By / Nov 17

Recently, viewers were given a new season of “The Crown,” the Netflix series that chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth. In the wake of her death earlier this year, the season is all the more interesting because of the new monarch who sits on the throne, her son, King Charles III. Charles is being dubbed the “climate king.” His concern for the environment has led to controversial mentions of overpopulation in the past. But, where does this idea come from, and how should Christians think about it? 

The myth of overpopulation

In 1968, Stanford entomologist Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, warning that the earth was overpopulated and that millions of people would starve to death. His doomsday warning did not come true. Starvation has occurred on much smaller scales, due largely to government mismanagement and corruption, not overpopulation. 

Yet the myth of overpopulation persists. Ecologist Emma Olliff of the U.K.-based group Population Matters recently said, “More of us is only going to make (the environment) worse. This kind of reasoning was famously cited by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who are choosing to have only two children because of global overpopulation. 

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, famed primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall said that human population growth is responsible for most environmental problems. Goodall stated, “All these (environmental) things we talk about wouldn’t be a problem if there was the size of the population that there was 500 years ago.” Apparently, Goodall pines for the good ol’ days when the average life expectancy was around 40 years of age and infant mortality was around 20%. 

Human life is not the problem, and human death is not the solution. Since the publication of The Population Bomb, several books have debunked the myth of overpopulation, including The Myth of Over-Population (1969) R.J. Rushdoony, Fewer (2004) by Ben Wattenberg, and Population Control (2008) by Steven Mosher. Governments in Japan, Finland, Italy, and Australia (to name a few) are now paying people to have babies. 

Currently, no European country has a population replacement rate of 2.1 babies per woman. Globally, many countries are below the replacement rate, including  China (1.7), Brazil (1.7), Canada (1.5), Puerto Rico (1.1), Thailand (1.5), and Chile (1.7).

In 1968, the fear was global starvation. In 2020, humans wasted an estimated 1.6 billion tons of food at a cost of $1.2 trillion dollars annually. In 1968 the fear was overpopulation. In 2020, under-populated towns and cities paid people to move there. 

Dangers of the myth

Overpopulation is an old myth. Catastrophic predictions about human population and food shortage go back (at least) to 19th-century Anglican pastor and economist Thomas Robert Malthus. In his book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus argued that human population would outpace food production. Malthus advocated preventative measures such as family planning, late marriages, and celibacy. 

Global overpopulation is not only a myth; it is a dangerous myth. Bernie Sanders said that abortion is an important way of addressing global overpopulation. National Public Radio (NPR) has even reported on the research of journalist Mei Fong, who in her book One Child (2016), estimated that China’s one-child policy led to 30 million forced abortions. 

In popular culture, Thanos (of the Marvel Universe) channels his inner Malthus in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” saying, “The universe is finite, its resources finite, if life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist.” This is the same faulty logic (and bad theology) peddled by Malthus, Ehrlich, Goodall, and Sanders. Unlike in the Marvel Universe, the “bad guys” aren’t always so easy to spot.  

A Christian response

God created marriage between a man and a woman, commanded human procreation, and placed the family as the primary building block of human flourishing in a world that he equipped to accommodate human growth (Gen 1:26-28). He did this, in part, by creating humans with a capacity to solve problems using science and technology. As global population has grown, standards of living and life expectancy have increased while infant mortality and extreme poverty have decreased. Human population growth is not the problem. 

There are a variety of possible ways that Christians can respond to the myth of overpopulation. First, Christians do best when telling the true biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Christians can place the growth of population into the storyline of Scripture where it is a good thing, not a problem to be corrected. It is part of God’s command to fill the earth and steward it. 

Second, local churches can promote and support healthy and normative patterns of human flourishing by offering biblical counseling and parenting services, supporting pregnancy resource centers and adoption and foster care ministries, and by welcoming children and those with special needs into the worship service. In so doing, they evidence that the family is essential to God’s plan for flourishing and the Church has a vested interest in helping strengthen this building block of society. 

Third, Christians cannot allow the sin of materialism to go unchecked. That amounts to aiding and abetting the enemy. Human population growth is only a problem if one accepts the lie that joy, identity, and comfort are found in unchecked consumption and material possessions. There is nothing inherently wrong with living in a large home, owning recreational vehicles, retiring early, or sending your kids to the best schools. However, such things are not the biblical picture of success or an indication of God’s favor and blessing. Christians are to be those who steward the created world, not those who intentionally put off God-ordained gifts because they are controlled by the things of this world.


Ideas have consequences. Most tragically, the idea of overpopulation has resulted in global mass murder, including calls for expanding abortion access in developing nations where population growth is higher. It is a myth that continues to be used to justify both abortion and suicide. Christians who believe in the sanctity and goodness of human life should expose the myth of overpopulation for what it often is: A pretext for murder and justification for opposing a biblical view of children,family, and procreation.   

By / Nov 23

Recently, I was in bed and had just closed my eyes to go to sleep when I received a call from my nephew in Guam. He doesn’t regularly call me, so I knew this was important. Frantic, he let me know that one of his best friends, Sean, had recently traveled from Guam to the States to start school. This friend had been scammed by a false apartment advertisement, and he’d lost most of his money. Now he was alone in the city — my city — and needed a place to stay. There was no question; we needed to pick him up right away.

I met Sean around midnight at a closed coffee shop on the other side of Seattle where he and all his luggage were waiting for me. To my surprise, his optimism and gratitude outweighed his circumstances. We packed up my car, and we headed back home to get some sleep.

Over the next few days, our family helped Sean get settled into this big, new city. Moving is a stressful experience for everyone. That’s even more the case when you’ve been scammed. I’m so grateful for how my wife, Amy, showed Sean hospitality. I, on the other hand, had a busy to-do list that weighed on the back of my mind. Try as I might to be present and lean into the opportunity God had put before me, I couldn’t shake the anxiety I had about the tasks and projects that I couldn’t make time for. 

Even though I genuinely wanted to be present and knew that Sean was more important, I struggled internally with the tension between God’s timing and my priorities. 

Leveraging ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes

I’m convinced that Christ followers are called to leverage ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes. I believe that Jesus graciously gives us opportunities to be his hands and feet on earth. And yet serving Sean was one part conviction and two parts guilt. I think that’s because I wanted my opportunities for hospitality to come on my own terms and not on God’s terms. 

In 1 Samuel 30, a surprising act of hospitality is on display during a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. After hiding from Saul for 16 months, God brought David and his men home to their camp in Ziklag. But when they arrived there, the men’s hope of reunion with their families was met with a scene of destruction. David and his army discovered that the Amalekites had raided their camp. All of their supplies, as well as their wives and children, were gone (1 Sam. 30:3–4). 

David immediately redirected his men back toward battle. They headed out, ready to go to war in search of their families, when they discovered a traveling wayfarer. The Bible describes it this way:

David’s men found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. They gave him some bread to eat and water to drink. Then they gave him some pressed figs and two clusters of raisins. After he ate he revived, for he hadn’t eaten food or drunk water for three days and three nights. Then David said to him, “Who do you belong to? Where are you from?” (1 Sam. 30:11–13a) CSB

It is fair to say David had a lot going on when they found the Egyptian. His family had been kidnapped. His men were disappointed by his leadership (at this point, the band blamed him for leaving the camp unguarded). As Israel’s future king, he was under enormous pressure. But during it all, David paused and showed hospitality to a stranger. 

It was only after the man had been revived that David was able to ask who he was. There was no initial benefit in helping the Egyptian. At first, it seemed as if this surprising act of hospitality would inconvenience David’s mission. But then the man reported, “I’m an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite” What an extraordinary turn of events from a surprising act of hospitality! This stranger would be the providential hinge that would lead David and his army to rescue their kidnapped families. 

David’s story shows us the value of showing hospitality even when it’s uncomfortable — even when it seems to inhibit our priorities. David didn’t let his agenda, however important, hinder an opportunity to discover God’s purpose in someone else’s need. The result was a rescued Israel, and a faith-revived king.

Whenever we must delay our plans for the sake of someone else, we feel uncomfortable. And yet the beauty of the gospel is ours to experience if we trust God’s timing. Christ’s beauty is there in the late-night car ride, the clinking of dinner plates, and the dining-room small talk. His holy love is experienced at the table — perhaps more than in life’s demands and my to-do list. In fact, part of the beauty is in the act of forfeiting the task and forgetting the to-do list.

On the receiving end of hospitality

Recently our church celebrated its first gathering in a newly purchased building. If there was an example of the church valuing service over personal to-do’s, this was it. The outpouring of love and service our people demonstrated was immense. It was in the thick of preparing for the grand opening that I was encouraged in my faith and reminded of the many people in our community who — despite their schedules — prioritized the opportunity to be hospitable and serve. 

So many church members valued serving one another over their to-do lists, and it bore fruit as the building was readied and the family gathered for corporate worship. Just as Sean was encouraged by our family’s hospitality and service to him, I was encouraged by my faith family. Now I was the recipient of the priority of hospitality put into action. I was the one who now experienced the kind of grace that I’d recently found it so difficult to give. 

On the other side of the equation, I didn’t feel guilt or anxiety, I felt gratitude. Instead of being scolded by my conscience, I was brought to the table and lifted up in service. I experienced God’s grace leveraged through the church who set aside their priorities for one extraordinary moment.

In the busyness of our lives — and the holiday season — may we be a people of gracious hospitality. May our hearts and homes be open to share the love of Christ through a warm meal, a loving embrace, or a word of encouragement. And through it all, may we come to treasure the God who went to the uttermost lengths to welcome us in. 

By / Sep 29

“You Matter,” “I Matter,” “We Matter,” 40 fifth graders chanted in unison on our first day of elementary school where I teach in a high poverty area in Indiana. The first days of school are momentum building. Teachers pour on the positive praise, rewards, and reinforcement. In many elementary schools, this is also the honeymoon period. There are new clothes, new hair styles, new school supplies, and pep talks from parents that haven’t fallen on deaf ears quite yet. 

My school is no different in many ways, but with the highest rates of child poverty in the city, there are unique barriers we face at the beginning of the school year. We are a “promise school,” meaning the district is committed to investing resources into our building. But the barriers are profound because of our poverty rates. Strong, experienced teachers request to work in our building, but the district moves them to more established schools. And while there is funding for technology, project-based learning initiatives, and school police officers, my classroom, for example, does not have doors, our desks are old and scratched, I have a small window, and the school battles a mice and cockroach infestation. If there was an emergency, there is no additional exit in my room that my students could actually get through with efficiency.

In light of the obstacles we face, Jesus reminds me that those who belong to him are promised his faithfulness, care, and compassion. He sees us, he knows our needs, and he loves us. I am reminded of this when a stranger writes me a $300 check for classroom snacks. Or, when partnering churches bring lunch and send in large donations of food and school supplies. I experience it when people pray and spend the evening putting up posters in my classroom. Or, when teachers give up their planning periods to assist in other classrooms. And I see it when neighborhood adults meet children at bus stops with breakfast and snacks. 

As teachers go through the school year, with all of its challenges and joys, we need the promises of Jesus to carry us through. And we see glimpses of those promises through many of our everyday experiences. 

We are promised his comfort and shelter. On the second day of school, children, teachers, and parents stand in a thunderstorm at the end of the day, scrambling to get kids home, many walking more than a mile. Many families do not get bussing due to district cuts years ago, and several bus stops are several blocks away. A pregnant mother of eight comes running and reaches for her children. I hand her an umbrella for the walk home. Teachers and students huddle together beneath the awning as they wait on parents. One of my fifth graders comforts his scared and sobbing 6-year-old brother because the storm is too loud. 

We are promised his friendship. Former students contact me, and children give huge hugs in the hallways. “Jack” has such a profound speech disability that he is unable to say any consonants. We celebrate that he is in my class with his best friend “Blake.” Jack and Blake are so close that Blake translates for Jack when someone can’t understand him. Jack will call him over when I am struggling, and Blake listens closely and lovingly interprets what he is saying. They’ve pulled each other away from fights this week and never leave the other’s side. I’ve never seen two kids have such a truly sweet and mutual relationship. They choose to be with each other because they love and enjoy one another. 

We are promised nurture. The siblings of a child who lived with us in the past are currently living with our dear pastor friend and his wife. I have prayed since these children were tiny that they would experience safety and security. The kids squeal in delight when we arrive at the bus stop. The 4-year-old runs up to my preschool daughter and says, “You coming with me.” After the big kids get on the bus, the small ones will go back to our friends’ house until pre-k starts. Goodbye hugs are given. I know our children are both seen and heard. They will be loved at school and in the home of the pastor’s family. 

We are promised he will bear our burdens. A teacher resigns after four days of instruction. The needs and behaviors are “too much to bear.” It is not only the behaviors or the needs that are too much to bear. The grief alone is too much to bear. None of us are strong enough to handle it ourselves. 

We are promised grace. A friend brings dinner on Friday. My husband and I are draped in fatigue and irritability. My mantra is “just get to bedtime.” I run upstairs to change clothes before taking my kids to play. I am half-clothed when my 3-year-old screams, alerting me that her little brother let the dog out. The neighbor meets me on my porch, and the dog follows her back, only to get away from us again two more times. She watches my kids while I grab my keys and put shoes on. The 2-year-old is crying. My neighbor says, “Sometimes motherhood is hard.” 

We are promised that he sees. An adoptive mother of seven loses her new home and puppy to a house fire. She and the children are left with the clothes on their back. I met these sweet children several years ago when they were living with little food, shelter, transportation, and proper hygiene. The mother and father struggled with addiction, to the point of losing their children. The aunt, who is now their adoptive mother, moved across the country to keep the siblings together and care for her elderly mother. When I met them, it felt so meager to deliver a package of diapers, yet the Lord knew their needs. Currently, the family is living out of a hotel room. My friend cares for the three youngest, and several churches work together to gather supplies for them. 

The promises continue.

Our teenage daughter, whose life is a testament to the miraculous promises of God, is invited to be a peer mentor for students who have experienced trauma, are on the spectrum, or have behavioral disabilities. “What an honor,” I say.

With an eye roll, and flat tone, she responds, “I just treat them like humans.” 

I am reminded that it is Jesus who says we matter, and it is his people who affirm it. We are called to treat one another like humans made in God’s image — beautiful, created, seen, valued, and loved. 

Jesus invites everyone to grab hold of his promises, and the Spirit fulfills these every day. He does not forget the orphan, widow, addicted, homeless, suffering, or wandering. He promises to meet us at the bus stops, in the food pantry, in pre-school, and in the suffering hearts of young people. He has not forgotten, and he will restore. I am forever thankful to rest on these promises. 

By / Nov 6

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of five people we should pray for even though we might not want to:

1. Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing in the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

That’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians (and not just in the snarky Psalm 19:8 way) is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority. 

Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2. People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, too, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee, he’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: Suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3. People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think of the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus: Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, just maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4. Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, brokeness or a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5. A person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness–the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts–is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in his image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.

Originally published here

By / Jul 20

The Spring 2015 edition of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has just been released. And one of the recurring themes in that journal is transgenderism. Addressing some of the medical implications of transgender surgery, Craig Kline, M.D. and David Schrock have co-written a piece entitled, “What is Gender Reassignment Surgery? A Medical Assessment and Biblical Appraisal.” What follows is the biblical and ethical conclusion to that article.

It may be surprising to discover how much the Bible speaks about surgery on the genitalia. Among the many instances, the most prolific concerns the topic of circumcision. Beginning with the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 17:10–14, 23–27) and legislated in the covenant with Israel (Lev 12:3), circumcision is found throughout the Bible.[1] Though the theological meaning of circumcision is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noticing that this covenant was a form of surgery on male genitalia, displaying a distinguishing mark that served as a sign of the covenant made between God and man. Later, in a section of Leviticus where qualifications for priesthood were described (Lev 21:20) and again when Moses prepared Israel to enter the Promised Land (Deut 23:1), the Law excluded from the assembly of the LORD anyone who had “crushed testicles” or “whose male organ is cut off.”­­[2]

Circumcision continues to play an important role in the New Testament. While the physical act of removing the foreskin is associated with the old covenant and thus discontinued in the church, its typological fulfillment—the circumcised heart (Deut 10:16; 30:6; cf. Ezek 36:26–27)—is common to all new covenant believers (Col 2:11). Moving from old covenant to new, the New Testament records many heated discussions about the discontinuity of physical circumcision (e.g., Acts 15; Romans 2 and 4; Galatians 2). Without engaging all these passages, what, if anything, might Scripture’s discussion of circumcision contribute to the modern discussion about gender reassignment surgery? Let me suggest two things.

First, gender reassignment surgery may, metaphorically speaking, be the “circumcision” of transgenderism’s “gospel.” Just as the true gospel includes a circumcision—of the fleshunder the old covenant, which pointed forward to the true circumcision of the heart under the new covenant—so the false gospel of transgenderism invites its participants to mutilate their genitalia in order to find a kind of “salvation.” Likewise, just as the true gospel has a mediator who inaugurates a covenant with blood (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 9:18), so too transgenderism’s gospel has created a guild of mediators—advocates, entertainers, politicians, and now surgeons—who following the cultural zeitgeist can put to death the old man and raise “her” anew.[3] Moreover, in denying God his rightful place as sovereign over creation, they establish themselves as autonomous lords. By consequence, transgenderism mimicks the true gospel by solving a “fallen condition” that is not revealed by God’s Word, but that comes from an autonomous, personal feeling (i.e., men and women trapped in the wrong body). At the same time, transgenderism prescribes a method of “salvation” by way of bloodshed—a “new creation” through surgical “circumcision.”[4]

Of course, sexual rebellion and the distortion of gender roles is nothing new. Lamech boasts of twisting God’s creation when he sings of claiming two wives (Gen 4:23–24), and the Law of Moses lists cross-dressing as a way humans reject the goodness of God’s creation (Deut 22:5).[5] But now, with advances in medical technology, what used to be feigned through clothes and mannerisms is now surgically possible. There is nothing new under the sun, but what is new is the plethora of medically-acceptable ways to deface God’s creation.

Therefore, with many moral, theological, epochal, and physical differences between old covenant Israel and the modern transsexual, the one similarity worth noting is that both “religions” present salvation through the manipulation of the flesh. By doing something to the genitalia, it is perceived that blessings will follow—in Israel these blessings were the holy promises given to Abraham and his offspring; to the trans community blessing is found in sexual gratification—however that is defined by them.[6] To be clear, there is a radical difference between circumcision under the old covenant and genital mutilation of modern transgenderism—the former was instituted by God (Genesis 17); the latter is the invention of men (cf. Rom 1:32). Likewise, Abraham’s circumcision was an act of faith; gender reassignment surgery is an act of rebellion against God, his created order, and his sovereignty over gender.

Nevertheless, when we understand that circumcision of the flesh was always a sign pointing to the need for an interior purification (Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; cf. Acts 7:51) and never meant to be salvific in itself, there are also striking similarities. For instance, consider the parallel logic at work in these two systems of salvation. Writing of circumcision’s ultimate futility, Paul encourages the Judaizers to go the whole way and “emasculate themselves” (Gal 5:12). Whereas the Judaizers believed that circumcision brought them closer to God, Paul knew that as an inveterate sinner physical circumcision accomplished nothing. Therefore, he commissioned the Judaizers to go further and emasculate themselves, which under the Law invoked the judgment of God—i.e., separation from his holy presence.

By analogy, Christians believe that despite the sincerest intentions of transsexuals, the surgery they desire to perform on the body needs to be performed on their heart. While these children of Adam long to match their bodies with their inner perception, what they need is not a new body, but a new heart. In this way, the Jews of old and the modern trans community are not without similarities, because both face the same problem: They have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of created things, and therefore God has given them over to a “depraved mind to what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:23, 28).

To reiterate, this comparison between Old Testament ritual and modern surgery is not materially the same, but when we consider how Jews misused circumcision (as means of salvation) and the way transsexuals pursue surgery as functionally salvific, their comparison becomes more apparent. Whereas circumcision was ordained by God and pointed to a circumcision of the heart that God himself would perform at the right time, the “circumcision” of transsexuals is the invention of (technologically advanced) mankind. Inspired by the father of lies, gender reassignment surgery promises abundant life through the manipulation of the flesh.

On this comparison, it reminds us that when we engage family and friends grappling with gender reassignment surgery, we cannot fight flesh with flesh—“Just learn to live with and love your God-given gender.” No, like Paul and Jesus in the New Testament, we must present a better circumcision—one that strips off the old man and gives disciples new life in Christ (Col 2:11–13; 3:1–3) so that learning to live out one’s God-given gender is not harsh and heavy, but a yoke that is light and easy (see Matt 11:28–30). Indeed, by understanding gender reassignment surgery as a kind of rite of circumcision, it helps us understand why someone would desire to cut on their genitalia—it is part of our story and religious hope too. By remembering circumcision’s place in salvation, it gives us an entry point to speak of a greater gospel, a greater circumcision, and ultimately a greater bodily transformation—the redemption of the body promised to all who are alive in Christ (Rom 8:23).

Second, moving from a big picture analysis of circumcision to a particular text, we return to one verse in Galatians. In Galatians 5:12 Paul expresses with rhetorical force how he wishes Judaizers who were stressing the need for circumcision would “mutilate” or “emasculate” themselves. In the context of Galatians this hyperbole emphasizes the worthlessness of physical circumcision, now that Christ has come.[7] Against the backdrop of the Law, such an action would be both humiliating and disqualifying for temple service (see Lev 21:20; Deut 23:1). Applied to the present discussion, such genital mutilation would invite the curse of God, under the old covenant. Just as sacrifices under the old covenant could not be offered with “testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut” (Lev 22:24), because they did not meet God’s perfect standard, so willful mutilation of the genitals tears at God’s created design.[8] To those who pursue “salvation” by genital surgery, the Law of God offers a warning and threat—“if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (Rom 2:27). This goes for the Judaizers in Galatia and modern advocates of gender reassignment surgery.

To both of these parties (as well as to those who sinfully take pride in their uncircumcision), the gospel of Jesus Christ makes a new way to find life. It offers forgiveness now and a glorified body in the new heavens and the new earth. Yet, as Russell Moore has observed, gender reassignment surgery, in the here and now, may “mangle” the body and “create an illusion of a biological reality that isn’t there,” but it cannot reassign gender.[9] Therefore, as men and women come to Christ on the other side of their gender reassignment, the solution is not just external reassembly. Reconstructing a person’s bodily appearance may not be possible or (medically) wise, but what can be done and must be done is to point new creations in Christ to the approaching reality of their bodily redemption, and to live in light of that reality. As Paul says in Colossians 3, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is. . . . Put to death what is earthly in you, . . . Put on then [like a new garment], as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 1, 5, 12).[10]

Until the resurrection of the body, Christians groan like the eunuchs of old. But like eunuchs in Israel who mourned their displacement from the covenant promises, the gospel of Jesus Christ promises family, children, and blessing in the kingdom of God (see Isaiah 54). On this point, Moore has again made the comparison between those who undergo gender reassignment surgeries with those are eunuchs.[11] As with circumcision, eunuchs are mentioned throughout the Bible. In some instances they were males who were castrated, or had other genital surgery, to serve in special roles within their respective kingdoms. Others may have been born as eunuchs. Jesus speaks to both of these conditions when he says, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:12). Still in everyone of these cases, the main point is that God is big enough to bring blessing to all who repent and believe in the gospel of the kingdom—even those who were deceived into pursuing gender reassignment surgery.

That being said, we must close with this unassailable truth. In the Bible, with all that it speaks about circumcision and the existence of eunuchs, it never supports practices changing a child’s sex at birth towards the opposite sex. It does present circumcision of the heart (Deut 30:6) as the only way of lasting joy and salvation. In its affirmation of this spiritual surgery, the Bible stands against any kind of gender reassignment surgery, as a way of gratifying the flesh. Therefore, in all cases, we conclude that the Bible never supports the desire to change the appearance of the body to mimic the opposite gender. As with those who pursue sexual immorality—heterosexuals or homosexuals—the hope of the gospel is that any person through faith and repentance can be changed through the washing, sanctification, and justification of Jesus Christ, and not through the adoption, assimilation, or acceptance of sinful roles or practices (1 Cor 6:9–11).

Thus, a biblical understanding of sexuality cannot support gender reassignment surgery. This truth must be compassionately affirmed to those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and who are contemplating such surgical procedures. Where the Bible affirms that we should receive our birth gender as a gift from God and that it should direct the nature of our sexual desires, it never affirms a person’s desire should dictate their gender. In every case, anatomy dictates and directs gender—not the reverse. Scripture commands that our physical bodies are meant to glorify God (1 Cor 6:19), and followers must humbly and willingly submit to God’s providence in giving us the body he wants us to have, in order to glorify him in the gender that comports to our anatomy.

May God honor our efforts to think biblically and critically about the issue of gender reassignment surgery. May he give us gospel-fueled grace to love the trans community in the name of Christ. And may he glorify himself by saving many in Christ who are now pursuing salvation in the flesh.

[1]For an overview and bibliography of the history and significance of circumcision in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern cultures, see John Meade, “Circumcision of the Heart in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: Divine Means for Resolving Curse and Bringing Blessing,” SBJT 18.3 (2014): 59–85.

[2]Against the overly permissive interpretation of Peter C. Craigie (The Book of Deuteronomy [NICOT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976], 296–97), Eugene Merrill (Deuteronomy [NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994], 307) rightly observes the importance of physical purity in the presence of God: “The emasculation, described here as a ‘wounding by crushing’ (pĕsûa dakkâ) or a ‘cutting off of the male organ’ (kĕrût šapkâ), may, presumably, be genetic, accidental, or intentional; but that is irrelevant because the end result is the same—the male thus deformed could have no access to the assembly of the Lord.”

[3]Credit to Andrew Walker for this observation, as well as pointing out that just as the Law of Moses called for obedience to external laws, so too transgenderism, as a cultural phenomenon, calls those afflicted by its conditions to obey its “laws,” which are enforced through political and legal pressure applied by approved “mediators.” What is the lasting effect? Gender reassignment becomes a type of works salvation that in the end neither saves nor works.

[4]Though unlikely that transsexuals think of their plight in terms of salvation, it is striking to read the words of Susan Stryker (“(De)Subjugated Knowledges: An Introduction to Transgender Studies,” in The Transgender Studies Reader [ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle; New York: Routledge, 2006], 3), who says that the social “systems of power” associated with transgenderism “operate on actual bodies [i.e., persons], capable of producing pain and pleasure, health and sickness, punishment and reward, life and death” (cited in Kessler, “Transgender/Third Gender/Transsexualism,” 2:425). Without realizing it, she is employing the language of redemption.

[5]As we understand the pagan roots of ancient Near Eastern cross-dressing, it becomes clear the differences between then and now are not a matter of kind but degree. Illustrating that point, Daniel I. Block observes, “this injunction seeks to preserve the order built into creation, specifically the fundamental distinction between male and female. For a person to wear anything associated with the opposite gender confuses one’s sexual identity and blurs established boundaries” (Deuteronomy [NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012], 512).

[6]On sex as a way of salvation, see Daniel R. Heimbach, True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 55–56.

[7]For an illuminating theological and cultural commentary, see Timothy George, Galatians (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 371–73.

[8]Drawing the parallel closer between the Judaizers’ heresy and the genital mutilation of the pagan priests near Galatia, George writes, “One of the major centers for the worship of Cybele [a mother goddess, whose priests were known to castrate themselves] was at Pessinus, a leading city in North Galatia. It is quite possible that some of Paul’s readers may themselves have been devotees of the Cybeline cult in their pre-Christian days. In any event, they could not have missed the insinuation of Paul’s allusion: the Judaizers who made so much of circumcision were really no better guides to the spiritual life than the pagan priest who castrated themselves in service to an idolatrous religion” (ibid., 372). If Paul could compare the wrong use of the Law with pagan practices, which he clearly did in Galatians 4:8–9, it is equally permissible (hermeneutically-speaking) to make the comparison between the wrongful use of circumcision with the pagan mutilation of the flesh today. On gender reassignment surgery as a pagan practice, see the way Heimbach defines paganism in True Sexual Morality, 52–54.

[9]Russell D. Moore, “Joan or John? Christian Ethics: This Year’s Dilemma,” May 2009, accessed February 17, 2015,

[10]Emphasis mine. Read all of Colossians 3:1–17 to see the way that death and resurrection with Christ changes the believer.

[11]Moore, “Joan or John?”

By / Apr 2

I struggle with the celebration of Easter. I’m a child of late 20th century Southern evangelicalism, which feeds off the narrative of the Second Great Awakening—that movement that placed great emphasis on emotion. So I want to muster up some emotion as we approach Good Friday and the celebration of the resurrection. I want it to feel more special than it does. Shouldn’t the resurrection inspire us to heights of joy that no other day of the year does? Isn’t that appropriate?

A word-driven approach to Easter

I’m prone to let my feelings dictate my actions, but over the last few weeks I’ve been seeking a different approach to Easter. I’ve been reading the story of the first Passover in Exodus 12 as well as in the gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper. And I’ve been taking the themes that are common to both as a call to action, not just to muster up some emotion for Easter, but to work a change in my life.

One of the themes common to both Passover and the Lord’s Supper is God starting something new. For the Israelites, it is a brand new beginning. They even received a new calendar (Exod. 12:2), which is appropriate for a newly formed, independent people. Jesus also inaugurates something new: a new covenant. While the Passover initiates the Exodus that eventually leads the Israelites to Mt. Sinai and the Mosaic Covenant, Jesus fulfills this covenant and then offers his perfection to us in a new covenant sealed in his blood.

Yet perfection seems downright illusive for Christians. The writers of the New Testament are aware of that tension as they call us to continual repentance and renewal. So how do we strive toward perfection? Chiefly, we renew ourselves through time in God’s Word, not as an activity or item on the to-do list, but as a means of seeing and recognizing God’s glory and our own humanity. Recognizing the difference between the two and the extent of God’s mercy to reconcile that difference is overwhelming. I need to be reminded of that because I too often forget.

Assumptions can get in the way of this reality. Despite what is obvious on almost every page of God’s chronicle of Israel’s history, I often think of the Israelites as the “good guys” and the Egyptians as the “bad guys.” God struck the Egyptians (Exod. 12:29) and executed judgment on their gods (Exod. 12:12). So, they were the “bad guys” because the Israelites were spared, right?

The Egyptians, Israelites and me

Why were the Israelites spared? Was it because God was not going to judge them? No, it was because God chose to be gracious to them and give them a way to avoid the judgment. The Israelites would have undergone the same judgment as the Egyptians had they not applied the blood to their doors. And afterward, God made this plain to them as he claimed all firstborn as his (Exod. 13:1–2). No one in Egypt was the “good guy.” Both Israelite and Egyptian were stubborn and hard hearted. Both deserved punishment.

I, too, deserve punishment. But since I’m not considered a “bad guy”—at least in the evangelical circles I spend time in—it can be easy to forget that I daily need God’s transforming grace. The gods of my life need to be judged. My stubbornness needs to be rooted out and dealt with. I need my mind renewed and washed clean by God’s Word. I need to recognize that I have received an offer of grace.

This renewing of my mind by spending time in God’s Word sets me on the firm ground of wonder at God’s glory and mercy. This renewing of my mind in God’s Word reveals to me that I am an “Egyptian.” But I get to walk out of slavery with the people of God into hope. This allows me to look forward to the Celebration of the Resurrection, not with any more or less “emotion,” but with a greater gratitude and hunger for the one who saved me and a greater longing for others to know how they, too, can avoid God’s judgment.

I may not be any more emotional on Easter morning, but I do see God and his heart for my neighbors more clearly. Because of this, I can celebrate Christ more deeply.

By / Sep 23

When your members walk through the church doors this Sunday, they will arrive after a week spent living in a changing American culture. Their thoughts are not only being shaped through a variety of media—talk radio, social media and television—but also through water-cooler conversations at work and dinner-table discussions.

Christians living in a fallen world are confronted by a variety of choices. How should we think through the moral and political issues? More importantly, how can God’s people, out of desire for the flourishing of their neighbors and the advance of God’s Kingdom, winsomely shape the discussions going on in their spheres of influence?

It’s not only the pastors who are tasked with driving the discussions at church; it’s the church leaders, who interact often with the average layperson. They carry a sober responsibility to steward their office well, to bring to bear the gospel on the questions brothers and sisters in the Lord are facing each day.

1. Be informed by the Word

When it comes to cultural engagement, perhaps the biggest temptation Christians face is being influenced primarily by voices who may not share the Christian worldview. Regardless of political affiliation, we imbibe the latest content from our favorite cables news channels, ideological websites or Twitter pundits. If we are not careful, we allow a political party or movement to form our belief system.

But Christians should be people of the Book. And church leaders should model this more than anyone in the church. In Acts 6, Luke tells us that the deacons chosen to serve the people were devoted to “the ministry of prayer and the word” (Acts 6:4).

God’s people have a different grid through which we view the hot-button issues of the day. What does Scripture have to say, not only about our positioning, but about the way in which we should engage? This doesn’t mean every Sunday in the lobby has to turn into an ethics lesson, but that those called to lead the church are known for their prayerful, thoughtful, gospel-saturated viewpoints.

2. Be led by the Spirit

The men chose to lead the church at Antioch were not simply men of the Word, but they were men led by the Spirit of God. And there are few places where the Spirit’s work is more evident or more important than in discussions about divisive cultural issues. It is possible to be correct theologically and yet sin with our tone and with our speech.

Paul reminds us in Galatians that peace and joy are fruits of the Spirit. Church leaders must not only model Christ-like speech but must be sensitive and mindful of the right timing for discussions about culture within the church. There are times when it is better to simply listen to another Christian’s viewpoints without interjecting. There are other times where arguments are best left unengaged for the sake of unity in the body of Christ. The church lobby is not the place for warring political factions to wage their turf battles. Christian leaders should reflect humility and grace, serving as peacemakers and not agitators.  

3. Recast the story

The real cultural battles are not between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, elites versus the tea party. These are ancillary skirmishes in a longer conflict that traces its beginning to a Garden and a snake. The crimson-colored narrative that runs through the Bible helps us see our world in a fresh new way. The injustice and evil we see around us is the product of the Fall, but in Christ we have a new King and a new Kingdom. The gospel isn’t just something we tack on to the end of our messages, it’s the radical new paradigm that brings hope the world.

The gospel teaches us to look at the evil in the world and know that the demand for justice comes from an inborn desire to see the world made right again. It points not to temporary political messiahs, but to the resurrected Christ who is now Lord and King. It teaches us to view our political adversaries, not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people made in the image of God. The gospel breaks our heart as it broke the heart of Jesus, leading us to engage through tears, living out the mission of God in the world.

4. Mind the mission of the Church

Many are asking today, “What is the mission of the church?” Is it to preach the gospel and see the lost converted and discipled into followers of Jesus? Or is it to be the hands and feet of Jesus in shaping the contemporary culture? But faithful Christians don’t have to accept this false dichotomy, because the gospel is not only the story of personal regeneration through Christ’s atoning work, but the story of God’s renewal of his creation through Christ’s defeat of sin and death.

Therefore, Christians are not just saved from hell, but saved to good works (Eph. 2:10), which is why we are not transported in a chariot of fire to heaven the moment we are converted. Jesus placed us as otherworldly citizens in this world. The church models in miniature what the Kingdom will look like when it is fully consummated.

So the church’s mission involves both the conversion and discipleship of lost sinners and the flourishing of local communities, the care for every creature made in the image of God. This mission helps keep church leaders centered on the mission, from becoming single-issue outposts or auxiliaries of political parties of movements. By solid teaching, preaching and gospel-informed discussions, church leaders set the tone, helping their people see past the one election, one ballot initiative, and one issue. Instead, we equip God’s people to engage for the long haul, a faithful presence on all cultural issues informed by the gospel.

5. Equip for engagement

Lastly, church leaders are tasked by God to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12-16). Unfortunately, we’ve come to believe this simply means the work it takes to make a church run. And undoubtedly this is one aspect. Local churches have a need for continual training in ecclesial functions. But this goes much deeper than Sunday School teacher training or usher meetings.

The work of the ministry, for a follower of Jesus, is the holistic implications of the gospel in all areas of life. When we equip saints, we equip them to be influencers for Christ in the world in which God has called them. How they live as fathers. How they perform in the workplace, and for purposes of this discussion, how they engage the cultural questions of their day.

To equip saints for cultural engagement is more than simply mobilizing the church for activism but helping the church think through every cultural issue with a gospel lens. It’s equipping them on how to navigate the tension of courage and civility and how to speak and think with a kindness and grace that shapes civil discourse.

Bottom Line: Church leaders have a unique position of influence in which to shape the people God has called them to serve.

This article was originally published in Deacon Magazine.