Published on July 10, 2024 by Eugene Ho

Crossway, 2022 | 208 pages

A Book Review From Books at a Glance

by Brendan Bollinger



It is easy to see that Western culture has changed drastically in the last several decades. Many things that were once taboo have become not merely acceptable, but lionized, as exemplified by the normalization and valorization of gay marriage and transgenderism. Many things that were once understood to be common sense, such as forbidding biological men to participate in women’s sports, or even virtuous, such as refusing to accept or perpetuate a lie, are now repudiated as antiquated, bigoted, and hateful. These changes are easy to find, but they are harder to explain. For those who still believe in the old Christian virtues of Western culture, these changes can be bewildering. How, one might ask, can society have reached the point where the phrase “I am a man trapped in a woman’s body” is treated with such seriousness and deference? It is that very question which Carl Trueman sets out to answer in his book, Strange New World.


Table of Contents

  1. Welcome to This Strange New World
  2. Romantic Roots
  3. Prometheus Unbound
  4. Sexualizing Psychology, Politicizing Sex
  5. The Revolt of the Masses
  6. Plastic People, Liquid World
  7. The Sexual Revolution of the LGBTQ+
  8. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
  9. Strangers in This Strange New World




Chapter 1: Welcome to This Strange New World

Strange New World is an exploration of the various factors that contributed to the current state of Western culture. To this end, Trueman makes use of sociologist Charles Taylor’s concept of “social imaginary,” which refers to the intuitive way—distinct from conscious reflection and theory—in which people in a given society imagine the world to be. Using this framework, Trueman argues that the key to understanding our current state of culture is the change in the social imaginary of the West to “expressive individualism,” which is an understanding of the self as possessing a “unique inner core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized” (22). In other words, the “social imaginary” of modern Western culture understands each individual to be in need of constant self-revelation—a persistent unveiling of the hidden core of emotion and instinct that make up the true nature of every person. Anything short of this is a denial of the unique selfhood of the individual. This is Trueman’s thesis: the rest of the book explores the history behind this momentous shift and looks at specific figures and thinkers who impacted this trajectory. 


Chapter 2: Romantic Roots

Trueman opens his study with an exploration of Romanticism, a multifaceted and variegated worldview epitomized by such thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the various Romantic poets (such as Wordsworth, Longfellow, and Goethe). The key significance of these thinkers is the fact that they were some of the first to voice a theory that has since become intuitive for many Westerners: namely, that sophisticated society is inherently corrupting, and that instinct, intuition, and the “inner voice” are more reliable guides to truth (47). It is this sentiment that makes it possible for a trans individual to be considered upstanding and courageous—he is bucking the oppressive authority of society and following his own inner light, a startling and brave act according to the Romantics. However, the Romantics also believed in human nature. That is, they believed that the inner voice of nature was fixed, stable, and objective, and as such transcended the individual. However, due to other streams of thought, this concept has since been rejected by contemporary culture as too oppressive and limiting.


Chapter 3: Prometheus Unbound

Trueman then turns to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Oscar Wilde. These three thinkers, although vastly different from one another in some respects, shared a rejection of the idea of transcendent, stable, moral human nature to which humanity must adhere to flourish. For Marx, all human social relations are ultimately economic relations and morality was consequently historically conditioned to protect the (corrupt) economic system of society. For Nietzsche, the concept of a consistent moral human nature is a fiction invented by one group of people to dominate and denigrate all others. Instead of following this predetermined path, Nietzsche proposes that selves ought to find themselves through “artistic self-creation,” daring to go against convention. Of this type of lifestyle, Oscar Wilde, the sophisticated sexual adventurer and unapologetic hedonist, serves as the classic example. All three of these men, in their very different ways, contributed to another key assumption of modern thinking: there is little to no moral structure of human nature.


Chapter 4: Sexualizing Psychology, Politicizing Sex

Next on the list of significant figures are Sigmund Freud, his disciple Wilhelm Reich, and their simultaneous sexualization of psychology and politicization of sex. Freud takes the psychologized self of the Romantics and gives it a decidedly sexual nature. The “inner voice” of the Romantics, that bundle of emotional and instinctual energy at the core of every self, is still supreme in the thought of Freud, but it is now dominated by its sexual desires. This changes sex from a mere behavior to a key component of one’s identity. Wilhelm Reich builds upon the foundation laid by Freud, but also grafts in elements of Marxism. Like Freud, he accepts the sexuality of the self as paramount to its identity; like Marx, he maintains that moral human nature is historically determined. The net result of this is to reduce sexual mores to artificial constructs determined by those in power and, therefore, to make sexuality a political issue. All of this has contributed to the modern notion that the self is significantly determined by its sexuality and that sexuality is a political issue. 


Chapter 5: The Revolt of the Masses

Having in chapters 2 through 4 explored some of the most significant contributors to the modern social imaginary of expressive individualism, Trueman spends chapters 5 through 8 exploring the ways this new worldview has played out in Western culture. He begins by exploring some of the other notable contributing factors to this current situation. He identifies five distinct developments: the collapse of traditional, external anchors of identity; the rise of technology which has fed the notion that humans can bend nature to their will; the loss of sacred order and the consequent rise of subjectivism; the notion that sexual freedom is key to happiness; and the decision of the elites to repudiate the past and encourage the pathologies of the modern, expressive, sexual self (109). Granted, Trueman does not claim that these are the only sources of our present dilemma, and he is willing to admit there are sources he is missing, but the problems he identifies are undoubtedly significant.


Chapter 6: Plastic People, Liquid World

Trueman then outlines two of the most dangerous consequences of this shift in social imaginary: the new plastic conception of human nature and identity and the liquefaction of traditional frameworks by which humans traditionally found their identity. This has led to widespread angst over identity and has also led to the rise of groups such as the LGBTQ+ movement, whose promise of identity is like a siren song to the contemporary culture. As he observes, “human selves exist in dialogue with the terms of recognition set by the wider world. When that world is liquid, those terms are set by the loudest voices and the most dominant narratives” (127).


Chapter 7: The Sexual Revolution of the LGBTQ+

Trueman dedicates significant space to the LGBTQ+ movement as it is the most colorful and visible outworking of sexualized expressive individualism in public life. He first remarks upon how the increasing extremism of the movement has made some of its earliest adherents look tame. The L, G, and B, so to speak, now hardly seem as transgressive as the more aggressive and flamboyant T and Q. He also correctly observes an inherent tension in the LGBTQ+ movement between the older adherents (L, G, and B) which all assume the importance of biological sex for the gender binary and the newer elements (T and Q) which reject any importance for biological sex and seek to smash the gender binary. This inherent tension has led to more and more conflict between the competing factions of the movement. 


Chapter 8: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

More importantly, however, Trueman observes that the new social imaginary of expressive individualism (of which the LGBTQ+ movement is but a symptom, albeit a flagrant one) is positioned to have an enormous effect on Western culture. In fact, it already has. Old virtues traditionally understood to be essential to liberty, such as sanctity of life, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. have been completely inverted by this new conception of self. This pursuit of “radical individual freedom” has, ironically, led to increased authoritarian (and in some circumstances, almost totalitarian) social control. “Cancel culture” is perhaps the best example of this. This new world of instability, fear, and angst has serious implications for the church. It is our responsibility to respond to this madness with the truth. How to go about doing this is the subject of Trueman’s last chapter.


Chapter 9: Strangers in This Strange New World

Trueman ends like a great preacher should—with practical application. He suggests six methods by which Christians can combat this madness. First, we must examine ourselves and identify where we as a church have been complicit in the rise and triumph of expressive individualism. Second, we must learn from the ancient church and study how men like Augustine responded to the madness of their own times. Third, we must teach the whole counsel of God in our churches and in our lives. Fourth, we must shape intuitions through biblical worship. Fifth, we must retrieve natural theology and the theology of the body. Sixth, and finally, we must avoid the twin errors of optimism and despair, instead measuring our current situation with a balanced and wise spirit.


Assessment and Recommendation

With characteristic verve and style, Trueman makes an admirable argument in this book; and, in so doing, he bravely stands against the many pressures in our society pushing for the sins he rightly condemns. Nevertheless, this is not a mere book of polemics—Trueman’s approach is balanced, respectful, even gracious, and it is clear that he loves those caught in the snares of our time which makes his denunciation of those snares all the more powerful. The entire book is well-researched, clearly argued, well-written, and perfectly accessible to the “man on the street.” Anyone can pick up this volume and put it down again with a clearer picture of where we are as a culture. This book is a marvelous gift to the church and ought to be utilized by every Christian who cares for the future of Western society. 

One critique, and it is only a small one, is that Trueman leaves us with precious little in the way of application. Although he provides sound advice and strategies in the last chapter of the book, it simply feels like too little considering the enormous threat looming over the church. However, seeing as one of Trueman’s goals in writing this book was to keep it at a reasonable length, this slight imperfection can surely be excused. Besides, he correctly observes that it will be up to pastors and leaders on the ground to work out how best to combat these forces in their own environment. A challenge all of us in a position of leadership would do well to accept.


Brendan Bollinger

Buy the books


Crossway, 2022 | 208 pages

Share This

Share this with your friends!