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Book review: God and the Transgender Debate

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Jonathan Saunders reviews Andrew T. Walker's new book, God and the Transgender Debate.

'Transgender' is everywhere. On the TV, in the newspapers, in schools, in training programmes at work, and in the public discourse. Many Christians are confused or worried about how to respond. We've never seen a movement which questions the very notion of 'male and female', which to most is biological reality and is a central component of being made in God's image. The church urgently needs to be equipped to respond to this cultural revolution and to the increasing number of people who say they are 'transgender'.

Andrew T. Walker offers an excellent resource in a book which is theologically sound, pastorally sensitive and practically useful.


A theological book

The book is theological. Walker says that "it's important that God's voice is heard in this debate", and he sets out a thorough yet accessible summary of what the Bible says about gender. Human beings are made in the image of God and worthy of the utmost dignity and respect. No one can give us more worth and dignity than God the creator. But his position as creator also gives him the authority to speak and decide our purpose. God's design is good; we are created male and female, equal and different. This reality is revealed in our bodies and affirmed by the Lord Jesus.

Yet sin has led to brokenness in all areas of life. Our hearts are corrupted, meaning we experience and act on sinful desires. Our minds are corrupted, so we will believe anything in order to rationalise our sinful desires. And our bodies are corrupted, meaning that "what we are born with is not necessarily what we were created to live out". Some people tragically experience Gender Dysphoria.

Despite the pain, confusion and rebellion created by sin we are not left in our mess, but called to "a better future". The wonderful promise of the gospel is that "you can be a new creation". Walker explains that to be redeemed is to be set free by the spirit, in mind, heart and body. There is real restoration in the gospel for those experiencing gender confusion, both now and in the future. Even creation will be set free; so that "not only will the feelings of dysphoria be removed, but the conditions that give rise to dysphoria in the first place will be eradicated as well".

Andrew Walker's unique contribution to the theology of this debate is his argument on authority. Whatever we see as authoritative, knowledgeable and trustworthy shapes our choices. The failure of western forms of authority has led to radical individualism where we become our own authority; "everyone gets to write their own script". But we are an inherently unstable source of authority. God is different; he is the uncreated good creator, and so he alone is fully trustworthy in all matters.  


A pastoral book

The book is pastoral. Walker focuses mainly on how to minister to and disciple people who are confused about their gender or diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria. He says that love for God and neighbour must be the foundation of all our interactions. Love will lead us to promote human dignity, standing against mockery and abuse. It will help us to show empathy and listen to those we meet. It will enable us to share the truth with people and know that this is loving, despite the opposition we might endure. It will give us hearts of compassion so that we will show solidarity and desire to help the hurting without compromising. And it will give us patience in discussion and in ministering to others.

Walker also begins to spell out what the gospel call might look like for those experiencing gender confusion. Jesus' call is the same for everyone; take up your cross and follow him. It is really hard but Jesus shows us he is worth it.  There is good detail here for what repentance could entail for someone who has embraced the transgender lifestyle, and very realistic and sensible suggestions for practical steps to take, whilst not compromising on truth.


A practical book

The book is practical. It is packed with examples and ideas about how to engage well with those experiencing gender confusion or advocating for the transgender movement, and how to create church communities which are both welcoming and truth-loving. There is also an excellent chapter on how parents can speak to their children, whether they are hearing things at school or are confused themselves. In our cultural situation, talking to children about transgenderism is inevitable; it's a case of 'when', not 'if'.

Walker's advice is tangible and believable. His writing is itself compassionate and robust, and he addresses the challenges of responding pastorally to the gender confused with much needed clarity. There remains a need for an evangelical critique of the transgender movement, engaging with 'queer theory', changes in the law, the media campaigns and messaging and the underlying 'post-human' hypothesis which have led to such a dramatic shift in social attitudes. But the church also needs a truthful and loving response to the individual human being struggling to find their identity. Walker provides this with grace.

God and the Transgender Debate is available to purchase from The Good Book Company for as little as £7.19

Related Links:
Book review: 'Transgender' by Vaughan Roberts

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