truth trampled in the street it makes us feel something. Doesn’t it? To illustrate where we are at I’ve typed up a few quotes from Carls book. These are mainly in the last section:

‘Yet transgenderism is only the latest and most extreme form of this move; it stands in obvious continuity with antimetaphysical thought of the nineteenth century, most notably Friedrich Nietzsche. Transgenderism is a symptom, not a cause. It is not the reason why gender categories are now so confused; it is rather a function of a world in which the collapse of metaphysics and of stable discourse has created such chaos that not even the most basic of binaries, that between male and female, can any longer lay claim to meaningful objective status. And the roots of this pathology lie deep within the intellectual traditions of the West.
The contemporary debates surrounding LGBTQ+ also offer evidence of Alasdair Macintyres contention that ethical debate today is not about reasoning from commonly accepted premises but rather about the expression of emotional preferences.’ Page 376.

The agreed rational basis for debate has gone. All that is left is emotional preference.’ P. 377.

‘But as i noted in the introduction, this book is neither a lament nor a polemic. It is rather an attempt to explain how the revolution of the self came to take the form it has in the West and why that is so culturally significant.’ Page. 382.

‘It should also enable us to have a better understanding of why the sexual revolution has apparently moved so fast and, if anything, appears to be gaining speed, as transgenderism seems to be making such headway in the culture and as one after another sexual taboo collapses in the face of what often looks like an unstoppable tidal wave of sexual revolution. The reason for this speed is that the underlying causes of these phenomena are deeply embedded within our culture and have been slowly but surely transforming how we think of ourselves and our world for many, many generations.’ Page, 386.

The book sets where we are in context, and I think sets before us an overwhelming and impossible task. That was my response as I read it. Even after reading this book, we still believe ‘the arm of flesh’ will deliver us. My friends, it will not. The ‘arm of flesh’ will not undo 300 years of movement away from God. And ‘the arm of flesh’ will not undo where we are now. That’s one reason why we need to be reading and hearing about what God has done in the past.  I’m reminded of something Leonard Ravenhill said: ‘The answer isn’t in the White House (or Downing Street), it’s in God’s house.’ It doesn’t mean we stop reading books like this, or stop writing to our MP’s, or engaging where we are able (The Lord does use means), but it does mean we have to face up to the current situation – or the cultural moment that we find ourselves in. When chatting to someone recently I was reminded of Isaiah 42:13:

‘I will work, and none shall prevent it.’

I will work, and who shall let it? as when he wrought the work of creation, there was no opposition to it, or hinderance of him; and in providence all things are done as he pleases; so all his purposes and decrees, which are his works within him, are exactly accomplished according to his pleasure, and none can resist his will. The work of redemption is finished just according to the draught of it in his eternal mind; and when he works upon the heart of a sinner at conversion, whatever obstructions and difficulties are in the way, these are removed, and the work is begun, and carried on, and performed, until the day of Christ. The work of the Lord in his churches, and the setting up of his kingdom in the world, in a more visible and glorious manner, shall be done, and none will be able to hinder it: (John Gill)

Let us not forget, or be tempted to forget that God is at work even when we cannot see it. The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation!


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