I know I am not the only one who has had a heightened interest in assessing the cultural revolution over the last 10 years. Over that short time, the culture has moved from a negative view of the sexual revolution to a full embrace. And today, although the cultural battle is essentially over, the battle of defining sexuality continues to rage in the church.
Case in point, one of the most important conversations today is the issue of transgenderism. To help with this conversation, Baker Academic has published a four-views book (2019). James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy have edited the book which is entitled, Understanding Transgender Identities. Beilby is professor of systematic and philosophical theology at Bethel University. Eddy is professor of biblical and theological studies also at Bethel University. They have co-edited six multiview volumes together, and this is the latest one.
There are five contributing authors expressing four viewpoints: Owen Strachan, Mark A. Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky, Megan K. DeFranza, and Justin Sabia-Tanis. After each positive presentation by the respective author, there is opportunity for the other authors to respond to that chapter. This results in roughly 240 pages of content for the whole book.
Owen Strachan argues for the traditional understanding of sex as a binary of male and female. The majority of his arguments are based in Scripture. He argues that the inherent value of a transgendered individual is found in their status as an image bearer of God (cf. Gen 1:26). However, Strachan argues that rebellion against one’s biological sex is not glorifying to God, and is an act of sin. Strachan is very methodological in working through the Scriptures, and spends most of his time supporting his points with Scripture. Toward the end of the article he does bring in some social sciences and quotes certain psychologists who talk about the dangers of transgender surgeries.
Mark Yarhouse and Julia Sadusky argue in the second chapter that although God’s original design was for biological sex and gender to be aligned, there are a small percentage of individuals who do not experience that because reality is different in a post-Fall world. Yarhouse and Sadusky spend a little time discussing Genesis 1 and 2, noting how Genesis 3 brings the creation narrative into a new light. But the majority of their time, the authors talk about contemporary social science and psychological analysis.
Megan DeFranza writes the third chapter, and argues for the complete acceptance of transgendered individuals into the church. I have previously reviewed some of DeFranza’s work on the issue of homosexuality, and her work here is similar. Her essay follows the typical cultural argument of prioritizing experience, something I have cautioned against doing. Her main contribution from Scriptural discussion is to analyze Matthew 19 and Jesus’ discussion of the eunuchs. Her discussion of Deuteronomy 22:5, a directly applicable passage, is very limited.
Justin Sabia-Tanis is a transgendered individual who writes from personal experience. Given the personal background, it is not surprising that Sabia-Tanis argues that gender falls on a continuum and not on a binary. Most of Sabia-Tanis’ arguments involve personal experience or reference to social sciences. However, Matthew 19 is mentioned in brief, along with a few other selected passages—but nothing in serious detail.
My overall impression of the book is a bit mixed. I was hoping for a robust discussion of biblical texts, similar to how many pro-LGBT proponents have analyzed biblical passages. However, the contributions of Yarhouse and Sadusky, DeFranza, and Sabia-Tanis largely focused on social sciences and experiential datapoints. Those are helpful to a certain extent, but for a Christian the most important part of the discussion will be what does the Bible say. Only Strachan spent the majority of his chapter discussing the relevant biblical passages that directly and indirectly apply to the discussion.
However, I don’t want to minimize the value in the other presentations. These are individuals who have spent considerable time studying and thinking about these issues. So, we profit greatly by reading their arguments, knowing these are some of the most best arguments that will be put forward on this subject.
Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy. I hope this review will be helpful to those interested in the book and these issues.