Transgenderism, Mental Illness, and the Church

I recently read a post on the issue of transgenderism that made this statement:

No objective tests can prove that the transgender condition exists. No physical examination, blood test, bone marrow test, chromosome test, or brain test will show that a person has gender dysphoria. It is a condition revealed solely by the patient’s feelings.

I agree with that wholeheartedly.

But here’s the thing – that can be said about a plethora of conditions we collectively term “mental illness.” Things like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and even things like schizophrenia are also symptom diagnosed (as opposed to diagnosed via objective medical tests). You tell the doctor or therapist what’s going on with you, they ask additional questions  or observe your behavior over time and they give you a diagnosis. There are no blood tests or other objective medical tests involved. Sometimes there are medical exams to rule out other causes, such as substance abuse, but that’s different from a positive diagnosis via medical exam.

Unfortunately, the same church who wants to refute psychology on transgenderism, has largely bought into the psychological model for many other conditions equally unprovable.

For example, why do we accept this:

“I know what the Bible says about anxiety but I have a special situation.  The doctor says my brain doesn’t function the way others’ do in this regard. This is something I can’t help, something that must be treated medically.”

But not this:

“I know what the Bible says about gender but I have a special situation. The doctor says my brain doesn’t work the way others’ do in this regard. This is something I can’t help, something that must be treated medically.”

The Bible always treats destructive behaviors and inappropriate thoughts as sin, never as diseases. For example, it talks about the sin of drunkenness, not the disease of alcoholism. Yet the disease model of sin is widely accepted in many churches today, even many conservative ones, and I believe those chickens will come home to roost with the issues gender and sexuality.

For years the church has deferred to the discipline of psychology as an alternative authority or at least a coequal authority with scripture with regard to behavior and thinking. Rather than treating problems of thinking as opportunities to point people to scripture and encourage them to renew their minds, we’ve deferred to psychologists and psychiatrists. But now, when faced with transgenderism, we want to jump off that train and say (rightly) there’s no objective evidence that something in the brain determines  gender independent of  anatomy.

If you have male anatomy and think you are a woman, you don’t have a problem with your brain, you have a problem with your thinking. You are engaging in sinful and warped thinking that needs to be brought in line with the teaching of the word of God. But because we don’t make that declaration in so many other areas, we may have our work cut out for us doing so in this one.

Is Police Protection a Right?

I was having a discussion on line the other day about whether healthcare is a right. Amid the usual progressive arguments of “you want people to die,” and “you’re a sack of sh#t,” someone asked a good question. What, they said, about police, fire and military protection?

I had made the point that no one has a right to anything that imposes an obligation on someone else or, said another way, the only true rights are negative rights.

They pointed out that protecting the public does, in fact, place an obligation on someone else, namely the police officer, fire fighter or soldier. While that is true, and I believe those are legitimate functions of government, it does not then follow that individuals have a right to the services provided by those functions.

A right is something every single person possesses that the government cannot take away. Said another way, they are universal and unalienable. Therefore, government must ensure that all people’s rights are protected all the time. You don’t have a right to freedom of the press only when resources are available, you have it always. So if police protection is a right, every unthwarted mugging is a violation of an individual’s rights and the police department must be held accountable for that violation to the same degree as if they kicked in your door and searched your house without a warrant. They were required to do something, protect you from crime, and they did not. They, therefore, violated your rights.

Of course that’s silly but that’s what we must believe if we say every individual has a right to police protection. A right is not just something the government makes available; it is something the government MUST do. When they don’t, a citizen has grounds to pursue legal recourse.

So, again, only negative rights are rights. In the scenario we’re discussing, the negative right is the right to self-defense. Government may not interfere with that. While I hope the police will prevent me from being assaulted, I have the right to stop the assault myself whether they show up or not. That is why the right to own and carry a gun cannot be infringed. Because to do so is to violate a real civil right, the right to self-defense.

Science Cannot Tell Us How Old the Earth Is

One of the perennial debates between creationists and those who deny a creator is how old the earth is. This is a debate among Christians as well with some being in the YEC (Young Earth Creationist) corner and others in the OEC (Old Earth Creationist) corner.

I’m not going to delve into the pros and cons of those two belief systems in this post. I want to talk about something more fundamental. If we’re going to make a claim for the age of the earth, no matter which way we lean, on what should we stake that claim? In other words, what discipline or authority can we look to in order to find the answer to our question? More specifically, can we look to that oft cited source,  science, for the answer?

The answer is no, we can’t. In fact, science cannot even determine how old I am. A doctor can make an educated guess based on his or her observations of me (something we can do with the earth as well) then comparing me to other people whose ages they know (something we cannot do with the earth). But those could be misleading for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I’ve suffered with a debilitating disease for many years and have aged more rapidly than normal. Perhaps my hair went gray prematurely. Or, on the other end, perhaps I’ve  had a relatively easy life or are wealthy enough to mask my age with plastic surgery. Or maybe I look young or old for my age due simply to my genes. Bottom line, there is no scientific test you can perform to tell how old I am.

But they can look at my birth certificate, right? Yes, they can. But that’s not science. The reason my birth certificate is reliable is because someone who was there, probably the doctor, signed off that I was born on Tuesday, October 3, 1961. They could also, of course, ask my mother who happened to be there at the time. In other words, the only way to know for sure how hold I am is to ask someone in a position to know, someone who was there when I was born. That’s not science, that’s history.

If science cannot determine the age of an individual, how much less is it capable of doing so for the entire planet? Again, there are observations and educated guesses a scientist can make but, much as with individuals, things that have happened to the planet in the past will impact the usefulness of those observations. If, for example, I’m not taking into account that a world-wide catastrophic flood took place at some point in the past, my conclusions, based on observations in the present, will not be accurate (if such a flood did take place).

In the end, we must determine the age of the earth the same way we determine the age of individuals, by finding a reliable source that can tell us the answer. So, at least with the in-house discussion among Christians, it comes down to what the scriptures say. We must determine what we believe about the age of the earth not on what extra-biblical sources tell us but on what we’re told by the One who was there.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers?

One of the cliches of contemporary Christianity is “You can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.” It’s often said in response to outrage or concern over current cultural conditions. The implication is we should not get all exercised about people’s behavior because, well, boys will be boys, so let’s just concentrate on the gospel and not try to reform the behavior of unbelievers because it can’t be done.

But is that true? Should Christians put no effort in trying to reform the culture or even the behavior of individuals short of their full conversion to the Faith? Is it impossible for someone to change a behavior that is harmful to themselves or society short of conversion?

To start answering that question let’s do an exercise in walking through to the logical consequences of this belief:

“I wish Hitler and the Nazis would stop loading Jews onto trains and taking them to concentration camps.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or in our modern day:

,”I wish women would stop murdering their babies in the womb by the thousands each year.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or what about an individual example:

“I wish my brother-in-law would stop drinking up his paycheck every week and buy food and clothes for my sister and their kids.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

If you think those are extreme examples, you’re right. The point is, there is a point where everyone recognizes human behavior can and should change – whether the person engaging in that behavior is a believer or not. A change in behavior will never save my soul but it can make life in this realm better for myself and those I impact.

The problem may be in our understanding of what it means to “act like a believer.”

While Christianity always bears fruit in someone’s life, we cannot assume because a person is moral or loving to his family or law-abiding that he’s a believer. If that’s true, then nor can we assume because they are lost they have no ability to change for the better since clearly there are some people behaving morally who are not converted.

Christians understand God’s grace at work in the world in two different ways. One way is saving grace – the unmerited favor God gives to those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him. God gives His saving grace to whomever He chooses (Romans 9:15). When we receive that kind of grace, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, everything about us changes from our outward behavior to our inward motivation. We stop being about ourselves and start doing everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).

The other way is God’s common grace. Common grace is the unmerited favor God bestows on all mankind whereby He provides us with the good things of this world in far greater abundance than we deserve – which is to say, not at all (Matthew 5:45).  Part of this common grace is the restraint of evil. When evil is restrained it is always a grace of God but as with many other of God’s graces He often accomplishes it through ordinary means such as governments (Romans 13:2-4), the influence of friends (I Corinthians 15:33), and the actions of the godly (Joseph & Daniel both were used by God to bless believers and unbelievers alike through their skilled leadership).

On a mission trip to Ecuador last year I met an American expatriate. He was a nice man. By all appearances a very successful one as well. He shared with a colleague and me how he’s been sober for many years after struggling for many other years with alcohol abuse. But, when we began to speak with him about the gospel, he denied that Christ was essential for a relationship with God. He believed there were many ways to god and that the god he was praying to every day was going to accept him one day.

This man was lost. But, he was also sober to the good of his earthly well-being and that of his family. I praise God for the latter and yet pray too that he will come to know Christ to the good of his eternal well-being.

So, can we expect unbelievers to act like believers? No, not if by that we mean following Christ and doing all things to the glory of God. But, we can and should expect them to act like creatures formed in the image of God who have His existence written on their hearts – because that is what they are. And we should not hesitate to make an effort to influence them for the good of themselves and others in this temporal plane while remembering the most important thing we can do for them is share the gospel.

 

Thoughts on “Double Predestination”

Do you believe in double predestination?

If you’re theologically reformed, as am I, sooner or later you’ll get that question. The first and most important step in answering it is to understand what the person means by that phrase. Defining terms should always be our first step in any theological discussion. Unless we mean the same thing when we use the same words, we’ll never know if we agree or disagree, whatever the topic.

If they mean that before the foundation of the world, God the Father chose a people for Himself who would be saved, leaving others in their sin then, yes, I believe that. I believe that because that’s what the Bible teaches. Many people, especially those unfamiliar with reformed theology, equate that belief with double predestination. But, that’s not what the term means in a classical sense.

True double predestination, sometimes called equal ultimacy, teaches that God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect.

If this is what the questioner means, my answer is “no,” I do not believe in double predestination.

To explain why, let’s start with what the Bible says about the salvation of the elect. The Bible tells us that before we can believe, God must change our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26, John 6:65). Left to ourselves, we will never seek God because our hearts are naturally opposed to Him (Romans 3:11-12). For those whom He’s chosen to save, God steps in and does a work in their heart so they will repent and believe the gospel.

If, then, God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect, that implies God must do a work in people’s hearts to cause them to reject Him.  That, in turn, implies that human beings start out neutral, neither rejecting God nor choosing Him, and only after God inclines them one way or the other do they reject or accept Him. The Bible does not allow that position. It is clear that all men since Adam start out as God’s enemies with no desire to please Him or follow Him (Romans 5:10). Therefore, God does not have to do a work in someone’s heart for them to reject Him. That is man’s natural state apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Men do not start out neutral, they start out in rebellion against God.

But what about passages like Exodus 10:20 and others? This seems to teach that God did a work in Pharaoh’s heart that caused Pharaoh to reject Him. While it does say God did something in Pharaoh’s heart, that does not imply that Pharaoh’s heart was neutral before God’s action.  God was in the midst of showing His power and glory to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. His plan was to do this through a series of plagues, each of which showed His power in greater and greater ways and which, when completed, would result in Israel being set free and Pharaoh, who fancied himself a god, shown to be merely a man subject to the God of the universe (Exodus 9:16).

There are many reasons wicked men pull back from their wickedness that have nothing to do with repentance. They might, for example, relent because the consequences of continuing cause them personal hardship or harm. In the case of Pharaoh, God did not want him to relent until all ten plagues had been carried out. Therefore, He strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to resist so that His plan for Egypt and Israel could be fully worked out (Exodus 11:9). In other words, God wanted the people of Israel to be released on His terms, not Pharaoh’s. God was not hardening Pharaoh’s heart against Him –  Pharaoh was already opposed to God. God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart against letting the children of Israel go before the God-ordained time.

In summary, God does not work in the hearts of men to cause them to reject Him. He does, however, graciously choose to work in the hearts of untold numbers of men and women from among every nation, tribe, people and language causing them to see His beauty and accept Him and for that we should praise Him (Revelation 7:9).