One of the most contentious conversations in our culture continues to be at the intersection of faith, identity, and what it means to be human. One particular flashpoint is issues under the umbrella of ‘Trans*’, and questions of Gender Identity. As part of my 2018 Reading Challenge, I want to read on both sides of the debate – so this is one of the books from the conservative side, by a notable Southern Baptist, I plan to bear in mind as I read more widely. Andrew T. Walker is an American ethicist, based in Tennessee, and you can follow him on Twitter. In the UK, this little book is published by The Good Book Company, and has been positively reviewed by a number of people I respect.
The opening words of this book could not actually be much wiser: “Jesus debated issues. But more than that, he loved people“. How often has Christian ‘conversation’ (usually shouting) about issues like this a) not started with Jesus and b) not stressed the fundamental of loving people? This strong, wise start is emphasised throughout, with a particularly helpful meditation on what it means to ‘do good’ at the end of chapter 2 echoing Galatians 6:9. In order to do good to our transgender neighbours, friends and family, we must understand the language, context and culture of this complicated and challenging conversation. This book, in a readable way, manages to engage the reader with what advocates and pioneers in this space actually think they are saying and doing – orienting before attempting to engage with what the Bible and Christianity might meaningfully say in response.
This book adds little genuinely new to the conversation – but then that isn’t its purpose. This book draws on previous work by ‘conservative’ Christians in this space, but improves upon it in two ways. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this is a book that takes very seriously the people behind and around the pronouns. Sometimes books on ‘issues’ can be very distant from the people caught up in the narratives – this book bears them in mind throughout. Secondly, this book is calm, measured, readable and humble. Again, this is not always the case, and I hope that this book can sit alongside Vaughan Roberts’ Transgender as a useful resource for the average Christian reader. In terms of understanding the wider cultural trends, I would strongly recommend Mark Meynell’s A Wilderness of Mirrors: Learning to Trust Again in a Cynical World, and Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing.
The pastoral success of this book (And that is surely what it is for – pastoring people, rather than a heavyweight academic book) is that it starts in the right place: understanding humanity as being made in the Image of God. Walker writes “No one – not the state, not any philosophy, not any social movement – can give humanity more dignity and worth than God can. Our value and worth does not come from ourselves; it is God-given“. There is a careful acknowledgement of the Church’s ability to over-idolise certain gender norms/roles – even whilst recognising and celebrating what God has revealed and created. As an aside, I was pretty impressed with Walker’s treatment of the question of intersex (and how it does or doesn’t relate to transgender questions) – and I agree with what he says. It is worth noting, also, that throughout this book Walker is good at emphasising both the goodness and fallenness of creation and the promise of the age to come, the Kingdom of God.
Ultimately, I think that this is an immensely helpful book. By avoiding intra-evangelical questions of gender roles, etc (which marred a book on the Trinity I otherwise enjoyed) Walker focuses on the real questions of identity – making this actually a very helpful, biblical look at what it means to be human, rather than an issue-specific book. If you don’t think that there is a reality called sin, or that the Bible is in some sense authoritative, trustworthy, and true, then this book is not for you. But if like me you do, then this is a helpful, up to date and relatively comprehensive primer on one of the biggest ‘debates’ of our context and culture. The strength of this book, though, is that it is winsome and warm towards people throughout, even as it carefully engages with and critiques the ideas that ensnare and shape us.