The Modern Academy and the Traditional Text

Carl Trueman, in his work The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, trenchantly lays bare and argues against the rise of expressive individualism in the modern West. He does so in a way that exposes the reasons behind the rise and fall of certain moral narratives and particularly the rise of those narrative which run against the traditional Christian moral norms. The work is knotty and pointed with multiple intersecting lines of philosophy, psychology, culture, and society.

While Trueman makes the case that most if not all of the West, Christian or otherwise, have to some degree absorbed expressive individualism and largely because it is in the air we breathe, still there are some he singles out as particularly formative because of their advocacy of this new normal. Among those singled out are the universities. Trueman observes,

“Whereas in the first and second worlds, intellectuals and institutions such as universities were the conduits for the transmission and preservation of culture, now the intellectual class is devoted to the opposite – to the subversion, destabilization, and destruction of the culture’s traditions.”

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 88.

Trueman’s use here of “first and second worlds” refers to those worldviews which anchored their value systems in either myth or faith, respectively. But we in the West now live in a “third world” which has at its center the self and the performance of self and particularly the profound value of how the self feels bout itself. By Trueman’s lights, we no longer live in a world which seeks to preserve our cultural traditions, rather we live in a world which seeks to subvert, destabilize, and destroy the current cultural traditions. And the particular agent of this “progress” has been the academy, the university.

Keep in mind that Trueman has been a professor for several decades and continues to be a professor at Grove City College. Trueman takes this swipe at academia while being a member of that class. I agree that the Western university has done much to subvert, destabilize, and destroy our cultural traditions in the name of free speech and an open marketplace of ideas. Among these “cultural traditions” under assault by the academy, could we not include the Traditional Text?

I have little reason to think that Trueman includes among the “cultural traditions” the Traditional Text of Scripture and particularly the KJV as that Traditional Text. That said, it does seem to me that given the rather recent assault on biblical inerrancy and the need for the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy would at least put the Traditional Text in the neighborhood of those things which the “university” sought to subvert, destabilize, and destroy.

Let’s be honest, if evangelical Christians are ok with the academy telling us what is or is not the word of God, why is it such a big deal for the academy to tell us what is or is not a man or woman, or what counts as a marriage? Put another way, if some of God’s words are considered “small stuff” or not necessary for the Christian to claim he has the word of God, then perhaps homosexual marriage is really just a matter of the “small stuff.” Such a conclusion is certainly in line with Christian attempts to validate same-sex unions or same-sex marriage.

So, I leave it to you all. Why is it that the Christian academia argues tooth and nail for traditional sexual norms but not for a traditional textual norm? I hope the answer isn’t “sufficient reliability.” If it is, know that advocates of homosexual marriage will have no problem arguing that on their view of homosexual marriage is a “sufficiently reliable” form of marriage, and those who disagree are the KJV Onlyists of sexual norms.

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