Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2022)
Sometimes in life things move quickly. That’s certainly been true in the transgender conversation. Just a decade ago, most people would have had very little understanding of transgender experience and would very rarely have heard it talked about. Go back to five years ago and things were changing. A number of transgender people had become prominent in the public eye and the transgender conversation was building pace. Into that context came the first edition of Andrew T. Walker’s God and the Transgender Debate. Five years later and the conversation has grown in complexity and prominence. Into that context comes an expanded and updated edition of Walker’s book, a book that has the potential to play an important role among the Christian resources currently available on the topic.
What is perhaps most impressive in Walker’s book is the amount of ground that he covers in a paperback of manageable size. The transgender conversation is complex partly because of its breadth, and a Christian response is difficult because it needs multiple facets in order to be rounded. Walker manages to engage with many parts of the conversation and gives a well-rounded Christian response covering many of the key bases.
Walker gives a well-rounded Christian response covering many of the key bases.
Broadly speaking the book falls into three sections. The first introduces the topic of gender identity, considers the cultural and intellectual background of the perspectives that have emerged in recent years, and offers a primer on the language and concepts involved.
The second section seeks to present a Bible-based understanding of transgender experience and the right and best response to that experience. Walker makes good use of the Bible’s overarching narrative as a structure to think through the topic. Of particular value is the chapter ‘On Making a Decision’ in which Walker helps us to think about worldviews and how we, as Christians, should make ethical decisions. For any Christian, this chapter is worth reading and reflecting on as a help for how we navigate any number of difficult ethical issues, not just transgender experience.
The third and longest section deals with the practical and pastoral implications of the biblical perspective. Walker reflects on what it looks like to love well, what kind of churches we need to become, and how we can challenge the transgender movement in wider society. Particularly helpful chapters are ‘No Easy Paths’, in which Walker gives clear but sensitive wisdom on what Christian faithfulness might look like for trans-identified people, and ‘Speaking to Children’, where he offers helpful advice for parents and others who might find themselves engaging with children on this topic. An appendix tackles the tricky question of pronouns. Walker does a good job of acknowledging that Christians might reasonably reach different conclusions on this matter while also offering helpful wisdom on how to make our own decision.
Walker is both firmly committed to biblical truth and pastorally sensitive.
Throughout the book, Walker communicates clearly and is both firmly committed to biblical truth and pastorally sensitive. It is good to see that he is particularly firm on the need to realise the reality of gender dysphoria, the pain that it can cause, and the requirement for Christians to be genuinely compassionate, loving and welcoming.
There are a couple of ways in which God and the Transgender Debate could perhaps be improved. One would be to remove the use of the term ‘transgenderism’ since it is a word that carries unhelpful and negative connotations.1 Anyone who is familiar with the trans conversation will feel the peculiarity of finding the regular use of ‘transgenderism’ by an author who seems to call for genuine understanding of and compassion towards trans-identifying people. It is disappointing – and surprising – that this hasn’t been addressed in this updated edition. Another point noted in reviews of the first edition that could have been addressed is the lack of any words or stories from people who have themselves experienced gender dysphoria. While Walker calls for genuine engagement with trans-identified people, the book doesn’t really show evidence of this having happened in its formation.
There are also other areas where this updated edition missed the opportunity to move with the developments of the transgender conversation. The new phenomenon of adolescent-onset trans-identification, which is currently by far the most common trans experience, receives very little mention. A dedicated chapter on this would have made sense for an updated edition. While the biblical position is presented well, there is no engagement with other viewpoints on the topic sometimes put forward by Christians (e.g. the idea of sexed souls or challenges to the male-female binary in Genesis 1). Preston Sprinkle’s Embodied can fill some of these gaps. There is also little engagement with secular views of identity formation and how this intersects with trans experience. Walker focuses on views of reality rather than identity which is unfortunate given that our culture talks about trans experience in terms of identity and so Christians need to know how to think about and respond to this. My own People Not Pronouns is an attempt to offer some help with that section of the conversation.
Though more could have been done to tailor it to the current state of the transgender conversation, this edition of God and the Transgender Debate is a very helpful resource for Christians and a helpful complement to the growing range of Christian resources on this question. It is well worth reading.
- Preston Sprinkle has made a good case against the use of this word in ‘Why I Don’t Use the Term “Transgenderism”’, The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender.