How Satan Is Using the Lie that Personal 'Authenticity' Is the Pathway to Personal, Social Flourishing

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Wednesday, May 12, 2021
A stack of books, A Brilliant Book Explains Our Cultural Moment

How Satan Is Using the Lie that Personal 'Authenticity' Is the Pathway to Personal, Social Flourishing


The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week that it will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Their statement requires healthcare providers and other organizations that receive funding from HHS to provide medical services to transgender individuals. Such services include sex-change procedures for any and all patients who request them—even children.

The HHS announcement does note that its Office for Civil Rights “will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” However, if the so-called Equality Act now before the Senate becomes law, such appeals to religious liberty will be expressly forbidden. In that case, faith-based hospitals would be required to perform sex-change surgeries on children and adults.

This is just the latest step in a spiritual conflict that involves every evangelical Christian in America.

"The most important cultural book of the year"

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by historian Carl Trueman is being called “the most important cultural book of the year (maybe even decade).” I just finished other reading and began the book yesterday; so far, I would have to agree.

For example, Trueman utilizes the work of sociologist Philip Rieff to offer a concise explanation of our cultural progression from the ancient world to today. Rieff notes that we have sought meaning and purpose in four stages:

  1. Political man: the Greco-Roman ideal of people engaged in community life.
  2. Religious man: the medieval ideal of people engaged in church services and religious pilgrimages.
  3. Economic man: the modern ideal of people finding their sense of self through financial activity and material success.
  4. Psychological man: the postmodern ideal of people finding their identity through the inward quest for personal, psychological happiness.

Trueman is quick to note that this formulation is far too simplistic on its own. For example, the Apostle Paul was clearly aware of his inner self and its challenges (cf. Romans 7), as were St. Augustine in his Confessions and Martin Luther in his struggles with personal failings. However, Rieff’s stages do describe the larger narrative leading to the present moment.

According to Trueman, the psychological stage created the cultural context for the sexual revolution. Friedrich Nietzsche taught us to cast off social norms and restraints that inhibit us; Karl Marx taught us to resist the oppression of ruling classes; Sigmund Freud taught us that we are at core sexual beings and that our sexual desires are decisive for who we are.

As a result, we are urged to seek personal authenticity with regard to our sexual orientation and gender identity and to reject any individuals or institutions who inhibit us. This worldview has come to dominate secular society and seeks to replace the biblical worldview it rejects.

How Satan wages war today

Now, let’s recast this narrative in the context of spiritual warfare.

The Bible warns us that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). As a result, we must “resist him, standing firm in your faith” (v. 9). Like lions in the wild, Satan adopts strategies that are suited to the victims he seeks to “devour.”

During the “political” phase of Western history, he used persecution by the Roman Empire to attack the Christian movement. The Holy Spirit responded by leading Roman leaders such as Constantine to faith in Christ and the legalization of Christianity, which led to the medieval “religious phase.”

Satan responded by seeking to institutionalize the faith, turning Christianity into rules and activities rather than a personal relationship with a personal Savior. The Spirit responded with Luther’s call of sola fidei (“only faith”) and the success of the Protestant Reformation.

Satan responded by seeking to commercialize the faith, turning the Christian movement into a transactional quest for economic and material gain. The Spirit responded with the evangelical movement’s emphasis on salvation and transformational spirituality.

Now Satan is responding by seeking to psychologize the culture with the lie that personal “authenticity” is the pathway to personal and social flourishing. This strategy takes us back to the first stage as evangelicals face antagonism and opposition from those who caricature us as dangerous to society and seek to replace our worldview with theirs.

There are clearly exceptions to my narrative, such as medieval and Reformation-era Catholics whose faith was deeply personal and evangelicals whose spirituality is coldly transactional. But my arc illustrates the spiritual battle in which we find ourselves today.

"Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies"

How do we respond to a culture that condemns us as opponents of the authenticity it demands? One answer is to be just as authentic as believers as our opponents seek to be as secularists.

The key to being authentically Christian, of course, is being authentically with Christ.

Paul said of Christians, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). The Spirit of Christ lives in us as his temple (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16). But we must cooperate with the Spirit in thinking like Jesus: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

How? Begin your day by meeting God in his word. Ask him to speak to you through Scripture, agreeing with J. I. Packer that the Bible is “God preaching.” Memorize God’s word regularly, then ask the Spirit to bring biblical truth to mind as you face the challenges and opportunities of your day. Pray for the strength to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

If you will say with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), you will be able to testify, “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (v. 98).

Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that “a man is what he thinks about all day long.”

What—or who—will you think about today?

NOTE: The only way our culture will ever change is if God’s people know how to carry on biblically based conversations with those of other faiths so that the door can be opened to a gospel invitation. This is why I don’t want you to miss out on requesting your copy of Biblical Insight to Tough Questions, Volume 8, for your gift of any amount. May 31 is the last day you can request it, so I encourage you to do so today.

 Publication date: May 12, 2021

Photo courtesy: Mahendra Kumar/Unsplash

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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