Today’s blog is the third guest article in our series on gender and sexuality, featuring insights from author and professor Carl Trueman. Earlier this year I read both of his books (I listened to them both on audio; Carl was the reader, and he did a great job). The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is very academic and gets beneath the surface of modern gender confusion and its consequences. Strange New World is certainly not shallow, but it’s more readable and much shorter, and of the two books, it’s the one I will most recommend to others.
Here are some quotes:
“Every age has had its darkness and its dangers. The task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them.”
“The intuitive moral structure of our modern social imaginary prioritizes victimhood, sees selfhood in psychological terms, regards traditional sexual codes as oppressive and life denying, and places a premium on the individual’s right to define his or her own existence. All these things play into legitimizing and strengthening those groups that can define themselves in such terms. They capture, one might say, the spirit of the age.”
“While earlier generations might have seen damage to body or property as the most serious categories of crime, a highly psychologized era will accord increasing importance to words as means of oppression. And this represents a serious challenge to one of the foundations of liberal democracy: freedom of speech. Once harm and oppression are regarded as being primarily psychological categories, freedom of speech then becomes part of the problem, not the solution, because words become potential weapons.”
I want to share two resources from Carl that I think help round out our discussion of gender and sexuality. First, he recorded a video for Awana children’s ministry on “The Self, Identity and Children.” It’s very well done.
Second, Carl was a guest on the Crossway podcast to talk about Making Sense of Transgenderism and the Sexual Revolution. The whole podcast is excellent. Here are a few highlights, though I definitely recommend you read/listen to the whole thing:
I think what we're seeing today is really the latest iteration, or the culturally logical outworking, of trends and ideas that have been in place for hundreds of years. It's important, I think on two fronts, that we recognize that. One, so that we are less shocked and disoriented by what's happening. Two, so that we actually know the precise significance of what's happening. So many Christians, for example, when confronted with LGBTQ+ issues, tend to think that we're debating behavior—what sexual behavior is appropriate or isn't appropriate. In actual fact, as far as the LGBTQ+ movement is concerned, we’re debating identity. Knowing how these movements have emerged, knowing the kind of cultural pathologies (as I call them) that lie behind them will enable us not to be surprised—we should be horrified, but not surprised—by these things; and too, enable us to understand how a) to train our own people to think about these things, and b) how to respond to those individuals we meet who are perhaps caught up and positively disposed towards these movements.
…Human beings have always had that intuitive sense of what we might call “individuality.” What I mean by the self is how we understand ourselves as individuals to relate to the world, to relate to life as a whole. What is it that makes us happy? What is it that we see life as being about? What is the purpose of our existence? Does it have a transcendent aspect? Is it purely to do with this world? What is my purpose here? What are my obligations and duties here? How do I think of my self within the world at large? That's what I'm trying to get at. When it comes to the sexual revolution, I think a lot of us tend to think of the sexual revolution as an expanding of sexual behavior. It wasn't legitimate to have a baby outside of marriage, to live with somebody before marriage, to sleep around. It wasn't considered legitimate to do that pre-1900. Even though it all went on, there was an amount of social shame involved in that. But now we just broadened the boundaries and all of that kind of behavior is okay. And most significantly, of course, homosexuality in Britain—I don't know about America—was illegal until the late 60s. You could go to prison for being a practicing homosexual. We got rid of those laws, we've expanded that.
The tendency in Christian circles is to think the sexual revolution is all about just expanding the boundaries. I don’t think it is. I think the sexual revolution actually rests upon a deeper transformation of what it means to be a self, of how we think of ourselves in relation to others and the word, what makes us tick, what gives me my identity.
… What we need is to train Christians to think holistically. Don't teach a course on how to interact with transgender people. Teach people to really understand Genesis 1–3 so they have the basic, theological skills that when they're confronted in the workplace or in the public sphere with serious questions and challenges of how to I vote on this and how do I think about this, they have the multi-tool already in their head that they're able to bring to bear upon the specific problem. So I would say in engaging in the political sphere, we need to stand for the faith; but we need to understand what the faith is first. That, I think, involves a lot more than just teaching people to memorize Bible verses. One of the things I encounter while teaching undergraduates at Grove City College is it's not enough for me to say, Well, the Bible says it's wrong. They will respond, Well yes, but the Bible says a lot of things that we don't follow now, Dr. Trueman. So why do we still hold to this? I think that requires us to explain why the Bible says that is wrong. And that's a much more holistic and complicated task than simply shouting Bible verses.