It used to be a given that humans, made by God, were assigned a gender based upon their biological sex. As Genesis 1:27 puts it, God made them “male and female.” Culturally, this is no longer the case, however. As documented in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman shows just how modernism has turned the person inward and how psychological man (i.e., the self-directed person) has been eroticized and taught to create a world in their own image.
Most recently and most dramatically, the transgender movement has assumed a view of the world, where the inner feelings of a person outweigh their biology. No longer is gender something that comports with the givenness of the world, or God’s gift of a physical body—made either male or female. Now, individuals are taught that they can create their own fluid identity and they can demand that others recognize their self-created self, even if it does match traditional norms. Everything is queer now.
To say it another way, as gender studies have defined identity as something people can create, gender is no longer biologically determined. This shift away from an essentialist view of gender to a constructivist view is a key change in our society, and one Christians must address in order to share the gospel and to rightly relate to reality. Yet, the trouble goes beyond gender; it relates to the larger question of what it means to be human.
On this point, Pope Benedict XVI, months before ‘retiring,’ issued a statement concerning this massive change. He writes,
The very notion of being—of what being human really means—is being called into question. . . . According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: ‘male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. (Cited in Denny Burk, What is the Meaning of Sex?, 158)
While I don’t agree with everything this Pope—or any other Pope—believes, he is exactly right in these words. Christians need to grasp this reality: The Western world has lost what it means to be human. And only the biblical revelation can restore our sanity and our perception of the world God has made.
For those who know the true image of God, Jesus Christ, we must not only proclaim the gospel of salvation; we must also remind people who they are and what creation is. Part of the gospel message is articulating that there is Creator who has decreed what is right and wrong, real and unreal, true and false. Indeed, the message of salvation is more than a message of forgiveness, it is a message of new creation and statement regarding the world God has made and is no remaking through salvation and judgment.
Such a gospel message, however, only makes sense when we understand the original creation. When Christians fail to understand creation and the givenness of God’s world, they may for a season believe the gospel. But over time, the acids of modernity, with its reality-denying narratives and the acceptable doctrines of the Party—How many fingers do you see, Winston?—will undermine the faith of those who cannot rightly embrace God as Redeemer and Creator.
In this confused world, which is eschewing its cultural heritage, one imbued with a respect for the Creator and his creation, we must realize that our neighbors no longer recognize who they are or what they are because they don’t share this respect for their Creator (see Rom. 1:18–32). The same may be true for ourselves—both in small and large ways—and for our churches. Because gender has been and is being redefined in our day, so has humanity. Or maybe we should say, the belief that individuals can create their own gender is simply one more example of an ongoing confusion about humanity. In either direction, what we need is a new kind of Reformation. Quite ironically, this reformation is one that the former Pope helps us to see.
Whereas the Protestant Reformation gave us the five Solas—by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone—today, we need to proclaim that Christ became man to create a new humanity, redeemed to share his image: Solus Humanus. In accordance with God’s truth, revealed in Scripture and in nature, we must assert with unflappable confidence that God is the one who defines what it means to be human and what salvation in Christ is. The modern self may be constructed by all manner of self-determined desires, but in truth (read: in accordance with God’s reality), humanity is what God says and what God gives. He is the Creator of the world, and we must learn how to live Coram Deo, before God. Any other way of living, no matter how “Christian,” is to conjoin truth with error.
Even more, this sixth sola does not add to the gospel. It preserves it. In our day, when transgenderism is not the only politically-charged idea threatening the gospel, we need to stand firm in the truth that God created the world. He has made every person in his image, and we are servants learning how to live before our heavenly Lord. Therefore, we cannot define our own personhood, gender, or identity however we choose. Such an experiment is like building castles made of air. With the right smoke and lights, such a creative endeavors may produce a momentary hologram. But such an airy nothing will not last, satisfy, or stand before the all-seeing eyes of God.
Culturally, the leading voices of our day—artists, authors, athletes, lawmakers, and educators—have lost touch with this fact. God is the One who rules the earth, and he is One who gets to define what is real and what is goo. Sadly, the ways men and women are erasing the image of God today is legion. As a result, we have lost what it means to be human, and only a Christian worldview can restore a true vision of humanity.
For centuries, the West has been living off the borrowed capital of a Christian worldview. Even the Enlightenment, classical liberalism, and the ordered liberty that founded America borrowed ideas from the Bible’s view of humanity. Just read John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and you will see how dependent our unorthodox Founding Fathers depended on biblical ideas. Yet, when cut off from Christianity, views of humanity in our country and beyond have floundered. And with the rise and triumph of the modern self, to borrow Trueman’s title, most in our culture hold untenable views of humanity that are based upon self-determination and un-reality.
Today, as this way of thinking continues to sow seeds of destruction, Christians who know the truth of God and of man, must say out loud and often that there is one Creator who has defined what it means to be human. It does no good to say that there is one mediator between God and man, if the definition of man is not known. In other words, the gospel of salvation fails when the truth of God’s creation is not upheld. God’s good creation is part of the true gospel.
In the end, we must not think that the gospel is just a message for escaping the judgment of God. It is that. But the gospel goes to the very core of reality and the need that humanity has to be remade into the image that God intended in the beginning. Thus, to affirm that gender can be created independent of sex (male and female), or to believe that one can be saved even as they define every aspect of themselves will only form a lifeless chimera that will not last nor bear good fruit.
For this reason, we must proclaim a gospel designed to save humans. And we must continue to take captive any thought that denies what humanity is. More positively, we must continue to preach a message of truth that stands on the biblical doctrine of humanity. Humanity, as God defines it in his word, is whom Christ came to save. The world doesn’t want to hear that message, but that doesn’t change its veracity of necessity.
So by God’s grace, may we continue to uphold what humanity is and to proclaim unashamedly that Christ became a man in order to save humanity and to restore men and women, as men and women, to the glory which God created them to be.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds