Alan Shlemon

If God Became a Man, Can a Man Become a Woman?

Defining terms is always essential to a conversation because you don’t want to talk past each other. In this case, it’s even more critical because the tweet compares two things: the incarnation and transgender ideology. The only way the tweet works is if the two things being compared are parallel…They are not.
Does Christian theology support transgender ideology? You wouldn’t think so, but someone recently tweeted, “If you believe God became a human, then you can believe someone can be a different gender than what they were assigned at birth.” Seems simple enough. God changed, so why can’t we? What’s the problem?
This is a single tweet, so why bother answering it? Though it seems like an isolated challenge, it’s worth addressing for three reasons. First, it’s a popular tweet with thousands of likes and retweets. Second, it represents the increasingly common but errant view that Christian theology provides a safe harbor for transgender ideology. Third, it’s good mental practice to see a tricky challenge and learn how to evaluate it and respond.
Christians who uphold a biblical anthropology read the tweet and know that something is amiss but often struggle to identify the problem. It’s easy to be taken aback by a simple slogan and not know how to respond. Why? The tweet trades on a different dictionary. The author defines the terms differently than you. When you clarify the meanings, though, the solution becomes apparent. Three terms in this tweet demand definition: “God became a human,” “gender,” and “assigned at birth.” Those three terms entail almost the entire tweet, which explains why this challenge seems so mystifying.
Defining terms is always essential to a conversation because you don’t want to talk past each other. In this case, it’s even more critical because the tweet compares two things: the incarnation and transgender ideology. The only way the tweet works is if the two things being compared are parallel. I recognize that in any comparison, it’s not fair to expect everything to be parallel. There will always be areas of similarity and dissimilarity. I get that. In this case, however, the details of what’s being compared need to be parallel in relevant ways. They are not, however.
First, let’s clarify the claim that “God became a human.” This phrase is theologically imprecise. I understand the author is trying to make a general reference to the incarnation. By being overly simplistic, though, he ignores the theological nuance he needs in order to see that his point is unsound. In the incarnation, God does not become human. That’s not orthodoxy. God doesn’t change his nature and become something else. While remaining fully God, the second person of the Trinity (the Logos), adds human nature to himself in the person of Jesus. God’s divine nature, however, doesn’t change.
Though this might seem like nitpicking, clarifying the nature of the incarnation is relevant. After all, the author uses the incarnation as an example of what’s possible with a transgender person. Since God changed from divine to human, so the author says, it’s alleged a transgender person can change from man to woman.
The problem with this reasoning is twofold. First, just because God can do something, it doesn’t mean a human can as well. In fact, the opposite is true. God’s miraculous activity is just that—supernatural—something mere mortals are impotent to do. Second, as we clarified, God does not become human but merely adds a human nature. That’s different, and the details matter. A transgender person claims they can change their gender from the one they were born with. God doesn’t change in that way, and therefore, it’s not evidence that a person can change their gender, either. Of course, what is meant by “gender” is precisely another key question.
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God’s Preferred Pronouns

The biblical data overwhelming supports the position that God wants us to refer to him with a singular, masculine pronoun. Since that’s how God has chosen to reveal himself, we should honor him by using the pronouns used in Scripture.
God is not a he. That’s what gender theorists claim. God’s pronouns are they/them, we’re told. After all, God is an ungendered spiritual being. He’s three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s a plurality of persons. Furthermore, “Elohim”—the ancient Hebrew word for God—is in plural form. Doesn’t all this evidence signal a reason to change how we refer to God? Should we abandon he/him and adopt they/them?
To be fair, there is some truth to what is being said. God is a spiritual, not physical, being. He’s not gendered and, therefore, neither male nor female like a human being. That’s true. Also, God is triune, which means he co-exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons in one divine being. Therefore, it does make sense to refer to the three persons of the Trinity as they/them (e.g., “They all have the same divine nature”). Apart from that instance, there’s no reason to assign the Almighty new pronouns.
It’s also worth noting that modern gender ideology is, historically speaking, incredibly recent (and, I’d argue, highly dubious). To grant it full authority and then retroactively impose it on an ancient culture that never operated in those terms is like trying to impose automobile regulations on horse-drawn carriages. It’s anachronistic.
The attempt to map modern ideology on ancient texts is nothing new. Cancel culture is fraught with problems because it assesses past behaviors and expressions of ideas according to modern sensibilities. People have also recently claimed that the Bible doesn’t limit sex to male and female, which, again, attempts to map today’s cultural categories onto ancient texts. There are other examples, to be sure. All of them, however, fail because they are anachronistic. Even so, there’s a better reason to reject they/them pronouns for God.
God has already revealed his pronouns in the Bible, and they are he/him. In one sense, there’s no need to debate this question since God has already decreed his decision. Remember, the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). That means the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors to write the words of Scripture, and that includes the singular, masculine pronouns he chose for himself.
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Everyone Needs to Change, Including LGBT People

Do LGBT people need to change who they are and who they love? If they want to follow Jesus, then, yes, of course. God calls us to change our unbiblical identity (whatever it is) and align our will (whatever its desires) with the Father.

I’m told I’ve got this wrong. I’m told that when it comes to people who identity as LGBT, God doesn’t expect them to change who they are or change who they love. I’m also told this is too hard a pill for evangelicals to swallow.
I presume that what they mean is that people with same-sex attraction, a transgender identity, or who claim to be non-binary are free to embrace those impulses and satisfy those desires. God doesn’t expect them to change their identities or the the objects of their affection. They can be faithful followers of Jesus while fully embracing their LGBT identity.
The claim that becoming a follower of Jesus doesn’t entail change, however, is totally foreign to what it means to be a Christian. Every believer who is transformed by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit experiences a change of identity and lifestyle. It’s unreasonable to expect that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave—that resides in a regenerate person’s soul—is not going to change who you are and change your desires.
That’s because becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t an minor change. It’s not a slight shift. It’s a total transformation. You’re born again (John 3:3). You exit darkness and enter the light (1 Pet. 2:9). You were once a slave to sin and now are a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:16–18). You were dead in your sins but now are alive in Christ (Rom. 6:11). You are adopted by God and have become his child (Rom. 8:15). The old things pass away and the new things come. You literally become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
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A Verse That Illustrates Three Interpretive Principles

Hermeneutics is critical because it’s the connection between God’s Word and its application. The single most influential class I took in seminary was hermeneutics. It did more to enrich my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word than any other subject.

There’s one topic I wish every believer would study. Even though I’m an apologist and have taught apologetics for nearly two decades, it has nothing to do with defending the faith (though it can help with that). It’s called hermeneutics, but it’s more commonly known as biblical interpretation. If I could, I would require every believer in the global church to learn its principles.
Now, I can almost hear the pushback. Hermen-what? It sounds like a dry, academic subject that has no practical value for my walk with God. It’s probably just for pastors, people say.
That’s just not true. Hermeneutics is an exciting topic because it helps us believers better understand what God is saying to us. You’re going read the Bible between now and the day you die, and what you read will define your theology, affect major life decisions, and determine what you teach others according to what you think it says. Hermeneutics is critical because it’s the connection between God’s Word and its application. The single most influential class I took in seminary was hermeneutics. It did more to enrich my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word than any other subject.
Let me illustrate how three key principles of biblical interpretation can help you understand a commonly misunderstood passage. It’s based on a verse that has fueled numerous skeptics to challenge the integrity of Jesus.
They claim that Jesus commands his followers to round up those who reject him and kill them. They cite Luke 19:27 where Jesus says, “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” That doesn’t sound like the tender and compassionate Jesus we all know. What’s going on? The problem is entirely a hermeneutical mistake—people are misinterpreting the passage. Consider how applying the three keys to biblical interpretation clarifies the meaning and application of this passage.
Context: The first key to interpreting any biblical passage is to read the verses before and after the passage in question. The more you read, the better. That’s why we say at Stand to Reason, “Never read a Bible verse.” Always read the whole paragraph, the chapter, or the whole book. When this verse is read in context, you discover that Jesus is telling a parable about a nobleman and his servants. Parables, of course, are fictitious stories intended to illustrate a point. This story is about a nobleman who leaves ten minas with his ten servants and departs to be crowned king. His servants hate him, though, and send an envoy to petition against his appointment. After he’s crowned king, he returns to judge his servants on how they’ve invested his money. After rewarding the faithful servants, he punishes the unfaithful ones and then orders his enemies to be killed.
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Can You Stand for Truth Without Being Offensive?

We can expect to be hated and persecuted by virtue of following Jesus. In the meantime, do your best to be a winsome ambassador for Jesus. Try to be as inoffensive as you can when addressing controversial topics. But when people are offended by your biblical values, don’t be surprised. That’s part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

I often speak on controversial subjects: abortion, homosexuality, Islam, transgenderism, bioethics. These aren’t topics that are casually brought up over Christmas dinner and calmly discussed with out-of-town family. That’s why believers often ask me how they can stand for truth on controversial topics without being offensive. Here are three quick things I tell them.
First, I’m grateful for their concern to avoid being crass and offensive. I see too many believers who don’t care at all—or at least appear to not care. They use the truth like a club to beat people over the head. Grace? What grace? That’s for Christ to extend to non-believers, they say.
But believers should do whatever they can to communicate the truth in a winsome and gracious way. Scripture identifies them as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). That means they represent Jesus with their life. How they come across to other people will be a reflection upon the good name of Jesus. Believers, therefore, should strive to speak in a warm, friendly, and kind manner. That’s especially necessary when they’re addressing a controversial topic.
Second, they need to manage their expectations. It’s unreasonable to expect people who hold a non-biblical worldview will find all our positions unoffensive as long as we communicate in a certain way.
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Must You Remain Silent on Abortion Unless You Adopt a Baby?

What makes this challenge odd is that it presumes the pro-life community is doing nothing to meet the needs of women (pregnant or not) and their children. The reality is that there are more pregnancy resource centers in the United States than there are abortion clinics. These centers and their staff provide counseling, pregnancy testing, maternity supplies, ultrasounds, housing, and even financial assistance for women and their unborn and born babies.

The Planned Parenthood employee thought she had me with her question: “How many unwanted children have you adopted?” “None,” I replied. She probably thought, Checkmate, I got him. The pro-life view results in more babies being born. So it follows, according to this lady’s thinking, that if I don’t adopt any of them, I’m disqualified from arguing against abortion. Though this question is rhetorically powerful, it’s not a compelling case against pro-lifers.
Let me be clear: Adoption is beautiful. That’s for certain. It’s a noble and praiseworthy act when a loving couple sees a child in need and adopts him as their own.
But if you’ve never adopted a child, does this disqualify you from speaking out against abortion? Although this is a common challenge raised by abortion-choice advocates, there are (at least) five problems with this thinking.
First, there is no logical connection between a person’s unwillingness to adopt a child and their moral claim that abortion is wrong. Just because both are related to the subject of abortion, that doesn’t mean they are contradictory. How does a pro-lifer’s unwillingness to adopt a baby give another person justification to kill that baby? In logic, this is called a red herring. It’s a distraction from the main point. The question illegitimately shifts the attention from the morality of abortion to the pro-life person. It’s clever sophistry but bad logic.
Second, the misstep becomes more obvious with two morally comparable illustrations. Imagine you’re arguing in 19th-century America that slavery is immoral, and a slavery advocate retorts, “How many ex-slaves have you employed in your company?” Your argument against slavery is dismissed because, if it succeeds, it results in freed slaves who are “unemployed.” If you don’t employ them, it’s alleged you can’t argue against slavery. That doesn’t make sense, though. The question of whether or not slavery should be abolished should be decided based on the merits of the argument against slavery and not on your willingness to hire freed slaves.
Or imagine you argue to criminalize sleeping on a city’s sidewalks, thereby displacing the homeless population. Someone responds by asking, “How many homeless people are you willing to house in your home?”
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Does the Bible Limit Gender to Just Male and Female?

When God chose to remake the world, he only preserved males and females because those two exhausted the gender categories of both humans and animals. The reason behind this decision seems consistent with the reason found in the initial creation of Genesis: The gender binary was directly tied to procreation. Only a male and female (no more and no less) are needed to be fruitful and multiply.

There’s a trendy new idea that denies God created only two genders (male and female). What’s the proof? Frogs. That’s right. Proponents of this view claim frogs are evidence that the gender binary of the Bible is a myth. If you’re puzzled by this, that’s understandable. Here’s how the argument works.
Defenders of this position point out that in Genesis 1, Scripture says God made creatures that live on the land and creatures that swim in the water. Frogs, however, are amphibians and aren’t exclusively land or water creatures. They don’t fit neatly in either of those creature classifications. So, although Genesis describes the creation of land and water creatures, it does not account for every kind of animal that God made.
In the same way, so the argument goes, even though Scripture says that God made humans “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), those two categories can’t account for every kind of human. God also created non-binary people—those who aren’t either male or female.
Now, there is some truth to what is being said. Many of the binary categories mentioned in the Genesis narrative don’t fully account for everything that’s created. For example, the Bible says God made day and night—allegedly the only two categories during a 24-hour period—but there’s also sunrise, sunset, dusk, and dawn that are neither day nor night.
Notice, however, in those cases (land/sea creatures, night/day), Scripture later references some of the natural variations between these binary extremes. For example, the Bible mentions frogs over a dozen times, acknowledging the existence of animals that are neither land nor sea creatures. Scripture also references dawn and twilight, even though they don’t fit the binary category of day and night.
This, however, is not the case with the binary category of male and female described in Genesis. There is never a later scriptural reference to another kind of human that falls outside the binary male-female gender category. If humans were made that were neither male nor female, why doesn’t Scripture say so?
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