Editor’s note: The following book review appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Eikon.
Alan Branch. Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.
“I recommend you support your teenaged daughter as she begins transitioning into a boy…and you should start calling him Tom.”
Receiving these words from a psychologist who denies Christ is expected. But when a top Christian expert dispenses this advice to an already confused and broken-hearted mother and father, it must give us pause. How did we get to this point where misguided ministry leaders embrace and celebrate transgender identities over against biological reality? Why are even some leading Christian therapists recommending gender reassignment — even if only starting with the least invasive procedures? And most importantly, what is the good news of the gospel for people who identify as transgendered, experience gender dysphoria, or have loved ones who do?
In Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture, Alan Branch provides biblical, scientific, and practical insight on this complex and relevant phenomenon of transgenderism. This much-needed and important book makes the case that “transgenderism is not a trait like hair or skin color but is in fact an identity rooted in multiple causes and is completely inconsistent with Christian ethics” (9). Additionally, the book raises fundamental ethical and scientific problems with gender reassignment while providing practical suggestions for parents and the church.
Chapter 1 surveys the history of transgenderism from antiquity until now. Even prior to modern times, transgender-like behavior was present, for example, in ancient Rome with the “Galli” of the Cult of Cybele. The modern transgender movement burgeoned out of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the literary deconstruction movement in academia.
In order to engage our ever-changing culture with the never-changing gospel, we must continue to learn its ever-evolving language. In Chapter 2, Branch serves the church well by explaining current terminology that Christians must know to understand and engage well on this topic. Some of the vocabulary I used when I identified as a gay man decades ago before my conversion are even inappropriate today; and some of the vocabulary today was not present decades ago.
The Bible and theology — the queen of sciences — is the focus of Chapter 3. A weakness of “go to” Christian resources on gender dysphoria is a lack of biblical and theological depth with an over-abundant dependence on subjective conjecture from psychology. Dr. Branch does not err in this way. Beginning in creation, the author communicates that male and female is an intricate part of the image of God. There is a unified witness in both the Old and New Testaments which conveys that the inversion of gender roles is sinful. Furthermore, Paul’s robust doctrine of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 confirms that the physical body is important and good, which is inconsistent with gender reassignment surgery and a transgender identity. A minor complaint of mine is that “gender” is called a gift (51). This could be misunderstand that natal sex (male and female) is not. Instead, for precision and clarity, I would rather say that natal sex is a good gift of God’s creation.
Chapters 4 and 5 move to the natural sciences, discussing genetics and the brain. In spite of popular consensus, current research demonstrates that genetics may play a contributing factor, but it is not the cause. In addition, studies have not conclusively demonstrated significant brain differences between transgender and non-transgender people. The following two chapters explain the transition process. Branch reviews hormone therapy for adults, puberty-suppression medications for youth, and their associated health risks in Chapter 6. It must be clearly stated that hormone blockers do not “pause” puberty as parents naively assume, but inflict irreversible damage. Although it may be uncomfortable for some, Chapter 7 describes what occurs in top and bottom gender reassignment surgery. This book does not shy away from the complications, negative outcomes, and even the inconsistencies with medical ethics that are often hidden and suppressed.
The final two chapters relay practical advice for the family and the church. The data on childhood gender dysphoria reveal that many cases do resolve after puberty. Branch also provides helpful words for parents of both young children and adult children. It’s important for church leaders and congregations to recognize the difference between a struggle with gender dysphoria and the sin of embracing a transgender identity. Not being swayed by public opinion, Christians must always realize that no surgery can ever change anyone’s sex. These surgeries are more akin to mutilation than therapy. As more and more parents consider hormone inhibitors to delay unwanted sex characteristics, the church must lovingly yet confidently declare that puberty is not a disease and that natal sex is a good gift.
Branch does an excellent job showing the ethical inconsistency of modern mental health professionals who believe gender reassignment is a viable solution to gender dysphoria. The strength of his critique lies in distinguishing the two antithetical worldviews: Christian and secular. This delineation provides the reader with the correct framework to assess the faulty presuppositions of transgender ideology and its erroneous interpretations of science and ethics. This vacillating view is rightly called “sexual anarchy” (114), and the great tragedy is our next generation’s inculcation of this vastly popular and seemingly compassionate response.
There is a dearth of Christian resources on transgenderism with only a few grounded in God’s truth which do not treat gender identity as primarily a psychological matter. Thus, I am reticent to offer the following critique and constructive criticism on this already good book. The focus of Dr. Branch’s teachings, research, and published works have focused on Christian ethics. His first book, Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, is wonderful evidence that Scripture and science are not antithetical. Affirming God’s Image engages well with the natural sciences. Yet, I believe the book could have been strengthened if Branch had interacted with the social sciences as well and raised the specific question as to why the science of psychology must supersede the science of biology. In essence, this prioritization is the triumph of subjectivity over objectivity.
The chapter on Scripture was well written. It could have also refuted the common myth that the Bible does not address the modern phenomenon of transgenderism. This myth ignores the theological entailments of biblical texts that speak of sex and gender. Whereas there may not be a particular Bible verse that explicitly addresses transgenderism, one finds that through careful theological reflection of the relevant texts across Scripture, the Bible does address transgenderism. Transgenderism is not primarily about what sex or gender is. Rather, it is a battle about what is true and what is real. Transgenderism is ultimately about epistemology. In other words, how do we know what is true and real? The world says, “If you think something, it is your truth.” God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). And Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Thus, we cannot trust our minds or our hearts. Truth only comes from God.
Branch sheds light and encourages Christians to have a deeper knowledge of secular worldviews and beliefs of people outside the church regarding scientific and ethical positions on gender and sexuality. He also provides a clear example of how Christians should think biblically about these issues and how to properly look at science and morality according to a Christian worldview. If all truth is God’s truth, and scientific discoveries of truth in general revelation are ultimately a revelation of the created order which points to the Creator, then Christians should approach science with such lenses. As believers use special revelation, God’s Word, to respond accordingly to the secular celebration of transgenderism and sexual identities, Christians need to show the world how general revelation agrees with special revelation when providing scientific rebuttals to gender reassignment and genetics.
Branch provides the reader with biblically-grounded material on how the church should respond with scientific data to the prevailing secular ideologies and their distorted understandings of sex and gender. Branch’s book reorients the church to think scientifically and biblically when facing a secular approach to gender dysphoria, which has crept into the church and challenges her sound teachings on sex (male and female), theological anthropology, and epistemology. Everyone should read this book because, ultimately, this impacts us all as we live in a broken world in desperate need of a Savior.
Christopher Yuan (D.Min., M.A. Exegesis) is a speaker and author on biblical sexuality. His most recent book is Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story.
 Besides, Alan Branch’s book, see also, Andrew Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity(Charlotte: The Good Book, 2017); and Vaughan Roberts, Transgender: Christian Compassion, Convictions and Wisdom for Today’s Big Questions(Charlotte: The Good Book, 2016). [Editor’s note: for more book recommendations by CBMW on gender and sexuality, visit http://books.cbmw.org/]
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