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Book Briefs Interspersed with Life Lessons: April–August (Part 1)

In order to keep these blogs manageable, I’ll break them up into two posts. As always, my aim in sharing my reading with you is in hopes that you’ll find something that tickles your fancy.

Now on to the books!

John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason Consistent with all of his publications, Webster flexes his theological muscles in his typical stately prose. Better than this, of course, is that his book tunes hearts to sing our triune God’s praise, and for that I’m grateful. It’s been said that John Webster is probably your favorite theologian’s favorite theologian—and that seems about right to me. He may not always be easy to read, but it’s worth the effort.

Augustine, On Grace and Free Will In this short volume (91pp.), the Doctor of Grace sets out to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will. While affirming that biblical commands imply freedom (5, 11, 14, 71), he also contends that obedience requires grace (19, 21, 41, 54, 62, 73). Willpower, therefore, is insufficient; instead, “grace makes us lovers of the law” (73). Thus, although God commands obedience, joyful compliance necessitates regeneration. Augustine found strong support for his views in the prophet Ezekiel, noting that while in Ezek. 18:31 God demands, “make yourselves new hearts,” in 36:25–27 he promises to provide what he commands (cf. also Deut. 30:6). For Augustine, this gratuitous promise signifies unregenerate humanity’s inability to will itself into a regenerate state. As for reconciling God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, Augustine adopts what contemporary theologians label the “compatibilist” position. Why? Even though human beings make countless choices throughout their lives, Scripture nowhere imagines that those decisions are independent of God’s sovereign plan for the world. Only God is a se—independent, and aseity is an incommunicable attribute! Along these lines, Augustine cites Rehoboam’s decision to heed the unwise counsel of the younger men, leading ultimately to the division of the twelve tribes: “So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite . . .” (1 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). Augustine cites numerous passages that make the same point, especially as it relates to the death of Christ. Despite the fact that Herman Bavinck’s treatment of this topic is the best I’ve read, Augustine’s work is one all serious theological students should consult.

Augustine, SoliloquiesSo far as historians can discern, Augustine coined the word soliloquia, meaning “speaking alone,” or “conversations alone.” In this volume, then, Augustine aims to comprehend the immortality of the soul as well as the marks of a successful quest for truth by means of internal dialogue. Given the structure of the work, readers may struggle to follow his train of thought. Nevertheless, three of Augustine’s musings struck me. First, Augustine prays to know God and know himself (55). In this prayer, he voices a singularly important truth: Personal transformation requires self-knowledge. While God ultimately brings personal renewal, overcoming entrenched sinful patterns demands sustained attention. Tracing our destructive behavior back to the lies that gave rise to their actions culminates in intelligent repentance. Such a practice—inconvenient and painful as it may be—mortifies sinful patterns and issues forth in new habits. Second, in one of his prayers, Augustine refers to God as the “true and complete life, in whom and by whom and through whom lives all that is truly and completely alive” (21). In this utterance, Augustine calls attention to God’s independence, self-sufficiency, and perfection. Since God is immutable, in him “there is no conflict, no confusion, no change, no want,” but instead, “perfect harmony, perfect clarity, perfect stability, perfect abundance, perfect life” (22). God’s complete self-sufficiency ensures that his blessings flow from a heart of pure charity. Third, Augustine makes the seemingly counterintuitive claim that obedience to God’s laws is an expression of human freedom, rather than a constriction of creaturely autonomy (23): “the law of God is not an alien or distant imposition on human action”; rather “it reflects the true nature of humanity as the rule and order of their true being as creatures who are brought into existence by God their Creator and called into covenant by their Lord (cf. Ps. 119:73). Far from seeking to repress or to oppress humanity, then, the law seeks to defend and preserve their freedom, dignity, and interest.”[1]

Augustine, Trilogy on Faith and HappinessThis book is comprised of three works: 1) The Happy Life, 2) Faith in the Unseen, and 3) The Advantage of Believing. I’ll take them each in turn here. The Happy Life consists of a three day conversation Augustine has with his mother, Monica, and several of his friends. Throughout the course of the exchange, Augustine theorizes that unhappiness is the result of living in fear of losing what one possesses (47). Consequently, happiness must consist of that which endures. Augustine then argues that happiness is found in wisdom (51, 52), and since Scripture identifies Jesus as the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30), happiness is found in him, and secured through faith in Christ.

Faith in the Unseen is a brief apologetic tract designed to convince non-Christians to turn to Christ. Readers of this volume will notice that many of the apologetic arguments that fill contemporary works are found in this brief treatise penned by Augustine sometime before AD 400.

Finally, in The Advantage of Believing, Augustine seeks to convince his friend Honoratus to leave Manicheasm and embrace the Catholic faith. Since the Manicheans undermined God’s Word by “tearing apart the Old Testament” (102), Augustine provides a crash course in hermeneutics so that Honoratus can understand Scriptural teaching. Proper interpretation is insufficient, however; one must approach Scripture in a “spirit of devout respect” (113), as well as purify oneself from moral filth (136) and resist the “ambitions of darkness” (102). Since inquirers will likely not have all of their questions answered, they must learn the difference between studiousness (which is a virtue) and curiosity (which is a vice).[2] Arriving at the truth, therefore, entails 1) Believing in order that one may understand, 2) purifying oneself morally, and 3) submitting oneself to the authority of the catholic church.[3]

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday LifeFramed around a typical day, Warren paints a picture of what the Christian life can be. Rather than trying to manufacture spiritual highs, a better approach is to breathe in every moment of life, receiving it as a gift from our heavenly Father. In light of this, Warren invites readers to learn to enjoy making your bed, drinking your coffee, washing the dishes, and—yes—even changing diapers. While beneficial in many ways, those not familiar with liturgy or the church calendar may not appreciate this book.

Matthew McCullough, Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living HopeWeaving together historical insights, philosophical concepts, cultural commentary, and Scripture exposition, McCullough surveys how human beings have coped with mortality, and then provides the biblical remedy—the gospel of Jesus Christ. While God’s blueprint consists of anchoring our identity in his beloved Son, we have cast aside his authority and opted to make meaning for ourselves. McCullough illustrates this with a vivid analogy: We’re like a condemned prisoner etching the words “I was here” in our cell wall (98). Viewing our work as a platform to establish our awesomeness, we get busy making a name for ourselves, hoping that it will quiet the voice of our inner taskmaster. But, alas, we will all die and be forgotten. A key component to the good life, according to McCullough, is death-awareness. We need to talk about it, come to terms with it, live in light of it, and know that Christ conquered it: “If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us” (28). While not littered with elegant prose, poetic beauty, or mic-dropping sentences, McCullough gets the job done. We’re headed to a deathless world where everything sad will become untrue and what we love will never be taken from us.

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[1] Paul T. Nimmo, “The Law of God and Christian Ethics,” in Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic, eds. Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 293, emphasis mine.

[2] In my judgment, the best essay on this topic is John Webster, “Curiosity,” in The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 193–202.

[3] For more on the habits that make a good theologian, see John Webster, The Culture of Theology, eds. Ivor J. Davidson and Alden C. McCray (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), Ch. 6, esp. 143–147. Cf. Herman Witsius, On the Character of a True Divine: An Inaugural Oration, trans. John Donaldson (1675; Edinburgh: Cross Reach, 2017).

Twenty-Five Quotes from Harry Schaumburg’s Book on Sexual Addiction

In one of our recent videos, Pastor Vinnie Cappetta and I discussed our favorite books on counseling. The third book I mentioned was Harry Schaumburg’s False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction. 

As I mentioned in the video, the book was so formative in my own life that I put together a list of my favorite quotes so I could find them with ease.

I pray that it’s a blessing to you:

“[I]n every relationship there is a feeling of inadequacy or shame. . . . We want to feel confident and in control, acting like people we really aren’t. We hope to impress people sufficiently so they will accept us in the way we deeply desire. We fear being ‘found out’ and losing relationships with others. We conclude that the people we interact with determine our personal value. We trust in the false gods of people who can let us down rather than recognizing that only God can give us ultimate value, experiencing legitimate shame because we don’t trust Him as Father, and choosing to depend on Him to meet our deepest needs for intimacy” (32).

“Either the deceitful heart can change, or Christian faith is just a lot of fanfare” (54).

“The essence of sin is autonomy from God, a failure to be dependent on Him” (60).

“Natural human desire becomes an evil desire when the desire has the objective of self-interest. . . . It is hard to see self-interest, especially in ourselves, when we hurt so much and just want what seems so legitimate—relief. But when we turn our own unmet legitimate desires into justifications to take matters into our own hands, we cross the line into evil desire” (63).

“God doesn’t promise to fulfill all our desires in this life. Only when we acknowledge our helplessness and our inability to meet our deepest needs can He pick us up, enable us see ourselves as we really are, and provide eternal restoration and healing” (68).

“The popular way of understanding what life is all about is to look at the human condition as defined by our own understanding rather than by God’s wisdom communicated through the Bible” (73).

“Frequently we do not see God being in the circumstance unless He is doing something that prevents the situation from happening or changing the circumstances” (86). . . We even go as far as expecting divine protection as an inalienable right” (144).

Many of us believe “that difficult situations place an obligation on God to respond according to what we define as necessary to our well-being” (86).

“To taste what we desire and don’t have is to know the level of helplessness that either moves us toward God or drives us toward insanity” (105).

“Most of us will discover that when we relate to others, even to a spouse we have promised to love and cherish, we do so with self-centeredness or self-protection. We don’t want to face the fact that we’ve failed to love our spouse in significant ways. That feels as if we’re beginning to crawl on our bellies into a dark cave. So we tend to believe in our own goodness” (106).

As you examine yourself and your motives, you’ll head in one of two directions. Either you will harden yourself to shore up your own defenses while you try to rely even more on yourself, or you will soften, allowing your self-reliance to seep away as you know God more intimately. This latter process will be painful, but it is only through the fire of such self-examination that any of us can be refined” (108).

“Many people want to be able to sin with impunity and still have God’s blessing on their lives” (134).

“Whenever self-interest remains a priority, biblical faintheartedness is the result. It is easy to feel sorry for someone, easier to feel sorry for ourselves. When our lives, and particularly our relationships are in total chaos, self-interest (taking care of ourselves) comes naturally. Trusting in God seems insane. More often than not, we define faith as seeing God in circumstances. But in chaos we never see God. Faith should be defined as knowing that God sees us in the chaos. Self-interest leads to self-pity, which leads to faintheartedness, not godly courage” (138).

 “The Bible never condemns us for admitting weakness. If anything, God condemns us for finding strength” (143).

Read the next three quotes carefully and perhaps pause to pray, asking God to search your own heart: “The deceitful heart comes to Jesus with preconceived notions of its own, which become fundamental heresies. The most common has to do with what Jesus will do. There is massive unlearning to be done at this point. Then, and only then, can we fix our eyes on Jesus, rather than on what He is doing in our lives” (144).

“Faith is very weak, if not impossible, when life is built on our own terms and conditions” (145).

“When we can unlearn our independence, we can learn to trust in God Himself, not in what He is doing or not doing. Such brokenness leads to humility, which sustains godly courage over the long haul” (145).

“Humility is a willingness to surrender our rights. If we are sorrowful and grateful and admit our utter dependence on God, then we become broken. Out of that weakness flows a humility of spirit that voluntarily gives up all the rights we have to ourselves. The choice comes down to finding our life and therefore losing it, or losing our life and therefore finding it. It takes godly courage to lose everything in order to gain everything” (146).

“The essence of sin is ‘I will never allow anyone to rule my life other than myself.’ That rebelliousness is alive in an outwardly good man or women, and in an outwardly bad man or woman. Remember, sin is not about behavior but about our defiant claim to the right to rule our own life” (159).

“Am I willing to trust God with my pain and disappointment, to allow Him to be the source of ultimate fulfillment in my life? Will I submit to Him all my desires and my needs for relationships?” (166).

O, how desperately we need to learn this! – “Obeying God is not a formula for God to provide you with everything you consider to be essential to your life” (192).

“Simply living by the rules, obeying, and doing what is right, doesn’t indicate a pure heart. Until we deal with our internal uncleanness, we shouldn’t be shocked at sexual misconduct within the church” (196).

We need to be able to answer the question seriously: “What has God really promised to do in your life?”  – “When we begin to believe that God’s plan for our lives is to improve our relationships and circumstances now, churches quickly fill with people who focus on the primacy of personal need, evaluate God’s goodness in terms of meeting those needs, and subtly move to justify anything that feels like it’s from God” (198).

“Self-justification comes easily when we start with our needs and define God as the resource who will meet those needs. It’s easy to view God as the One who heals those needs rather than the One who deals with the sin that leads to eternal, spiritual death” (198).

“God’s primary purpose is not to offset the pain of living in this sinful world. He doesn’t exist simply to solve each and every problem we face in this life—or even the ones we perceive will crush us. He calls us to become absorbed in fulfilling His will and purpose, to deny ourselves for the good of others and to His glory. Our joy should be in serving and loving God” (199).

“In many ways, the church falsifies spiritual reality by pretending that people’s lives can be nearly perfect in this fallen world” (214).

Okay . . . take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Some of those are hard to take in. I’m convinced, however, that a lot of our struggles as Christians (and non-Christians) stems from a misperception of what God’s ultimate plan is for us. If you’re anything like me, you need to go and spend some time alone with God, searching your heart, and asking yourself this question: Do I love God? Or am I using God to get something else besides God?

Thomas Watson on Love to God

I recently fell in love with my wife all over again.

As she bemoaned the scarcity of good Christian books, I handed her a copy of  the puritan Thomas Watson’s (1620–1686) The Doctrine of RepentanceShe read a few pages during her morning devotions the next two days. When I asked what she thought about the book, she replied, “The puritans are better than anything I’ve read. No one writes like this anymore.”

When she finished her comments, I told her, “I just fell in love with you all over again. Tell me more about how you love the Puritans.” (Yes, please pray for my wife. She has to live with me.)

I plead guilty to loving the Puritans. And after several years of reading a fair amount of Puritan authors, I’m pleased to announce that Thomas Watson is my favorite author. Not only is The Doctrine of Repentance filled with wonderful insights, but his A Body of Divinity is superb.

As of late, I have been working through his book All Things for Good—an extended meditation on Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In chapter 4 he covers those all-important words “for those who love God.” While the chapter is fairly extensive, I’d like to share with you the three kinds of love to God that Watson sets forth. The following is taken directly from his book:

    1. There is a love of appreciation. When we set a high value upon God as being the most sublime and infinite good, we so esteem God, as that if we have him, we do not care though we want all things else. The stars vanish when the sun appears. All creatures vanish in our thoughts when the Sun of righteousness shine in His full splendor.
    2. A love of complacency [rest] and delight – as a man takes delight in a friend whom he loves. The soul that loves God rejoices in Him as in his treasure, and rests in Him as in his center. The heart is so set upon God that it desires no more. “Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth” (John 14:8).
  • A love of benevolence – which is a wishing well to the cause of God. He that is endeared in affection to his friend, wishes all happiness to him. This is love to God when we are well-wishers. We desire that His interest may prevail. Our vote and prayer is that His name may be had in honor; that His gospel, which is the rod of His strength, may, like Aaron’s rod, blossom and bring forth fruit.

May we love God in these three ways, and may it please him to draw out our hearts to him in ceaseless praise and sacrificial love.

An Angry Nation, the Madness of Crowds, and the Son’s Tranquil Reign

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:1–6).

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Over at First Things, theologian R. R. Reno shared some reflections regarding his recent journey through the Midwestern states. During his trip, he conversed with a number of people to get a sense of how everyone was feeling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of George Floyd, along with the protests that came in its wake. He summarized the mood of the people he encountered this way: “Nearly everyone I spoke with expressed frustration, anxiety, disquiet, despair. And anger, especially anger.”

While people are angry for different reasons, Reno noted that everyone is angry at the mainstream media—everyone. They’re angry that everything has become political; they’re tired of identity politics, the BLM marches, and much more.

All this reminds me of a book I read recently—Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity. Throughout the course of the book, Murray unpacks why people are angry, frustrated, confused, and fear whether the West can overcome its social unrest.

In what follows, I share some of the book’s highlights and offer some brief concluding reflections on how Christians can respond.

Homo Liturgicus
Living in the current cultural moment involves traversing a bewildering forest of ideas. And in this book Murray barrels into four of the most controversial head-on. What makes his take unique, however, is that he’s a social liberal unafraid to disagree with his tribe. The book consists of four chapters: 1) Gay, 2) Women, 3) Race, and 4) Trans. In addition, three interludes briefly discuss 1) the Marxist foundations inherent in the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics world, 2) the impact of technology and the space it provides for virtue signaling and shaming to flourish, and finally 3) how faultfinding has encoded itself deep into our cultural psyche.

Life lesson: Humans are liturgical beings, which means at our core we are worshipers—we can’t not worship. We will regard something as ultimate. Consequently, denying the transcendent results in absolutizing the temporal.

Gay
Though he’s not a Christian, Murray, who identifies as a homosexual, joins Peggy Noonan and philosopher James K. A. Smith in their observation that politics has become a religion.[1] In the contemporary world, people find meaning by engaging in battles with those they regard as Repugnant Cultural Others—to borrow Alan Jacobs’s phrase.[2] Currently, Repugnant Cultural Others are homophobes, transphobes, racists, and sexists—and that’s just the short list. But as Murray sees it, even though the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics movement functions as a religion, its adherents selectively apply their standards (see below). And unlike other religions, there is no forgiveness. Try as you might, placating the deities—Foucault’s epigones, it seems—is impossible. Even denizens of the oppressed class must fall in line completely with the prevailing cultural narratives or risk excommunication. For example, Murray notes that being gay is not enough. After all, Peter Thiel, a gay man, was “reprimanded for wrong-think” (46) when he supported Donald Trump, leading eventually to his excommunication. Why such a harsh reaction?

Murray himself falls into this category. Although he’s a liberal, when he strays from the pack intellectually, the Twitterati have an apoplectic fit and dismiss him as a rebarbative right-winger. Why all the hostility?

Women
In the chapter on women, the enemies are identified as male privilege, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity (104). But Murray wonders aloud: Are there any female counterparts to this or are only men to blame? Furthermore, what is the solution to defeating these enemies? Is there a plan to help men or is the goal merely to heap shame upon them? Given two recent hashtags—“men are trash,” and “kill all men”—the answer seems obvious (98, 101). Still, women participating in the struggle for equal rights must watch their steps, lest they stumble over the tripwire of the transgender narrative. The high priests in the critical theory/intersectional/social justice/identity politics religion now require women to defend the rights of men claiming to be women. Indeed, they even scorn well-known feminists who refuse to get on board (think Germaine Greer).

Race
The race issue is confusing as well, according to Murray. Just as Peter Thiel was booted from the gay community for supporting Trump, black people become white if they stray from the party line. Four examples suffice: Kanye West, Candace Owens, Thomas Sowell, and Clarence Thomas—all are regarded as white because they either support Trump or identify as conservatives (155–156). Contrariwise, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, gets to be black because she’s a liberal (156).

And, no, you don’t get to complain about diversity of thought. If you do, you’re a racist. Writing for the black community magazine The Root, Michael Harriot set the matter straight when he kindly pointed out that “diversity of thought” is just a euphemism for “white supremacy” (135). Is this a helpful way to advance the discussion? Will this posture lead toward unity?

Trans
In his final chapter on transgender issues, Murray opines that it’s a “stampede in one direction” (202). Those hesitant about giving puberty blockers to children are swiftly labeled “transphobe.” Daring to mention science, chromosomes, and bodily differences makes you a bigot. No questions allowed, nothing to see here, get in line, stay quiet, and support the cause.

But I do wonder if there will be a decrease in female to male transitions going forward, since transitioning to male entails “gaining privilege” (240). Laith Ashley, a prominent female to male transgender model, said as much in his interview with Cathy Newman. To compound the problem, he is also light-skinned, which affects his ranking in the hierarchy of oppression.

What do we do with this?

Stay informed. The daily barrage of howls of indignation in my newsfeed and the omnipresent twaddle dripping from the mouths of self-appointed influencers makes me want to ugly cry. Still, retreating is not an option. Find reputable cultural commentators, do your own research, and devote time to silence, solitude, prayer, and reflection.

Engage winsomely. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone,” the Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians (4:5). “Reasonableness” can also be rendered “gentleness,” “graciousness,” “consideration,” or—and this is my personal favorite—“magnanimity.” Our culture would do well to bring this word back into its vocabulary. Noonan calls upon both Democrats and Republicans to “[s]how some largeness. We’re dying of smallness.”[3] I agree.

Pray continually. Petition the Lord to fill you with his peace, big-heartedness, and inner calm. Our conversations with friends, family members, and co-workers must spring from a place of rest, a posture of sanctified ambivalence, and an unwavering trust in God. Hence my final point.

Trust God. Our sovereign Shepherd-King who leads us by still waters rules from his throne, enjoying a tranquil reign at the Father’s right hand. We look to him, hope in him, surrender our lives to him, and pine for his return.

Conclusion
Some time ago a friend posted on Facebook, “Different day, same people complaining.” If we’re not careful our everyday small talk can easily slide into nothing more than grumbling and complaining (cf. Phil. 2:14). Likewise, if we fail to guard our lips—as the Scriptures admonish us (Ps. 141:3)—our political discussions become nothing more than exercises in windbaggery, as we pummel our friends and coworkers with whom we disagree—all behind a thin veneer of valor, of course.

Christians must eschew this kind of behavior. Instead, may we be known for our sanctified rather than sanctimonious language. May we head Paul’s words: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6).

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[1] Peggy Noonan, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 50–51; James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 22. Murray does not cite these authors. This is my own observation.

[2] Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (New York: Currency, 2017), 26–27.

[3] Peggy Noonan, “Defuse America’s Explosive Politics,” Wall Street Journal (October 27–28, 2018): A13.

 

Response to New York Times Op-Ed

Devin Michelle Bunten began a recent New York Times op-ed piece with a bang:

“Men menstruate. Some have even given birth. Women with penises and prominent larynxes walk the streets and use the ladies’ restroom. Nonbinary people wear binders and use they/them pronouns. It’s 2020.”[1]

It’s 2020, indeed.

But regardless of the year, Bunten’s words provoke a good deal of head-scratching because they not only detach language from reality but also fragment the human body from the human person by insisting that who someone really is can be different from what their physical bodies reveal them to be.

Still, the quote above reflects the worldview of transgender activists working frantically to put policies in place that they believe respect trans lives. For the activists this entails bringing the external world into conformity with a transgender person’s internal sense of one’s gender, and then requiring others to talk the same way.

As I assess the article theologically, I cannot go along with Bunten’s arguments because 1) the Christian worldview requires honesty in communication and 2) the Christian worldview is creation affirming.

Let me explain.

Language Must Be Connected to Reality
As Christians, our theology teaches us that communication with other image-bearers should be characterized by honesty.

According to the Bible, God created the world and made human beings in his image. This implies that we participate in an ordered and meaningful universe. Since God created this kind of world, along with human beings capable of rational interchange, it follows—and Scripture discloses—that God communicates with the aim of communing with creatures.[2] Within this moral universe the purpose of language is to convey reality. Language, therefore, is not a tool we employ in order to deceive, but a gracious gift designed for meaningful communication.

Placing these thoughts within the context of human community leads to a striking conclusion: A well-ordered society depends on a well-ordered language.[3] Why? Because language disconnected from reality is language dislodged from truth, which implicates us in lying to our fellow citizens, thereby dishonoring their humanity.[4] The corruption of language dehumanizes because communicating falsehoods serves a sinister purpose—namely, power. For this reason, philosopher Josef Pieper (1904–1997) once observed that when genuine communication is absent, despotism is present.[5] Or in George Orwell’s memorable words, “The foundation of tyranny is the corruption of language.”[6]

Since distorted worldviews lead to bad policymaking, Christians should oppose views that corrupt language and hinder human flourishing. From a Christian perspective, genuine human flourishing must acknowledge the created order and aim to bring one’s behavior and that of society into conformity with the Creator’s intentions.

Implications of a Creation Affirming Theology
That there is an order to creation and that Christian theology is creation affirming leads to the following conclusions:

First, since Christian theology is creation affirming, people are whoever God made them to be and not who they declare themselves to be. In the Genesis narrative, gender is pre-fall, indicating that our bodies are central in determining who we are, and that we should embrace the gender given to us by our wise and good Creator. While gender dysphoria is a product of living in a fallen world, it should not serve as the basis for denying the distinction between male and female, divorcing gender from sex, and/or insisting that “gender exists primarily between our ears—in our brains and minds—and not necessarily by what is between our legs, our genitalia, or in our accompanying XX or XY chromosomes.”[7] Contrary to those claims, the Christian worldview informs us that our feelings are not the determining factor of our identity. Rather, we are who God created us to be. And since our bodies reflect who we are in this life, our resurrection bodies will also be gendered/sexed bodies, just like our Lord Jesus.[8] (See footnote below regarding intersex people.)

My second point follows from and expands on the previous one: Given that there is an order to creation, and that Christian theology is creation affirming, it follows that we are embodied creatures and not reprogrammable machines. The Judeo-Christian worldview rejects the Gnostic body-self dualism that divides the material and non-material, spiritual world. It does not view the human body as a mere instrument that houses within it someone other than what their physical bodies reveal. Therefore, when Bunten argues that words like male and female are “words for bodies, not people with hearts and souls and minds,” Christians cannot agree. Our theology teaches us that souls are not detached from bodies—who we really are is not distinct from our physical bodies. Even cross-sex hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery would not change someone’s sex. Severing an appendage does not negate the fact that sex differences manifest themselves at the molecular level. Transgender men will still go through menopause. These truths lead to an important implication: Just as God wills the good for his creatures, so likewise must we will the good for our fellow citizens. Seen in this light, helping an image-bearer try to will himself or herself into non-existence is not the loving thing to do.

Third, given that there is an order to creation and that Christian theology is creation affirming, it follows that our sex organs have a specific purpose and function. God created two sexes—male and female (Gen.1:27). His design is that men and women express their sexual love for each other in the one-flesh union of marriage (Gen. 2:24). As depicted in Scripture, marriage is neither a human invention, nor a social convention, but a creation ordinance established by God as a heterosexual, monogamous, permanent relationship. The man and woman leave their family of origin, unite together, and form a new family. Accordingly, the state does not have the right to redefine marriage because the state is not the author of marriage. Any government, then, that redefines marriage subverts the created order, corrupts language, and abuses its power.[9]

Conclusion
Given the direction of our current culture, convictional Christians are in for a turbulent ride. Regardless, the call on our lives remains the same: Love God and love other people.

But one thing’s for sure: We do not have the luxury to sit this one out. We must enter the realm of ideas thoughtfully and graciously. We must sift everything through the lens of Scripture as we respectfully engage those with whom we disagree while refusing to reduce them to political causes.

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[1] Devin Michelle Bunten, “Sex Does Not Mean Gender. Equating Them Erases Trans Lives,” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/23/opinion/trans-gender-language-trump.html (accessed 23 June 2020).

[2] Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 16.

[3] For much of my thoughts here I am indebted to Josef Pieper, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, trans. Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

[4] Ibid., 16, 20–21.

[5] Ibid., 29–30.

[6] I believe the quote comes from Orwell’s 1984, but I found it in Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 2017) 15.

[7] PFLAG, Our Trans Loved Ones: Questions and Answers for Parents, Families, and Friends of People Who Are Transgender and Gender Expansive (2008, 2015), 27. Even the liberal cultural commentator Douglas Murray concedes that the transgender movement is simply making up the science to fit its worldview. See his The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity (New York: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019), 186.

[8] What about intersex people? Those with disorders of sexual development (DSDs) do not constitute a third sex because there is no third gonad. What develops are dysfunctional ovaries and testes. Therefore, intersex people are still either male or female. Pediatric endocrinologist Quentin L. Van Meter notes, “The exceedingly rare DSDs are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm” (Declaration of Quentin L. Van Meter, M. D., U. S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina, Case 1:16-cv—00425-TDS-JEP, Exhibit 1. In the case of DSDs, then, doctors seek to identify the predominant underlying sex and provide the necessary treatment, which sometimes includes hormones and surgery).

[9] Douglas Farrow, Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage (Toronto: BPS Books, 2007), 18.