This week, a USA Today article, “What To Do When Your Son Wants To Be a Princess for Halloween. (Hint: Have Fun!),” reports the dubious statistics that now “23% of Gen Z’ers expect their identity to change at least once in their lifetime, according to a 2019 report from ‘Irregular Labs’ and a Vice Survey found 41% identify as neutral on the spectrum of masculinity and femininity.” These are most certainly skewed and unrepresentative surveys, but it does chart the push of the powers-that-be. A country which, in 2007, had only one pediatric gender clinic and which, today, has hundreds is certainly heading in this direction.
If you believe in gender as a God-given gift, a beautiful calling, and a way of understanding your body, you may be alarmed at this tragic trend. On the heels of such reports I hear many worried descriptions of how our culture is crumbling and loud cries of doom for the church. What should be the response of our hearts?
As I said to a friend recently while discussing our culture, “Don’t worry. He’s got this.” By that, I meant that God not only has this covered, He has ordained it. The cultural overturning of men and women and its departure from Biblical truth in this arena is actually a conversation between Christ and His Western church. Yes, there will come great damage to people when they believe false things, but God will redeem those—all parts of those—who turn to Him.
One of those ways of redemption is how God uses points of tension (or outright contradiction) to spur the church on to refining and defining truth in light of current concerns. Each forward step in history of orthodox Biblical doctrine has been taken as a step away from a rising heresy besetting the church. The sound doctrine produced then provides the way of healthy living and greater worship.
The doctrine of revelation, for example, could not find, before the Enlightenment, the fuller expression it enjoys today, because European culture had not so fully challenged the Bible’s authority. This growing fullness is reflected in the space given to the topic of “God’s revealed word” in various theology texts. The subject, which John Calvin discusses in seed form in a few pages of the Institutes (Book I:6-8) in the 16th century, becomes the very large section, “Principium Cognoscendi Externum,” in Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, in the 20th century, and today is standardized as one of the seven great headings of the traditional theological curriculum.
The church’s very journey to the truth about who Jesus Christ was, formulated in Chalcedon (451 AD), is another excellent example of such a flight from heresy. The final Christological understanding emerged only from a series of three clarifying current-culture-induced controversies: the Apollinarian Controversy of 362 – 381, the Nestorian Controversy of 428 – 431, and the Eutychian Debacle of 444 – 449.
We could cite many other examples. Orthodoxy arises from heresy. That’s always how it happens.
So what is occurring now? As the culture-imbibing church of the western world wrestles with the questions of what woman is, and what man should be, as it loves those who struggle with marriage covenant-contrary desires, as it ministers to those who hate their bodies, a better anthropology will be born, a fuller, deeper, and yes, more correct understanding of humanity, one much more sensitive to gender. As these controversies send us back to the Bible, the Bible’s wisdom on these matters will be better plumbed. And it will help us not only to better understand the triune God, and so improve our worship, it will show us how to help people pick up the pieces of their lives as they are delivered from the fashionable deceptions of our time.