Are Names Up For Grabs?

Pronoun Hospitality?transflag (1)

Pressure to conform to the ways of the world will always be present in our lives as Christians. This is very clear in areas that the world deems important. For example, in the world’s current obsession with transgenderism there is a great deal of pressure placed on Christians to violate our conscience by calling men and women by their preferred gender pronouns. Thankfully, Christians have seen that doing so would be sinful for a number of reasons, and they have roundly rejected that practice.

Sadly, however, there are other professing Christians, and those with a rather extensive reach, who make a spurious distinction between ontological names (e.g. man/woman) and arbitrary names (e.g. Steven, Laura, Chris, and so on). For instance, John Piper argues as follows –

Calling someone by that arbitrary name their parents chosen or the one they choose halfway through life may not imply agreement with all that that name was created to signify by the person.

So if I had a neighbor next door to me, which this is very feasible, who was biologically male, and everybody knew it, and he introduced himself to me as Sally — if I met him for the first time, and I saw him the next day, I might avoid calling him anything, but I would probably default to Sally. I probably would until there was a relationship that would go deeper to see whether I could be of any help. So that is one concession I am going to make because of the arbitrary nature of names. And then it is going to get a little more dicey and divisive.

 (Source)

He puts the matter even more tersely in his conclusion, stating –

Naming may have a certain ambiguity and arbitrariness to it, but the language of he and she and the use of bathrooms and hotel rooms does not.

(Source)

And he’s not alone in thinking this way. Over at 9Marks, one pastor tells the story of how he and one of his congregants dealt with the reality of having a family member come out as “trans.” He explains that in his dealing with the transgender family member he and his congregant

…explained that [they] were to happy to call him [i.e. the “trans” person] his new name, as it’s his legal name, and we have to call him something. To us, names aren’t the property of any specific gender (I know guys named Stacy and girls named Stacy), but pronouns are. I do think it’s a lie (think of what Exodus 20:16 says about “false testimony”) to convince this person they are something they are in fact not, and I think the usage of pronouns seeks to do that. I can see the argument for the usage of the name change doing that, but I don’t think names/pronouns finally land in the same category.

(Source)

Another professing Christian leader, Andrew Walker, repeats the same idea when in conversation with J.D. Greear (who promoted the use of preferred gender pronouns as a means of showing hospitality to “trans” people), saying:

“Calling a person by their legal name or preferred name is more acceptable because names are not objectively gendered, but change from culture to culture.”

(Source)

The same view has been espoused by other prominent figures populating the current sexual identity and gender identity scene in evangelicalism. For instance, Rosaria Butterfield, in an August 1, 2019 interview on the “Youth Matters Podcast” (Source: “Episode 87: ‘Navigating LGBTQ Issues’ With Rosaria Butterfield”) speaks about her transgender friend “Jill” (whom she previously referred to simply as J, and of whom she claims to have formerly used female pronouns see here and here and here, but of whom she uses the feminine pronoun “her” in the podcast).

For “Trans” People, Proper Pronouns [i.e. Names] are Not Arbitrary

When Bruce Jenner openly declared his decision to identify as a woman, he changed his name to Caitlyn Jenner. Why? Apparently, Bruce understood that the name Bruce was not merely overtly masculine but that it also was inseparable from his “former” existence as a male.

And he isn’t alone. In a September 6, 2019 Nbcnews.com article titled “Making a Name for Yourself: For Trans People, It’s ‘Life-Changing,’” Dan Stahl reports that

The importance of [company policies that make name changes for trans people less difficult] is grounded in something deeply personal. By letting people use their chosen name and gender marker, corporations and governments are sanctioning their identity.

(Source)

Stahl goes on to quote a “transfeminine” person who expressed a desire for non-trans-people to understand the significance of changing one’s birth name to match one’s gender identity. “Suzanne” Ford stated:

“I think it sounds superfluous to people on the outside…[but] that’s a big statement to the world about who you are.”

(Source)

The article further notes that many “trans” people view their name change as contributing to their becoming who they really are, underscoring, again and again, that the name by which a “trans” person goes is anything but arbitrary to them. Bruce did not change his name to Caitlyn for non gender identity related issues. He did so in order to make his felt gender identity and his name match.

What should be evident to the reader is that the evangelicals who claim proper names are arbitrary, as regards the actual sexual identity of the person using them, are wrong. In the abstract a particular name may be used of either a man or a woman, or both. However, when it comes to “trans” individuals changing one’s name ties directly into their overall understanding of themselves as the sex which they believe themselves to be. In When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, Ryan T. Anderson even notes that changing one’s name can constitute a part of treatment for individuals with gender dysphoria. For instance, in the case of children who are experiencing gender dysphoria –

Transgender activists maintain that when a child identifies as the opposite sex in a manner that is “consistent, persistent, and insistent,” the appropriate response is to support that identification. This means, first, a social transition: giving the child a new wardrobe, a new name, new pronouns, and generally treating the child as if he or she were the opposite sex.

(Source)

This is far from arbitrary or unimportant. The name chosen by a “trans” person is intended to signify something about that person’s perceived sexual/gender identity. If a man who is legally named Kelly wants to take on the name “Rebecca” because he sees it as tying together his new identity as a “trans-woman,” in other words, calling him Rebecca is no different than calling him her.

A Very Brief Theology of Names

The evangelicals mentioned above are not merely wrong as regards the intentions of “trans” people themselves, but also in light of what the Scripture teaches us about names and their functions. All throughout Scripture, names serve the purpose of identifying one’s identity and function. Adam, for instance, appears to have named the animals after having encountered and observed them. Genesis 2:19-20 –

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

Adam did not find a helper fit for him among the animals he had named. However, once he encounters his wife he says –

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

—Gen 2:23

Whereas the animals who were not deemed to be fit helpers for Adam had been formed out of the ground, she who was taken from man’s own body was deemed to be a fit helper. And her name reflects her identity and function.

Adam’s naming of his helper as Woman, moreover, changes after the Fall in accordance with what God reveals about the Messiah. Scripture declares —

The Lord God said to the serpent…

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
—Gen 3:14-15

And —

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Having been informed as to the Woman’s role in bringing forth the Messiah/Seed who would destroy the bringer of death, Adam names his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living. As John Gill notes, Adam’s naming of Eve took place on

…the ground of this faith and persuasion of his, that he and his wife should not die immediately for the offence they had committed, but should live and propagate their species, as well as be partakers of spiritual and eternal life, was the hint that had been just given, that there would be a seed spring from them; not only a numerous offspring, but a particular eminent person that should be the ruin of the devil and his kingdom, and the Saviour of them; and so Eve would be not, only the mother of all men living in succeeding generations, but particularly, or however one descending from her, would be the mother of him that should bring life and immortality to light, or be the author of all life, natural, spiritual, and eternal; and who is called ζωη, “the life”, which is the same word by which the Greek version renders Eve in the preceding clause.

Thus Scripture does not teach us that names are arbitrary or arbitrarily chosen. Rather, naming is based in part on what we observe about that which we are naming. Adam, Woman, and Eve are names that point to origin and function. By implication, so too are the names of the animals which Adam had given them.

To change someone’s name, then, is to implicitly identify them as something than what they were. For instance, the patriarch Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to reflect his becoming the father of many nations (cf. Gen 17:3-8). Similarly, Sarai’s name was changed in the same context to Sarah (cf. Gen 17:15-16). And there are many other examples we can give from Scripture. But these should be sufficient to show that names are anything but arbitrary. They play a very important role, one that primarily signifies origin and function.

We Don’t Need to Compromise

Sadly, it seems to be the case that while some evangelical leaders have correctly rejected the idea of pronoun hospitality they have replaced it with personal pronoun hospitality. These writers and teachers and speakers may refuse to call a man “her” or “she,” but by using that man’s preferred personal pronoun (e.g. using Rebecca instead of Robert, etc) they are doing what is essentially the same thing. As noted above, “trans” individuals themselves recognize the significance their chosen new names bear, as do psychologists and activists who prescribe name change as part of a treatment regimen for individuals with gender dysphoria.

Such a compromise may have good intentions, but that does not legitimize it. It seems, in fact, to stand in the way of an accurate presentation of the Law and the Gospel in one’s witnessing/evangelizing efforts. This is so because identifying someone as male, when they believe themselves to be/represent themselves as being female, is functionally equivalent  identifying a “man who lives for the moment” as a hedonist. Having identified the hedonist as a hedonist, then, we can point him to the Savior who died for hedonists and transgender persons as well. If reaching individuals for Christ is the goal, then should we not be using the Scripture’s preferred method of so doing—namely, openly identifying men as sinners who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, are under the wrath of God, and can only be delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ?

Let us not be fooled by the serpent’s craftiness into thinking that a little leaven will not leaven the whole lump. By the grace of God, let us press on with the truth of God’s Law and Gospel, both of which give us the truth about ourselves, our sin, and our need for salvation via trust in the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary.

Soli Deo Gloria
—h.

Titus 1:15, Epistemology, & Apologetics [Just Some Notes]

Fall of ManIn the seemingly endless back and forth between presuppositionalist & non-presuppositionalist apologetes, one question rests in the center and functions like a pivot. It is this –

Did man’s fall into sin only partially compromise his mind, ruin and warp it, or fully destroy it?

If the fall only partially compromised the mind of man, then it follows that one can reason to the Christian faith by merely laying out the “bare facts” and addressing any questions that serve as obstacles to one’s evangelistic prospect. If not, however, then he requires a supernatural work from God to cause him to think properly not only about moral and spiritual realities, but also about reality in general. But if the fall fully destroyed the mind of man, such that he cannot reason properly in any sense about reality in general, let alone about moral and spiritual realities, then does this not result in something like hypercalvinism, a full on rejection of the ordained means by which God has chosen to regenerate and save men (i.e. the preaching of the Law and the Gospel)?

Since we can’t deny that the fall affected the mind of man negatively (cf. Rom 1:18-32), and we can’t deny that the effects of the fall are not such that the preacher and apologist’s job to preach the Law and the Gospel to the unregenerate is one that is completely disconnected from how the elect will hear and respond to the Gospel. we are left with only one conclusion, namely –

The fall warped, and thereby ruined, the mind of man as regards his ability not only to reason about moral and spiritual realities, but also in his ability to reason about  reality in general.

The mind of man is not simply bad at perceiving, reasoning about, believing, and living in accordance with moral and spiritual realities, but also fails to perceive, reasoning about, believing, and living in accordance with reality in general.

Mind & Conscience Are Both Ruined By The Fall

This is, in fact, what the Scriptures teach. Note, for instance, what Paul says in Titus 1:15 –

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.

In this one sentence, Paul the apostle makes it clear that the warping and ruining of man’s mind by the fall covers not merely man’s ability to correctly perceive, reason about, believe in, and live in accordance with moral and spiritual realities, but also his ability to do those things as they apply to reality in general.

Note how Paul differentiates between the “mind” and the “conscience” in this short passage. Seeing as the mind (Gr. νοῦς, nous) is the place where thinking about all subjects takes place, by stating that it and the conscience (Gr. συνείδησις, syneidēsis) are corrupted/defiled by sin, Paul is teaching that man’s mind in general is warped/corrupted/ruined by sin, i.e. as a consequence of being an unregenerate man.  And if  the mind in general is ruined/corrupted/defiled by sin, i.e. the fall, then it inexorably follows that the mind of man is so when engaged with any particular idea.

Paul’s differentiation between the mind in general and the conscience (i.e. the mind in a particular mode of operation, viz. moral and spiritual reasoning) seems to stress how the fall even more acutely affected the mind of man when it comes to spiritual and moral matters. Matthew Poole puts the matter simply –

…their mind, their notion and understanding, is defiled; and their conscience, which is the practical judgment they make up about things, is defiled…

Gill rightly comments on this passage, explaining that “there is nothing that defiled persons can do, but what is unclean; as are their persons, so are their offerings and works.” And since the injunction to give the glory to God covers all things (cf. 1st Cor 10:31), then it follows necessarily that those who are in the flesh cannot think in general in a way that glorifies God, for “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8).

You Must Be Born Again

If the mind of fallen man is warped in its basic functions, it follows that tools like debate, study, discourse, and friendship are only as effective as God causes them to be. Some may object to the idea that the mind of man is thoroughly warped, for, they would argue, this would seem to suggest that a man must believe in order to be able to believe, which would not only render preaching and teaching and doing apologetics unnecessary, it would also be self-contradictory. But this objection is based on that false assumption that if God commands men to do something (e.g. believe the Gospel) then man is able to do that thing (e.g. understand the Gospel and believe it). The reason why this assumption is false is simple – commands do not imply anything.

Logically, then, what one is commanded to do does not imply that the one receiving the command is capable of obeying it. What is more, Scripture teaches us that God commands men to do what they are incapable of doing. Jesus commanded the paralytic to get up and walk (cf. Mark 2:10-12), the man with a withered hand to stretch it out (cf. Mark 3:1-5), and a dead girl to rise from the dead (cf. Mark 5:-42). None of these people had the ability to do what they were commanded by God to do, yet he clearly commanded them to do the impossible. And perhaps most famously, he did the same in the case of Lazarus in John 11:43-44. In none of these cases did the command of Christ imply that his hearers were capable of obeying him – for (i.)commands do not imply anything, and (ii.)God clearly does command men to do what they are incapable of doing.

What is needed is a supernatural work in the heart of fallen man, the work of regeneration performed by the Holy Spirit wherein the sinner is brought to spiritual life, receiving  the ability to reason in general correctly about himself and the world in which he exists, and, most importantly, receives the ability to reason correctly about moral and spiritual matters. The mind of man is only restored by this divine work of regeneration that results in the transformation of his nature and, consequently, the transformation of how he thinks about anything at all.

Apart from this, the minds of fallen men are corrupt in general, and even more corrupt as regards moral and spiritual realities.

Soli Deo Gloria
-h.