It’s been a while since I blogged book reviews – but I’ve got the bug again, and have had a number of things sent my way recently for review. So here’s the first.
Vaughan Roberts is a past master of pithy clarity and concise overview – exemplified by his great popularisation of Graeme Goldsworthy’s work in his God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-Line of the Bible. Over the years he has written on a number of theological and ethical issues in similar fashion.
Transgender (the first of a handful of Vaughan’s contribution to the Good Book Company’s new Talking Points series) is timely and crucial. Christians are too often caught lagging far behind the concerns and debates of wider society – and transgender issues is a case in point. So hopefully many will read and get thinking.
There are several positive things about Vaughan’s all too short volume:
- he has engaged with some voices from the trans community
- he is prepared to let them set the terms (e.g. by using Stonewall’s online definitions)
- he writes with a compassionate and approachable tone
- he works hard to bring ancient biblical truths to bear on some thorny and painful issues in a non-judgmental way.
That said, we should be clear that this is at best an introduction, square 1, or perhaps 1.5. In that, it excels. But you won’t find difficult, risky or (dare I say it) dangerous, explorations of how on earth we love and help people for whom these questions are so personal. For example, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this reassurance for the Christian facing this battle:
this struggle, these feelings, do not define you. They may, at least partly, describe how you are, but they do not describe who you are.” (p66)
This is vital. Many would do well to learn not to define anyone by they struggles or failings or battles. But the danger of a book of such brevity is that it can seem a little glib at that very point, leaving open the whole issue of what one does with those feelings. As another reviewer has said, it would have been better to get to this final chapter quicker, although I do understand the desire to place everything into a gospel framework. That is vital.
[By the way, as a small aside and not a specific comment on Vaughan’s book, must every biblical issues book follow the creation-fall-redemption-new creation structure?! There’s no doubting how foundational it is – but why not search out alternatives just once in a while?!]
As a primer for prompting believers to think, this is perfect. Just see it for what it is: a start, not an end. Still, I’m hugely grateful for Vaughan and his courage and work in some very tricky areas. He has been a model of open vulnerability, and so this book never comes from a position of moral superiority – and so he is in a perfect position to write about these matters. I just wish he went beyond providing the helpful list of further reading! [Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of this book, and have known and worked with Vaughan at various points for nearly 30 years]