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How “expressive individualism” and LGBTQ+ became the norm: A review of Carl Trueman’s “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self”

Mark Legg is a freelance writer and content intern at Denison Forum. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a degree in philosophy and biblical studies. He eventually wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor in philosophy.

In a crowd, a man holds a gay pride flag above his head while another man creates a heart symbol with his hands
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How did the LGBTQ+ movement become so rapidly accepted in our culture to the point of blatant celebration in kids’ shows

Do you feel at a loss when talking to people who align with the culture on LGBTQ+ issues, like there’s an indefinable chasm between you and them? 

In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, pastor and academic historian Carl Trueman delves into the history of ideas for the past three centuries to show why the baffling statement “I am a man trapped in a woman’s body” probably makes common sense to your neighbor. 

Worldviews don’t appear in a vacuum. They are influenced by centuries of intellectuals and their ideas, artists and their expressions, technological revolutions, and mass media influence. Trueman expertly dissects the history of Western culture by examining the influence of Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and others. He is careful not to mischaracterize these thinkers (as Christians have sometimes done). Instead, he engages thoughtfully with how their ideas affected the course of history. 

Trueman determines that our society has evolved to understand human nature, or our understanding of “self,” as something that individuals can fundamentally change. He tracks the development of expressive individualism, shows how sex became central to personal identity, and finally how that understanding became politicized through the “poststructuralist” academics. Trueman ends the work with thoughts about how the church ought to respond and the future of our culture. 

This book is precisely what the church needs. It is a comprehensive work that explains the origins of the sexual revolution and the symptoms we see now: restrictions on freedom of speech and the triumph of the LGBTQ+ movement. Trueman is not dry or overly academic, and the book is well written and balanced. However, it does delve into the ideas, and this depth pays off in dividends with clarity and perspective. 

Whether you are a pastor who wants to better shepherd your flock in this post-truth culture, a Christian trying to swim in the muck of modernity, more confused the more you study, or an academic in these subjects, I highly recommend this groundbreaking work.