Transgender: A Review of Vaughan Roberts’s Talking Points Book Charles McCallum

March 15, 2017

My wife is in the process of getting her passport renewed to go on an overseas mission trip later this year. On the required form, she is given two gender options: male or female. However, had someone desired to create a new Facebook profile, at one point they would have been given as many as 71 options to choose from. Facebook has now stopped trying to keep up with the rapid change occurring in gender identity and now utilizes a “custom” option to allow users the opportunity to type in the gender label of their choosing.

In an area where a growing trend appears to be advancing faster than internet social media sites can keep up, how is a Christian with a traditional understanding of just two genders supposed to keep up?

Vaughan Roberts, an author and speaker, and the Rector of St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, U.K., has developed a resource for The Talking Points Series.[1] In his work, Transgender[2], Roberts’s aim is to give the reader “an accessible introduction to the many questions that surround the transgender issue, as we hold our questions up to the big story of the Bible: the story of creation, fall, redemption, and eternity” (p. 9).

In the opening chapter, Roberts begins by acknowledging a separation between Christianity and culture in understanding gender, addresses that conversation should occur, and begins by defining terms. This chapter does a great job of outlining defining gender through biology and through how a person feels inside. Citing www.dictionary.com, Roberts prefaces his first chapter by defining transgender as “noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth” (p. 11). He further explains in his first chapter that “for some people, their sense of gender – their inner feelings of being male, female, or both – doesn’t always match that sex…it’s about how they feel inside. It’s not the same as sexuality or sexual orientation…transgender is to do with how people think or feel” (p. 15).

The second chapter of Transgender helps to define the philosophy of the current day. In the chapter, titled “iWorld”, Roberts tracks our current fascination with individualism from the Enlightenment 300 years ago “when intellectuals began to assert the primacy of human reason over divine revelation” (p. 25-26). This philosophy has continued into the modern day, and the current culture places a high emphasis on individualism and authenticity. “The iWorld teaches me to resent any challenge to my individualism” and “above all else, we must be true to ourselves” (p. 26-27). Understanding that the philosophy of the day creates an uneasiness for Christians in how to relate in an individualistic society with deep rooted conviction that everyone has the right to define themselves as they wish, Roberts makes the claim that not only are the world views different, but each is proclaiming a different gospel or a “different understanding of what leads to freedom and fulfillment” (p. 34).

Drawing on a passage from Glynn Harrison in A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing, Roberts acknowledges our culture has changed the overarching narrative to self as being the hero of life rather than God being the hero as is explained in the Bible. This confusion diverts a person’s understanding of freedom and fulfillment through a false identity.

The next three chapters are devoted to the metanarrativend understanding how creation, the fall, and the rescue fit into a person finding freedom. Roberts speaks words of wisdom to the reader reflecting on the metanarrative:

So as we think about those who struggle with transgender issues (or as we wrestle with them ourselves) we will see them differently as we look at them with biblical perspectives of creation and fall in our minds. We will never give in to a ‘yuk’ reaction, because they are beautiful and precious creatures made in God’s image. But neither will we give way to the false notion that ‘they were made that way.’ We are created but fallen. We are made but marred. And those who experience gender dysphoria, along with all of us, are both victims the fall, and therefore to be sympathized with, and also, to some degree, sinners with disordered hearts who need to be both forgiven and rescued. (p. 53-54).

Roberts further uses the illustration of building with Legos compared to a flawed masterpiece to help describe the differences between a transgender worldview and a biblical worldview. Leaning on John Wyatt’s book Matters of Life and Death, Roberts writes,

If we have just emerged from the primeval slime by chance, then there is no design whatsoever in how we happen to be. We are simply a collection of constituent parts that can be changed and adapted as we like. You can try to improve and upgrade to a different model – you can reprogram the machine because that’s what we are. The structure of the body is value free, so if you want to change your sex, that’s fine. If you want to make yourself bionic, that’s fine too. In the words of the old Lego advert, ‘the only limitation is your own imagination’ (p. 36).

Roberts includes Wyatt’s contrast to the Lego model by explaining what is called the “art restoration view.” As Christians, we are not seen as machines, but as flawed masterpieces. The reader learns that “art restorers respect the work, know that their job is to bring out the artist’s original intention. They work at cleaning and restoring the vivid colours. They study the work and the painter so that they can carefully get it back to what it once was. They work so that the people can see the original in all its glory” (p. 37). Sam Allberry does a great job explaining this concept in a series of tweets summing up the difference between culture and the Bible:

Our culture says: Your psychology is your sexual identity – let your body be conformed to it.

The Bible says: Your body is your sexual identity – let your mind be conformed to it. (p. 43).

Finally, chapter 6 consists of several complex questions for the inquiring mind. For example: How should we respond personally? What should I do if my child talks about having transgender feelings? What if a close family member or friend confides in us? These questions were designed to assist the reader with how to engage with the difficulties of the transgender topic and provide the tools to start to think and talk biblically.

Transgender is a great resource for the Christian trying to learn more about the quick uprising of gender fluidity in our culture. I would encourage any Christian to read Transgender, a quick and easy read that will provide valuable information in creating dialogue with a culture desperately seeking an identity.

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NOTES

[1] The Talking Points Series was initially developed after identifying Christians as being “on the back foot, unable to articulate a clear response to a pressing question of our day. And even when we have understood God’s mind on a particular issue, we have struggled to apply it compassionately in our speech and in our relationships” (Vaughan, Transgender, p. 8). Therefore, the aim of The Talking Points Series is “to help us think biblically, constructively and compassionately, and not to feel intimidated when we are challenged or questioned, or perhaps worse, remain silent” (p. 9).

[2] Roberts, Vaughan. Transgender. The Good Book Company, 2016.

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