Editor’s Note

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Journal
03.17.2022

My friend Ben suggested that 9Marks should devote a Journal to Carl Trueman’s book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self and the topic of expressive individualism. The elders of Ben’s church, Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, DC, had all just read it together and benefited from it immensely. I loved the book, too, and had told dozens of people to read it. I even emailed a friend at Crossway and told him they had to produce a teenager’s version. Teenagers need to understand expressive individualism now, today, immediately, even more than adults, as they grow into a world suffuse with it. Still, a Journal on it? Nah, that couldn’t work. Too philosophical, right?

Then Ben sent me a proposed table of contents. I thought, goodness, yes, we have something here. This Journal idea really could help pastors and churches. So I got on board, and we commissioned a number of articles.

Weeks passed. I began to wonder again, is this going to work? Isn’t it all a bit abstract and academic? A topic like “expressive individualism” is just a mouthful to say, much less understand. It’s not concrete like “Deacons” or “Doctrine” or “Church Discipline,” which have immediate application to pastors.

Yet then the articles began to come in: Justin Harris on why pastors need to understand it, Michael Lawrence on how to apply sermons in light of it, Ben Wright on how it shows up in churches that love the nine marks, Walt Mueller on youth ministry, Samuel James on the Internet, and on and on. Goodness, yes, these are excellent. Pastor, not only will you enjoy these pieces, so will your elders, small group leaders, and anyone in your church who wants to better understand the culture we live inside, and that too often lives inside of us.

Think of Elsa’s song “Let it Go” from Frozen that all four of my daughters probably know by heart: “It’s time to see what I can do / To test the limits and break through / No right, no wrong, no rules for me / I’m free!” Tim Keller helps define expressive individualism by pointing to these lyrics as

a good example of expressive individualism. Identity is not realized, as in traditional societies, by sublimating our individual desires for the good of our family and people. Instead, we become ourselves only by asserting our individual desires against society, by expressing our feelings and fulfilling our dreams regardless of what anyone says. (Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, 134)

So what exactly is expressive individualism? It’s a worldview, says Brian Rosner in a book he has just written on it (see the Journal Table of Contents for an excerpt), that he summarizes in seven tenets:

  • The best way to find yourself is to look inward.
  • The highest goal in life is happiness.
  • All moral judgments are merely expressions of feeling or personal preference.
  • Forms of external authority are to be rejected.
  • The world will improve dramatically as the scope of individual freedom grows.
  • Everyone’s quest for self-expression should be celebrated.

Certain aspects of a person’s identity—such as their gender, ethnicity, or sexuality—are of paramount importance. (Page 24)

Based on those tenets, my guess is, you know exactly what Rosner (and Trueman) are talking about. You see it all around you, too.

Understanding expressive individualism, therefore, is crucial for your pastoral ministry, just like pastors in the Roman world needed to understand paganism, pastors in the early twentieth-century needed to understand scientific materialism and rationalism, pastors in a Muslim world need to understand Islam, or pastors in East Asia need to understand Confucianism. The predominant religion in the West and many parts of the world today is expressive individualism. It shapes the religious intuitions of our non-Christian neighbors, our children, even ourselves.

The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t come instinctively to our lips. What Brian Rosner calls “The Prayer of the Authentic Self” does. Here is Rosner’s rendition, which matches line by line to Jesus’s prayer:

My essence within,
help me to find my authentic self,
my kingdom come,
my will be done,
from birth to seventh heaven.

Give me today my daily spread.
Forgive not my enemies
as I suppress those who sin against me.

Lead me not into self-doubt
but deliver me from all external
authorities.

For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are mine
now and forever.

Amen. (p. 209)

Pastor, this is how people in our world and too often in our churches instinctively, inarticulately pray. We hope this Journal will help you teach them to pray not to their essence within, but to “Our Father, who is in heaven.”

And one more thing. We’ve decided to add a new feature to every Journal: to pick one elder qualification as listed by Paul in the Pastorals, and to ask several pastors to meditate on that qualification for all our benefit. For this issue, we decided to focus on what it means to be quarrelsome. In this social media moment, quarrelsome tempts all of us. Let’s pick a fight with quarreling through prayer and meditating on God’s Word.

—Jonathan Leeman

By:
Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan (@JonathanLeeman) edits the 9Marks series of books as well as the 9Marks Journal. He is also the author of several books on the church. Since his call to ministry, Jonathan has earned a master of divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiology from the University of Wales. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Cheverly, Maryland, where he is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church.

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The Reformation and Your Church

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Church Mergers and Plants

Summer 2017
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Pastoring Singles

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Healthy Churches around the World

Fall / Winter 2016
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Authority: God’s Good and Dangerous Gift

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The Church Praying

Spring 2016
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Confessions, Covenants, and Constitutions: How to Organize Your Church

Winter 2016
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Missions: Adding Wisdom to Zeal

December 2015
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Multi-Ethnic Churches

Summer/Fall 2015
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Expositional Preaching

Spring 2015
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Complementarianism & the Local Church

Winter 2015
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Vanishing Church?

Fall 2014
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Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide of the Church

Summer 2014
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The Church Singing

May–June 2014
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Prosperity Gospel

January–February 2014
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Evangelism – Part 2

November–December 2013
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Evangelism – Part 1

September–October 2013
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Is Scripture Enough?

July–August 2013
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Church and Churches

May—June 2013
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Pastoring Christians for the Workplace

March—April 2013
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Lay Elders: A User’s Guide—Part 2

Jan—Feb 2013
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Lay Elders: A User’s Guide – Part 1

November—December 2012
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Discipling in the Church

September—October 2012
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Mercy Ministry in the Church

July—August 2012
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Wanted: Apostolic Pastors

May—June 2012
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The Underestimated Doctrine of Conversion

March—April 2012
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Don’t Be Too Cool for Sunday School

January—February 2012
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Revitalize: Why We Must Reclaim Dying Churches—and How

November—December 2011
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The Pastor and his Staff, Part 2

September—October 2011
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The Pastor and his Staff, Part 1

July—August 2011
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Church Membership: Holding the Body Together

May—June 2011
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Church and Parachurch: Friends or Foes?

March—April 2011
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Pastoral Moves

January—February 2011
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Book Reviews on the Mission of the Church

November—December 2010
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Hell: Remembering the Awful Reality

September—October 2010
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Pastoring Women

July—August 2010
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Journal about Deacons

Deacons

May - June 2010
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A New Evangelical Liberalism

January—February 2010

Church Discipline (Part 2)

November—December 2009

Church Discipline (Part 1)

September—October 2009

Missions

July—August 2009

Multi-site Churches

May—June 2009

Young Pastors

March–April 2009

Raising Up the Next Generation of Pastors

January–February 2009

Counseling in the Church

November–December 2008

Family & Parenting

September–October 2008

Marriage & Pastors’ Wives

July—August 2008
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Living As a Church

May–June 2008

Cooperation

March–April 2008

Corporate Prayer

January–February 2008

Church & Culture

November–December 2007

Race and Ethnicity

September—October 2007

The Gospel

July–August 2007

Preaching

May–June 2007

Elders (Part 2)

March–April 2007

Hospitality & Friendship

January 2007

Elders (Part 1)

February 2007

Biblical Theology

November–December 2006

The Church’s Mission

October 2006

The Emerging Church

September 2006

Miscellaneous Articles

December 1999