Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pastors and Christian Leaders - an Invitation to Read a Book with Me


I am 120 pages into Carl Trueman's The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution

So far, it is excellent, helpful, and important. It's on my list of "best books of 2020." 

I'll finish it in early December. I'm collecting thoughts and notes along the way.

If you are a pastor or Christian leader and want to interact with me over this book, then pick it up, read it in December, and - if you want - let's set a time to zoom over it in January.

Modern culture is obsessed with identity. Since the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision in 2015, sexual identity has dominated both public discourse and cultural trends—yet no historical phenomenon is its own cause. From Augustine to Marx, various views and perspectives have contributed to the modern understanding of the self.

In this timely book, Carl Trueman analyzes the development of the sexual revolution as a symptom—rather than the cause—of the human search for identity. Trueman surveys the past, brings clarity to the present, and gives guidance for the future as Christians navigate the culture in humanity’s ever-changing quest for identity.

Editorial Reviews


The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is perhaps the most significant analysis and evaluation of Western culture written by a Protestant during the past fifty years. If you want to understand the social, cultural, and political convulsions we are now experiencing, buy this book, and read it for all it is worth. Highly recommended.”
Bruce Riley Ashford, Professor of Theology and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; coauthor, The Gospel of Our King

“Carl Trueman has a rare gift for fusing the deep social insights of a Philip Rieff, a Christopher Lasch, or an Augusto Del Noce with a vital Christian faith and marvelously engaging style. Psalm 8 names the central question of every age, including our own: ‘What is man?’ In explaining the development of the modern self and the challenges it poses to human identity and happiness, Trueman makes sense of a fragmenting world. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned for sustaining the Christian faith in a rapidly changing culture.”
Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia

“This is a characteristically brilliant book by Carl Trueman, helping the church understand why people believe that sexual difference is a matter of psychological choice. Indeed, Trueman shows how the story we tell ourselves about normalized LGBTQ+ values is false and foolish. With wisdom and clarity, Trueman guides readers through the work of Charles Taylor, Philip Rieff, British Romantic poets, and Continental philosophers to trace the history of expressive individualism from the eighteenth century to the present. The rejection of mimesis (finding excellence by imitating something greater than yourself) for poiesis (finding authenticity by inventing yourself on your own terms), in addition to the Romantic movement’s welding of sexual expression as a building block of political liberation, ushers in the modern LGBTQ+ movement as if on cue. This book reveals how important it is for thinking Christians to distinguish virtue from virtue signaling. The former makes you brave; the latter renders you a man pleaser, which is a hard line to toe in a world where there are so few real men left to please.”
Rosaria Butterfield, Former Professor of English, Syracuse University; author, The Gospel Comes with a House Key

“Moderns, especially Christian moderns, wonder how our society arrived at this strange moment when nearly everything about the self and sexuality that our grandparents believed is ridiculed. This genealogy of culture, clearly and elegantly written, will help all of us understand how we got to where we are, so that we can plot our own futures with more clarity and confidence. This book is a must-read for Christians and all others who are disturbed by the dictatorship of relativism that surrounds us.”
Gerald R. McDermott, Former Anglican Chair of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School

“Carl Trueman is a superb teacher. Sharp, perceptive, and lucid, this book is the worthy fruit of learnedness and insight. But more than a teacher, Trueman also has the voice of a prophet. He speaks truth masterfully, with power. In bringing clarity on how we got to our present desert wilderness as a culture, Trueman helps us understand our crooked ways―and situates us to make straight the way of the Lord.”
Adeline A. Allen, Associate Professor of Law, Trinity Law School

“This is an amazing piece of work. Blending social commentary with an insightful history of ideas as well as keen philosophical and theological analyses, Carl Trueman has given us what is undoubtedly the most accessible and informed account of the modern self and how it has shaped and informed the cultural battles of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. It is a fair-minded, carefully wrought diagnosis of what ails our present age. This book is essential reading for all serious religious believers who rightly sense that the ground is shifting underneath their feet, that the missionaries for the modern self are not content with simply allowing believers to practice their faith in peace but see these believers and their institutions as targets for colonization and involuntary assimilation. For this reason, every president of a faith-based college or university should read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self more than once.”
Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies and Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy, Baylor University

“Those looking for a light read that provides escape from the cares of the world will not find The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self their book of choice. But this volume will richly reward readers who don’t mind thinking hard about important (though sometimes unpleasant) topics. Christians have been taken off guard by how rapidly cultural mores have changed around them, but Carl Trueman demonstrates that radical thinkers have long been laying a foundation for these developments. Readers should press on to the end―the final paragraphs are among the best.”
David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, Westminster Seminary California

“Carl Trueman’s gifts as an intellectual historian shine in this profound and lucid book. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self needs to be read by anyone who wants to understand our current cultural distempers.”
R. R. Reno, Editor, First Things

“Carl Trueman has written an excellent book: ambitious in its scope yet circumspect in its claims and temperate, even gentlemanly, in its tone. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self will prove indispensable in moving beyond the superficiality of moralistic and liberationist interpretations to a deeper understanding and should be required reading for all who truly wish to understand the times we live in or are concerned about the human future. I very much hope it receives the wide readership it deserves.”
Michael Hanby, Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy of Science, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America

“Our culture did not simply wake up one morning and decide to reject sexual mores that have held civilization together for millennia. The sexual revolution that has overthrown basic human and teleological assumptions over the past sixty years has a history. With the adroit skill of an intellectual historian, the patience and humility of a master teacher, and the charity and conviction of a Christian pastor, Carl Trueman offers us this necessary book. We cannot respond appropriately to our times unless we understand how and why our times are defined such as they are. Trueman’s work is a great gift to us in our continuing struggle to live in the world but be not of the world.”
John D. Wilsey, Associate Professor of Church History and Philosophy, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, God’s Cold Warrior and American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion

“I don’t think there will be a better-researched or more fascinating book in all of 2020.”
Tim Challies, blogger,

About the Author

Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is an esteemed church historian and previously served as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Trueman has authored or edited more than a dozen books, including The Creedal ImperativeLuther on the Christian Life; and Histories and Fallacies. Trueman is a member of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Role of a Pastor


                                                                   (Cancun sunrise)

Happy Thanksgiving to my pastoral colleagues!

I'm reading some Eugene Peterson this morning. Peterson keeps me focused. 

In The Unnecessary Pastor he writes:

"Pastors are in charge of keeping the distinction between the world's lies and the gospel's truth clear... 

Our place in society is, in some ways, unique: no one else occupies this exact niche that looks so inoffensive fensive but is in fact so dangerous to the status quo. We are committed to keeping the proclamation alive and to looking after souls in a soul-denying, denying, soul-trivializing age. 

But it isn't easy. Powerful forces, both subtle and obvious, attempt tempt either to domesticate pastors to serve the culture as it is or to seduce duce us into using our position to become powerful and important on the world's terms. And so we need all the help we can get to maintain our gospel identity."

Saturday, November 21, 2020

I Am Now Reading...



                               (My copy of the Thomas Merton devotional I have used for decades.)


The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, by Cark Trueman.

This could be the most important book I read this year. 

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is perhaps the most significant analysis and evaluation of Western culture written by a Protestant during the past fifty years. If you want to understand the social, cultural, and political convulsions we are now experiencing, buy this book, and read it for all it is worth. Highly recommended.”
Bruce Riley Ashford, Professor of Theology and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; coauthor, The Gospel of Our King  

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, by Zeynep Tufekci. 

Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests—how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change.

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody, by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey.

"Many people are nonplussed by the surge of wokery, social justice warfare, intersectionality, and identity politics that has spilled out of academia and inundated other spheres of life. Where did it come from? What ideas are behind it? This book exposes the surprisingly shallow intellectual roots of the movements that appear to be engulfing our culture."

—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Enlightenment Now

"If you want to know the philosophy behind cancel culture and why it is so creepy, get this book. Then, give it to your friends and family." 

—Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights activist

"Is there a school of thought so empty, so vacuous, so pretentious, so wantonly obscurantist, so stupefyingly boring that even a full-frontal attack on it cannot be read without an exasperated yawn? Yes. It is called postmodernism. If you sincerely want to understand what postmodernism is, read this exceptionally well-informed book by two noble heroes of the enlightenment project. If you have better uses for your neurons and your time, stick to science. It’s the real deal."

Richard Dawkins, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford

God, Stephen Hawking and the Multiverse: What Hawking Said and Why it Matters, by David Hutchings. 

'The task of scientific popularization is an extremely difficult one, which very few are able to pull off successfully. But Hutchings and Wilkinson have shown themselves to be masters of the genre. Their book is an astonishingly good read, a gripping and thought-provoking account of the quest to probe the deepest mysteries of the universe.' - William Lane Craig

'If you have ever wanted to understand what Stephen Hawking was talking about but couldn't face the maths, this is the book for you. If you have ever felt uncomfortable that such an eminent scientist should dismiss the need for God, this is also the book for you. In an entertaining yet searching way, the authors put Hawking's work in perspective, scientifically, philosophically and theologically.' - Dr Althea Wilkinson, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manchester, UK

Inspired Imperfection: How the Bible's Problems Enhance its Divine Authority, by Greg Boyd. 

"How do we read and trust a supposedly sacred book when its contradictions and moral ambiguities are so apparent? For all who struggle with these questions, this book is for you. Gregory A. Boyd's theological sojourn has imbibed various communities, experiences, and theological paradigms, all evident in these pages about his life-long grappling with Scripture." --Amos Yong, dean of the School of Theology and School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary

The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of our Own Success, by Ross Douthat. 

“Douthat’s best book yet, a work of deep cultural analysis, elegantly written and offering provocative thoughts on almost every page. It’s hard to think of a current book that is as insightful about the way we live now as is this one.” —Rod Dreher, The American Conservative

Moral Relativism: A Reader, by Paul Moser and Thomas Carson. 

Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. 


Faith that Matters: 365 Devotions from Classic Christian Leaders

Hearing God Through the Year: A 365 Day Devotional (Dallas Willard)

A Year with C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works 

Through the Year with Thomas Merton

A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals


A Change of Affection: A Gay Man's Incredible Story of Redemption, by Beckett Cook.

A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus, by David Bennett. 

Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best when the World Is at its Worst, by Ed Stetzer.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, by Craig Blomberg.

Emerging Gender Identities: Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Today's Youth, by Mark Yarhouse.

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen.

Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection of the Coronavirus and its Aftermath, by N. T. Wright.

The Anatomy of Facism, by Robert Paxton. 

"So fair, so thorough and, in the end, so convincing, it may well become the most authoritative . . . study of the subject. . . . A splendid book." –The New York Times Book Review

"Useful and timely. . . . Mussolini and Hitler were the prototypical fascist leaders, and Paxton chronicles their rise to power--and their global influence and ultimate fall--with a brilliant economy." –San Francisco Chronicle

"A deeply intelligent and very readable book. . . . Historical analysis at its best." –The Economist

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse, by Chuck DeGroat.

Until Christ is Formed in You: Dallas Willard and Spiritual Formation, Stephen Porter and Gary Moon. 


Friday, November 20, 2020

Toxic Megachurch Cultures Make Narcissism a Prerequisite (The 'Hot Pastor' Problem)


                                                      (North Custer Road in Monroe)

This is good - "Carl Lentz and the 'Hot Pastor' Problem." 

From the article:

For how much the Bible tells us what Jesus said and what he meant, it’s striking how little it tells us about his appearance. Based on his ethnicity and birthplace, he was almost certainly brown-skinned, with dark eyes and hair. He had a beard. But the only comment on the Messiah’s looks comes from the biblical prophet Isaiah, who Christians believe foretold Jesus’ arrival in Israel: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Translation: Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t hot.

So it’s striking that the most successful church-growth trend in the United States, one ostensibly meant to point people to Jesus, is putting forward male leaders who are, by conventional standards, physically attractive. In the world of megachurches, charisma more than character has become a requirement for leadership — and it’s axiomatic that physical beauty is a key component of charisma, especially if you are trying to attract other beautiful people.

After all, the gospel is for hot people, too. If hot pastors are what God uses to take the Good News to hot people, well, God works in mysterious ways, some requiring very toned biceps...

This desire is at the heart of the hot pastor formula. Megachurches recruit spiritual leaders who are designed to be found desirable by congregants. Their mission becomes bound up in their need to fill their ego, a need to be loved and desired. 

Christian humility is about forgetting oneself. “True gospel humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself,” writes the Presbyterian minister Timothy Keller, who has planted several successful churches in New York himself. “In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

It’s hard for anyone standing under the bright lights of a megachurch stage to forget about themselves. Maybe the problem isn’t the hot pastors like Lentz but a toxic megachurch culture that makes narcissism a prerequisite.

See also Chuck DeGroat, When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community from Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Show Business, Quantification, and the American Church

What is now happening at Hillsong Church in NYC is sad. And old. There is nothing new about the fall of their pastor into adultery. Their pastor has admitted to this. (Christianity Today's article is here.) 

Hillsong, says a recent New York Times article, is "overly enamored with star power." 

Let's say this is true. Let's say Hillsong/NYC valued a cult of celebrity. Surely there are pastors and churches where this fits. The cult of celebrity grows in Entertainment Churches. Because entertainment depends on some people, just a few, maybe only one, being celebrities.

There is an environment that cultivates this. There is a culture, in a petri dish, that grows this.

Two books by Neil Postman, former professor of Culture and Communication at New York University, have helped me here. They are, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

When I first read Postman, I was often thinking of the American Church, which to a significant degree flourishes in the petri dish of show business. Postman gives us "the world," the culture, which he called The Age of Show Business. That, according to Postman, best describes American culture.

We are not, as Romans 12:1-2 counsels, to conform to this. 

Show business metricizes and quantifies "success." Please note: we do not have to do this. This is a relatively recent historical development. Many cultures have not looked at "success" that way. But we do. 

To increase numbers, entertain the people. Give them their money's worth, while keeping them coming back for more. Because...  to metricize, to quantify, is the shape of "this world's mold." Mostly, Americans (to include church folk) have conformed to this. Metrics - this is the air we breathe.

But this has not always been so. 
Aristotle, for example, refused to equate truth and knowledge with numbers. Postman writes: "Indeed, to the Greeks of Aristotle's time, and for two thousand years afterward, scientific truth was best discovered and expressed by deducing the nature of things from a set of self-evident premises." (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 23)

University logic courses still teach the way of Aristotle. I know this, having taught logic at our local community college for seventeen years. I also know that, when I teach that "truth" is not a function of numbers, and hence cannot be quantified, I am speaking to students whose eyes are glazed over, having been fully captured and chained to utilitarian concepts.

We moderns embrace the "equation of truth and quantification. In this prejudice, we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sovereignty of numbers. Many of our psychologists, sociologists, economists and other latter-day cabalists will have numbers to tell them the truth or they will have nothing." (Ib., 23)

Hillsong/NYC had the numbers. They had their attractional, celebrity pastor. They did not have the truth, at least, from their pastor. And now, perhaps, they will have nothing. Which could be good. Perhaps they will abandon the sovereignty of numbers, the cult of celebrity, and the desire to be famous. As C. S. Lewis writes in "The Weight of Glory," "Since to be famous means to be better known than other people, the desire for fame appears to me as a competitive passion and therefore of hell rather than heaven."

Pray for this pastor and his wife and children, that God will have his way with them.

And pray, "Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one..."

My two books are:

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Looking for a Powerful Messiah


I'm reading Matthew chapter 11. A familiar fire in my soul flickers, comes to life. The words burn in me.

Here we see John the Baptist in prison. Herod Antipas imprisoned John in his Perean fortress Machaerus. (See Matthew 14:3.)

John, in prison, has been hearing about all the things Jesus was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

John's disciples come to Jesus. "John wants to know, are you the promised Messiah?"

Jesus answers with a laundry list of what he has been up to. This list includes,

  • blind people see
  • lame people walk
  • lepers are healed
  • deaf people hear
  • dead people are raised to life
  • the Good News is preached to the poor
This is what Jesus does. These miracles have persuasive power.

And I have witnessed some of these things.

I keep coming back to 1 Corinthians 4:20. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. 

I want that, flowing through me, through our church, through The Church. There's a whole lot of talk in churches, with a lot less demonstration of the kind of power manifested in Jesus.

Kingdom power. This is the game changer, the culture shifter, the light bearer, the difference maker, the heart persuader, the Messiah signature, the hope bringer, the Kingdom messenger, the chain breaker, the religion exposer, the truth revealer, the fear disposer, the life dispenser, the hope injector. 

The power of God, demonstrated, on display. This is what I long for. This is what the church not only needs, but requires, for such a dark time as this. Fewer words. More power.