Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
I’m hoping to publish in a journal a more extensive review of this excellent—though long and at times tedious—book. I’ll say here: Trueman asks an intriguing question that builds a narrative expectation and structure into his book: How is it that so many average people in the West fail to see “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” as a self-evident absurdity?
Trueman sets out to answer this question by following the work of Rieff, MacIntyre, and Taylor—but adding a lot of studious book reports of his own as he guides the (evangelical) reader through Western intellectual history.
I think Trueman delivered. He helped me see how we got here. Evil ideas don’t come from nowhere, or even just “from Satan.” They trace a path; they get introduced; they slowly gain traction after at first seeming ridiculous.
I’m not realistically going to sit down and read all the books Trueman read in order to build his narrative of intellectual history (Freud, Marcuse, Marx, Wordsworth, Rousseau, etc., etc., etc.). I feel, because I’ve followed Trueman for many years, and because he showed so much of his work, that he did all that reading work carefully, charitably, and incisively. I do better understand my world thanks to Trueman.
And I have a keener sense of how many desperate human needs are met by the simplest doctrines of Scripture. The doctrine of creation tells me that my body has a purpose—leading among them, faithfulness to my spouse. The doctrine of the fall explains why my desires don’t always match the purposes for which my body was made. The doctrine of redemption tells me that Christ died for my sexual sins (Matt 5:27–30) and provides healing and power. I’m not at the mercy of my desires; I don’t have to “find out who I truly am and be that person” without reference to any transcendent guidance for who that person is and ought to be. I’m not stuck in any of the social imaginaries that are beholden to an immanent frame.