Transgenderism, Science, and Scripture: A Book Review

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J. Alan Branch, Affirming God’s Image: Addressing the Transgender Question with Science and Scripture. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019. Pp. 200. $16.99, paperback.

Alan Branch, professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, has written a sequel on another hotly debated issue in sexual ethics, namely transgenderism.[1] This second book starts with a list of common claims from transgender activists and public figures:

(1) embracing transgender identity should be celebrated; (2) God is actually behind one’s transgender identity; (3) people claim to have a female soul trapped in a male body, or a male soul trapped in a female body; (4) if you love children, you will agree with the avant-garde stance regarding transgenderism; (5) it is a noble and brave thing voluntarily to go through extensive surgery to transform one’s gender experience; (6) such an experience is liberating (pp. 2–3).

Against such claims, Branch states his thesis as follows: “Transgenderism is not a trait like hair or skin color but is in fact an identity rooted in multiple causes and is completely inconsistent with Christian ethics” (p. 4). However, he is also quick to add an important qualification about his approach: “My goal is to join conviction and compassion in an evaluation of transgenderism. Since the vast majority of us have never experienced gender dysphoria, it can be challenging to understand someone’s subjective experience of this condition” (p. 4).

Branch sets the stages for his arguments by first tracing the historical development of transgenderism (ch. 1), which may have begun in the cross-dressing or “transgender-like” activities reported in the Roman Cult of Cybele in A.D. 64, and then resurfaced in a major way through the sexual liberation activisms of the German physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) and the German-American endocrinologist Harry Benjamin (1885–1986).

The transgender movement, however, gained more tractions during the sexual revolution in the 1960s with accompanying ideologies such as literary deconstructionism, typically associated with postmodernism broadly conceived.[2] Branch then provides a useful definition of terms related to transgenderism, how the use of some terms has changed over the years, and how they are commonly used today (ch. 2).

Chapters 3–7 constitute Branch’s cumulative case against transgenderism, deploying various arguments from Scripture (ch. 3) and science (ch. 4–7). With regard to Scripture, Branch firmly believes that it serves not as merely a reference point for assessing transgenderism, but rather a starting point that supplies “the true narrative and proper perspective to understand both gender and the confused feelings a person may have regarding gender” (p. 39). He argues that once we understand various teachings like the goodness of creation, the image of God and how gender is essentially attached to it, the significance of the body in unity with the soul, and biblical references to gender-appropriate behaviors, transgenderism is incompatible with Christianity.

Furthermore, Branch explores whether the current scientific consensus on transgenderism can be utilized by proponents of transgenderism to defend the “born this way” argument. By looking at various studies associated with genetics (ch. 4) and the brain (ch. 5), Branch concludes that it is notoriously difficult to know definitively what causes transgenderism. Regarding the former, most studies at best indicate weak correlation between genetic differences and transgenderism, and thus do not provide strong evidence of causation. Regarding the latter, there are simply no unambiguous findings which demonstrate that the differences in the brains of transgender people actually cause transgenderism or are the result of transgenderism.

Branch then turns to his analyses of hormonal treatments (ch. 6) and gender reassignment surgery (ch. 7), highlighting their long-term downsides and dangers in spite of their rather fleeting benefits. Chapters 8–9 then follow with practical wisdom for parents and the church in general on how to deal with transgender people, especially children and youths who are not mature enough to make informed decisions.

Branch’s overall treatment of such a difficult theme includes the following admirable features. First, its accessibility and clarity of thought are remarkable, especially for non-specialists, pastors, and laypeople. The summary points provided at the end of each chapter and the specific chapter on the relevant terminology, including a bibliography categorized by topic, are helpful both for grasping his main arguments as well as for further studies on more specific points.

Second, his discussions of scientific and medical issues in transgenderism are exemplary both in terms of its rigor and user-friendliness, thus deserving a careful reading. One could see that Branch has done his homework carefully through his extensive endnotes on those chapters (pp. 151–61), and that he has considered arguments from both sides of the debate. Third, Branch’s emphases on compassion and speaking the truth in love throughout the book serve as thoughtful reminders, especially for pastors, physicians, counselors, and parents, to be mindful of their ways in guiding those suffering from gender dysphoria.

That said, Branch’s discussion of scriptural, theological, or ethical themes in transgenderism (ch. 3; pp. 106–12), while covering sufficient ground to argue against it, could use further improvements in terms of its depth and rigor to match his discussions on science. Although the book is intended to serve as more of an introduction rather than an in-depth treatment, I believe Branch could have directed curious or opposing readers to the endnotes and discuss briefly some possible objections to bolster his theological-ethical footings. For example, his discussion on body-soul unity comes across as simplistic, given the huge amount of ink already spilled by theologians and philosophers alike in debating whether dualism or materialism (including their respective variants) is more consistent with Scripture.[3]

Moreover, the scriptural teachings regarding our eschatological redemption in Christ are rather scarce, if not completely absent, in the relevant sections of this book. Lastly, I am not entirely sure how distinctly Christian Branch’s position on ethics in general is when his clearest reference to an ethical argument, as far as my reading goes, only touched upon the principle of “first, do no harm” (pp. 106–7) in addition to his biblical-theological arguments. My best guess is that Branch is advocating something like a natural law theory and/or (Christian) Hippocratism, but again I think he could have qualified his commitments with greater clarity, particularly how Christian ethics can make a unique contribution compared to other approaches.[4] These suggestions, nonetheless, should be seen as an attempt to tighten up Branch’s overall presentation, for I believe this important work will help many readers gain a better understanding of transgenderism and respond with grace and truth.


[1] J. Alan Branch, Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, 2nd ed. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[2] For an excellent historical and philosophical analysis of this particular issue, see Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020).

[3] For a recent and more balanced treatment on this particular topic, see Joshua R. Farris, An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020).

[4] Or perhaps Branch is equating Christian theology and ethics, broadly speaking, as both disciplines are tethered to one another, which is of course fine (and I completely agree). However, strictly speaking, those who tend to see the disciplines of (systematic) theology and ethics as formally distinct would ask for further clarifications.