Gender in our Culture—Cutting Through the Chaos
Editor’s note: This discussion contains terminology that may not be appropriate for sensitive readers and children. Parents are cautioned.
We’re used to disagreement. For example, hailing from Maine,
I was raised from the cradle to cheer for the Boston Red Sox. As
I ventured beyond New England, I discovered a strange species
of humanity known as Yankees fans. I did my best to get along
with them, but I freely admit that I am a work in progress on this
matter. We all have these sorts of friendly disagreements—over
teams, cuisine, vacation spots, Oxford commas, city ordinances,
and on the list goes.
What do we do as believers, however, when we disagree with
our neighbors about not just baseball or even a local government
policy but the very nature of humanity? This is no trivial question.
In 2019, this is where we find ourselves. No issue has more
exposed our fundamental divide than that of transgenderism,
the view that some people are born in the wrong body, essentially,
and so must take action to bring out their true “gender identity.”
Said differently, those who advocate the acceptance of transgender
humanity believe that a girl can be trapped in a boy’s
body—and vice versa—and thus should take steps to change
their body so that it accurately reflects who they truly are.
This issue sneaked up on the church. We were accustomed
to debates over creation and evolution, yes. We didn’t see that
the debate over Genesis 1–3 (in particular) would jump from the
earth’s age to human identity. Today, believers who believe in
creation ex nihilo find themselves defending not only the historicity
of creation but the historicity of humanity. The early chapters
of Genesis, after all, teach us how the earth came to be and
also how mankind came to be.
In an age like this, what should Christians do? More to the
point: As debates over the nature of humanity rage, what should
Christians say? Here are three basic points to guide believers
who wish to speak the truth about the creative order and human
design in a confused society and a rebellious age.
First: We Need to Know What the Bible Teaches about the Sexes
The first priority of God’s people
should not be them. It should be us.
By this I mean that we need to study
Genesis 1–3 afresh. We need to go deep
in the wise plan of God and see with
renewed interest the intention of God
for the human race.
The Lord made the man and the
woman in his image (Genesis 1:26–27).
You cannot pluck out a certain quality
of humanity and identify that as
the core characteristic of the image of
God. The man and the woman are the
image, in their totality, including their
soul, rationality, relationality, and initial
righteousness (see Paul’s words in
1 Corinthians 11:7).
The man and the woman are thus
fully equal in terms of worth and dignity
before God. But they do not have
the same identity. The man is formed
first and is made to work and watch
over the garden (Genesis 2:15), while
the woman is made from the man and
named by him (Genesis 2:21–23). Here
in the Genesis account, the Lord is
signaling what Ephesians 5:22–33 will
unfold in full detail: Adam is the head
of his wife, Eve. He is called to love and
lead her, and she is called to follow and
submit to him. The marriage relationship,
we learn in Paul’s teaching, is
nothing less than a picture of the gospel
love between Christ and his blood-bought
church (Ephesians 5:25).
All this means that manhood and
womanhood are divinely created realities.
The sexes are not dreamed up by
repressive authoritarians who wanted
to institutionalize their domination
of the weak. It is God who made manhood,
and God who made womanhood.
In Genesis 2, the zoomed-in picture
of the sixth day, it is God who forms
the man from the earth’s dust, and God
who forms the woman from the man’s
rib (Genesis 2:7, 21–22). You could not
get a more obvious statement from the
Lord about the sexes: He made them.
He sculpted them, works of beauty,
just as he wanted them to be.
He not only created them a man
and a woman, but he gave them specific
roles and duties within the home.
The man would need to provide and
work and protect; the woman was designed with the capacity
to nurture and bear life, an awe-inspiring ability if there
ever was one. From this constitution she sees the need not
merely to keep a baby or child alive, but to love her home and
children in a set-aside way (see Titus 2:5). All this God-glorifying
work takes place in the context of marriage. It is
not an art class project where we can put together the pieces
however we see fit, but a divine institution grounded in the
Master’s creative design.
The first man and first woman
were not evolved from gases;
they were designed to maximally
honor God according to their
distinctive body and constitution.
Your body, we conclude, is not
raw material that you manipulate
to fit your perceived identity,
whatever that may be.
All this speaks not merely to creation but created order.
There is a structure and form and purpose behind the sexes.
The first man and first woman were
not evolved from gases; they were
designed to honor God according to
their distinctive body and constitution.
Your body, we conclude, is not
raw material that you manipulate to
fit your perceived identity, whatever
that may be. Your body’s form—either
manly or womanly—is a message from
God, telling you a key part of who you
are and who you are to be by his grace.
Second: We Need to Make Clear Our Desire for All People to Flourish
The preceding ideal, where God
ennobles our gender differences for his
eternal glorious purposes, may sound
good to you and me. (I certainly hope it
does!) But we’re not in the days of Genesis
2, are we? We’re in a post-Genesis 3
world, a world where the real historical
sin of Adam has tainted and damned us
all. Why would anyone in this world be
interested in God’s ideal?
Answer: We need to make clear that
this ideal is designed for all people,
even today, to flourish.
I’m not saying this will be easy, but
we need both eyes open as we understand
the people we’re talking to. We
are born sinners, without any coaching
or instruction. The fall had all
kinds of effects, but one of the chief
effects is that people sin without fear
and claim a sinful and unbiblical identity
for themselves. This is true across
the globe, yes, but the West seems to
have entered a Romans 1 environment,
where pagan thought has displaced
even a biblical (or even distantly traditional)
conception of humanity.
What do I mean here? I mean that
people today do not see themselves as
made by God. They believe that they
are uncreated, unbound to the Lord,
and unfettered by any moral decree.
Without the Bible as their absolute
authority, they may do as they wish;
they use their body as they like; they
worship the very world they live in, not
the one who made it. In their minds,
they may freely enter into homosexual
and polysexual engagements without
respect to any theological or ethical
system, and they openly and proudly
reject the wisdom of God seen in both
nature and Scripture. Increasingly, our
neighbor is not even vaguely religious
in the Christian sense. The people
around us live, act, think, and desire
So what do we do? Do we angrily
detach from our society? Do we hate
people who hate God? Do we let fear
of hostility and attack take hold of us?
All of these responses may prove natural
to our flesh, but these are not godly
As followers of the Lord Jesus
Christ, we have a higher call, a supernatural
one (supra naturam, literally
“above nature”). We are called to love
those who reject God’s truth and God’s
design. We want them to flourish. This
does not mean affirming them in their
sin (a tricky matter, to be sure, and
more on that below). It does mean
that we pray for them, that we seek to
win them rather than shun them, and
that we show kindness to them as we
Our witness to people who are living
in rebellion against God—whether
by embracing a new “gender identity”
or otherwise—is grounded in theological
truth. We know who they are: they
are image-bearers made by God for his
glory. They are human. They will taste
true freedom only when they obey
God by divine grace, and they will
know true happiness only when they
submit to divine rule.
We thus seek to tell our neighbors
the truth, making clear that we want
them to flourish. But flourishing does
not mean adopting a false view of the
human identity; flourishing does not
come when people affirm us in our
fallenness. Flourishing means leaving
sin behind and living according to
Top: In 2017, riots broke out when President Trump revoked federal
laws granting transgenders access to bathrooms that match their
gender identity. Middle: In 2018, Danica Roem of Virginia became
the first openly transgender person to be elected to and serve
in a US state legislature. Bottom: In 2019, debate erupted when
transgender students Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood won first
and second place (respectively) in the girls’ 100-meter race at the
Connecticut state open finals.
Third: We Need to Contend in Public for Biblical Truth
As we communicate these truths
and live in this grace-filled way, people
may respond by telling us that they
have a right to form their own identity.
It is wrong, they may say, for anyone to
shape anyone else’s understanding of
themselves. This sort of response may
also come with a demand that we use
their preferred pronouns and affirm
their chosen lifestyle.
In addition to what I’ve already laid
out above, what should we do in these
sticky circumstances? Let me list four
1. We need to make clear that society
depends upon certain hard-and-fast
It may sound great to
choose your own gender, for example,
but what does this choosing mean, say,
for public restrooms? Are we going to
have five different restroom types for
five different genders? Or 50 for 50? Or
1,000 for 1,000? This line of reasoning
is logistically impossible to execute.
2. We need to show how biology is actually quite clear on
Dr. Georgia Purdom has laid out the biological
issues elsewhere in this issue. Yes, a tiny fraction of the populace
is born “intersex” (having ambiguous or both male and
female genitalia), but the vast majority of people are either
male or female. These distinctive sexual realities shape our
lives. As just one measurable distinction, men have on average
1000% more testosterone than women.
3. We must consider the natural desire to be affirmed,
which is truly the quest of our age.
individuals seek the public acceptance of their lifestyle, but
in a way that goes beyond merely wanting inclusion. All
too often, our culture’s conception of affirming one another
means agreeing with one another.
Disagreement is seen as hostile and evil in 2019. So Christians
need to communicate to unsaved neighbors that we can
disagree without hatred. In truth, everyone disagrees on
something; the non-Christian who says we’re nonaffirming
disagrees with us, after all. In place of unbounded affirmation
and agreement, it’s better to advocate for mutual respect
when disagreements exist.
To extend the point: Christians like the bakery-owning
Kleins in Oregon, the florist Barronelle Stutzman in Washington,
and the wedding-cake designer Jack Phillips in Colorado
have all suffered for their biblical
ethics in recent days. They have all
been denounced and hated for their
“lack of love.” The irony is often lost
on folks today, who fail to see that they
are hateful in the name of love. When
this happens, as it will, we should
point out the inconsistency.
4. We need to use discretion and
wisdom regarding pronouns and identity
We know biblically that
figures like Esther and Daniel not only
had to work and live in pagan environments
but had to take on false names
connected to idolatry. People around
us today voluntarily and happily do
what was forced upon faithful men
and women in Scripture.
On the other hand, we must never
approve of sin while we engage with
unbelievers, including those embracing
a transgender identity. We should
explicitly call them out of a life of
lostness, graciously directing them to
leave behind cross-dressing, false gender
identity, and other trappings of a
Are there situations at work when
we may be required to refer to a person
by a pronoun that does not match their
birth sex? There likely will be. Will
teachers face a choice between getting
fired or using the “preferred pronoun”
of a supposedly transgender child?
Yes, I predict some will.
Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to these and other
related predicaments? We must never compromise the gospel
and biblical truth in our witness, no; but we also may
face instances where we feel compelled to use the new name
of “transgender” individuals. Whatever we decide to do, we
should never affirm their lifestyle and broader identity.
Conceding to their new name is not our preference. But
when you live in Babylon, as we increasingly do, you must
recognize that there are some gray areas that stretch us and
challenge us. In those circumstances, we should not shrug
our shoulders as if the wisdom of God is of no account. We
should, however, strive like Daniel and his friends to live
faithfully in a pagan environment that fundamentally contrives
to compromise our witness. And when necessary, like
Daniel’s friends, we should stand firm when commanded to
bow before an idol.
Truth and the Christian Witness
The debate over gender and gender identity waxes hot in
our time. If we once thought it was tough to eat Thanksgiving
dinner with fans of our rival sports team, it is much more difficult
when we graciously decline to affirm a family member’s
new “gender identity.” We may well face hatred for this decision,
even though it is motivated by love. Christians may wonder
if they have in fact lost their ability to witness by speaking
and standing for truth, however winsome we try to be.
This is what we must remember in days ahead: speaking
and living according to the truth isn’t part of Christian witness.
Speaking and living according to the truth is Christian
witness. If God’s Word and its holy doctrines are not front and
center in our evangelism and engagement, then we’re just
offering a spiritualized version of can-do self-help to the world.
We have so much to offer: we have Christ and his gospel.
This transforming truth, in the final analysis, is why Christians
participate in our turbulent cultural debate over gender.
We bring not only the truth of God’s order and God’s good
design, but the transformative power of God’s saving message.
Faced with a lost, confused, and rebellious world, God’s
children have much that we can and should say. But above
every other word we could speak, we extend hope to the sinner:
a satisfying and permanent resolution to the greatest
disagreement that divides us all.
Transgender 101: What Do All These New Words Mean?
Cisgender, agender, gender fluidity—the sexual
revolution has created a host of bewildering
terms to describe the struggle for people
to reconcile their internal desires with their
bodies. What should Christians do with this
It can be overwhelming, especially if
you’ve never heard these words before or
experienced these struggles. It’s tempting to
dismiss the new vocabulary as a postmodern
attempt to restructure reality, rejecting both
the Bible’s terminology and basic biology.
Christians know that the Bible provides
the solution to humanity’s deepest needs,
and we don’t need to change any aspect of its
message or vocabulary. Our greatest responsibility
is to understand how redemption in
Jesus Christ fulfills God’s highest purpose for
humanity and to know how to share this good
news with others.
Yet God’s Word also calls us to reach
people with sensitivity and understanding.
A dismissive, uncaring attitude won’t help
Familiarity with modern terminology does
not necessarily mean you accept these terms
as descriptions of what should be. They simply
allow you to talk accurately and sensitively
about what people claim they are feeling.
The most important concept to understand
is the attempt to distinguish between (a) the
“sex” a person is born with (physical characteristics
of a male or female) and (b) the
“gender” a person identifies with (their “lived
role” as man or woman or other).
Gender dysphoria is the general term to
describe an individual’s discontent with the
gender “imposed” at birth based on visible
physical sex characteristics. (This is referred
to as “assigned gender.”)
Individuals who are content with their
sex and gender at birth are referred to as
cisgender (cis- means “on this side of”).
People who identify with a gender different
from the one they were created with and
had at birth are referred to as transgender (trans- means “on the other side of”).
These “other” identities can take many
forms. Some individuals identify with different
genders at different times (called gender
fluidity) or no gender at all (called agendered).
The possibilities—and the vocabulary
to describe them—are seemingly endless.
Christians must recognize that some people
really do experience this range of desires and
they will be offended if we deny the existence
of those desires. We should be sympathetic
and acknowledge that the issues are real, but
then we need to point them to the deeper
issues, which are covered in the Bible.
Ultimately, we should not follow the culture
in separating sex from gender, which is
really the crux of the issue. We don’t have to
change the Bible’s vocabulary or apologize for
what it says. God designed his Word so that it
would communicate to all humans and clearly
show them the way to be transformed into
the full and satisfying humanity—designed as
male or female from the beginning—that God
provided for us through Jesus Christ.
the author of The Grand Design (with Gavin Peacock) and the forthcoming Reenchanting
Humanity: A Theology of Mankind.
SourceThis article originally appeared on answersingenesis.org