This month the Christian Standard made a rare foray into the culture wars by publishing an article entitled “How Should Christians View Gender Dysphoria.” The byline is Rubel Shelly. The article, as noted at the end, contains excerpts from Shelly’s book “Male & Female God Created Them: A Biblical Review of LGBTQ+ Claims.” 

In spite of the title’s implicit promise for guidance, the author’s discursive style distracts and muddles what enlightenment it has to offer. For this reader, at least, the excursion raises more questions than it answers. Ultimately, once Shelly’s rationale is reduced to its essential elements, the paucity of his argument remains. The treatise begins with a startling, unbiblical, and anti-intellectual proposition. He states unequivocally that biological sex and gender are separate and wholly unrelated concepts. “Sex is objective,” contends Shelly, while “gender is a subjective self-perception.” Gender, he writes, “offers what a person may feel about one’s placement in the world’s social structures.” He goes on to say, “The relationship between sex and gender is therefore tangential at best, and one may legitimately question the ‘gender expectations’ that a given society seeks to impose.” 

What an extraordinary claim! 

Never in the history of our civilization have we ever operated within the gender-fluid framework Shelly describes, much less dealt with all that this existential proposition brings with it. And yet, Shelly matter-of-factly states this premise as though it is – and always has been – self-evident. On what does he base this claim? When and how – exactly – did gender and sex become separated?

One can only surmise that Dr. Shelly expects us to revise our priors and hang on for the ride. 

Indeed, rather than offering any sort of evidence for this unprecedented declaration, the writer quickly pivots into establishing his much less controversial premise – biological sex is binary. From there, Shelly steers us into a long digression expostulating on various ill-conceived nostrums and accommodations brought about by Transgenderism, incentivized by the media, and implemented throughout the culture (e.g. men competing in women’s sports, harmful “gender affirming” protocols for children affected by the disorder, and “Male, Female, or X” choices now available on passports). Don’t get me wrong, lamenting the deleterious effects of such initiatives is appropriate and necessary. Moreover, Shelly should be credited for clearly – and correctly – indicting as culprits the ideological activists populating psychology and gender studies departments in practically all of our major universities. However, in the end, Shelly’s thesis unwittingly operates as a Trojan Horse –  carrying, by stealth, harmful preconceptions believers would do well to reject at the gate. 

Specifically, the Lipscomb University professor poisons the philosophical pot – whether one is reading this Christian Standard article or his College Press book – by injecting the Cartesian notion of mind-body dualism such that one can be a woman in a man’s body because one’s gender is separate from one’s physiology. This premise is predicated on the fallacy that gender is totally and completely socially constructed. It is a premise that cannot be supported nor demonstrated on any level. Moreover, the insistence we feel from the commanding heights of our cultural arbiters and academic elites to mirror this lie may cause us to compromise our witness and damage the world around us. It is damaging to truth. It is damaging to children. And it spreads a social contagion down to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. And while it is true that Shelly lands on the terra firma of orthodoxy in the end  – encouraging those suffering from gender dysphoria to seek spiritual and psychological help – it matters how he arrived there. The end doesn’t justify the means. The gender-is-separate-from-sex lie and its benighted corollaries must be exposed and resisted – particularly by Christians. Theologically, by accepting this syllogism of circularity, Dr. Shelly undermines all of Paul’s gender specific admonitions to Christians by cancelling out the objective nature of those admonitions – something I suspect some among us may want to do.

In the end, if gender is tangential, fluid, and defined by societal strictures, how do we understand Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14?

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

In 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5, and 1 Peter 3, the New Testament vouchsafes all kinds of gender-specific instructions for men and women (single and married), encouraging certain desired behaviors and admonishing others. Are these Biblical instructions not completely undermined by Shelly’s central premise of gender fluidity? Doesn’t his article (or book) endorse, by precept, any believer’s decision to flout gender-specific instructions as “antiquated notions of biological sex and” a violation of “human rights?” 

I hope not. Because the simple fact of the matter is if we can’t agree on a shared reality in which basic statements like “men are men and women are women” can be said, then we share nothing at all – regardless of how “non-sectarian” we claim to be.

Correction: In the original blog post published on January 10, 2024, we mistakenly inferred the CS article in review to have been composed by someone other than Dr. Shelly who is named in the byline. Rubel Shelly did, indeed, excerpt his own book for this article. We updated the post to fix our mistake on January 16. Apologies for suggesting otherwise. 

By Terry Sweany

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 38 years and have a daughter and granddaughter.

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