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Ministry Monday: Transgender - a new book by Vaughan Roberts

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Posted by Tom Woolford, 26 Sep 2016

A review of Vaughan Roberts' new book in the Good Book Company's 'Talking Points' series.

“The world is changing. Fast.”

So begins Tim Thornborough’s foreword to this new short offering (75 pages) by Vaughan Roberts on the subject that dominates our Facebook newsfeeds and the BBC homepage, and which is likely to feature prominently in Church of England debates over the next decade.

While the world is changing fast, the evangelical church risks being (characteristically) slow in catching up with the terms of debate. To communicate the faith once delivered to the saints to this and the next generation, we need to know what are the idols that fill our cities: the evangelist needs to be able to discern and demonstrate their vanity with the truth of the Gospel; the pastor needs to be able to shepherd those sheep unsettled and confused by what ‘everyone knows’ to be right and good.

The early chapters of Vaughan’s book (due to be released on October 3rd) catch the reader up with the situation on the ground: key terms, major contours of debate, the state of the biological and sociological academy, the popular-level portrayal of the issues in the media. Very little – if any – of this will be new information for millennials active in social media and interested in public discourse. But it may be a useful introduction for those for whom talk of transgender is novel and bewildering. One small regret I have about these opening chapters is that Vaughan’s footnotes cite Christian or conservative sources that would not be seen as credible by those outside the church (such as the recent article in the New Atlantis journal - widely critiqued in the secular blogosphere. This restricts the usefulness of this book for engaging in debate with unbelieving friends or more generally in the public sphere.

The central chapters outline a basic biblical theology of gender through creation, fall, redemption and consummation. As one expects from Vaughan Roberts, this section is a deft, faithful and (for its length) remarkably thorough overview that says – briefly – everything that needs to be said on the matter. But the sixth and final short chapter – entitled ‘Wisdom’ – is in my view the best part of the book. It oozes biblical integrity; Christian love and pastoral sensitivity; gentleness and patience. Coming at the end of a short but serious book on this difficult question, it reminds us that this is not merely an ‘issue’ to have right theology about, but people – made in the image of God – to be served with truth and love.

Tom Woolford is a Blackburn Diocese Ordinand, studying at Oak Hill College.

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