November 25, 2019 § 15 Comments
The Oatmeal, an online comic by Matthew Inman, published an amusing and illuminating illustrated treatise on the “backfire effect.” This is the natural, and often sinful, cognitive bias that causes some to resist evidence contrary to their beliefs. The amygdala (the emotional core of our brains) goes into defense mode when we’re presented with “facts” we don’t like. The sin (my observation, not The Oatmeal’s) comes in when we reject ideas without utilizing our God-given reason, or when we spiral into an emotional tirade at the presenter.
Using one of the examples in the comic, the suggestion that our beloved George Washington wore false teeth made from the teeth of slaves may illicit such a response. (There is evidence that Washington purchased teeth from slaves for false teeth, but it’s rather slim and inconclusive despite being presented here as “fact.” Or is that just my amygdala talking? You can investigate the sources cited in the comic yourself on that.)
The author says that the backfire effect “makes sense from an evolutionary perspective” and follows that up with an archetypal caveman scenario. But it also makes sense from a Biblical perspective. We are created to hold firmly to personal convictions. To believe. As fallen creatures though, we often let emotions get the best of us and set aside reason when our beliefs are challenged.
Because “we’re all going in the same direction”, the author concludes with the assurance that he’s “not here to tell you what to believe” before telling us what to believe: that it’s okay to stop, listen, and change. I’m not sure if the “change” encouraged is a change in how we respond—now that we know how our brains often handle new and unwanted information—or a change in our worldview when presented with new ideas about the world or ourselves. Both are good and healthy responses, the latter depending of course on the ideas.
In any case, the only reason to believe anything at all is if we are convinced that it’s true. This includes foundational or presuppositional beliefs, like the existence of God, or the tenets of naturalism, that we ultimately must accept or reject on faith.
Matthew Inman is neither shy nor particularly clear about his brand of atheism, but in this video he masks a sad, nihilistic worldview with plenty of jokes—some either profane, throwing shade at religious belief, or profanely throwing shade at religious belief—all while professing faith in “Jibbers Crabst”.
The overall aim of his post about belief seems to be the awareness of what’s going on when we learn new things, and realization that we don’t have to blow up at others who challenge our deeply held beliefs. Atheism and sarcasm aside, that’s an earnest and respectable goal.Sometimes the truth hurts. But the truth is meant to ultimately give us joy. The good news of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died to save sinners—begins with the bad news that we all are sinners who need a savior. There’s a classic example of new information that many an amygdala reject (1 John 1:9-10).
We should keep an open mind, even about our deeper convictions. But as G.K. Chesterton tells it, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. Otherwise, it could end up like a city sewer, rejecting nothing.”
(The “classroom-friendly version” of The Oatmeal comic is linked above, but there is a “regular version” with some profanity that really isn’t a necessary or funnier way to make the point.)
August 13, 2019 § Leave a comment
Hillsong music writer Marty Sampson revealed on Instagram that he is “genuinely losing” his Christian faith. Below is Sampson’s full post, since deleted:
Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.
We’ve seen similar statements or renouncements from famous authors, pastors, preachers, or musicians, and it’s a sad kind of declaration to watch become more commonplace. As we wrestle with the reasons people seem to have such a tremendous change of heart about Jesus and what the causes might be, I will suggest real answers in the field of apologetics. Let’s look at Sampson’s specific questions.
Sampson: “How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it.”
Many talk about it, including Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwof.(1) He offers five reasons a pastor might fail morally, and what to watch for in your own life: Choosing isolation over community, ceasing to confess sin, ignorance of consequences, thinking the rules don’t apply to one’s own situation, and seeing failure as the best escape.
Scripture talks about it. From Paul’s warning to believers—likely including preachers—who have “fallen away” because they were “trying to be justified by the law.” (Galatians 5). There are of course many reasons we can fall. We can face temptation toward our own selfish desires (James 1:13-18), sexual desires (Proverbs 7, 1 Corinthians 7:2), quarreling (James 4:1-4), money (1 Timothy 6:9), weakness (Job 4:4), doubts (Proverbs 3:23), hubris (Daniel 11) heresy and idolatry (Jeremiah 18:15).
Sampson: “How many miracles happen? Not many. No one talks about it.”
Many talk about miracles, which are by definition rare occurrences, so we should expect to see “not many.”
CS Lewis shows the shortcomings of naturalism(2), the basis of most arguments against the miraculous. Other inexcusably famous and accessible apologetic works defending miracles include William Paley’s, whose argument against David Hume’s assumption that natural order is unchangeable is outlined by Dr. Mark Pickering and Peter Saunders: “It stands to reason that if God exists he would want to reveal himself, and use the miraculous to do it. If he used certain miracles to authenticate his revelation (eg at the inauguration of Christianity), this would be quite consistent with us not seeing the same miracles today, as they were for a particular purpose at a particular time.”(3)
The Bible also points to an over-reliance on miracles as a lack of faith, even in a time where we might say they were more common. Before healing the son of a Roman official, Jesus lamented that “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:48) In Jesus’ parable in Luke 16, a rich man, now in eternal torment, is convinced that if his brothers witness a miracle, they will believe. On the contrary, Abraham tells him that “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (verse 31).
Sampson: “Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it.”
Many talk about ALLEGED contradictions. Sampson presents what is called a “loaded” or “complex” question—one that assumes something unjustified when it is asked. If he would have honestly pursued the subject, he would have found the Bible to be without true contradictions. I talk about alleged contradictions in this post (“ISO: Actual Bible Contradictions)(4) but plenty of others have answered the Biblical contradiction question more comprehensively, explaining the difference between a contradiction and a textual variant(5), and many that analyze specific examples skeptics have offered as contradictions. One might start at ComeReason.org(6) or AlwaysBeReady.com(7).
Sampson: “How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.”
I’m not sure how Sampson estimates the number of people going to “a place” (presumably hell) at 4 billion, but suffice it to say that lots of people talk about God’s justice, the crux of this issue. As with the other questions posed, resources are abundant.
You can read Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig’s debate with atheist Dr. Ray Bradley over the question “Can a loving God send people to hell?” at ReasonableFaith.org (8). A shorter treatise by J. Warner Wallace is on his site, ColdCaseChristianity.com(9). Wallace: “God doesn’t send good people to Hell. In order to consider ourselves ‘good’, we typically have to overlook much of what we think about and a lot of what we have done.”
Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” A foggy view of our own sin can easily lead to the notion that God’s justice is unfair, and so can a foggy view of God’s glory.
Sampson: “Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.”
I assume this is about what some see as a disparity or conflict between science and the Christian faith, which actually disappears with a proper understanding of both. I blog about that here(10), and other resources are easily had(11).
Sampson has other questions too, about the reality of sickness and disease, that he says “remain in the too hard basket.”(12) None of them should be in the “too hard basket” unless he wants to keep them there. (For answers to the “if God, why suffering?” question, read this excellent RZIM article by Vince Vitale.(13))
Note that Sampson’s complaint is not that he doesn’t like or agree with the answers, but that they apparently aren’t offered. As we can see, to base a departure from Christianity on a lack of conversation about these subjects is plainly unfounded. A wealth of scholarly material, books, and widely available online resources geared for all kinds of skeptics designed to deal with all kinds of challenges to Christianity leaves nobody cause to say “No one talks about it.” Apologists talk about it all the time!
‘GENUINELY LOSING MY FAITH’?
What kind of faith makes someone presumably so in reach of sincere apologetic answers so ignorant of them? Maybe an insincere faith? I think it can be said that not many people talk about making judgments about the genuine salvation of others. A repenting sinner’s relationship with God through true faith in Jesus Christ is supposed to be between God and the sinner. But recent faith renouncements by Sampson, author Joshua Harris(14), and others make me question the taboo of assessing another’s standing before God. At least in the context of discerning truth coming from teachers and preachers, Matthew 7:16 tells us “You will know them by their fruits.” It seems we are then expected to “know” something critical about the genuineness of their faith based on the evidence in their life.
Is all fruit easy to discern? Some folks aren’t very surprised at Sampson’s Instagrammed apostasy, judging from previous observations of soft theology from Sampson(15) or in Hillsong’s music in general(16). Progressive or otherwise heretical leanings are often easy to spot. But it’s not so easy to observe a person’s approach to the harder questions of faith occurring introspectively that may lead to the softening or derailment of our theology.
Some are afraid to ask hard questions for fear that they may look like they don’t have all the answers, or come across less spiritually mature as their celebrity might indicate. An emphasis on emotivism or experimentalism in Christianity tends to steer people away from the pursuit of intellectual confidence. Maybe it’s simply the case that only the people closest to us really know our struggles, conclusions, and the true depth of our faith—and we are not close enough to Sampson to know his.
God’s word tells us that we cannot, as Eric Metaxas wrote on Twitter, “un-meet” Jesus (17). Once a person has put their faith solely in Christ for salvation, that person is permanently and eternally saved. Jesus promises “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:29). Since a believer does not save himself, he can’t “unsave” himself (Galatians 2:8-9). The Christians Paul was writing about in Galatians 5:4 who had “fallen away from grace” did not fall out of salvation. I don’t think Sampson has lost or is in the process of losing his salvation, but rather that he has never obtained it. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…’” (Matthew 7:22-23b). Note that Jesus did not say that they once knew Him, or that He once knew them, but that He NEVER knew them. If you were ever saved, you are now; if you’re not now, you never were. Sometimes that kind of fruit is hard to discern too, especially from way out here.
LETS TALK ABOUT IT!
What’s clear enough is that the stumbling blocks that have pushed Marty Sampson away from God, the ones “no one talks about,” actually have been and are continually talked about, and are at his very fingertips. I don’t think he wants those answers, but something else. The truth that Sampson says he is pursuing is never “what’s true to me right now.” It’s true for everyone at all times. That truth is that God is real and His love hasn’t gone away. His salvation through Christ and a confident faith is available to everyone, even Marty Sampson. We should pray he truly finds it.
[Related post: Big Questions Unanswered Leads to Atheism]
April 8, 2019 § Leave a comment
There are two reasons a person might say something is incoherent. One reason is that the thing being considered is incomprehensible. The other is that the person, for whatever reason, is unable to comprehend it. While both may be true, what one professor of philosophy calls “A God Problem” in a recent New York Times opinion piece reveals a problem with his own ontology. It’s a short read here.
Peter Atterton takes us though a short series of “problems’ about the existence of God that philosophers have pondered for centuries. Interestingly, he offers the first two, and then offers the solutions for us.
THE OMNIPOTENCE PARADOX & THE LAW OF NON-CONTRADICTION
“…the paradox of the stone… Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? … The way out of this dilemma is usually to argue, as Saint Thomas Aquinas did, that God cannot do self-contradictory things. … Not all philosophers agree with Aquinas. René Descartes, for example, believed that God could do absolutely anything, even the logically impossible, such as draw a round square.”
Well, sure. Philosophers and other humans disagree on all kinds of things—some are right and some are wrong. Aquinas was right; logic extends from God’s nature, so logical absurdities (such as a round square, or a rock too heavy for God to lift), and sin itself, are impossibilities for Him. God is a God of logic and therefore cannot do illogical things. God is good and therefore can do no evil. René Descartes was wrong because there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that God can do anything that contradicts His own nature.
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL & FREE-WILL DEFENSE
Secondly, Atterton asks, “Can God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible. … Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why he wouldn’t have created such a world… The standard defense is that evil is necessary for free will.” He then cites Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “To create creatures capable of moral good, [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”
Plantinga was also right; man’s free will necessitates the eventual probability of his choosing to sin, so it’s actually not logically possible for God to create human beings and not give his creatures freedom to make either choice. Adam and Eve did not know evil and the effects it would have on the world. However, in a glorified state in heaven, our clear and perfected view of God’s goodness may simply preclude the possibility of a free-will choice to sin. But we are talking about the world we are in now. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12)
NATURAL EVIL & GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
The author then presents two problems that he claims make God particularly incoherent because he can’t answer them. But, like God, coherent answers do exist. Seeming to allow Plantinga’s argument that human free-will necessitates evil choices, Atterton contends that “this does not explain so-called physical evil (suffering) caused by nonhuman causes (famines, earthquakes, etc.). Nor does it explain, as Charles Darwin noticed, why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom.”
The problem of “physical evil” of “natural evil” included in Genesis 3’s curse of creation is not philosophically insurmountable either. As J. Warner Wallace proposes at ColdCaseChristianity.com, a world created to accommodate free will agency will also perceive both benefit and detriment from certain natural conditions. Some natural disasters are the result of man building and venturing in the wrong places at the wrong time. Some natural disasters may be God’s prompting us to consider Him, and others, to bring out the best in people using various trials (James 1:2-4). Whatever the reasons God may have to allow natural evil, the question of “why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom”, or among people for that matter, is problematic. In a world where a small fraction of the current pain and suffering would likely still bring complaint and rejection of a benevolent God, what would the acceptable amount be? And why assume God’s hand has not restrained a great deal more? (Related post)
GOD’S THOUGHTS & OUR THOUGHTS
On to Atterton’s final reason he finds the concept of God incoherent: “If God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know. … There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner… like lust and envy. …one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them. But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.”
His logic here is super flawed, and the philosophers he cites to support his argument made the same mistake. God’s omniscience does not require Him to “know” sin in the same sense that a sinner knows it by experience (I write about this distinction in this post). That’s an unnecessary conflation along the lines of suggesting a God who can’t create logical absurdities is not omnipotent.
Critically, Atterton notes a motto French theologian Blaise Pascal had stitched into a jacket: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob — not of the philosophers and scholars,” and concludes with the notion that “Pascal considered there was more ‘wisdom’ in biblical revelation than in any philosophical demonstration of God’s existence and nature — or plain lack thereof.” I think we have to be open to the idea that Pascal chose not an incoherent God, but a God whose coherence he understood and the secular philosophers and scholars of his day did not. What yet another secular philosopher has managed to highlight in his challenge to the classic Ontological Argument is the failing of the mind of man, not the coherence of God.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
December 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
Making sense of this picture…
📖 Romans 3:23a: “All have sinned…”
(🎅 Everyone is on the Naughty List.)
🏹 Rom. 3:23b: “…and fall short of God’s glory [His perfect standard].”
(🌲 Gifts are by definition unmerited, not earned. There are no “Christmas rewards” under this tree.)
☠️ Rom. 6:23a: “The wages [penalty] of sin is death…”
(🔥 We deserve coal. Hot ones. Lots of them.)
🎁 Rom. 6:23b: “…but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
🎼 ”Unto is a Son is given.” 🎺 We don’t deserve this Gift either, but we should accept it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
👑 Hallelujah, and Merry Christmas!
December 3, 2018 § 2 Comments
You can feel the frustration in these words by the writer of Hebrews: “By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (5:12) “Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” (6:1)
The latest Christian artist to disappoint a lot of fans in a similar fashion is Lauren Daigle. The popular 27 year old singer from Louisiana with cross-over appeal recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show,(1) which many critics thought was a faith-compromising move since Ellen is a lesbian. Yet others saw justification in the opportunity to show love and offer a God-honoring anthem on such a high profile show. That made sense to me. But then, Lauren appeared on iHeartRadio’s The Domenick Nati Show(2) and was asked if she thought homosexuality was a sin. Her “answer”:
“I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals. I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too.’”
Now, of course a Bible-believing Christian can and should answer on that. Having “too many people” in your life who are gay does not absolve you from the question, but rather makes the need to answer truthfully and gracefully even more urgent.
Of course we are not God—but God gave us His answer in the Bible (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:9-10). What you “find out for yourself” when you read Scripture should not be a different answer than what God’s word clearly reveals about homosexuality and sin, because truth is not relative.
Of course people can and already are letting Lauren know what the Bible says(3) in response to her perhaps rhetorical invitation: “When you find out let me know because I’m learning too.” The thing is, if her appeal for this knowledge is sincere, she is asking for something that, by the stage of her faith portrayed in her music, she should already know by now.
But that might be the reason we are so often surprised by a Christian musician who says something that seems to indicate a theological shift (or trajectories completely off the rails like the coming out of Jennifer Knapp, or the likes of Michael Gungor and former Newsboys frontman George Perdikis confessing Atheism). We gauge a musician’s theology and the maturity of their faith not by notes and chords but by lyrics. This makes sense, because we judge a Christian author by the words he writes. The difference is, so many—if not most—musicians do not write every word they sing. There are artists who write most or all of their own lyrics, but Lauren Daigle is not one of them.
This is not a big secret, but from Sinatra to Elvis to Elton John, a surprising (to me) lot of music legends had virtually nothing at all do with the words they sang. The majority co-wrote songs with one or more composers/lyricists. I’m honestly not sure what that looks like in the creative process. I’m sure it happens in a variety of ways (Is it, “You write verse one, I’ll write verse two, and she can work on the chorus…”? Or does Writer 1 do a first draft before passing it on to Writer 2 for development?). But in any case, artists who have the look, talent and voice have always used other writers’ material and not their own personal journals. They can’t be good at everything.
I browsed Lauren Daigle’s debut album at azlyrics.com(4). For the dozen songs on “How Can It Be” released in 2015, 14 unique writers are credited (notables include Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio). Lauren co-wrote only 8 of the songs, and each song has 2 to 5 people credited for lyrical content. Her latest (as of 2018) “Look Up Child” has 13 songs. Lauren’s name is listed alongside at least two other names on every song, most of which were co-written with Jason Ingram (her producer and songwriter for Bebo Norman, Point of Grace and others), Paul Mabury (Lauren’s drummer/producer), and sometimes Paul Duncan (songwriter for a number of Christian and Country musicians). None of Lauren Daigle’s songs are solely by Lauren Daigle. In “Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”(5), the song that launched her career, Lauren tells how Paul Mabury brought her the song he co-wrote with Jason Ingram and Jeff Johnson 9 months earlier(6).
I’m not saying Lauren Daigle isn’t talented or original, that her music isn’t amazing, or that it doesn’t lift up the name of Jesus just because others have heavily contributed to the lyrical content of her songs. But what this means is when we hear Lauren Daigle sing, we are not necessarily hearing her heart. And that’s likely true of most musicians.
No doubt Lauren approves of and likely agrees with the words that are published and sung by her. Her testimony about “How Can It Be” affirms that she deserved the worst (because all have sinned) and “God just completely ransomed me… In my sin and in my shame, He fought for me.” She appears zealously behind the grace and truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I don’t doubt Lauren Daigle is a Christian. But by her statements in that iHeartRadio interview, I doubt that she is as mature in her faith as suggested by the words she sings, which are, by normal industry practice, largely the work of others. During that interview, and faced with a pointed question about one of the most contentious social issues today, it was Lauren without a team of writers, composers or producers. It’s in that studio that we get her heart—and the surprises, because Christian singers really aren’t the sum of the words they sing. This talented artist, gifted with a beautiful and very public voice (and the accompanying responsibility) was put in a hard position. Sadly, she chose the easy answer—the non-answer—and that sings louder than song lyrics.
“Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know…” (Sung by Lauren Daigle; written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Lauren Daigle)
Here’s a “so what?”-type question to finish with: When a Christian artist starts to “evolve”/move away from Biblical beliefs, at what point, if any point, does their past, non-heretical music become unedifying or unusable for worship or personal enjoyment? (I wrote this post a while ago thinking along the same lines about preachers).
1) Straeter, Kelsey (2018, Nov. 2) Christians Slam Lauren Daigle for Singing on Ellen Since She’s Gay—Singer Claps Back With Pure Class. Retrieved from http://www.faithit.com/christians-slam-lauren-daigle-singing-ellen-gay-responds-pure-class
2) Domenick Nati Show (2018, Nov. 30). Lauren Daigle Doesn’t Know If Homosexuality Is A Sin. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/rXKHm_KPw6o
3) Dunn, Seth (2018, Dec. 2) To: Lauren Daigle Re: Sin/Homosexuality. Retrieved from https://pulpitandpen.org/2018/12/02/to-lauren-daigle-re-sin-homosexuality
4) AZ Lyrics. Lauren Daigle lyrics. https://www.azlyrics.com/l/laurendaigle.html
5) Daigle, Lauren (2014, Aug. 7) Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W1_02y3XMY
6) PraiseCharts (2016, Feb. 29) How Can It Be Song Story with Jason Ingram, Lauren Daigle and Paul Mabury. Retrieved from https://www.praisecharts.com/blog/how-can-it-be-song-story-with-jason-ingram-lauren-daigle-and-paul-mabury
November 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
Our Creator gets to tell us exactly who we are. On the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1:27 declares two truths about who we are.
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
“The image of God” tells us how we are all the same. All human beings are of equal value. “Male and female” tells us how we are different. Half of us are gendered male and the other half female. We need both truths in order to think rightly, and act rightly, about gender today.
BEING EQUAL YET DIFFERENT
Gender and sex used to mean basically the same thing, and some languages still only have one word for both. Ontologically, as most dictionaries will affirm, there is no critical difference between gender and sex (“the state of being male and female”) except as posited by those whose obsession with autonomy mandates a critical difference. The immutable and binary truth on this topic hasn’t been seriously challenged until recent history in an effort to separate gender (social and cultural roles and self-identity with respect to the state of being male and female) and sex (objective physical traits with respect to the state of being male and female). One of the contemporary challengers, representing a sexual libertarian worldview, is the New York Times, calling gender a “creative playing field.”(1) A biblical worldview says that gender/sex was God’s creative playing field, and His work in the department is complete. If we understand this, we honor God, stay true to ourselves, and do a lot less harm to our neighbor.
Suppose a teacher asks her 4th grade class, “Aside from anatomy, what’s the difference between boys and girls?” (I saw this in a YouTube video meant to challenge gender stereotypes, but for the life of me I can’t find it now). The students, too young to have had a comprehensive biology course, give the teacher the answer she’s looking for by shrugging: “I guess nothing, really.” The conclusion: Anatomy doesn’t really matter. Maybe there’s really no significant difference between males and females after all.
But there’s glaring problem with the original question. Anatomy is too big of a thing to set aside. If we asked, “Aside from oceans, where do whales live?” we would come to find that without oceans there would be no whales, except for a handful at SeaWorld and the dead ones on beaches. Likewise, without anatomy, we don’t actually have a human being. Anatomy encompasses all that we are physically, and even those who consider human beings more than physical entities have to admit that we are not human without our bodies. In our anatomy, we see obvious differences beyond the basic reproductive differences we learn about in sex ed.
The human anatomy includes about 37 trillion cells, each encoded with information that denotes male or female. Female DNA have one pair of identical X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and a Y chromosome. You could say our anatomy declares what sex we are 37 trillion times.
Even our brains are binary. According to Stanford Medicine, we find “distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function” in the brains of men and women(2).
Maybe the most obvious physical difference is overall size and strength. I will concede that there are women out there who can arm-wrestle me to ruin or completely lose me running the mile. But the exceptions prove the rule that the strongest man in the Olympics is stronger than the strongest female, and the fastest man at the Drake Relays will best the fastest woman.
So clearly, anatomy does matter in determining what is a boy and what is a girl. But what are the reasons for these physical differences between the sexes?
According to the Bible, male and female humans are designed to fulfill certain God-given roles. These roles are numerous, but I’ve chosen a handful that Jill Nelson explores in her “Your Word Is Truth” curriculum published by Truth:78(3). Men are uniquely designed to be servant-leaders, providers, and protectors. Women are uniquely designed to be helpers, submissive (yikes!) and nurturers.
BEING A MAN
In reading Genesis 2, we find that man was created first (vs. 5-7), that Adam’s first job was a gardener, and that God gave him a warning to not eat the forbidden fruit in order to protect him (vs. 15-17). In verses 19-21, we see that the first woman was not made the exact same way as man (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, and woman was formed from man), and that the man named the woman (vs. 23).
So far, so what? There is a particular ordering in God’s creation here, but we only begin to see the significance of it after sin comes into the picture in Genesis 3. Eve was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit first, but then Adam followed. In verse 9, “the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” God didn’t forget about Eve, but God went straight to Adam because the man did not fulfill his God-given roles to lead, protect, and provide for his wife.
Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man…” Eve did not escape sin’s consequences, but Adam’s role as the head of his wife meant that he bore a greater responsibility for rebelling against God. We can see how this works in other human relationships where authority is ordered. Young children get into trouble by their parents for stealing something at a store or borrowing the family car, but the law ultimately puts the responsibility for the crime on their parents. Soldiers who violate orders get reprimanded by their sergeant, but the sergeant will also answer to his superiors for the actions of his unit.
What does it mean for a man to be a leader?––Or better yet, a servant-leader? Scripture provides two specific arenas where men are to take the lead, but also be willing to serve. These two contexts are the church and their marriages.
In the church, “an overseer” (or pastor or elder), “manages God’s household.” Titus 1:7-8 requires men who lead in the church “be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The lead pastor at our church, who also serves as one of the elders, meets these qualifications. He leads, he pastors, and is also at times spotted taking the trash out after potlucks. Such tasks are not menial to a servant-leader.
In marriage, according to Ephesians 5, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The command for men: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (vs. 23-25) The “head of the wife” should also serve his wife and family as Jesus did, willingly making sacrifices of himself.
Neither of these passages describe men who are oppressive, mean bruisers who lord over women. Neither do they describe wimps who live and serve passively. Can women be leaders? Of course, and many are. Can women make independent decisions in a marriage? Yes, please. Men, however, are uniquely gifted by God to fulfill the role of servant-leader.
What does it mean for a man to be a provider? “Deadbeat dads” are fathers who are expected to provide for their family but choose not to. Deadbeat moms also exist, but because there is a greater expectation on men to provide for their families, men are in the spotlight when they don’t.
Many studies exist about depression and anxiety in unemployed men(4), but we really don’t hear about this problem among unemployed women. That’s not to say that women who lose their jobs are thrilled about it, but there is a higher expectation of men, and by men, for men to be able to provide for their families. The inability to fulfill that God-given role can tear a man apart (whether they realize it’s a God-given role or not, because bearing God’s likeness means we can’t help being like Him).
Can women provide for their families by themselves? Yes! Many do as single moms, either because they want to or because they are forced to, and they do it well. But men are uniquely gifted by God to be providers.
What does it mean for a man to be a protector? When there’s a crash downstairs in the middle of the night, who is expected to be the first one to determine if it’s a cat burglar or just the cat knocking around Christmas ornaments? We expect the husband to grab the baseball bat or 9 mil and investigate. When sister is being picked on, should brother stand idly by? The expectation is that he will rise to sister’s defense. Unless the husband is disabled or absent, or the brother is much younger, it’s hard to imagine those roles reversed.
Let’s be clear, women can be protectors too. Poke the mama bear and you’ll see. Women serve in military and police forces, put out fires, and save lives in medical emergencies. But men protecting women as a primary role screams at us in certain situations. Take the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA at Borderline Bar & Grill. Where 12 people were killed by one bad man, this tragedy revealed many good men instinctively being protectors. Men piled on top of women to shield them from bullets, men broke windows to provide a way of escape, and men used their own shirts for tourniquets to save the wounded. One man pulled his son outside and then lamented that he couldn’t go back into the building to help others. As Glen Stanton wrote in The Federalist, “This is the very opposite of misogyny, and dramatically so.”(5) Nobody had time to question the political-correctness of guys using their strength to protect nearby women, and no woman complained about “toxic masculinity” after the fact. These were men intuitively doing what God designed them to do.
Does any of this mean that men are more important than women? Not at all. Men are generally larger and physically stronger, which helps in fulfilling the above roles. But Genesis 1:27 tells us men and women are spiritual equals because we are all image-bearers and deemed worthy of God’s love and redemption. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave equally-valued males and females different roles. Godly men should embrace their unique roles and lead confidently, provide faithfully, and protect intuitively, with love and respect for women, and without the need to dominate them.
BEING A WOMAN
Eight times throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a point to call what He had made “good” or “very good.” Then in Genesis 2:18 we learn it was “not good for the man to be alone.” And God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Enter Eve, the suitable “helper.”
What does it mean for a woman to be a helper? Eve helped Adam garden, but the scope of her help to him was no doubt life-size. In this intentionally complimentary relationship between the first man and woman, Eve helped Adam become complete. Men need women.
But the term “helper” in our day-to-day seems like an inferior or subservient position in relation to the one being helped. This is not a biblical position, however. The Hebrew term for “helper” (`ezer) is used in scripture some twenty times referring to God Himself (i.e. Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help (`ezer) come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) God is not inferior or subservient to us, so we shouldn’t think that woman is considered, biblically, to be inferior or subservient to man(6).
What does it mean for a woman to be submissive to man? This is a contentious issue today to say the least. “To be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:5) is not a role that every woman is completely at ease with. Why is this so?
I will suggest that the reason we don’t like the idea of submission is not due to a problem with the idea of submission, but, we have a problem with the idea of submitting to men who are jerks. Would there be any reason a woman would not willingly yield to another’s authority or leadership if those charged to lead did so justly, honorably, courageously, respectfully, and in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)—the way men are called to lead? Husbands can be less than perfect in this regard and wives are still called to submit, but it’s harder to do. Men should demonstrate to women everywhere that they can be trusted. Men, stop being jerks.
What does it mean for a women to be a nurturer? To nurture means to nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train. Seventy-six percent of teachers are female(7), perhaps because the best teachers are ones particularly gifted to nurture students into knowledge rather than simply presenting information. In a family, nobody nurtures like mom. In and out of the home, men can also nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train, but women are uniquely designed for this. The role of nurturer lines up and compliments man’s role as protector in the family. Children do best with a mother and father, in part because children do best when they are both nurtured and protected.
BEING JERKS (AND WHY WE HAVE FEMINISM)
Even as a conservative Christian, I’ve often thought that there are some redeeming qualities to feminism, at least in its origins. I think the reason some women became feminists was because there was a legitimate problem in society. We have feminism largely because we have misogyny and sexism. Historically, and today, too many men have abused, sexually harassed, unfairly discriminated and oppressed women. Instead of being faithful to their God-given roles as servant-leaders, providers, and protectors, men in positions of power over women have abused that authority. Men who are physically stronger than women have over-powered them and treated them as objects of conquest, and this is despicable. As previously noted, we have been jerks.
For all its good intentions to address the problem, however, postmodern feminism in general is an over-correction. It’s me, whenever I’m playing a video game where I’m racing a car; I hit one wall, then oversteer to the other side of the track and hit the other wall. I can’t keep the car on the road. Feminism sees men nefariously taking advantage of differences between men and women and then jerks the wheel to the other extreme, pretending there are no significant differences between men and women. That’s not right either.
Gender has been in crisis for some time. Getting back on the road means getting back to the blueprint of God’s word. I see the bulk of responsibility resting on men to take the lead in fixing things. If men lived out their roles as servant-leaders, providers and protectors, we would not have misogyny and sexism, and we would not need feminism, which would make it a lot easier for women to commit to their roles as submissive helpers and nurturers.
God is our designer and definer, and His plan is always the best. As human beings who bear God’s image, we are all equal in value and as recipients of His salvation through Christ Jesus, joint heirs in the gracious gift of life(8). As for our wonderful and God-honoring distinctions, women being feminine (instead of feminists) and men being masculine (instead of jerks) means living according to our God-given roles together. Clearly, we need each other, and we need God’s word to know who we are.
1) Hoffman, Jan (2009, Nov. 6). Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/fashion/08cross.html
2) Goldman, Bruce (Spring 2017). Two Minds: The Cognitive Differences Between Men and Women. Retrieved from https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html
3) Nelson, Jill (2010). Your Word is Truth: A Study for Youth Seeing All of Life Through the Truth of Scripture. Retrieved from http://www.childrendesiringgod.org/curriculum/curricula.php?id=23&curriculaId=8
4) Eales, MJ (1988, Nov.). Depression and Anxiety in Unemployed Men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3270836
5) Stanton, Glenn T. (2018, No. 12). In Thousand Oaks, Scores Of Heroic Men Rescued Others From One Evil Man. Retrieved from https://thefederalist.com/2018/11/12/thousand-oaks-scores-heroic-men-rescued-others-one-evil-man
6) Eldredge, Stasi (2017, Dec. 19). God is Our Ezer. Retrieved from https://www.ransomedheart.com/daily-reading/god-our-ezer
7) National Center for Education Statistics (2018) NCES Fast Facts: Teacher Trends. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
8) 1 Peter 3:7 NIV
October 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
“Trans people are the latest conservative whipping girl, like African-Americans in the 1950s, or gay people in the 1990s and 2000s. Nothing is more dependable now than the passion the heartless display when trans people’s humanity is offered up for mockery.”
Tirades like this one signal a major identity crisis. The memo issued by the Trump administration, maligned as an attempt to roll back Obama-era progress in recognizing LGBTQQIAetc. citizens, merely seeks only to affirm what we’ve known throughout all of human history until relatively yesterday:
“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth… The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
The wound here is self-inflicted. This opinion writer in The New York Times has anchored his entire identity in a transgender ideology that stands in stark contrast to biological and genetic reality. When that ideology is challenged by an attempt to clarify reality, his entire existence is threatened. “About 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender would find that identity eradicated by the federal government,” he claims. “I do not exist.”
Jennifer Finney Boylan does indeed exist, and Jennifer is a human being gifted with dignity and eternal value as an amazing reflection of the Creator. But Jennifer, born male, prefers to be identified as female, and that last part is all that matters to him.
Our true identity is determined by the one who made us, decidedly male and female. What’s more, human beings, as confused as they can become, are made in God’s image, immensely loved by a God who saw us worthy of rescue and redemption from our own sin through the sacrifice of His own Son.
That is objectively who we are, regardless of whatever paper-thin notion of identity we might claim for ourselves. When we put our identity in anything less, we lose ourselves when it eventually collapses.