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Podcast: Making Sense of Transgenderism and the Sexual Revolution (Carl Trueman)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.


A Cultural Obsession

In this episode, Carl Trueman discusses our culture’s current obsession with identity and changing attitudes about gender and sexuality. He offers a crash course on key historical figures and ideas that have shaped us in profound yet often unnoticed ways, highlights what conservative Christians often misunderstand about the LGBTQ+ cause, and offers advice when it comes to navigating an increasingly hostile culture in the coming years.


Carl R. Trueman

Carl Trueman traces the historical roots of many hot-button issues such as transgenderism and homosexuality, offering thoughtful biblical analysis as he uncovers the profound impact of the sexual revolution on modern human identity.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

Matt Tully
Carl, thank you so much for joining me on The Crossway Podcast today.

Carl Trueman
Matt, it’s a real pleasure to be here.

Matt Tully
I’d venture to guess that many, if not most, Christians today might look back at the last decade or soin America in particular, but in the West more generallywith a sense of surprise and maybe disorientation about our culture’s views on a whole host of things, but maybe in particular sexuality and gender and how those views have changed. It was only in 2015 that the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the US for the whole country, and in those few years since we’ve seen the rates of acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage and now transgenderism grow. But as you point out, these changes didn’t come out of nowhere. So if you had to summarize at a pretty high level, why are so many of us surprised by how our society has changed? What were we not seeing?

Carl Trueman
I think it’s a natural human response to the phenomena we see around ussocial, cultural, etc.to treat them in isolation and to think of them as springing out of nowhere. That’s not surprising, particularly when you have something as dramatic as transgenderism. Suddenly that is not simply being tolerated, but it’s becoming a kind of cultural-political orthodoxy. I think that’s shocking because so many of us don’t think in terms of long-term underlying causes. 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 behaviorwhat 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 surprisedwe should be horrified, but not surprisedby 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.

Matt Tully
I want to get into how we can then respond in light of a better understanding of what’s been happening; but just briefly, do you think that because we have largely not understood the historical reasons for these things, has that harmed our response as broadly conservative Christians?

Carl Trueman
Yes. Of course, it’s hard to generalize because when you answer a question like that you’re talking in rather comprehensive terms. Some Christians and some churches have done better than others; some have acted wrongly but out of the best motives. So I want to preface what I’m going to say by saying my answer is going to be somewhat simplistic and generalized. If you don’t know the precise nature of the problem that you’re faced with, it’s very difficult to respond to it appropriately. I would also say that if you don’t make certain distinctions within that problem, it’s difficult to respond appropriately. One of the things that underlies my concern about Christian responses to LGBTQ+ issues is that it’s important to make a distinction between these things as cultural-political movements and as they might manifest themselves in the life or experience of any particular individual. One needs to deal with the individual in a very, very pastoral way, separating them conceptually, if you like, from the larger political movement. But one mustn’t allow one’s sentimental sympathy for somebody struggling with these things necessarily to blunt one’s critique of the political and cultural movement as a whole. So yes, I do think a good grasp of how and why the culture thinks and acts the way it does is very important as a foundation for making those kinds of decisions and those kinds of distinctions.

Matt Tully
Jumping into specifics here, in your book you note that the origins of your decision to really dig into this topic and even write a book about it stemmed from a desire to answer a specific question that you had. Can you share what that question was and how you figured out how to answer it?

Carl Trueman
Again, a little bit of backgroundmy training is as a historian of ideas. I was a Reformation (sixteenth, seventeenth century) guy, but my interest in those centuries was always in the ideas: Why are these people thinking in this particular way at this particular point in time? What has gone on in the past that has made this kind of discourse, this kind of language, these sort of concepts make sense? Part of the background of the book is that general curiosity that drives me as a historian. I could have picked any sentence and thought, Why does this make sense?, but the specific sentence to which you’re referring is the rather bizarre sentence, I am a woman trapped in a man’s body. I allude to my grandfather in my bookhe’s the late, great invisible man in many of my lectures. I’m always using him as a contrast. If I had said that sentence to my grandfather, I think he would have burst out laughing because it would have sounded utterly incoherent to him. He died just twenty-five, twenty-six years ago. Why is it that twenty-six years after his death that sentence isn’t just regarded as being coherent, but actually if you consider that sentence to be at all incoherent, then you are liable to accusations of ignorance, a phobia of some kind, etc.? So the interest that was driving me was what needs to take place in society within the way not so much we consciously think, but the way we intuit the world around us? Why is it that that sentence now makes intuitive sense to the ordinary man or woman in the street in a way that maybe even fifteen years ago it would have seemed utterly bizarre to them? What are the social-cultural forces shaping the way we instinctively imagine the world to be and to make sense? That was what was driving the book as a whole. Ironically, of course, I only get to transgenderism right at the very end. It’s a long story to get there and it comes in the penultimate chapter. That was the curiosity question that motivated the narrative within the book.

Matt Tully
I’m struck that, maybe looking at both ends of the spectrum, a conservative question might answer your questionWhy would my grandfather be so surprised and so surprised by that statement?with saying, Well, it’s just because our culture has forsaken the Bible. We have forsaken Christian and biblical norms. And on the other side of the spectrumthe liberal, secular leftmight say, Well, it’s because he was just a really close-minded fundamentalist Christian who was just a bigot. Why would you say both of those responses, or answers to the question, would miss the mark? What are they both missing?

Carl Trueman
I could personally answer one of them. My grandfather, as far as I know, was not a Christian. So that certainly wasn’t the reason why he thought like that. I think on the first questionPeople think like that because they’re sinful and because they’ve abandoned the word of GodI don’t question that. But it doesn’t explain very much to me. Cultures have abandoned the word of God throughout the centuries, and the specific cultural forms that abandonment takes have been different over time. In Jeroboam’s time it involved setting up golden calves at Bethel and Dan, and you can go back and understand why he does that. Why does he do that specific thing? There are geopolitical and historical reasons why the abandonment of the word of God looks that way at that time. So when it comes to the modern era, let’s say that human sin is the explanation. Unfortunately, an explanation that explains everything in general explains nothing in particular. In the book I use the example of the Twin Towersthey fell down on 9/11 because of gravity. That’s technically correct, but it doesn’t really tell me anything about 9/11. It doesn’t tell me anything useful about what actually happened that day or why it happened. So, you might say, Why is Trueman wasting his time on this? The reason I want to get into this particular issue in this way is that I’m fascinated with why it is sex and sexuality has come to occupy the central position, if you like, in the human rebellion against God? Why is it not greed for money? Why is it not putting up golden calves in New York and bowing down and worshiping them? Why this particular form of rebellion? To those on the left I would want to say, in some ways, a similar thing. If you want to say people are bigoted or that people have irrational views, that’s the case throughout history. Some people believed in crazy stuff. Why do they believe in this particular crazy stuff at this particular point in time? So, I want to say what we have to do is get down and look at the story. Incidentally, one of the reasons I tell the story the way I do in the book, being very careful to tell the story rather than to jump to this, is that I hope that those who don’t agree with my personal theological convictions can still read the book and say, It makes sense. Trueman doesn’t like the end result, and I do. But we can agree on the dynamics of the story here.

Matt Tully
Starting to unpack that, you’re arguing that the only way to really grasp, let alone respond, to what’s been happening in our culture todayand perhaps most acutely felt in relation to sexuality and transgenderismis to explore Western culture’s revolution of the self. That’s the phrase that you use. Can you unpack that phrase? What do you mean by the self? And why was it a revolution?

Carl Trueman
The self is a word that might sound a little bit self-regarding. It’s one of those academic-y words that people like to throw around to show that they’re sophisticated and in with the jargon.

Matt Tully
And it always feels a little bit vague and you kind of have a sense, but you don’t really know what it means.

Carl Trueman
Yeah. What I mean by the self is that which makes us tick. How do we think of ourselves? There’s a trivial sense in which I know I’m not Matt Tully. I know my self is not Matt Tully. You go back through history and Alexander the Great presumably knew he wasn’t Croesus. The oracle at Delphi knew she wasn’t Homer. 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 BritainI don’t know about Americawas 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. So the book is an attempt to address the sexual revolution against that broader backcloth of fundamental changes in how human beings think of themselves, think of the good life, think of morality and happiness, those sort of issues.

Matt Tully
You draw on a number of historical thinkers, philosophers, ethicists in trying to unpack this change in how we’ve come to view ourselves, but I think one of the most important philosophers that you draw on is a Canadian philosopher by the name of Charles Taylor. He talks of expressive individualism, and that is in the subtitle of your book and that is the dominant lens, I think, through which you explore this. So, what did he mean by expressive individualism?

Carl Trueman
Expressive individualism is the idea that we are at our most authentic, or our most genuine, when we give outward social, cultural, personal expression to that which we feel inwardly. The real me, if you like, is what lives inside, and to the extent that I’m able to express that outwardly, I realize myself as a genuine person, a genuine self. It’s a little more complicated than that, as Taylor knows and as I actually use him to try to argue this in the book. Take a rather tasteless example: the serial killer. The serial killer might want to realize his or her identity by going around killing people, and society won’t tolerate that. Even our expressive individual society thankfully doesn’t tolerate that. So there’s a certain dialogue that goes on. But the interesting thing is even though our identities are dialogical in an expressive individual society, it’s a dialogue between who I think I am inwardly and what society wants me to be. The way I imagine myself really is a monologueI can be whomever I want to be. So, that’s what expressive individualism is trying to catch. It connects to the sexual revolution, of course, because what the sexual revolution has done is say that inside, at your most fundamental level, you’re a sexual beingyour sexual desires define and determine who you are. And the sexual revolution simply says, therefore, we should be able to express those publicly, socially, and culturally. And to the extent we are prevented from doing that, to that extent we are prevented from being authentic.

Matt Tully
Does that explain why it often seems like with the sexual revolution and both homosexuality and transgenderism there is this prioritization of the internalmy feelings inside my mindover and against even the physical bodies that we have? They’re almost set in contrast oftentimes and it’s always the internal feelings that win. Does that connect to this?

Carl Trueman
I think so. More obviously, I think, in the transgender movement than in the gay and lesbian community, if I can make that distinction. But transgenderism very clearly prioritizes inward conviction over bodily reality. In fact, the bodily reality must give way to the internal psychological conviction. Robby George, a professor of law at Princeton, refers to this as a kind of Gnosticism, a denying of the authority of the physical, particularly the body. So I would agree, yes, specifically and most obviously with transgenderism.

Matt Tully
What was before expressive individualism? If this is the latest result of this revolution of the self that has these antecedents going back hundreds of years, how would you summarize how we used to view ourselves before this era?

Carl Trueman
I think if you go back to the medieval period, certainly in Western Europe, you have a very fixed hierarchical society. Almost certainly my ancestors were medieval peasants. My surname seems to indicate that was probably the case. But if you could imagine that I’m born in 1350, who am I? I’m the son of a particular set of parents. I’m born in a particular area. I’m destined from birth to beguess what?a peasant farmer. My identity is very much given to me. There’s no point in me wanting to become a knight in shining armor, wanting to become a prince or a kingit’s never going to happen. My identity there is something that we might say I have to conform myself to. Growing up, an education for me in that context would be learning the expectations of the established, authoritative, fixed, static social structures, and learning how to conform myself to them. Move to the present day, and think about the philosophy of education: child-centered education. The philosophy there is not to teach the child to conform to established structures and established expectations. In many ways, the philosophy is to get those things out of the way to allow the child to do his or her own thing. One of the great thinkers at the Ethics and Public Policy Center has this great comment about how in past times institutions were places of formation. You went to school to learn how to conform yourself to the behavior, the knowledge, etc. required to be an adult member of society. He says today institutions have changed from places of formation to places of performance. That’s a very interesting shift. It again reflects that move away from your identity is given to you, to your identity is one you can construct for yourself. Maybe I should say at this point that I’m not saying expressive individualism is a bad thing. I’m more than happy to have grown up in a time where though my parents didn’t go to college, I got into a good college. I’ve been able to do things that would not have been possible for me in the Middle Ages. So I’m not saying expressive individualism is a bad thing. I am saying, though, that it is the dominant way that we allChristians, non-Christians; straight, gay; etc.it’s the way we all actually think about ourselves today.

Matt Tully
There are lots of historical figures that are important to this story who help to explain why we are at the point that we’re at today as a culture. I want to spend a little time on four particular key figures: Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. I’m sure those names are familiar to virtually all of our listeners, we’ve all heard those names before; but can you briefly introduce each of them and explain why they’re important to this story? If we start chronologically, let’s start with Charles Darwin.

Carl Trueman
Darwin is interesting to me for two reasons: First, what he achieves is the relativization of human nature. He effectively puts into place the idea that human beings are just an exalted form of ape. The second important thing about Darwin is he does it in a scientific idiom. One of the striking things about the culture of the last two hundred years is how science has come to be a very persuasive form of rhetoric in the cultural and political sphere. We’re recording this interview in the height of the COVID moment, and one of the things that has interested me is the language being used. I’ve said to my wife, If I hear another sentence beginning with the phrase The experts say . . . , I’m going to throw myself off a bridgein an appropriately socially-distanced manner, of course. It’s very interesting how COVID has revealed how much authority scientists have; particularly the scientists who are telling the narratives that the politicians want to hear. It’s what Michael Hamby, the Roman Catholic philosopher, calls a biotechnocracy. There’s this sort of technical power given to scientists culturally. So Darwin is very influential, not because most of us have read his theories and then traced out how they’ve been developed and elaborated, let alone have a real understanding of how the genetics involved work. Darwin is powerful and is able to relativize human nature because he speaks in a powerful rhetorical idiomthe idiom of scienceand has been picked up and reinforced by scientists. And secondly, he tells a story that, for all of its very complicated underpinnings in genetics, is pretty simple to grasp: You and I look a bit like apes; there must be a connection. It’s plausible. So Darwin is very, very important for providing the foundations for getting rid of the idea of human exceptionalismthe idea that human beings are answerable to a higher transcendent kind of authority in a way that the animals are not.

Matt Tully
How about Karl Marx? He is just a few decades after Darwin. How does he fit into this story?

Carl Trueman
Marx is, of course, most famous as a social revolutionary figure and also an economist. I’m not so interested in the economics Marx in this book. I’m interested in the early Marx. Marx writes quite a lot of interesting stuff in the 1840s, particularly a set of manuscriptsthe Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844where he deals with human nature. He’s very much following in the footsteps of the German philosopher Hegel at that point, but he sort of flips Hegel. He says you can use Hegel, but we’ve got to see these things materially rather than ideally. What Marx does that’s significant for the narrative of this story, I think, is this: he argues that morality is essentially a function of the ruling class attempting to normalize forms of social behavior in the lower classes that are necessary for the ruling class to maintain its position of authority. An obvious example might be lifelong monogamous marriage. Marx would say that moral imperative doesn’t come from any divine decree. What that comes from is the need for the middle class capitalist to have a stable workforce in the factory. Sexual anarchy would undermine that. So what is done is the economic need for monogamous lifelong marriage is sort of mystified and turned into a theological or moral imperative. Marx is also important because he sees all human relations as fundamentally connected to economic relations. He sees economics as political, and therefore, he sees all human relations as political. That’s an important step in seeing why sex becomes political. When you think about it, it’s sort of odd to think that the most private act between two human beings is one of the most pressing public issues in the politics of our day. How do we get there? Well, Marx is part of that story because Marx essentially says, There is no such thing as the pre-political or the private; everything is political. Everything has to be put on the table in terms of the social revolution. So that’s where Marx is significant.

Matt Tully
How about Nietzsche? Many of us would mostly be familiar with his contention that God is dead, and that’s maybe the extent of our understanding of what he was all about.

Carl Trueman
Nietzscheone of my favorite philosophers, mainly because he’s one of the few philosophers who actually writes in an interesting way. He’s kind of fun to read. I love teaching him in the classes I do at Grove City College. He’s famous for the statement, God is dead. But, of course, what Nietzsche does is draw out the implications of that. In his work The Gay Science, which has nothing to do with the modern meaning of gay. It could be easily translated The Joyful Science or The Happy Science. In the famous passages on the death of God in that, what Nietzsche was essentially doing was saying the Enlightenment got rid of God. The problem is that Enlightenment philosophers like Immanuel Kant or David Hume, having got rid of God or made him little more than a presupposition of the world, haven’t really seen the implications of that. And what Nietzsche says is if God is deadif there is no Godeverything is up for grabs. There’s no transcendence, you cannot appeal to any kind of law out there to which you must conform yourself. If you kill God, you have to rise to the challenge of being God yourself. He also applies that to the individual. Some people say Nietzsche was a nihilist. I don’t think Nietzsche was a nihilist. Nietzsche certainly believes that life is ultimately meaningless, but he doesn’t think that therefore life is not worth living. Life can be worthwhile, even if ultimately it’s meaningless. Live for the moment. Make yourself your greatest piece of art. He’s the philosopher par excellence of anarchic expressive individualism. I’ve been reading on this since, and the figure that’s missing from the book is Oscar Wilde. Most people hear of Nietzsche and think, Oh, super man, Nazis, racial superiority. No. Nietzsche is thinking about the artist as a revolutionary creative figure. Oscar Wilde in his life is, in some ways, the classic Nietzschen man. If you want to see what Nietzsche is getting at in terms of what a human being should look like, check out Oscar Wilde. Here you have a man who breaks with convention and delights in being effectively a self-creator.

Matt Tully
And last but not least there’s Sigmund Freud. Up to this point we can start to see the pieces of this expressive individualism coming together, but Freud’s important, and about him you write, It is Freud, more than any other figure, who made plausible the idea that humans, from infancy onward, are at core sexual beings. What do you mean by that?

Carl Trueman
The first thing to say about Freud is many of his psychoanalytic theories have been debunked. When I chat with the kids at Grove City College who are doing psychology degrees, they read Freud, but basically they read him as a part of the history of psychoanalysis. They don’t read him to apply today. Many of his psychoanalytic theories are debunked, but some of the fundamental points that he made have become common currency. One of the significant things about Freud is he’s operating towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. There had been a lot of discussion in psychological circles about childhood sexuality, particularly focused around issues of self-abuse. Even the term self-abuse takes you to the heart of the way it was looked at, that somehow this is abnormal and harmful. Freud was really the most vocal and articulate of a group of scientists who essentially said human beings are always engaged in sexual activity of some kind. It takes different forms throughout life, but the infant is as sexual in some ways as the adult is. Well, what that does is it makes sex one of the fundamental continuities from the cradle to the grave. It places sex right at the heart of what it means to be a human being. It opens the way conceptually for this identification of the self with our sexual desire. So that’s where Freud is significant. In the book I also use Freud positively because I think he has some interesting things to say about how cultures and civilizations handle that kind of thing and why that makes the sexual revolution so important.

Matt Tully
I think the point you just made about how Freud opened a door for the union of sexuality and identity in our minds today and in our culture today is really important. It connects in with the idea of tolerance. I think there was a time when the message that conservative Christians were hearing was, We just want you to be tolerant. We just want there to be acceptance and room made for our own decisions and beliefs about all kinds of things, including sexuality. Now it seems like the cultural attitude has shifted. It now seems like what’s demanded is personal acceptance and even celebration. Do you think that’s a fair depiction of what has happened, and how does that connect in with this idea of identity?

Carl Trueman
I think that’s an absolutely fair description of what’s happened. I think it goes back to the categorical mistake that I pointed to earlier that I say Christians often make, that the issue with homosexuality is not that it’s an issue about behavior at a political, social, or cultural level. In 1960, if two men engaged in sexual activity together in Britain and were caught, they could go to prison. They went to prison because of their behavior. Tolerance would mean we scrub that from the rule book, we take that out of law so that it’s no longer an offense to do that. You can engage in that behavior in the privacy of your own home. You’re not going to be arrested for it. That’s tolerance. And it’s really connected to social behavior. The issue with the LGBTQ+ movement today is not behavior, it’s identity. When you say, You can do whatever you want in your bedroom in the privacy of your own home, but I still think it’s wrong for you to do that, what you’re actually saying is, I deny your identitywho you are. You define yourself in terms of your sexual desire, and who you are is not who you really are. That’s akin, in some ways, to someone saying, I’m not going to serve this African American person in my cafe because they’re African American. That’s not a question about behavior; that’s a question about identity. I think we’re catching up on that now, but we’re behind the curve on that. We don’t realize that actually the political discussion has been about identity; it has not really been about behavior for a long, long time. It’s why the LGBTQ+ movement is able to appropriate the language of traditional civil rights. A lot of Christians say that’s ridiculous. I don’t think it is ridiculous from their perspective because for them it’s identity. It’s not behavior.

Matt Tully
Get specific. What would it look like to take this understanding of expressive individualism and identity and how that intersects with sexuality and actually let that inform how we as conservative, Bible-believing Christians engage on this issue. What might that look like?

Carl Trueman
Again, I want to make that distinction between what I’ve called the pastoral and the political, for want of better terms. I think when confronted in our churches with somebody who is openly identifying as gay or transgender, in any given individual circumstance there are probably all kinds of other issues going on there, so it’s very difficult to generalize, but I think one of the things we need to bear in mind is there’s a fundamental identity problem here. Then I think we have to ask ourselves, How is identity formed? Identity is formed by a strong community. You don’t form an identity by saying to somebody, Stop that; it’s wrong. That might well be part of a pastoral approach, but it’s not an adequate pastoral approach. I’m struck by Rosaria Butterfield’s comments to the effect that when she left the LGBTQ+ community and joined the church, she expected to be joining another strong community and actually found it wasn’t a very strong community at all. So one of the things that I want to see happening in the church is churches becoming much stronger as communities. We tend to focusparticularly in the conservative evangelical/Reformed worldwe tend to focus very much on doctrine. Don’t take anything I’m saying here as implying doctrine is less than primary importance. Doctrine is of primary importance, but it’s not the only thing that has primary importance. I think a supportive community has to be there. For a gay person to give up that lifestyle and convert to Christianity is, in many ways, a bit like a Jewish Christian converting to Christianity; or a Muslim converting to Christianity. They’re not just changing the set of ideas they believe; they’re losing friends, family, community over this. They cannot be expected to do that unless the church provides them with equally strong things.

Matt Tully
To your point, they’re also even in some sense giving up their identity.

Carl Trueman
Yeah. And this applies to all of us. I don’t think that we want Christians identifying as straight Christians. I think we want everybody identifying as Christian, as in Christ. That has to be the most foundational thing for us. On the political side of things, I think one of the important things to do is we need to realize that perhaps the most pressing need of the hour, in terms of Christians in the social, public sphere, is not so much prioritizing explaining the faith to the world at this point, but explaining the world to the faithful. We need to make sure that our people are properly catechized. The speed of social change is such that on any given Sunday if you do a Sunday school class on the latest crazy happening out there in the world, it’s wack-a-mole. Next week there’s going to be something crazier. 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 13 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 verse.

Matt Tully
That seems to run counter to the way that a lot of Christians often engage these issues. We just sort of say, Well, I believe the Bible is true. It’s God’s revelation; it tells us how we’re supposed to live our lives, so we have to just submit to that or not. But that’s the issueare you going to submit to God’s word? So why would you say that’s a little bit off?

Carl Trueman
I would say thankfully that works for a lot of people. As you mature as a Christian, in some ways you just come to have more and more confidence in God says. But, we have to remember that, particularly with our young people, they’re listening to maybe twenty-five minutes of a sermon on a Sundaymaybe twice a Sunday if they’re really fanatical. That’s less than an hour of Christian teaching in a week. Every time they check YouTube, go on Twitter, switch on the TVif kids still do that; TV is a bit pass, I knowthey’re being preached at by people who say, This stuff is nonsense. It makes no sense. They’re being preached at for the entire rest of the week. So it means that we need to really teach them well in the little slot we’ve got. So praise God when somebody says, God says that. I’m not sure why he says that, but I take him at his word. Praise God! But, human beings are generally more complicated than that. The old, sinful self is always there whispering in our ears. It’s good to have more tools in our toolbox, if I could put it that way. When you think about it, Paul himself uses logic in his letters. He’ll draw on pagan learning. And certainly, if we want to have any impact in the public square, simply pointing people to the Bible in the public square is not going to have any effect. Pointing people to the tragic long-term effects of transgender surgery and, most disgusting of all, pre-puberty hormonal treatment for kidspointing people to the horrific effects of that may have an effect. So I think we need a broader arsenal than just pulling out the proof texts. Particularly discipling the young people, and then when engaging the public sphere as well.

Matt Tully
I wonder if you could put on your pastor’s hat for a moment. What would you say to the Christian listening right now who may or may not have caught all of the different figures, movements, or philosophical ideas you mentioned; but if they’re being honest, they feel a little bit scared about where our broader culture is heading. They wonder about the place that orthodox, Bible-believing Christians who want to be faithful to what God has said are going to occupy in the coming years. What would you say to that person?

Carl Trueman
We live in interesting times. I think on one level we should rejoice that most of us are not suffering what I would regard as real persecution. There are some people we know in America who have lost livelihoods over their stance on these issues because of their Christian principles. Some people are really suffering; most of us are not. What most of us are experiencing is a marginalization within a culture that we thought that we were at the center of. So I would first of all say let’s not catastrophize things quite at this moment. Nobody is being carted off to internment camps as they are in China, for example. So let’s not catastrophize. Secondly, let us keep sight of the big picture. Augustine, in his great book The City of God, is writing that book in the context of the fall of the city of Rome where, in many ways in the ancient world, Rome was the United States of its day, except Rome had been around for a lot longer than the United States. And then it falls to the Goths in the fifth century. Does this mean that God is not in control? Is it the result of us being Christians and not worshiping the old gods? Augustine writes this massive book. Frankly, he could have done with a really good editor. I think it could do with being a third of the length, but it’s a great book. The burden of that book is Christians were meant to try to be good citizens of the earthly kingdom, but we must never confuse the earthly city, to use his terminology, with the heavenly city. While as a Westerner it saddens me to think that my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, my great-great-grandchildren may not enjoy the great jewels and gems of the great Western world as I’ve enjoyed them and may grow up in societies that are far more distinctively pagan and hostile to Christianity than I have thus far experienced, it does not shake my confidence in God’s promise that he will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail. God’s kingdom is not dependent upon, to put it rather facetiously, is not dependent upon Jesus taking over the White House or us taking over the White House with Jesus. God’s kingdom does not depend upon that. God’s kingdom depends upon his character as expressed in his promise. The last time I looked, those things had not changed. So while there may be hard times to come for us as individuals, they are certainly not as hard as the church has experienced elsewhere today and in the past, and they are certainly not a sign that God is not in ultimate control. Maybe American society is coming under the judgment of God. I don’t know. But I do know that in the midst of that judgment, he will not forget his people and he will bring them safely home.

Matt Tully
Carl, thank you so much for helping us to see our cultural moment right now with a little bit bigger of a perspective, that we might be more faithful as we move forward into the future.


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