Truth and the Rise of the Modern Self

Written by Ryan Evans on January 27th, 2021

Teaching truth today is more challenging than ever. We live in a topsy-turvy world, where up is down, right it wrong, and good is evil. Our children are growing up in a world our grandparents could never have imagined. As author Carl Trueman writes in his latest book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” would have been considered “incoherent gibberish” by our forebears. We may be tempted to despair when we consider the grim landscape: The Obergefell decision that legalized homosexual marriage; over a million legally aborted babies in our country each year; partisan politics lacking in civility, kindness, and respect.

But we do not serve a despairing God. He is good, He is sovereign, and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That message bears repeating over and over to our children. The Bible’s message is true, even though our cultural landscape is increasingly complicated and at odds with the Christian worldview.

In his thought-provoking book, Trueman traces the history of man in categories that help frame where we are today:

  • Aristotle’s political man, where we found identity in community
  • Chaucer’s religious man, where we found identity in church life
  • Economic man, where identity was found in economic activity

The modern identity can be summarized by psychological man, where identity is found inside, and where happiness is defined by individual feelings. It’s a helpful paradigm for understanding our cultural predicament.

So why is this important, and how does this relate to education? Education is as much formation as information. Lessons are as much caught as they are taught. Children are products of their environment where practices, habits, and expectations are observed and mimicked. We all – even adults – tend to conform ourselves to the communities of which we are a part. When family, church, and school have common shared values, our children are presented with a way of life that makes sense and that holds together in a manner that coheres in Christ (Colossians 1:16). Combatting the current zeitgeist of inner personal happiness and psychological well-being requires intentional effort to what is wrong and right in a community of like-minded Believers.

Family, church, and school must vigilantly and honestly combat the inherent lies and false assumptions seen everywhere in our culture. It takes a concerted effort, courage, and eschewing our own desires in order to teach our children, “to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). When we are tempted to find more “me time” or relentlessly pursue “self-care,” we’d all do well to remember Christ’s words in Matthew 16. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In a world of woke insensibilities, cancel culture, and safe spaces, Christ’s words to count the cost of discipleship are perhaps more relevant than ever.