Archive | Theology/Bible

God and the Transgender Debate

Andrew Walker’s important new book has just released today. It is titled God and the Transgender Debate, and it is a must-read. That is in fact what I wrote in my endorsement for the publisher:

The post-Christian West says that we are what we think we are, not what our bodies reveal us to be and this is one of the chief challenges to Christianity today. That is why God and the Transgender Debate is so important. It is a countercultural, compassionate, must-read book.
Denny Burk, President, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The transgender challenge is at the leading edge of Christianity’s interface with secular culture. If you want to understand this challenge, then you need to read this book. Highly recommended.

Poll: Is it ever right to be angry at God?

Last Spring, I posted a tweet and a blog that turned out to be more controversial than I ever anticipated. In both postings, I made the case that it is always wrong to be angry at God. Many readers disagreed. I am conducting an informal poll to find out how controversial this question really is among readers. Please weigh-in above.

The de facto “affirming” church

Wesley Hill has waded into the discussion about the proper deployment of the term “orthodoxy” when it comes to current controversies about sexuality. I won’t rehash the whole debate here. But to summarize, James K. A. Smith and Alan Jacobs have recently made the case that those who affirm homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage can nevertheless be “orthodox” Christians. An affirmation of untraditional sexual behavior need not nullify an affirmation of the creeds. Hill basically agrees with them about this.

Hill is always thoughtful and reasonable, and his post yesterday is no exception. He also has been a consistent opponent of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage, and I am very grateful that he and I are agreed on that much.

But still, there remains some disagreement over how to deal with the so-called “affirming” position within the church. And from where I’m sitting, the disagreement is substantial and worth the time to work through if at all possible. Here’s what I mean. Hill writes:

I want to mount arguments for traditional, male-and-female marriage that appeal to the creedal grammar that my opponents and I both affirm. As much as lies within me, until I have good reason to believe otherwise, I want to assume that my interlocutors who affirm same-sex marriage and who say the same creed with me each Sunday do so in good faith, and deserve to be answered on the basis of the orthodox Christian theology they profess. Insofar as this is what Smith’s post was aiming at, I’m with him 100 percent…

As much as I think the revisionist view of the morality of same-sex sexual intimacy is blatantly and tragically wrong, I cannot see that all of those who hold it have ceased to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore I cannot see my way clear to remove myself from fellowship with them.

In responding to this, I should stipulate up front that some of our differences are no doubt ecclesiological. He is an Anglican, and I am a Baptist. But still, the issue of who the church recognizes as Christian is a fundamental question that all disciples of Jesus must face. And here, Hill makes the case that even though he strongly disagrees with those who promote the “affirming” view, he still must recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ and maintain fellowship with them.

And it is here that the substantial difference emerges. And to see it, you have to think about how this stance plays out in the life of a local church. I am a pastor. Suppose a man in my congregation comes to me and says, “You know, I feel like the Lord is leading me to marry so-and-so. So-and-so is married to an ungodly man. She desires a godly husband, and I want to be that for her. So she is going to divorce him to marry me.” The man goes on to explain that his relationship with this other man’s wife is actually not contrary to his commitment to Christ but will enable both he and the other man’s wife to follow Christ more faithfully.  (That may sound far-fetched to you, but I have actually heard this defense of adultery before.)

As a pastor, what is my proper response to this would-be adulterer? Shall I confirm his affirmation of credal orthodoxy and then let the adultery slide? He is after all not renouncing any fundamental doctrinal commitment. We are merely having a disagreement over a forthcoming divorce and remarriage. Since we have so much in common otherwise, should I just celebrate our common “credal grammar” and continue to make appeals to him while staying united in fellowship?

I hope that readers can see that such a response would be pastoral malpractice on my part. My actions would suggest affirmation even though I may personally hold a traditional view of marriage. The only proper response to such an interlocutor is to call that brother and sister to repentance and to make every effort to restore the sister’s marriage insofar as it is possible to do so. If the brother and sister resist calls to repentance, then the faithful and loving response is for the church to pursue that couple with church discipline. If they continue to resist the church’s call to repentance, then they must be excommunicated–meaning that they must be set outside of the church and no longer treated as a brother and sister in Christ.

Christ commands us to do this (Matthew 18:15-18). The apostle Paul rebukes a church for failing to do this (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). It is not that Christians can never be in error without being excommunicated. It’s that the church can never be indifferent or passive toward brothers and sisters who fail to respond to such reproof. The church ultimately has to refuse to recognize sexual immorality as consistent with an authentic Christian commitment.

If the church’s obligation is clear with respect to adultery, why is it unclear with respect to homosexual immorality? If I understand Hill (and Smith and Jacobs) correctly, their argument would treat homosexual immorality as a special case in the life of a church. If someone sincerely holds to credal orthodoxy and sincerely holds to a revisionist view of marriage, then the church must not disfellowship them but must continue to recognize them as Christian. This seems to me the opposite of what scripture commands us to do. This seems like a sure fire way for the church to lose its distinction from the world altogether.

One final thing: If a church that holds to traditional marriage allows members to affirm the sanctity of homosexual relationships, what is the difference between the traditional church and the so-called “affirming” church? A church will either recognize gay marriages or not. A church will either ordain “affirming” clergy or not. There is no in-between position at the practical, congregational level. And if a traditional church does not enforce moral boundaries in a way that is consistent with its traditional beliefs, then its ecclesial practice is no different than a church that affirms homosexual relationships. It is a de facto “affirming” church.

Rosaria Butterfield weighs-in on 4 stages of evangelical affirmation of gay marriage

Earlier this week, I posted “Four stages of ‘evangelical’ affirmation of gay marriage,” which traces out a basic trajectory I have observed among those who jettison their biblical beliefs about marriage. Almost immediately, readers pointed out stages that I missed, and I thought of at least one on my own. Rosaria Butterfield wrote to me with an additional stage that I thought worth sharing with you. She writes,

I also appreciated your blog post on the 4 stages. I wonder, though, if you missed a stage–somewhere between point 1 and point 2. I believe that the refusal to take a stand happens when someone buys into the sexual orientation identity system that says gay is not how you are through the imprint of original sin, but rather is who you are, through your supposedly morally neutral sexual orientation. I think it will become more and more important to foreground this step, as the next attack on orthodoxy will be (and already is) a resurgence of pelagianism in its denial of the biblical witness on original sin. The move between how and who is vital. And the slippage is one paved by the gay Christian movement (side A or B, no difference in worldview, in my opinion). The difference between how and who also explains why this is a hard argument for the church to make–and how people shift from point 1 to point 2. After all, denying a person the right to be who she really is is something only a bigot would embrace. It is vital that the orthodox church stand firm that there are no such things as gay people–there are gay desires and gay sex and gay communities and gay identities–but people are all made in the image of God. The only ontological groundings in Genesis 1:27 are biological sex.

I couldn’t agree more with Rosaria on this. Buying into the “sexual orientation identity system” is the crossing of the Rubicon, as it were. Why? Because it costs you a biblical anthropology and requires you to buy an erroneous substitute. It requires you to reduce human identity to the sum total of one’s fallen sexual desires and then to affirm them. And there are countless sad consequences downstream from this decision. Rosaria has written at length about this in her book Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.


UPDATE: A reader has written to me asking the following question:

I’m a long time reader of your blog. I am very thankful for it. I very much appreciated your recent post on the four stages that occur on the way to affirming gay marriage. I was also appreciative of your follow up that mentioned Rosaria Butterfield’s input. In that follow up post you mentioned that other stages had been mentioned or thought of. Do you have a plan to bring those to light as well? I do hope so!

I don’t have a plan for a follow-up post. Truth be told, there are probably many “stages” we could identify along a trajectory to affirming gay marriage. And many of them would be fruitful to explore. The main point of my original post was not to identify every conceivable stage but to highlight the trajectory. The trajectory doesn’t end merely in affirming an error. It ends in bad feelings (sometimes animus) towards Christians who won’t affirm the error. 

This trajectory reveals what it true generally about unbelief. Unbelief often leads to open contempt for God’s people (see John 15:18-25). In fact, such contempt is one of the chief marks of unbelief, just as love for the brethren is a true mark of saving faith. And this is where I think the trajectory helps us to evaluate our own hearts. Do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ who hold firmly to the truth? Or is there a root of bitterness toward those who hold firmly to the truth? The answer to those questions says a great deal about one’s true spiritual condition (1 John 3:14-15).

For what it’s worth, the other “stage” that I might have included between 1 and 2 is the “dialogue” stage. Sometimes “dialogue” is a way station to having no firm convictions on the matter, which then becomes a gateway to full affirmation of what the Bible forbids.

Paul says, “I did not come to baptize.” So is baptism important or not?

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, the apostle Paul says that “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Some commentators read this statement and conclude that Paul is downplaying baptism or saying that baptism doesn’t really matter that much in the big scheme of things. For example, Richard Hays writes:

In Paul’s apostolic work the ministry of the Word is all-important, whereas the ministry of “sacrament” has only secondary significance; the community should not be divided by different sacramental practices, because its fundamental ground of unity lies in the proclaimed gospel (p. 24).

The implication seems to be that differences over baptismal practices are not as significant enough different traditions have made them out to be. Furthermore, it doesn’t really matter whether a person gets baptized or whether they had an infant baptism versus a believer’s baptism, etc. In this way, commentators have downplayed baptism. But is that a correct understanding of Paul’s statement? I think not.

Paul is not downplaying the importance of baptism. He is simply making reference to his unique commission from Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. There are many who can baptize, but Paul was specially appointed by Christ to preach the gospel.

John 4:2 says that Jesus himself baptized no one but left the baptizing to his disciples. But that practice did not render baptism of secondary significance to Jesus. For Jesus himself gave us the great commission, which is the primary mission of the church and which includes baptism (Matt. 28:19-20).

If this interpretation is correct, then it might be better to translate verse 17 as follows: “Christ did not send me to perform baptisms but to preach the gospel” (Thiselton). So Paul is not denigrating baptism. He’s simply following the example and calling of Jesus. His aim was not to make sure that he did all the baptizing. His aim was to preach the gospel, for “preaching was the spearhead of the Christian mission” (Barrett, 49). In his commentary on this text, Spurgeon put it this way:

“There were other people who could baptize for him: it was enough for him that he should concentrate all his energies upon that one matter of preaching the gospel, not that he neglected the divine command, but that it was not necessary that he, any more than his Master, should baptize personally, for we read that ‘Jesus Christ baptized not, but his disciples.’ Not to put a dishonour upon the ordinance, but to let us see that the ordinance does not depend upon the man, but upon that sacred name into which we are baptized, and upon the true faith of the person baptized.”

C. H. Spurgeon, “Witnessing at the Cross,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 59 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1913), 348.

Why should the state foreclose the possibility of a second opinion for Charlie Gard?

I had not planned on writing about the tragic case of the infant Charlie Gard. But I just completed a Twitter convo with Alistair Roberts about it that has changed my mind. If you are unfamiliar with Charlie Gard, here is the gist of his story:

For ten months, Charlie has been living in the intensive-care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In March, his doctors decided that there was nothing more they could do for him, and they recommended that his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, withdraw his ventilator. They refused, on the grounds that an untried experimental treatment was available in the United States. The hospital, in accordance with British law, applied to the courts to forestall further treatment. In April, the High Court found for the doctors and against the parents. In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the initial decision. In early June, the Supreme Court agreed. And this week, the European Court of Human Rights — the last court of jurisdiction — refused to intervene. Charlie’s parents have raised enough money from private donations to fund the experimental treatment, but the court decision prohibits his removal to the U.S. Whenever they see fit to do so, the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital can now remove Charlie’s life support.

The bottom line is this. Charlie Gard’s parents wish to try an experimental treatment in the United States. It is perhaps a slim hope, but it is one nonetheless. Charlie’s doctors wish to remove his ventilator which will undoubtedly lead to his death. The courts have sided with the doctors. But in this case they are not only allowing the doctors to remove the ventilator, but they are also preventing the parents from pursuing a second opinion in the United States. And according to a video message released today (see above), they are not even allowing Charlie to go home for palliative care.

What are we to think about this? In his book Evangelical Ethics, John Jefferson Davis writes:

In certain cases of the newborn with disabilities, no known medical intervention can reverse a genuinely hopeless prognosis… Such cases are, however, quite infrequent, and should not be used as a rationalization for the deliberate neglect and abandonment of children with disabilities whose lives could be saved by available medical interventions (p. 177).

It seems to me that the last phrase of that last sentence is the relevant one to Charlie Gard’s case. There is an available treatment that his parents wish to pursue. Even if Charlie’s doctors are convinced that he cannot be helped, why would they foreclose the possibility of a second opinion in the United States? Moreover, why would the state prevent the parents from pursuing this option? I agree with Davis:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases… There is indeed a time to die, just as there is a time to be born (Eccl. 3:2), and modern medicine must acknowledge its own limitations. But the basic thrust of medicine should always be to choose life (Deut. 30:19), because all human life is sacred to God who made it (p. 177).

In Charlie Gard’s case, I am having difficulty seeing how a “life-affirming ethic” would foreclose the possibility of a second opinion against the parents’ wishes. Moreover, per the video above, the doctors are now denying the parents the opportunity to take Charlie home for palliative care. This is a difficult case, but not so difficult that the state should weigh-in with this kind of draconian limitation. Again, Davis writes:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases, even when the physician can only provide care and comfort to a patient–young or old–who is already in an irreversible process of dying. A medical practice informed by the spirit of Christ and love the neighbor will see as a primary end, to cure whenever possible, and always to provide care and comfort to all patients, both in their living and in their dying (p. 177).

There are certain boundaries that the state (and the doctors in this case) must not cross, but they seem to have gone far beyond them in the case of Charlie Gard. If the doctors have indeed concluded that there is nothing else to be done for Charlie, then why deny the final comforts his parents wish to offer him at home? If palliative care is indeed what they want, then why can’t Charlie go home?

Scholar says intersectional feminism is a cult

Christina Hoff Sommers studies the politics of gender and feminism as resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and she is the host of the “Factual Feminist” video series. Yesterday, Ben Domenech interviewed her for The Federalist Radio Hour (download here or listen below).

Sommers defines her own feminist views over and against “intersectional feminism,”1 which she says dominates college campuses today. She says that intersectional feminism is like a “cult” which allows no dissent and silences all contrary views. It is heavily invested in identity politics, promoting a kind of “oppression olympics” in which there is a competition among students to prove who is the most aggrieved by perceived oppression of one sort or another. It is divisive and censorious, and the toxic atmosphere it creates cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

In a recent symposium on free speech, Sommers identifies intersectionality as the leading obstacle to free speech on college campuses. She writes:

When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist?.?.?.?classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”

Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?

Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”

But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.

How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.

Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech?.?.?.?has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”

It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.

I think Sommers is onto something here. And I think that Christians need to take note. Intersectional theory certainly does stifle free speech, and in particular it seeks to shut down religious perspectives that conflict with the theory. That is why, for example, Christian arguments about sexuality and gender are often met not with counter-arguments but with appeals to the lived-experience of those with one or more of the LGBT identities. In other words, Christian truth claims are not met with reason but with accusations of oppression and abuse.

Joe Carter has written an essay identifying helpful and unhelpful elements of intersectionality theory. I am concerned that the unhelpful elements of intersectionality theory have already established some beachheads within the evangelical movement. On more than one occasion I have been told that my views on sexuality and gender are deficient not because they are incompatible with God’s revelation but because I happen to be a heterosexual white male. My overlapping layers of “privilege” render anything I would say irrelevant and unworthy. This is intersectionality at work, and it shuts-down necessary confrontations with scripture in the name of intersectional righteousness.

And this is the test for evangelical Christians. What will we do when intersectional righteousness is at odds with God’s righteousness as revealed in scripture? This is the great fork in the road, and the two paths do not lead to the same destination.

1 See my previous posts on intersectionality here and here. For a primer on intersectionality, I recommend Joe Carter’s article “What Christians Should Know about Intersectionality.” Andrew Sullivan offers a powerful critique of intersectionality from a secular perspective in “Is Intersectionality a Religion.” If you want to take a deep-dive into some actual intersectional theory, I recommend Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1 (1989): 139-67. For a popular introduction to Crenshaw’s theory, see her recent TED Talk, “The urgency of intersectionality.”

NPR: “Southern Baptists Update Bible’s Language On Gender”

Earlier this week, I wrote about an article in The Atlantic that claimed the Southern Baptist Convention has produced a “gender-inclusive” translation of the Bible. The Atlantic piece was badly mistaken on many points, but it nevertheless generated some headlines in the run-up to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

NPR covered the story in its morning edition yesterday. I did a brief interview for the segment, which you can listen to above. You can also read the transcript here or download here.

“The Gospel according to Glennon”: What gospel?

Elle magazine has published a long-form essay on famous mommy-blogger Glennon Doyle Melton. Until Melton divorced her husband and came out as a lesbian last year, I really didn’t even know who she was. Even so, she has been a popular blogger and writer for a number of years, especially among women. Her openness about her imperfect life has endeared her to millions of readers, many of whom are Christians. Anyway, the Elle feature tells her story, which I won’t rehearse here. I encourage you to read the piece for the full account. Nevertheless, I would offer a handful of reflections on the essay:

1. I have never been a reader of Melton, so I am coming at this as someone with very little knowledge of her. Still, it is striking that for someone who was billed as a “Christian” writer, there is nothing about her in this article that would suggest that she held to the Christian gospel. Maybe she did at some point. But it is absent even in the part that narrates her “conversion.” Perhaps readers more familiar with her work can weigh-in on this, but I still thought that was a conspicuous absence.

2. Even before her coming-out, this article says that her fellow travelers were the likes of Rob Bell and other pop-spirituality/self-help gurus. It also says that she has been a member of the United Church of Christ–a “church” that sanctifies sexually immoral relationships. Were these items red flags to Christian readers before her coming-out? It seems like they should have been.

3. The author of the article emphasizes that Melton’s authenticity and openness about her imperfect “messy” life is what made her so popular–even among non-Christians. It seems that there is a lesson in this. An air of “authenticity” and “messiness” is no substitute for authentic Christian faithfulness. We would all do well to learn how to tell the difference. 

4. The story of Melton’s coming-out was particularly sad–and perhaps even a little bit dishonest. Melton did not merely come out as a lesbian. She divorced her husband to pursue a relationship with a woman that she had fallen in love with. Her husband’s description of his experience is worth considering in his own words:

As for Craig, he remembers receiving an urgent text message from Glennon one afternoon, saying she had something very serious to discuss. “It sounded like 911, like Code Red,” he tells me over the phone. “I rushed home. On the way, I was thinking, Either she has cancer, or she’s gay.” (Obviously Craig isn’t as clueless as he’s sometimes portrayed to be.)

When he found out it wasn’t cancer, “I hit the floor bawling,” he says. “I was just so happy she wasn’t going to die.” Then came a wave of “sadness, confusion, and anger,” he says. “I thought we had been doing things the right way. Both of us had been working on ourselves. We’d entered a phase that was supposed to be a new life for us. It was a shock. It felt like the end of the world.”

But eventually, Craig says, he felt he had no choice but to accept his new reality. Glennon and Abby are, after all, “two women following their hearts,” he says, slipping into Glennon-speak. “Isn’t that what life is all about? Finding true love? If Glennon is happy, and Abby is happy, and the kids are thriving, what’s wrong with that?” Now he shares joint custody of the children with Melton, and he recently accepted a new job in technology sales.

There’s no question that both spouses played a part in the dissolution of the marriage. But still, it is striking that Craig is unable to lament the end of his marriage. He is obviously grieved over the loss, but he does not even hint that anything wrong has happened. Because his wife fell in love with a woman, she is to be celebrated for divorcing him. But would people be celebrating the divorce in the same way if she had left him for another man? Probably not. Why? Because “coming-out” and embracing gay identity is seen as sacrosanct in our culture–even more holy than the covenant of marriage. Even more important than maintaining one’s wedding vows.

The result is that the divorce gets whitewashed. Its impact on the husband and children is almost completely a non-factor in the story. The central factor is Melton’s personal happiness and self-fulfillment. And that is why so many of her readers feel empowered to pursue divorce instead of sticking it out through tough times in their own marriages. Here is a telling comment from a marriage counselor interviewed for the article:

“She puts a knot in my stomach,” says couples therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, whose latest book is called Healing From Infidelity. “I can’t count how many times I hear women quoting her when they come into my office. On the positive side, she wants to empower women. But the fact is, most people don’t do divorce all that well, especially when children are involved. She’s strengthening their conviction that they need to get away from their husbands, instead of learning to work through challenging issues. Sometimes you have to be a warrior to stay.”

5. If this article is accurate, what is left of Melton’s “Christian” faith cannot be reasonably described as authentically Christian. The article says,

She’s equally enthused about her new role as a pillar of the progressive opposition movement. Since leaving Craig for Wambach—who stumped for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has been an advocate for women’s equality and LGBTQ causes—Melton has recast herself as a leader of the Christian resistance to Trump. “It’s one of the best parts of our relationship,” Melton says. “We wake up in the morning, and we literally say to each other: ‘Coffee and revolution.’?”

To that end, Melton has stopped blogging about floor crap and started blogging about Black Lives Matter and the need for intersectionality. These days, when she reminds her followers that they “can do hard things,” she’s not talking about scraping Play-Doh off the rug but about helping children in Aleppo—or calling your congressperson. “I realized I didn’t just want to parent children in my own little home, but to mother the whole world,” Melton says. “What’s the point of gaining influence if you’re not going to use it?”

Mother to the world? Wow. But what is she bequeathing to her “children”? It’s not the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but sadly something else altogether.

Have Southern Baptists embraced gender-inclusive Bible translation? Not by a longshot.

Jonathan Merritt and Garet Robinson have penned an article for The Atlantic with the inflammatory title, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible.” The subtitle continues, “America’s largest Protestant denomination has produced a revised translation that incorporates many features it had long condemned.”

No doubt the timing of this article is no accident. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) begins its annual meetings tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. It would indeed be a bombshell for messengers to learn as they arrive to the convention hall that their denomination has delivered a product that the rank-and-file have long opposed in resolution after resolution.

It would be shocking if it were true. But it’s not true. In fact, it’s demonstrably false. Merritt and Robinson’s article is not only riddled with factual errors. It also appears that they do not even understand the basic issues of the longstanding debate over gender-inclusive translations.

Merritt and Robinson claim that the first edition of the CSB was well-received in 2003 and that “the Bible battlefront quieted for more than a decade.” This statement is glaringly inaccurate. The year 2003 was about the time that the translation controversy began heating-up to a fever pitch—especially after the publication of the now defunct TNIV. There were a string
of publications weighing-in on the controversy through the early to mid-2000’s. And even after that, the controversy was never entirely over.

My point is simply this. Merritt and Robinson reveal very little evidence of familiarity with the debate or with the issues in contention. The result is an article with so many problems that I can’t even begin to catalogue them all in a single blog post. But for the sake of illustration, I’ll cite two examples:

(1) Merritt and Robinson make no mention of the fact that the CSB follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines in its approach to gender language. The Colorado Springs Guidelines were drafted in 1997 in the wake of news that the NIV would be producing a gender-neutral revision. On May 27, 1997, James Dobson convened a meeting of evangelical scholars and leaders that drafted a set of guidelines for handling gender language. Those guidelines have long been regarded by both sides of the debate as a standard for those opposing gender-neutral translations. The CSB translators followed those guidelines, an observation which leads me to my second point.

(2) Merritt and Robinson allege that “a number of the same ‘gender-neutral’ elements that the SBC previously condemned were inserted into its own translation.” If Merritt and Robinson had consulted the Colorado Springs Guidelines, perhaps they would not have made such an inaccurate statement. Perhaps they would have noticed that the examples they cite of “gender-inclusive” renderings in the CSB follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines!

For example, Merritt and Robinson point out that,

The CSB now translates the term anthropos, a Greek word for “man,” in a gender-neutral form 151 times, rendering it “human,” “people,” and “ones.” The previous edition had done this on occasion; the new revision adds almost 100 more instances… The CSB translates the term adelphoi, a Greek word for “brother” in a gender-neutral form 106 times, often adding “sister.”

Merritt and Robinson see this as an example of gender-inclusive translation, but the Colorado Springs Guidelines allow for certain instances of anthropos to be translated in a gender-inclusive way. The same is true for adelphoi, which often does refer to “brothers and sisters.” What Merritt and Robinson fail to understand is that these points are fairly uncontroversial in the larger debate.

The debate has not focused on examples such as the ones cited by Merritt and Robinson. Rather, the debate has focused on examples where the biblical author clearly intends masculine meaning. A gender-inclusive translation will often mute the author’s masculine meaning with a rendering that is gender-inclusive. That is the point of the debate. And Merritt and Robinson produce not a single example of the CSB muting masculine meaning with a gender-inclusive rendering. Not one example.

I should also mention one other thing. I know the translators of the CSB. There is a reason that they agreed to follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines. The translators themselves all oppose gender-inclusive renderings of scripture that mute masculine expressions.

I have been following the gender-inclusive translation debate in scholarly and popular literature for over a decade. I am also the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization devoted to upholding what scripture teaches about men and women and their respective roles in the home and in the church. I know what gender-inclusive translations look like, and I am on the record opposing them. The CSB is not a gender-neutral translation of scripture, nor were the CSB translators trying to produce one. On the contrary, the translators intended to produce an accurate translation that faithfully renders what the authors of scripture intended to communicate. The CSB has admirably achieved this goal. The critiques of Merritt and Robinson in The Atlantic are completely off-base.


Postscript: For readers unfamiliar with this debate, I thought it might be helpful to illustrate the kinds of “gender-inclusive” renderings that the Colorado Springs Guidelines were designed to eliminate. For example, the NRSV is a gender-inclusive revision of the RSV. Consider the NRSV’s gender-inclusive revision of 1 Timothy 3:2:

RSV: Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife
NRSV: Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once

The RSV rightly renders the underlying Greek term as “husband” (Gk. andra). The gender-inclusive NRSV mutes the fact that Paul is not talking about married people in general but about a “husband” in particular. By eliminating the clear masculine meaning of the underlying Greek, the NRSV obscures the fact that Paul intends for pastors to be qualified men.

Gender-inclusive translations of scripture routinely do this kind of thing. They obscure masculine oriented details of the source text. By following the Colorado Springs Guidelines, the CSB translators have taken pains to avoid this kind of thing. For Merritt and Robinson to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent the CSB.

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