The Committee on Christian Education has established a Special Committee on Marriage and Sexuality to identify resources to help the members and friends of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to uphold biblical teaching on sexuality, marriage, and related issues in view of society’s increasing deviation from traditional Christian views. This webpage is designed to include book reviews, website links, and documents produced by sessions and churches. These are arranged in separate sections below.
The Special Committee offers the material below as resources for reflection. The Special Committee recommends these works as worthy of consideration, but does not intend to endorse the authors of these works generally. Views expressed in the material are not necessarily those of the Special Committee and do not necessarily agree with the Westminster Standards on every matter of doctrine.
Sam Allberry discusses the issue of homosexuality from long personal experience and from a biblical perspective; so that his thought flows from principle yet does so in a sensitive mood. He makes his case by articulating God’s purposes for marriage and sexual intimacy, and then addresses the particular questions or objections that people often raise about homosexuality. Admirably, he does this in less than 100 pages without cutting corners. If you need a sound, uncompromising and winsome guide to give someone who struggles with the issue of homosexuality theoretically, or someone who struggles with same sex attraction personally, this is your book.
He offers helpful comments on how we should think and what we should say regarding same sex attraction. Fellow believers who struggle with this form of temptation feel “doubly ashamed” as they are “not just tempted by a wrong thing, but a wrong kind of a wrong thing.” And he continues “Yes, it has a significant effect on a number of defined areas of life, but it does not define your life.”
Since human nature cannot be reduced to mere behavior it is crucial to reflect upon the desires of the heart as well. This journal article discusses the Bible’s teaching on the sexual desires of the heart, and more specifically, whether same-sex desires are inherently sinful. The author helpfully explains how the biblical term for “desire” (which means “to crave” or “to long” for something) is more or less a neutral term, because the sinfulness of desire is determined by its object. Although temptations assault us from without it is those that arise from within that Scripture casts as sinful desires for which we are responsible and accountable (Jam 1.13-15). It is sinful to desire anything that God forbids and sexual arousal towards the wrong object is sinful, whether it is heterosexual or same sex. Same sex attraction is just one variety of our being fallen—all of us are crooked down deep. Those who deal with same sex romantic feelings are not less like those who deal with illicit heterosexual feelings, but more. We are sinners by nature and by choice, and it is our nature that produces our choices. Sinful sexual desire can never be the foundation of a holy relationship, which must come from chastity, in thought and deed.
If our most fundamental orientation, by nature, is that we tend towards sin in all its varieties, then the aim of transformation is not heterosexual, but holiness. The author concludes (along with Rosaria Butterfield) that the language of “sexual orientation” is unsatisfactory. It is clinical and artificial. Ironically, “just as many evangelicals are coming to embrace the notion of sexual orientation, many queer theorists are moving away from it is a fixed identity marker” (p.113). Sexual attraction is not the “touchstone of our being.” Our identity comes from the fact that “we are who God says we are.”
The article ends with a pastoral reminder to walk along side fellow brothers and sisters, who struggle down this often long and lonely road of spiritual turmoil, and to do so with love and compassion for them.
Since the great majority of Christian books on homosexuality tackle the topic of homosexual behavior, this book fills an important gap by treating the ethics of same-sex attraction and how the church can minister to Christians who struggle with it. The authors accomplish these two goals admirably as they divide the book into two parts, consisting of two chapters in Part I and three chapters in Part II.
In Part I, the authors carefully argue that homosexual desire, not simply homosexual behavior, is sinful. This is a needed contribution to the current discussion in the church because there is a growing number of orthodox Christians who believe that the Bible does not reject homosexual attraction per se, but only homosexual behavior. The authors offer clear biblical evidence that desire can, in and of itself, be sinful, particularly if the object of one’s desire is forbidden.
Another interesting topic is the difference between Jesus’ temptations and ours. Although the authors recognize that it is not necessarily sinful to be tempted (since that would implicate Jesus in sin), they do brilliantly argue, on the basis of James 1:13–15, that temptation to sin that arises from our own sinful nature is itself sinful. This intersects with the topic of same-sex desire, in that such desire originates from within, not without.
Part II boldly, yet compassionately, sets forth biblical strategies to help those who struggle with same-sex attraction change. In chapter 3, the authors address five popular myths. Perhaps the most harmful and persistent myth perpetuated by Christians is that the goal of change is heterosexual desire. This, the authors argue, is the goal of a dangerous, secular therapy that is embraced by many Christians, called “reparative therapy.” The authors are quick to point out that the Bible never portrays heterosexuality in general to be good, but rather heterosexuality within the confines of marriage. In the authors’ own words: “What the Bible commands, therefore, is not heterosexuality, but holiness” (p. 75).
Chapters 4 and 5 address repentance as the biblical path to change and the church as the place where such change can take place. It is also at this point in the book that one realizes that much more work needs to be done by thoughtful Christian therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists to help us better understand the person struggling with same-sex attraction. With little help being offered by secular psychology on this front, Christian professionals need to think carefully about how best to aid Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. Burk and Lambert give us a good start, but it is not enough. Work needs to be done on biological, psychological, and sociological contributions to same-sex attraction, all the while holding to the sinfulness of not just homosexual behavior, but homosexual desire as well. Repentance and ministry are greatly aided by understanding.
This book is more theological, though no less personal, than her previous title, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Of particular concern, as the subtitle suggests, is how we should see our identity as Christians. Identity has increasingly moved to the center of discussions surrounding homosexuality and transgenderism. One would assume that there would be less confusion or controversy in Christian circles on this point, but Butterfield’s book has appeared for a reason. Many Christians have seemed to absorb the world’s narrative that one’s sexuality so defines who we are that to resist (and not satisfy) our sexual desires is to deny our identity. Butterfield points to our union with Christ, which grounds our justified and sanctified position before God, and also defines the core of our self-understanding. In particular it reminds us as Christians that we see our lives, first and foremost, as hidden in Christ. This speaks to whether it is wise for a Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction to refer to themselves as a “gay Christian.” Such vocabulary may reflect the attitude that such desires are not inherently sinful. The opposite attitude, which Butterfield addresses, is the saving grace which applies to all sinful desires, namely repentance. The author also addresses the importance of Christian community as the God-given context for finding support and encouragement to persevere in holiness—something which Rosaria Butterfield has not always received—despite the fact that you would not discover it from the content nor the manner of her writing.
As its subtitle indicates, this volume is a companion of sorts to the author’s striking 2012 memoir, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, in which she chronicled her conversion to Reformed Christianity from her former life as a lesbian. While the earlier book was primarily biography interspersed with theological reflection, this new work is more theological reflection interspersed with biography. It is a valuable resource, whose message and tone the church would do well to absorb.
After introducing some important themes and recounting aspects of her life’s story in the preface and opening chapter, Butterfield moves in chapter 2 to a key idea, both in her book and in larger societal debates about sexuality: identity. She argues that believers should not find their identity in their own experience or actions, but in who God is and what he has done. We are united to Christ, she highlights, and thus justified and sanctified.
This discussion of identity bears fruit especially in chapters 4 and 5, in which she argues against the very concept of “sexual orientation” and opposes use of the term “gay Christian” to describe believers who feel same-sex attractions but strive to resist them. These are controversial assertions, with which many thoughtful Christians disagree, but I believe that she makes a compelling case on both issues. Christians should, at least, contemplate her argument that such concepts and terms do no favors to anyone: they tend to deceive Christians who are struggling with same-sex attractions into defining their identity in sexual terms, rather than in Christ, and to deceive Christians without same-sex attractions into downplaying the serious character of their heterosexual sins. In chapter 6, Butterfield offers additional insights into the use of these contested concepts and terms by describing her collegial interaction with a friend who describes herself as a “gay Christian.”
In the midst of this discussion of identity, chapter 3 offers important reflections on repentance as the antidote to shame and temptation. While Butterfield’s description of the relationship between grace and repentance (and of the nature of Christ’s temptations) is not quite as clear as it could be, her main point is crucial: Christians must never let confidence in God’s grace be a substitute for repentance, and must commit themselves to confessing sin and not just admitting it.
The final chapter, on community, goes far beyond the matters of sexuality that are the book’s main concern. But in many respects it brings the volume to a fitting close, for Butterfield points to mutual encouragement and hospitality as chief means by which God equips his people to resist temptation—sexual or otherwise—and to grow in grace. One of the best things about this volume is its underlying tone and attitude. It wholeheartedly promotes holiness and godly sexuality, but without the rancor, vitriol, and self-righteousness that too often poison conservative Christians’ contributions to societal debates on sex and marriage. Butterfield’s self-critical and generous spirit is far from the least of this book’s virtues.
Rosaria Butterfield, the wife of an RPCNA minister, has written an exceptional spiritual autobiography that details her pains, frustrations, emptiness, and confusion in a world of sin and misery. Although she was a highly successful, intellectual woman, and a tenured professor at a major university, she was in desperate need of God’s forgiving grace in Christ.
Rosaria uncompromisingly and vulnerably shares the incredibly great power of God’s grace to a sinner who was caught up in homosexuality. She writes about the joys of learning about salvation from the lips of humble Christians who practiced mercy and hospitality, and the fullness of hope and light in her soul, and yet the messiness and chaos that can often attend seeking to follow Christ in this world, especially when breaking with the past to live a life of holiness. This book is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of all life, as he makes Christ known to his people!
Because of Christ’s powerful grace to Dr. Butterfield, the book reveals the dear, regenerated heart of an affectionate mother who loves her children and seeks to raise them in the covenant. Now she serves as the faithful minister’s wife who honors her husband and family as the church serves Christ (Eph. 5:21–32). Now she is the compassionate and caring friend who seeks to show the same merciful love of Christ to unbelievers. Now she is the learning disciple, seeking to know how to be like Christ in a fallen world of misery. Now she is the confessional Christian who has committed herself to the truth of God’s Word, who holds these truths faithfully and seeks the means of grace that Jesus has graciously given us to grow. In the words of another redeemed sinner, “Amazing grace!—how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me!”
May you read, rejoice, ponder, and digest this wondrous testimony to God’s amazing grace. I recommend the wisdom here with hopes that it will make you more compassionate, caring, and hopeful in the incomparably great power for us who believe (and those who haven’t believed yet) (Eph. 1:19ff.). I pray that you will read it to think more deeply about how Christ’s love can be demonstrated to those caught up in sinful lifestyles, without hope and without God in the world. Let us never forget when approaching unbelievers: “And such were some of you.” Highly recommended reading.
DeYoung goes about his task by stating positively what the Bible teaches about homosexuality (Part 1), and then defensively answering common objections made against the Bible’s teaching on sexuality (Part 2). The book ends with three helpful appendices. The book is an easy and quick read (150 pages), and is an excellent choice if you had only one book to read or to lend.
In Part 1 the author deals with important biblical texts that inform our understanding of sexual intimacy within the context of marriage (e.g., Gen 1-2) and those texts that speak to abuses of sexual intimacy outside of marriage (e.g., Rom 1; 1Cor 6.9-10). DeYoung works these texts at a crisp pace, not too detailed and not too superficially, just enough to bring out their meaning.
In Part 2 DeYoung shows his ability as an excellent diagnostician and apologist, which he has demonstrated before (e.g., Why We’re Not Emergent). Here, he answers arguments you have likely encountered already: misconceptions about the Bible (“The Bible Hardly Ever Mentions Homosexuality”), errant thinking about God (“The God I Worship Is a God of Love”), popular fallacies (“You’re on the Wrong Side of History”) and genuine protests, which express personal challenges (“It’s Not Fair”).
One should not ignore the Appendix 3, which lists “10 Commitments” that provide an important guide on how to conduct ourselves (in thought, word and speech) and how to treat others with regard to this issue. The warm-hearted tone of this appendix is not unique in much of the Christian literature that is appearing on this subject.
This book reflects John Freeman’s thirty years of working with men who suffer from sexual brokenness. That experience comes out in stories, in sobering and realistic comments, and with infusions of wisdom, which is rooted in his acquaintance with the human heart and Scripture.
His aim is to address men who struggle with sexual temptation, and in particular those who suffer continuous set backs and feel like they are fighting a losing battle. Whether their conflict is with lustful thoughts, pornography or same-sex attraction, a number of Christian men feel helpless in the wake of seemingly irresistible temptations. Such men inevitably begin to lose hope in the power of the Gospel when it comes to real change, and wonder if they are beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness and love. If embedded patterns of failure continue—particularly without repentance—Freeman has observed the fruit that follows. These men become “God-haters”—taking out their anger on others, themselves and eventually God. They become “Idol-Makers”—giving their hearts on an ongoing basis to the false-promises of a false-love. They become “Game-Players”—trying to manage their secret, hidden life which is compartmentalized from their outward persona as a Christian. All the while their corroded heart whittles away at their confidence and cripples their spiritual effectiveness.
This is where the light of gospel comes in, exposing the lies of sexual failure and addiction. God has not left us powerless. God’s grace is sufficient for forgiveness and transformation. It brings about confidence in God’s call to integrity and for honest transparency. It emboldens us with genuine repentance and a faith that lays claim to the immensity of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ, so that we stop hiding our sin and begin seeking God’s help. This book is devoid of sugar-coated sentimentalism and full of grace-driven encouragement.
Gagnon, a PCUSA minister and professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, provides probably the most scholarly and comprehensive analysis available of all the biblical texts that mention same-sex intercourse. Perhaps surprisingly, given his ecclesiastical and academic affiliations, Gagnon argues that Scripture consistently regards homosexual practice as sinful. This is an indispensable work for anyone wishing to explore thoroughly the exegetical questions surrounding same-sex relations, even though the available literature on the subject has expanded considerably since its publication.
Although published quite recently, this book has something of a dated feel to it, written as it was to contribute to public policy debates about homosexual marriage in American law—debates which the Supreme Court essentially ended with its Obergefell decision in 2015. Still, the book may remain of interest for its rich intellectual content, as well as for insight on where things stand post-Obergefell. The authors argue that what is at stake is not homosexuality or even same-sex marriage per se, but the nature of marriage altogether—which suggests that the Supreme Court action constituted a broad rather than narrow redefinition of marriage.
This book defends a traditional view of marriage, albeit with a Roman Catholic flavor—what it calls the “conjugal” view—and argues against the “revisionist” view that has come to underlie recent shifts in marriage policy, including the legalization of gay marriage. The authors do not argue at all on biblical or theological grounds, but proceed entirely with philosophical arguments. They admit that their argument is complex, and indeed it is. Readers looking for ways to engage unbelievers on the nature of marriage without appealing to Scripture may wish to read their argument and consider its usefulness, but it will not be light reading. While the authors are quite effective in showing the serious problems and inconsistencies with the revisionist view, it is debatable whether they have succeeded in making their own philosophical argument for traditional marriage fully coherent and consistent.
It is important for Christians to think seriously about how to engage unbelievers on the nature of marriage without simply appealing to a few biblical texts. This book does provide much to contemplate, but may turn out to be discouraging for many readers when they find how sophisticated and complicated their argument turns out to be—and that even so it seems less than decisive.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America is to be commended for their brief but important testimony. They have tackled a pivotal issue in the culture in which we live. They are to be commended, first, for facing this issue head-on. Second, the testimony attempts to be comprehensive in facing the issues involved. Third, the testimony maintains an irenic tone throughout. Fourth, the testimony ends with the pastoral implications of this testimony. Fifth, the testimony is well written in plain English.
Chapter 1, “Introduction and Terminology,” covers the historical development of the new ideas concerning sexuality. This is essential to properly grasping the issues at stake. Chapter 2, “Biology, Gender, and the Biblical Doctrine of Man,” emphasizes that a biological link to homosexual orientation does not negate an individual’s moral responsibility to avoid what God forbids. Chapter 3, “Personality Traits and the Multiplication of Gender Categories,” states: “The church needs to be aware of these trends in our society, multiplying gender categories through the separation of sexuality and brain gender from one’s physical gender.” Chapter 4, “Hermeneutical Issues of the Homosexuality Debate,” deals with the arguments that some use to avoid the clear teaching of the biblical texts and the hermeneutical fallacies behind them. Chapter 5, “Exegesis and Confessional Statements,” interacts further with “progressive” scholars’ exegesis of the key texts. Larger Catechism Q/A 139 is covered as well. Chapter 6, “Pastoral Implications,” deals with many pastoral issues.
This excellent work has a few weaknesses. One, the implications of texts like Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are not fully mined. In their light, how can genetic make-up be the cause of homosexual desires or any other particular sin? Two, a fuller biblical anthropology, dealing with the implications of genetic research in general, needs to be developed. Three, the presuppositional framework of the social sciences is not challenged sufficiently, though there is a warning of possible bias. Four, the pastoral advice should be better organized. Five, the resource section needs to be edited more carefully and updated. For example, Exodus International no longer exists. Harvest USA should have been listed, as it is both biblically based and Reformed. When biblical and Reformed resources are available, why even go to questionable evangelical resources?
In the past few years, there have been a number of helpful books on homosexuality written from a conservative Christian perspective. In We Cannot Be Silent, Baptist leader Albert Mohler talks about homosexuality, but he also does more: he explains the cultural and historical background of the sexual revolution, which gave birth to the homosexual agenda. In a compelling manner, Mohler says that the seeds of the current homosexual agenda were planted in the nineteenth century, when European intellectuals began to redefine love and sex. The seeds were fertilized in the American sexual revolution of the 1960s, which went hand in hand with a moral revolution. In other words, the current American homosexual agenda has grown so quickly because the American cultural soil has been and is ripe for such growth.
In one interesting section of this book, Mohler highlights the gay agenda from around thirty years ago. An organized effort was made to remove stereotypes about gays, make them look good, portray them as victims, and argue that gays are born that way. Mohler argues that this agenda, combined with a general lack of morality, has resulted in the sexual mess we find ourselves in today. He even explains how the American judicial system has been involved in this sexual revolution. Readers who are interested in the legal side of this topic will find much to think about in this book.
Mohler notes the huge ramifications of the sexual revolution: it includes the home, children, businesses, schools, sports, the military, voluntary associations, churches, day care centers, government workers, public facilities, and so forth. One of the many reasons Christians should be concerned about the sexual revolution is that it affects every area of our lives. Some may accuse Mohler of using scare tactics in this book, or exaggerating his case, but these are real things about which we need to think!
Mohler doesn’t just explain, examine, and criticize America’s sexual conundrum. He also provides a brief overview of the Bible’s teaching on sex and admits that the church hasn’t always done a great job discussing and defending biblical teaching in this area. Mohler gives the church wise advice on how to navigate in our sexually charged culture. There is even a chapter that answers some common questions about homosexuality.
Mohler gives us a lot of information in this book, which is difficult to summarize. It certainly is a great resource to help Christians think biblically and reasonably about this pressing topic. Most Christians who are looking for a sane voice on sexual morality will appreciate this detailed book.
Against the backdrop of contemporary debates about homosexual marriage but without focusing upon it, this book studies the development of Christian thinking about sexual difference. Beginning with five theologians of the early church, Roberts moves on to consider Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Karl Barth, and John Paul II. Roberts concludes that these theologians represent a broad consensus that sexual difference is rooted in the purposefulness of God's creation and has moral significance. He ends the book by studying three recent revisionist theologians who reject the traditional view, but he claims that these theologians have not adequately understood or responded to the traditional view, which is much richer than they appreciate. This is a helpful book that provides historical perspective on how Christian theology wrestled with matters of sexual difference and marriage even long before homosexual marriage was a controversial social issue.
Would it surprise you that the author of this book is a faithful ruling elder in the OPC? I can attest to that because I serve on the same session with him!
But why should an elder of the church write about sex and violence? The answer is that all Christians need to understand the sins of their culture and present biblical antidotes—and it is the shepherds who must equip the sheep for this work.
Our culture is sinfully obsessed with sex and violence, and it is only getting worse. Smith is a public high school English teacher and a movie critic for the local newspaper. He grapples with these issues daily in the classroom and in the literary realm. What is to be our guide, if not God’s own book? The Bible always sets the norm for God’s people in a shifting and off-kilter world. Accordingly, our brother has searched all the Scriptures in an exhaustive study of how it deals with sex and violence, so we can be sane and offer sanity to our neighbors.
The book is divided into three sections: on sex, violence, and then “other blunt or unsavory material,” mostly of a scatological nature. If much of this is new to the reader, it can be surprising, horrible, and fascinating! One of the eye-openers may simply be how much English translations launder what is felt to be the objectionable realism of Scripture.
In this bracing jaunt through biblical grittiness, Smith organizes 700 Bible verses in twenty-one well-written chapters. Most chapters begin by mentioning the biblical laws forbidding the sinful behavior described in the chapter. In every place, Smith writes from his commitment to the infallibility of Scripture. Notably, he describes the torture and crucifixion of Christ compellingly in two different chapters, but then presses us to remember that far worse for Christ than the rending of flesh was the bearing of God’s wrath for our sin.
In his helpful concluding chapter, Smith says about the Bible:
Its approach to indecent matters is not that of a twenty-first century schoolboy, nor is it that of a nineteenth-century Victorian housewife. The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, freely acknowledging what we all know: these things are an important part of life, and by no means to be ignored or overlooked.… In any case, it certainly has not been my aim to ‘pander’ to our culture’s seemingly insatiable appetite for outlandish gore and sex. On the contrary, one does not seek to repair a depraved and lascivious society by becoming even more stuffy and standoffish.… Rather, one restores sanity in these matters by dealing with them biblically.… In my book, I have tried to show that this careful interface of frankness and restraint is exactly how the Bible approaches sex and violence. That probably ought to be our approach as well.
This book chiefly advances two things, that Christians need to do a much better job at befriending, understanding, and loving people with same-sex attraction, and that Scripture considers homosexual conduct a sin.
On the latter issue, Sprinkle offers much helpful biblical exegesis, including treatment of sexual difference in Genesis 1-2 (chapter 2), Jesus’ teaching on sex and marriage in the Gospels (chapter 5), Romans 1:18-32 (chapter 6), and the two unusual words Paul uses to refer to homosexual conduct in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (chapter 7). Sprinkle also offers many helpful comments on celibacy, calling, suffering, and singleness in the final chapter. His repeated exhortations to love people with same-sex attraction are well worth taking to heart.
The book also has some downsides. Sprinkle is rather self-congratulatory about his own conduct and research and he uses a distracting amount of colloquial and sometimes even crude language. Substantively, his conclusions about the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 and about “same-sex attraction” are open to question. But overall it is a profitable and challenging volume.
A brief treatment of the proper role of the church, as distinct from the state, and of the relationship of the two. Hodge, as perhaps the most influential Old School Presbyterian theologian of the nineteenth century, reflects mainstream views on the subject.
An explanation and defense of the proper authority of the church, and its distinction from civil authority; the author was a mid-nineteenth-century Presbyterian pastor in the Border States, and his view is similar to many of this era’s Southern Presbyterians.
Various essays from one of the fathers of the OPC on the church’s mission and authority and Christians’ relation to their broader culture.
In Scottish and American Presbyterianism, there has been a historic commitment to the spiritual independency, or spirituality, of the church. This essay examines this question as it pertains to the American church in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in the theology of Charles Hodge of Princeton.
A historical survey of church and state and a brief examination of different ways in which they have related.
A theological presentation of the spirituality of the church from a Reformed perspective.
Another presentation of the spirituality of the church from a Reformed perspective.
A study of Ephesians 1:22 and the concentration of Christ’s supreme authority upon the church.
This is one of the most famous and influential theological works ever written. Among many other topics, patristic theologian Augustine reflects extensively on Rome and its Empire and Christians’ place in the political societies of this world. Book 19 offers perhaps the most important discussion of the latter theme.
This contains translations of material on law on government by Thomas Aquinas, probably the most important theologian of the high Middle Ages.
A translation of an important political work by another influential medieval thinker.
One of Luther’s most famous works, discussing political authority and obligation.
Calvin’s famous and influential treatment of civil government concludes his Institutes.
This is an introduction to the history of Christian political thought from the early church through the twentieth century. Chapter 1 helpfully puts this topic in broader Reformed, biblical-theological perspective
Provides translations, introductions, and commentaries for many important works of Christian political thought from the early church to early modern era.
Written by an evangelical lawyer and pro-life activist, this is a very thoughtful consideration of how Christians can promote good causes as they participate wisely and effectively in a pluralistic society, discussing compromise, complicity, and strategy, historical case studies, and other matters.
This was a much-discussed book from a prominent Christian sociologist, critiquing several popular Christian models for transforming society and offering an alternative way for more faithful and effective Christian engagement with the surrounding culture.
This presents a vision for Christian engagement in political life, written from a Reformed neo-Calvinist perspective.
A revisionist Reformed approach to Christian cultural engagement focusing especially on re-thinking Christian higher education.
A Reformed biblical-theological proposal for Christian cultural engagement, drawing on the two-kingdoms idea; pages 194-203 focus especially on politics.
A defense of the idea that Christianity is an apolitical faith that transcends all political rivalries.
A consideration of the church’s responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God in the face of cultural pressure to be silent.
Reflections on Christian witness and gospel boldness in light of recent public events, by a Reformed pastor in Washington, DC.
These relatively short works are famous documents from the early church that provide a window into how early Christians viewed persecution and suffering. These documents are available in multiple sources, including Early Christian Fathers, vol. 1 of The Library of Christian Classic.
See description of this work above. Augustine discusses Christians’ identity as citizens of the City of God who are sojourning in the present world; some of Augustine’s most important reflections on this theme again appear in Book 19.
Focused primarily on eschatological debates within Reformed circles, this essay provides extensive reflection on the call of Christians and the church to suffer in this present age.
A discussion and defense of the character of Christians as pilgrims in this age and of Christians’ eschatological hope of the new creation.
The OPC Special Committee on Marriage and Sexuality cannot offer any legal advice. Churches in need of legal counsel ought to seek the help of a competent attorney. With that caveat, we call attention to the following links as providing potentially helpful resources:
The OPC Special Committee on Marriage and Sexuality also calls attention to the following helpful links for ministry.
“Transgender” refers to identifying with a gender different from one’s biological sex—ordinarily a biological female who identifies as a male or vice versa, although some people now claim there is a spectrum of genders. Many Christians were alarmed by the sudden emergence of transgenderism as a cultural and political cause just a few years ago, but found relatively little literature to help them think about these issues. It’s not surprising that such literature has begun to appear.
Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally and Andrew Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate both reject the views of transgender activists and argue that a person’s gender is the same as that person’s biological sex and cannot truly be changed. Yet these are two very different books. Both have real strengths, but neither is the book that Christians need. Readers of New Horizons may be helped by both, but they should not expect everything from either.
Anderson’s volume is philosophical and political in focus, not theological. It is a culture war book, seeking to call and equip people to fight transgender ideology in the public square. In part, it does this by telling stories about the outrageous things radical activists have done and the harm they’ve caused. As such, it’s almost certain to rile up readers and make them angry—either at these activists or at Anderson for opposing the transgender movement so strongly.
Yet When Harry Became Sally is also a sophisticated volume. Anderson writes clearly and engagingly, but at a fairly high intellectual level. It requires readers to reflect seriously about the biology, metaphysics, psychology, politics, and jurisprudence of the transgender controversies. Anderson has done his homework and is able to synthesize many different strands into a coherent argument. In this sense, When Harry Became Sally isn’t the stereotypical culture war manifesto. I should also note that Anderson means to stir up opposition to activists, not to the people who suffer from gender dysphoria. He expresses warm concern for them, especially for the children, who are increasingly encouraged and enabled to begin “transitioning” at early ages.
Chapter 4 (“What Makes Us a Man or a Woman”) is the most helpful part of the book, in my judgment. It presents the core of Anderson’s case for why gender matches biological sex and why men cannot really become women or women men. Although it is not theological, it is likely to resonate with readers who hold a Reformed anthropology, and may help them better understand how a biblical anthropology corresponds to biological facts.
Anderson’s work unfortunately invites the criticism that he has not been as objective or fair to his opponents as he could be. Although at places he claims simply to “report what activists say” and let them “speak for themselves,” Anderson cannot seem to resist inserting his own critical comments even in these “largely descriptive” sections of the book. This is too bad. It is almost always best to describe other people’s views with rigorous objectivity before beginning one’s own polemics.
In contrast to Anderson, Walker seems to go out of his way to tamp down a culture war mindset. His work addresses how Christians should think and speak truthfully about transgenderism, but repeatedly emphasizes the love they ought to express toward those struggling with gender dysphoria. He engages in no polemics against transgender activists and makes no forays into politics. If Walker is critical of anyone, it’s of himself, other believers, and the church for often not showing the compassion they should. While Anderson’s book is philosophical and political, Walker’s is theological and pastoral. While Anderson’s book may make you angry, Walker’s may make you humble and remorseful.
Another difference, however, is that Walker’s contribution is not nearly as wide-ranging or sophisticated as Anderson’s. Walker’s style is simple and homey. He provides a basic introduction to theological themes such as divine authority, creation, human nature, sin, and salvation. Readers with a modest knowledge of Reformed theology will probably find these discussions agreeable but may not learn much that is new.
In addition to its emphasis on love, compassion, truth, and humility, a real strength of the book is its wise discussion about the difficulty of the Christian life. Although I doubt his view of “bearing one’s cross” in Matthew 16:24 is correct, Walker helpfully explains that those who trust in Christ and repent of their sins cannot expect to experience perfect wholeness and peace in this present age. That awaits the new creation. People struggling with gender dysphoria may continue to struggle with it after turning to Christ. The Christian walk requires patience and waiting upon the Lord.
In a way, Walker’s book isn’t about transgenderism as much as it is a basic statement and defense of divine and biblical authority, the goodness of creation, the fall and salvation, and a Christian life marked by love, truth, compassion, and patience—with application to transgender issues. But some of these applications get rather specific. Walker briefly addresses issues such as how the church should respond to a transitioned person who wishes to become a member, how to discuss transgenderism with children, how to deal with a child who claims to be transgender, and how churches might respond to state bathroom laws.
Reformed Christians looking for resources on transgenderism to help them think and act well in all areas of life—including family, church, and public square—will find helpful material from both Anderson and Walker, although neither is a comprehensive resource. Perhaps it is best to see them as complementary. When Harry Became Sally provides a much more thorough intellectual study of transgender issues, but the pastoral exhortations of God and the Transgender Debate wouldn’t be bad for any Christian to hear.
Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Encounter, 2018. Hardcover, 408 pages, $20.75 (Amazon).
Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity?. The Good Book Company, 2017. Paperback, 174 pages, $11.61 (Amazon).
David VanDrunen is an OP minister and professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Westminster Seminary California.
Mark Yarhouse is an evangelical Christian and psychologist who has written several books on issues of homosexuality. This work addresses gender dysphoria, which Yarhouse argues is a distinct (although not entirely unrelated) issue.
Yarhouse’s emphasis is upon explaining what transgenderism and gender dysphoria are, encouraging Christians to listen compassionately and empathetically to the experiences of people who struggle with gender identity, and to be careful and thoughtful in how they minister to them. Yarhouse notes several times that the causes of gender dysphoria are not well understood. He also identifies three “frameworks” by which people tend to evaluate transgender issues and argues for an “integrated” approach that draws insight from all three.
The primary value of this book lies in the information it provides about these issues, its insights into the experiences of people with gender dysphoria, and its exhortations to humility and compassion. The book offers much less help with respect to normative guidance for ministering to transgender people in morally and theologically sound ways. The author’s caution is understandable, given the complexity and obscurity of gender dysphoria as a psychological condition, but Reformed pastors and elders will likely find many of Yarhouse’s open-ended conclusions to be less than satisfying.
David VanDrunen is an OP minister and professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Westminster Seminary California.
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