A Note on Fellipe do Vale’s Review of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

This review was published yesterday at London Lyceum: https://www.thelondonlyceum.com/book-review-the-rise-and-triumph-of-the-modern-self/

Fellipe do Vale, fellow at London Lyceum and TEDS Professor, makes the following critiques:

(1) Historical arguments, especially genealogical arguments, must be extremely careful about establishing claims of causation.
(FAIR POINT, though this methodological constraint would have made broad analysis like this book almost impossible; I am sure Trueman was very aware of what he was doing.)

(2) one also finds some significant historical inaccuracies
(do Vale cites one example. I am not competent to judge this on most of the historical figures. I did wonder about Trueman’s characterizations in a few points. I’d have liked it if do Vale had referenced more examples even if he did not unpack them.)

(3) The identifying traits requisite for a figure to contribute to the development of modernity are poorly defined
(I take it do Vale is gesturing toward what I complained about above [on my goodreads review], that Trueman’s categories are a bit blunt. do Vale cites an example I too noticed the notion of the “psychologized self.” It’s not that it obviously doesn’t refer to something real in the world; it probably does. The problem is without clear definition it is hard for the reader to judge what developments contribute to it.)

(4) [Consequently], Trueman’s selection of examples often appear unwarranted

(5)–cited at length:
“Finally, there is a pastoral worry. Even if the above objections were avoidable, is this the kind of book that would help a pastor shepherd a flock through the complexities of sex and gender faced today? I don’t think it is. Individuals today experiencing gender dysphoria or who are same-sex attracted are not helped if they are assumed to be a part of a movement or a revolution, especially a political one. Some might have political motivations, others may not; it seems unwise to assume one way or another. Pastors are more successful if they pay careful and compassionate attention to the particular story of the individual in question, not automatically placing them within a broader story they may not themselves recognize. Rather, their sensitive listening should help the person find their home in God’s story, that of the gospel. In the end, it does not seem to me that Trueman’s book encourages careful and gentle attention to the individuals who may walk through the doors of any church”

I am appreciative of Fellipe do Vale’s review and concur with at least half of it. On this last point, I agree that people should treat individuals experiencing gender dysphoria with compassionate attention. This is an important caveat. My sense is that do Vale is offering this as a “pastoral worry” rather than a critique. If so, I wholeheartedly concur. Though I see it as poor form to criticize a book for what it does not address, Trueman might have said something about this. Yet, I am not sure that do Vale’s analysis appreciates the importance of what the book is doing with regard to personal care. Trueman explicitly traces how private sexuality has been politicized. The inverse is also true: public ideas about sexuality are always part of private experience. The politics of sexuality must not dominate caring for people, as it very often does among religious conservatives. But we are not able to bracket out “social imaginaries” from individual experience. Cultural narratives contribute to our embodied habits and our interpretations of bodily experience at a pre-conscious level.

For example, evangelical sexual culture can be Exhibit A for how damaging a cultural lens can be for self-understanding. Evangelical men have often adopted a hyper-sexualized interpretation of their own sex drives. They largely do not think that chastity is a virtue necessary for married men (it may be that this last sentence doesn’t even make sense to most readers, see Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s Glittering Vices). Evangelical men tend to see their sex drive as unalterably who they are and that it is a grace that they’ve been given their own lawful sex partner to deal with it. This is a deplorable way to serve their wives. Understanding the contribution of Freud, for instance, to this unconscious assumption is helpful for learning new ways of being for our own flourishing and for that of others.

Reflections on Psalm 140

Ps 140
1 Rescue me, LORD, from evil men.
Keep me safe from violent men
2 who plan evil in their hearts.
They stir up wars all day long.
3 They make their tongues
as sharp as a snake’s bite;
viper’s venom is under their lips.

Throughout the chapter these evil men are called violent and slanderers. It is their thoughts, words, and deeds that make them so. But the Psalmist begins with the thoughts. They “plan evil in their hearts…all day long.”

Are we really exempt from this charge? How do my thoughts run? Do I not engage in ceaseless self-justification? Do I not judge other people’s behavior as unjustified and cruel? Are not slanderous words about others spoken in my own heart, even if they never leave my lips? Evil men need not be self-consciously evil; I may easily put on the habits of self-justifying slander.

But what about violence? Surely, I am not the man. Ours is an age of passive aggression, not overt aggression. Do we not spin the narrative to make our enemies out to be ugly or unwise? Do we not indirectly fight for their ruin or humiliation? Rescue me, LORD, from myself.

Ps 140
9 As for the head of those who surround me,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
12  I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Prov 25
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Psalm 140 calls for protective judgment with a confidence that God will execute justice. Proverbs 25 specifies what sort of action this confidence inspires.

The Logic of the Body (Lexham 2020)

I am really excited that my book, The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology, is set to be released with Lexham on November 4, 2020. Kevin Vanhoozer has submitted an introduction. Below is a quick preview, publisher’s blurb, and endorsements.

Publisher’s Blurb

“Do not be anxious about anything.” When it comes to stress and worry, that’s all we really need to say, right? Just repent of your anxiety, and everything will be fine.

But emotional life is more complex than this.

In The Logic of the Body, Matthew LaPine argues that Protestants must retrieve theological psychology in order to properly understand the emotional life of the human person. With classical and modern resources in tow, LaPine argues that one must not choose between viewing emotions exclusively as either cognitive and volitional on the one hand, or simply a feeling of bodily change on the other. The two “stories” can be reconciled through a robustly theological analysis.

In a culture filled with worry and anxiety, The Logic of the Body offers a fresh path within the Reformed tradition.


“This is not only first-rate, but desperately needed. To cite one example, a holistic approach to the human person is crucial for addressing the embodied habits of anxiety.”
JP Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University and author of Finding Quiet

“Certain books have the ability to transform our understanding of ourselves, of life, and of ministry. For me, The Logic of the Body is one such paradigm-shaping book. This is Christian scholarship at its best—careful exegesis of biblical passages, illuminating retrieval of historical categories, thoughtful and critical engagement with modern science and secular sources, all in order to do constructive theology in service of the church. Every pastor, theologian, and counselor needs to read this book.”
Joe Rigney, Assistant Professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College & Seminary, Pastor at Cities Church, Saint Paul, MN

“Having suffered from serious public-speaking anxiety in my 20s and 30s, I read Dr. LaPine’s book with great interest. Is an anxious Christian a contradiction in terms, caused by lack of faith? In showing why the answer to this question is ‘no’, LaPine masterfully engages Thomas Aquinas and contemporary thinkers such as J. P. Moreland in defense of a ‘dualistic holism’. This is a most welcome book from a young doctor of the soul.”
Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

“Demonstrated mastery of a highly circumscribed academic area is a hallmark of late modern scholarship. But how are we ever to gain a greater grasp of the whole, in order to approximate, analogically, more of the divine understanding, the true aim of Christian scholarship? Collaboration is essential, but also individuals willing to transcend late modern disciplinary boundaries and do their best to master multiple academic areas. LaPine has demonstrated such transdisciplinary competence in this remarkable synthesis of classic and contemporary Christian theological and philosophical reflection and secular empirical research on the role of the emotions in healthy human functioning. It also exemplifies what some would call a Christian psychology.”
Eric L. Johnson, Director of the Gideon Institute for Christian Psychology & Counseling and Professor of Christian Psychology at Houston Baptist University

“I am grateful for LaPine’s new study in theological anthropology, The Logic of the Body. A careful, scholarly piece of retrieval theology, it judiciously draws on the riches of the historical tradition in conversation with contemporary philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology, in order to develop a constructive theology of the emotions for today. It is not simply an academic study, however. With a sympathetic eye, LaPine uncovers a blindspot in the contemporary, Reformed tradition’s under-developed anthropology, which tends to underestimate the role of the body in our emotional life. This has effects in our pastoral counsel. In its place, he puts forth a holistic model suited to both Biblical revelation and a more careful pastoral practice. And as a pastor to college students wrestling with every emotional malady spanning from anxiety to depression, addiction to self-harm, this is what I appreciate most. LaPine manages to shine new light on the way Christ redeems us in the Gospel, both body and soul, and yes, emotions too.”
Derek Rishmawy, RUF Campus Minister at UC Irvine, Ph.D. Candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Co-Host of the Mere Fidelity Podcast

Matthew LaPine’s The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology is both a timely and learned contribution to the ongoing academic conversation about the intersection of theology and psychology. More importantly, it is an invaluable contribution to pastoral theology. Pastors need to know what it means to be human, and they need to know what it means to be flawed moral agents. LaPine speaks to both of these perennial issues and adds to this important conversation, offering a fresh and original contribution that is imminently serviceable in the life and ministry of the local church. Highly recommend! 
Todd Wilson, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Pastor Theologians, author of Real Christian and Mere Sexuality, and co-author of The Pastor Theologian

“Few books are more relevant to the pastor’s care of souls than Matthew LaPine’s book, The Logic of the Body. Representing the best of evangelical scholarship, LaPine leans on church history and faithful exegesis to charter a helpful vision of the body’s part in sanctification. His proposal for an eschatologically sensitive psychology produces hope, realism, and compassion for the pilgrim’s progress in this life. This book is a crucial tool for the high stakes of ministry.”
Jonathan Parnell, Lead Pastor, Cities Church, Saint Paul, Minnesota; author, Mercy for Today and Never Settle for Normal

“Emotions and embodiment are two vital aspects of the human experience, and yet far too often Christian accounts have pitted them against one another in problematic ways. Thankfully, Matthew LaPine’s volume pushes us to avoid picking between a psychological account and a theological one, but instead aims to help us see them together in a fresh way. His proposal offers much insightful reflection for all of us who care about more holistic accounts of the human person.”
Kelly M. Kapic, Covenant College and author of Embodied Hope

“A theological account of what it means to be human—that creature specially made by God and for God—cannot afford to ignore the topic of human emotions insofar as their devastation by sin is one of the chief causes of our departure from God and their sanctification by grace is one of the chief ways in which God moves us into deeper fellowship with himself. In this learned study, Matthew LaPine demonstrates the promise of a broadly Thomist approach to human emotions for theological anthropology. Learning its lessons well will benefit anyone involved in the care of souls.”
Scott Swain, President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL

“Contemporary Protestantism has written therapeutic checks that its moral psychology just can’t cover. One of the most pressing orders of the day is to develop an anthropology and moral psychology that does real justice to the whole counsel of God. Theologians also need to avoid ignoring or simply parroting neurophysiology. Matthew LaPine prompts such development with this argument for a holistic and tiered psychology. All future work in this area will have to engage with his arguments.”
Michael Allen, John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL, USA

“All too often, Christian attempts to show mercy to those struggling with mental illness have caused harm because of questionable assumptions about the human body and the human person. This book is a greatly needed theological and historical exploration of those assumptions.”
Alex Tuckness, Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University and co-author of The Decline of Mercy in Public Life.

“Far too often when dealing with negative emotions we divide body and soul, not seeing individuals holistically. I’m thankful for Matt’s faithful work to present a comprehensive biblical treatment of theological psychology. In this book, he humbly offers us a more responsible, sophisticated, and compelling framework for handling emotions. I believe this book will greatly benefit the church.”
Laura Wifler, Cofounder of Risen Motherhood; podcaster; coauthor, Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments

“As a work of theology, The Logic of the Body is a rare blend of first-rate scholarship and first-rate pastoral insight. LaPine accomplishes what few even attempt: He writes a work that must be considered by both the academy and the church. By offering a more robust evangelical theology of how people change, the insights of The Logic of the Body have reshaped my approach to pastoral care and community life in the local church. If you are a pastor who wants to faithfully apply the Gospel in a way that is both true to Scripture and true to life, take the time to carefully read this book.”
Mark Vance, Lead Pastor, Cornerstone Church, Ames, IA

“Matthew LaPine pulls from history, theologians, scholars, experience, story, and ultimately scripture to lead us on a pathway of grace through the messy world of seemingly contradictory solutions surrounding mental health. This book not only helps those of us doing ministry in real-time but also gives a balm of hope to those who struggle with our own mental health battles, showing that there might be a way and a whole new type of conversation we can have around these topics. With both the gentleness of a shepherd and the fortitude of a well-studied and engaged mind, Matthew shows us a new way to minister and learn about mental health as believers.”
Andrea Burke, Women’s Ministry Director at Grace Road Church, Rochester, NY, Writer, and Host of Good Enough podcast