We are living in strange times. With COVID-19, political unrest, racial tensions, big tech overreach, and mass globalization, there is always something in the news to garner our attention. Here I want to turn away from some of those things for a moment and focus on an issue that was at the forefront of our minds not that long ago: how we view gender as a society.
We know where the secular world stands on this issue. Gender, we are told, is a social construct. It is not an objective reality that we are born with, but rather an identity marker we choose for ourselves. The transgender phenomenon in particular has advanced this line of thinking into the mainstream of society, so much so that new president Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that would allow transgender athletes to participate in competitive sports with the gender of their choosing. He also lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the US military.
Perhaps even more strikingly, the New England Journal of Medicine, a highly respected medical publication, recently argued that it is time to stop assigning gender to newborn babies on birth certificates, stating that “Sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility, and they can be harmful for intersex and transgender people.”
Functionally, we have the mainstream culture, politics, and medicine moving together in the direction of a genderless society, all of it flying under the banner of “equality” and stopping “discrimination” and “hate speech”.
How should Christian believers respond to all of this?
A comprehensive overview of biblical sexuality is outside of the scope of this post. Nevertheless, there are some important things we should be doing as those who follow Christ.
The first thing we should do is love other people, including those who promote or embrace views of gender that we don’t agree with. It is important that we remember to love our neighbour and show them dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. The world may still slap us with the label of “hate”, but at least we should force them to do so in error, rather than rightly applying that designation because we truly do harbour hate in our hearts.
Does this mean that we should embrace or endorse a lifestyle that goes contrary to Scripture? Certainly not. One of the fundamental errors our modern culture makes it to equate love with affirmation. However, these two are not the same. It is entirely possible to love someone while not affirming something that they believe in. In fact, we do this with every single person we are in relationship with. There are things about them we don’t agree with, but love them anyways. Real love is greater than affirmation. We need not reject this principle.
Another thing we can do is express the biblical alternative to genderless confusion. Scripture is not silent on the issue of God’s design for human beings in regard to their gender. Genesis 1:27 states plainly, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Our design includes distinction. Men are not women, women are not men, and gender is not on a spectrum. We know that there are chromosomal abnormalities and birth defects that cause a small number of people to have some confusion regarding their gender, but this is what they are: abnormalities and birth defects. Such individuals require extra love and grace for their difficult circumstances. But this is far different than the modern argument that gender is purely a social construct. Biblically, it is not a social construct. Gender is innate. It is not something we choose or discover. It is a reality we acknowledge.
One of the most powerful things we can do as followers of Jesus is live out our own gender reality to show the beauty of God’s good design. When God made man and woman, he did so because it was “not good that the man should be alone”. Thus, he created a complementary partner so that the two could enjoy unity in their diversity. The distinctions between men and women are not meant to drive each other apart, but rather to bring each other together in harmony. To be sure, this is not a simple task, given that we are sinners who naturally gravitate to conflict with others. Yet the wisdom of God is displayed in his gendered humanity and our relationships to one another. As Christians, the way we live out this reality may be the most winsome thing we can do.
I’m not convinced we will turn the culture around on this issue. I’m not sure we are even called to do so. But as we live as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth, we can show the world a better way forward. Let our men be men, our women be women, and let us express the joy of living an identity that is gifted us by God, rather than one of our own creation.
I believe that to some extent the Church has abdicated its responsibility in this regard. I’m not talking about progressive churches who embrace and affirm the LGBT lifestyle. I’m talking about generally faithful believers who have gone soft on gender distinctions. Over the last 40 years or so, the Christian church has tried to push back on biblical gender roles and the distinctions between men and women in order to embrace a more egalitarian view of gender. Most of these believers, as I can tell, have tried to remain faithful to Scripture on issues like gay marriage or gender reassignment surgery. Yet they unintentionally undermine their own argument by flattening the genders as much as possible in every other scenario. On the one hand, they argue that there are no gender distinctions in Christ, but on the other they wish to hold to gender distinctions in real-world circumstances. I do not think this position is either faithful to Scripture or sustainable in the long haul. Egalitarian believers must be willing to say that men and women are not interchangeable because God created them distinct and different. This, fundamentally, would force them out of a true egalitarian position. Let it be so.
The Church must offer a unique voice in these conversations. We may be rejected, and that is fine. But we must accept the risk that the world will wrongly label us as haters for simply affirming the truth. Affirming the truth, after all, is the greatest act of love. Jesus himself, the most loving person who ever lived, came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). He came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). These are not opposites. We are not graceful sometimes and truthful other times. We are show grace and truth simultaneously at all times. The only way we can do that is by being compassionate to people and committed to truth. And, just like Jesus, we will be rejected for it.
The culture is leaving less and less room for cowardly Christians. The hostility towards what we believe and whom we follow is increasing, which means we have only two options: either we remain faithful in spite of persecution, or we compromise and deny the Lord who bought us. It’s time to make a choice. We need not be those who shove our views in people’s faces, but we do need to be those who will not accept the lies our culture tells us and instead show them the love and wisdom of our Creator in action.
I don’t make a lot of book recommendations but I would like to recommend this one for your consideration. Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice by Professor Thaddeus Williams is a sound critique of the popular social justice movements from a biblical perspective. He distinguished between what he calls Social Justice A, which is a view of justice founded on Scriptural principles, and Social Justice B, which is founded on secular philosophies. Social Justice B is not only a phenomenon of secular culture, but it is increasingly being adopted by professing believers.
In my estimation, Williams is right that our diagnosis of social problems and our ability to address them rests first on assessing what is true. If we make false assumptions about the nature of truth, justice, inequality, sin, human nature, and the role of the church, then what we call “justice” will inevitably lead to actual injustice. In short, our pursuit of justice (an important biblical mandate) needs to be informed, shaped, and guided by the truth of God’s Word. Otherwise, we go off-course. I thought this book took a well-balanced approach to discussing these distinctions.
One aspect that makes this work unique is the inclusion of personal stories from twelve other contributors. Each one shares their experience of having a warped view of social justice originally to embracing a healthy and healing version that is shaped by the gospel. These stories add a personal element to the work that helps drive home the point that issues of social justice aren’t theoretical. They affect real people in the real world in real ways, for better or worse.
Here are some teaser quotes from the book. Consider purchasing a copy and digging in for yourself.
The problem is not with the quest for social justice. The problem is what happens when that quest is undertaken from a framework that is not compatible with the Bible. Today many Christians accept conclusions that are generated from [worldviews] with very different presuppositions about reality than those we find in Scripture. We shirk God’s commands and hurt his image-bearers when we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice.
The doctrine of human depravity swings like a wrecking ball, leveling any ideology that says, “My gender group, my ethnic group, my economic group makes me good, and their group is evil.”
Paul told the truth that being “in Christ Jesus” is a new identity that transcends other group identities.
Here are some clues that we may have been taken in by an anti-Spirit ideology: Instead of being love-filled, we’re easily offended, ever suspicious, and preoccupied with our own feelings. Instead of being filled with joy, we’re filled with rage and resentment, unable to forgive. Instead of striving for peace, we’re quarrelsome—dividing people into oppressed or oppressor groups instead of appreciating the image-bearer before us. Instead of having patience, we’re quickly triggered and slow to honestly weigh our opponents’ perspectives. Instead of being kind, we’re quick to trash others, assuming the worst of their motives. Instead of showing gentleness, we use condemning rhetoric and redefined words to intimidate others into our perspective. Instead of showing self-control, we blame our issues exclusively on others and their systems, not warring daily against the evil in our own hearts.
When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us.
…if we don’t bother to distinguish between inequalities that come from sin and those that don’t, then we are well on our way not to a fictional dystopia but to repeating the bloodiest mistakes of modern history.
How would Christians ever show the tribalized world what real unity looks like if they got swept up in such a never-ending game of grievances—treating one another as exemplars of their ethnic groups rather than their shared identity in Christ?
The Tribes mindset trashes not only any meaningful relationship with that person but also any hope of meaningfully thinking about that person’s perspective. In short, it makes us both closed-hearted and closed-minded.
If we care about ending actual sexism, then we should welcome the question of how much of the gender pay gap can be laid at the feet of actual sexism. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the real problem, but shadowboxing our own ideological projections. The extent to which we shadowbox our ideological projections of the problem is the extent to which we trivialize the victims of real sexism and racism. By diverting our finite injustice-fighting energies in every direction all at once, Tribes thinking unintentionally marginalizes the already marginalized.
…caring about justice requires a commitment to truth. We can no more separate truth from justice than we can subtract one side from a triangle and still consider it a triangle. The extent to which Tribes thinking predetermines answers to hard questions is the extent to which it obscures truth and unintentionally leaves more people broken.
Given the political polarization of our day, seeing our side as caring about others and the other side as cruel is easy and self-serving. But it is not so black-and-white. Often the left and right simply have different “others.” If we are shaped by Scripture instead of the culture wars, then we will not become the priests and Levites galloping past bodies on the side of the road. Christians should be known less as culture warriors and more as Good Samaritans who stop for battered neighbors, whether they are black, white, brown, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, capitalist, socialist, Republican, Democrat, near, far, tall, short, or smaller than a peanut.
There is often a big difference between feelings and facts, between lived experience and objective reality. That difference matters, and we should take both seriously if we want our quest for justice to lead to real justice.
Do arguments magically become true or false by putting them in someone else’s mouth? No. Writing off someone’s viewpoint because of their melanin levels makes us actual racists. Dismissing someone’s argument because of their gender makes us actual sexists. Silencing someone’s ideas because of their sexuality, their economic status, or any other quality of their lives rather than the quality of their ideas does not make us a voice of justice for the marginalized; it makes us actual bigots.
By downplaying the depth of human corruption, socialism becomes a counterfeit gospel. It relies on corrupt human authorities with no room for God’s heart-regenerating grace. Socialism seeks Christ’s kingdom, minus the Christ, and becomes a destructive parody of God’s shalom. The harder it tries to create heaven on earth, the more hell it unleashes, particularly on the poor whom Scripture commands us to love.
Gender distinctions are a gift from God to be celebrated, not obliterated. Men can’t simply replace women, or women replace men, without something exceedingly beautiful being lost. When we get swept up in Social Justice B, our understanding of sexuality comes less and less from Scripture and more and more from the ideological architects and ancestors of the sexual revolution.
Notice that “the gospel” is “of first importance.” And what is that gospel? It is the good news of free salvation by trusting in the sin-atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise us that Paul understands the gospel this way, since he received it directly from Jesus. Unlike toppling social and economic systems through social activism, this good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ is what Jesus proclaims to poor in the red letters. It is what the earliest missionaries declare with astonishing saving results throughout the book of Acts. It is the same good news declared throughout the New Testament epistles.
It is no secret that social media platforms have taken serious steps in recent days to censor certain individuals. Then-president Donald Trump was the most obvious example, but since many others have complained of their accounts being deleted or warned by Facebook, Twitter, and others, for going against “community guidelines”. Of course, there is usually little or no explanation concerning what guidelines were broken specifically. In response, hundreds of thousands began to transition over to self-proclaimed free-speech app Parler, only to have both Google and Apple block it from their app stores, as well as Amazon remove it from their hosting servers, effectively scrubbing Parler from the internet.
Think long and hard about what this means. Many have claimed “these are private companies, so they can do whatever they want”. This is only partly true. Even private companies have some limitation for what they can choose to do under American law. But even if they are not breaking the law in these actions, it should be very concerning to people that a handful of companies effectively have the power to completely remove certain voices from the internet. Effectively, if Google, Apple, Amazon, and Twitter decide they want to shut down a particular viewpoint, they can do so in less than one day. That is a freakish amount of global power for only a few individuals to yield.
Again, many push back. “We’re talking about Trump here,” they proclaim, “and he tried to pull off a coup at the Capitol!” While this claim is debatable in and of itself, that is entirely to miss the point. Even if you feel social media should censor people for legitimate reasons…what happens when they begin to do so for illegitimate reasons? What is to stop them?
I myself have been temporarily banned from Facebook and Instagram for sharing blogs from the website you are currently reading. No reason was ever given as to why. I protested, asking for a reason, without ever getting a reply. Suddenly, and without explanation, I was reinstated a few weeks later. To this day I have no idea what I said that supposedly violated “community guidelines”, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with Qanon, election stealing, or any other currently acceptable reason.
I know many Christians who applauded the censoring of Trump and his followers. I can understand why, but I also would want to give them a grave warning: don’t cheer too loudly, because you will be next. Think about it. Satan, the god of this world, wants more than anything to silence the truth, censor the gospel, and control public conversation away from Scriptural ideals. The enemy is not social media giants themselves, but they can and will be used as tools for the enemy in spiritual warfare. This effort will not succeed in the long run, of course. We know God wins in the end. But it absolutely will be effective in the short-term, and make life more difficult for believers in the public square.
The Canadian government is currently doing its own social media crackdown. Trudeau has promised to clamp down on “offensive content and hate speech”, which includes “racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist and homophobic views”. This may sound good—who would want those ideas promoted?—but keep in mind that the government does not understand Christian doctrine. Many biblical ideas can easily be construed to fit any one of those categories; indeed, the secular world claims that they do already. It is really not that hard to see that in the very near future churches will have their online services blocked, Christians removed from social media, and perhaps even Bible apps taken down under the guise of “hate speech”. None of this spells the end for the Church, but it will create a climate where following Jesus may go from being merely culturally odd to potentially inviting serious legal issues.
Free speech is an important value. It is not only important from a legal perspective, but also from a biblical one as well. Consider a few examples:
- Proverbs 18:17 “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Part of discovering the truth comes from the free exchange of ideas. If we only hear one side of things and the other is censored, it is easier to be deceived.
- Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Similarly, our understanding and growth becomes “sharpened” in part by being challenged by others. This includes their ideas.
- Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The Christian Golden Rule also applies to speech. If you do not wish to be censored, then you should not be keen to censor others.
- Acts 17:16-34 In this passage, Paul had the freedom to proclaim the gospel in public because the culture of Athens welcomed the sharing of new ideas.
None of this is to argue that censorship is wrong in every circumstance. Things like explicit calls to violence or communication for illegal activity, such as human trafficking, are examples that come to mind where censorship is commended. But what we are seeing is more than that. We are seeing the squelching of ideas that don’t align with the status quo. As Christians, we ought to know that our ideas of truth fit that category. The Bible itself says that the gospel is offensive to the unbelieving world (Galatians 5:11). Christian doctrines like the existence of a Creator, moral standards for sexuality, distinction between men and women, damnation, and salvation through Christ alone are more than ancient relics of the past. They are unacceptable hinderances to an increasingly secular humanist future. Censorship is inevitable.
Our strategy for Christian ministry will need to adapt. In Ontario, where I live, lockdowns because of the coronavirus have forced churches to go online with their ministries. This works for the time being. But perhaps the online world will not be so welcoming for long. I seriously wonder if the typical North American style of church is a sustainable model for the future. My guess is that believers here will have to increasingly find other methods of effective Christian ministry. While Satan may mean this for evil, God means it for good. Perhaps this is the way our Lord is purging our churches of lukewarm faith, dulled desire for evangelism, and apathetic worship.
Jesus reminds us that anyone who desires to follow him must first count the cost. For many of us, that cost has been relatively minimal. Maybe that will change in the future. Only God knows for sure. Either way, it is a good reminder for us to get our hearts right before the Lord, re-establish ourselves as citizens of heaven free from the love of this world, and be prepared to meet any trials that may come with joy (James 1:2-4).
I recently watched an interesting debate between two pastors on the topic of homosexuality and how Christianity views it. I didn’t really want to comment much on it here; I’d encourage you to go watch the 2-part series for yourself if you’re interested. But there was one line in particular that really caught my attention that I’d like to discuss briefly.
The pastor who was arguing that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity and the Bible said, around the 20:35 minute mark of part 1, that “In some way I can totally sign off on God designing sexuality, if I’m allowed to have my ways of thinking about it.” This one sentence, to me, was the most important sentence of the entire debate. Allow me to explain.
Christians have historically made a big deal out of certain sins, homosexuality being one of them, seemingly to the exclusion of other sins. I think this is one of the ways believers have erred in their faith. The problem is not calling sin what it is, but elevating certain sins over others. In doing so, it makes it appear that some people are really sinners while others are just kinda sinners. Naturally, we tend to be those who label ourselves only kinda sinners…how convenient!
However, I don’t think Scripture affords us this option. God’s Word declares that “there is none righteous; no, not one” (Romans 3:10), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In this way, all people are in the same category: sinners who fall short of God’s moral standards for our lives. It is wrong to emphasize one person’s “falling short” over your own. We are all helpless sinners who need God’s forgiveness.
Moreover, Christians should seek that forgiveness with a sense of humility, not pride. Consider the parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14, where one man boasts that he is better than others and yet is rejected by God, while another man throws himself at the feet of the Lord and humbly begs for mercy and receives it. It is a powerful reminder that our own sin has rendered us unacceptable in God’s sight and only his grace can change that fact. None of us are better than anyone else in the eyes of God.
It is a mistake, then, on the part of a believer to believe that *our* sin only separates us from God a little while *your* sin separates you from God a lot. The truth is that ALL sin separates us from God. This is because sin always has two layers. There is the expression of it, and there is the root of it. The expression of our sinfulness shows up in many ways, but the root of it is always the same: we want to be our own god.
When we sin, we are effectively saying to God, “I’m not going to live under your rule. I’m not going to let you call the shots. I’m going to do things my way, because I think my way is better than yours”. Back to the video debate, consider the subject of homosexuality. The issue isn’t really about homosexuality or any other sexual activity. The issue really is, “I want to define my own life, my own identity, and my own morality. I want to be my own god”. Or, to put it in the exact words one debater used, “I can totally sign off on God designing sexuality, if I’m allowed to have my ways of thinking about it.”
That last phrase is crucial. It is essentially declaring that we will submit to God so long as he agrees with us. God must affirm our way of thinking, and then we will follow him. Yet this is the polar opposite of how our relationship with God works. God is God; he calls the shots. He is the Creator, Designer, and Sustainer of life, and we fall into line with his way of ordering things, not the other way around. We are created in the image of God, but the root of sin is that we want to create a god in our own image.
Christianity does not really begin by discussing homosexuality or any other issue. It begins by knowing that we resist the rulership of God in our lives, and unless we are willing to submit to his authority, we are in sin. This resistance leads to two significant problems. The first is that it entrenches us in pride. We will forge our own way, determine our own life course, and operate according to our own personal ideals. The second problem is that it causes us to live outside of our created design. It would not be an issue for us to rebel against God if he were some tyrannical dictator who cared little about us. But it is an issue because he is a loving God and knows what is best for us. His designs are good and his ways are wise. Thus, to rebel against God and become our own god, we are alienating ourselves from the fullness of life that we were created to experience.
Don’t get too caught up in the details. The problem is always the same, and the solution is always the same. The problem is that we want to dethrone God and take his place. This is the essence of being a sinner. The solution is that we humbly seek his forgiveness, repent of our arrogant ways, and surrender our life to him. This is the essence of being redeemed. The gospel, the good news of Christianity, is that God never rejects anyone who comes to him in this way. His grace is a free gift to all who ask for it. Yet we must first be willing to lay aside our pride and give God his rightful place in our lives.
It does not matter what specific sins you commit personally. What matters is that underneath our sin is a hard heart that is resistant to God. That is our fundamental identity. But that reality can be changed by the grace of God, when we repent and believe in Jesus for salvation. Our sins are forgiven and our relationship to God is restored. We become a “new creation in Christ” and begin a new life with a new identity, no longer as sinners but as beloved children of God and members of his family. I pray that each person reading this would come to know that salvation.
It has been one crazy year.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe all that has taken place in just the last twelve months. We’ve had volatile elections, riots, murder hornets, celebrity scandals, big-tech censorship, and of course the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent challenges it has brought: lockdowns, mass distrust of media, government ineptitude, recession, and controversial vaccines.
One can’t help but wonder, what in the world is God doing?
In some ways, 2020 has been like every other year before it, only this time it was hooked up to a globe-sized bullhorn. The same dangers that mankind faced in 2020 were present in 2019 and the year before, and the year before, stretching back to the book of Genesis. As Scripture reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. Humanity has always been stricken with illness, both of our body and our soul. We teeter on the fine line between life and death every moment of every day, long before COVID was even heard of. We are crushed under the weight of government corruption, burdened by racial unrest, and generally struggle to get along in a fallen world that is full of selfish sinners. In that sense, it is business as usual.
If I were to sum up what God has impressed upon me this year in one sentence, I would simply let Jesus speak for me:
“My kingdom is not of this world” – John 18:36
The challenges of this year have been a painful but helpful reminder that God’s kingdom is not yet arrived. Earth is not heaven, and never will be, until it’s triumphant King returns. Until then, we struggle on amidst worldly kingdoms with evil rulers, broken systems, and dreams that will never be realized on this side of eternity. Though I yearn for more, for a world at peace, well-organized, and united, it will never happen, because these yearnings find their origin in the kingdom of God. It is currently a heavenly reality, and a spiritual one, but not yet an earthly one. One day that will change.
Perhaps one of the great lessons we are to learn this year is the futility of placing our hope in the things of this world. We place our hope in rulers, in medicine, in policy, in money, in safety, in each other and in ourselves. None of these things can deliver on the expectations we place upon them. Yet we try nonetheless, only to be frustrated and angered when things don’t work out the way we demanded. Such is the reality of false hope: it is sure to disappoint.
As Christians, we know that our hope is in the Lord. But that does not mean we are immune to falling prey to worldly thinking. Often what we know to be true theologically is not realized in our own hearts. We know that God is our hope, but we like to keep a little spare bedroom in our hearts where other idols remain as invited guests. It is certain that one thing God is doing in 2020 is attempting to smash the idols we still cling to so that our hope lies fully in him. We would do well to stop resisting this important work of sanctification.
Fellow believers, we are not of this world. Our King is not of this world. Earth is not our home. We are strangers and aliens, exiles who are simply passing through. We live not for this life but for the life to come. Let the world crumble and fall as its foundation is being shaken. But may we, the Church, stand firm. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. God desires for that reality to take hold of you in a new way this year. Let it be so!
As we head into the new year, we know not how long our Lord will tarry. It seems apparent to me that human history is quickly marching towards the appointed end. Things will not remain as they are forever. The kingdoms of this world will be stripped away and the kingdom of heaven ushered in. If you find the circumstances of your life leading you to think “it shouldn’t be this way”, let that move you to saying with all your heart, “Come Lord Jesus!”