Truth vs. expressive individualism
In one interview, Carl Trueman explained:
Expressive individualism is the dominant way of thinking about identity in the modern Western world. Essentially, the expressive individualist intuits that the true self is that which we are inside, the inner emotions and psychological feelings that we experience.
Trueman goes on to say the authentic individual is one who “is able to act out in public that which they feel inwardly.” In other words, expressive individualism is the idea that one’s identity is not based on objective truth. Instead, it’s entirely based on one’s subjective feelings. I think, therefore I am. For someone to be authentic, then, means he must let his feelings dictate his actions even if those feelings contradict the truth about himself.
Perhaps you remember watching Oprah Winfrey decades ago ask her guests, “What is your truth?” She didn’t ask, “What is truth?” No, she would ask, “What is your truth?” She may even turn to the next person on stage and ask again, “What is your truth?” She was effectively normalizing the absurd notion that truth can be whatever you want it to be. Even before Oprah, we were using phrases such as “Be true to yourself” and “Follow your heart.” Though it seemed trivial at the time, pastors were warning parents about the dangers of the growing self-esteem movement decades ago.
On the one hand, this all feels strange and new like it suddenly appeared out of nowhere. On the other hand, expressive individualism has a much longer history than most of us realize. In fact, we should hardly be surprised at all because the Bible addresses its most basic tenet. For instance, when the apostle Paul speaks of hard times that will come in the last days, the first point he makes is that people will be lovers of self (2Ti 3::1, 2). As he further explains, they will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2Ti 3:4).
In other words, Scripture teaches us to expect the era between the two advents of Christ to be marked by widespread rebellion against God, where people choose themselves and their felt needs over truth and righteousness.
I probably don’t have to tell you what happens when a society abandons truth. Last week, my father-in-law and I put together a play set for the kids. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had ignored the instructions? What if the instructions had said, “Part A connects to Part B,” but we personally felt Part A should connect to Part F? Assuming we managed to put together a structure that even stood on its own, do you think it would have been safe for the kids to play on?
Everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash. (Matthew 7:26, 27)
When people lose all regard for the truth, not to mention personal responsibility to their community, the house is bound to collapse.