Friday, 8 September 2017

Scientific facts about Homosexuality and Gender Dismorphia

I have been doing some study on transgender issues and been pointed to an edition of “The New Atlantis” journal, which outlines some of the scientific conclusions to date on both  gender and sexuality. It is a non-partisan and non-religious journal that seeks to make public up-to-date research so that people are properly informed.

Because there is so much misunderstanding fed to us through media and social media, I’ve included the entire executive summary below. It only takes a few minutes to read, but is important for us to be aware of for when our views as Christians are challenged, or when we have to talk about these things with our children.

Obviously the issues themselves are incredibly complex and should be handled with extreme compassion, but whilst acknowledging things aren’t always as cut and dried as below, the science is important.

You will note that the three great myths on these issues are without basis:

1)    The first myth is that people are born with a homosexual orientation or gender disconnect. This is often given as a reason why such feelings should be accepted and embraced, but this assumption is “not supported by scientific evidence.” (That's not to say there aren't elements of non-biological causation that might influence someone's development from an early age).

2)    The second myth is that people’s feelings in these areas are fixed. This is also given as a reason why such feelings should be seen as defining and embraced. Otherwise, we are told, people will never be able to experience intimate relationships or be their true self. In truth, both experiences are to some degree fluid, with many (I should stress not all) children growing out of them as they get older. This means that the way many children in particular are encouraged to act on such feelings is deeply concerning. Ironically, it is that which could work against their proper development and identity.

3)    The third myth is that those experiencing homosexual orientation or gender dysmorphia will only be fulfilled if they embrace their sense of who they are. The fact is that both groups are far more likely to experience mental health issues, depression and suicide. So this is not necessarily the case at all. Again, this shows how serious it is when children are encouraged to make these things so defining.

The Executive Summary
Some key findings:
Part One: Sexual Orientation
● The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
● While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. While minor differences in the brain structures and brain activity between homosexual and heterosexual individuals have been identified by researchers, such neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.
● Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).
● Compared to heterosexuals, non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Part Two: Sexuality, Mental Health Outcomes, and Social Stress
● Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes.
● Members of the non-heterosexual population are estimated to have about 1.5 times higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders than members of the heterosexual population, as well as roughly double the risk of depression, 1.5 times the risk of substance abuse, and nearly 2.5 times the risk of suicide.
● Members of the transgender population are also at higher risk of a variety of mental health problems compared to members of the non-transgender population. Especially alarmingly, the rate of lifetime suicide attempts across all ages of transgender individuals is estimated at 41%, compared to under 5% in the overall U.S. population.
● There is evidence, albeit limited, that social stressors such as discrimination and stigma contribute to the elevated risk of poor mental health outcomes for non-heterosexual and transgender populations. More high-quality longitudinal studies are necessary for the “social stress model” to be a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.
Part Three: Gender Identity
● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.
● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.
● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.
● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.
● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

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Thursday, 6 July 2017

To the praise of his glorious grace

Loving seeing this as God's great goal in studying Ephesians in a 1:1. Some brief notes below:

It structures chapter 1v3-14:

v3 every spiritual blessing

1) v4-6 chosen and adopted in Christ for the praise of God's glorious grace
2) v7-12 redeemed and predestined in Christ for the praise of his glory
3) v13-14 included and secured in Christ for the praise of his glory

It dominates Paul's prayer in 1v15-23

1) v14-16 thanking God for how the Ephesians are already being to God's glory as a new humanity living in faith and love
2) v17 praying that they would know God and so know how glorious and gracious he is
3) v18-21 praying that they would know the immensity of his grace in their future inheritance and God's mighty power that is sufficient to overcome death and evil

v22-23 all because Christ is over all things so that the church would be for God's glory as it has begun to be through Christ filling it with his power, life and rule just as he is in the process of filling everything with those same things

It lies behind the whole book

1) 2v1-10: This power has been expressed in the transition of believers from death to life that in this age and the age to come God's grace in Christ might be expressed by their living as new creations
2) 2v11-3v13: By this means humanity are united in Christ that God would be glorified for his wisdom even before evil rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms
3) 3v14-21: For this reason Paul prays that by Christ's power believers would know and display Christ's love so that God would be glorified in the Church as it is filled with his fullness

4v1-6v23 then details what this should look like as they put on Christ whether in individual acts or as spiritual armour




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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Basic booklist for those serving in the local church

These are intended to be middle-level introductory books rather than more academic ones - and so for church workers, trainees and elders rather than the minister who should be reading to a greater depth too. They are not provided to put pressure that they must all be read within a couple of years, but more to highlight key books it would be good to read at some time and that can be accessed when needed to help in ministry.

Conviction:
1 Reformed theology - What is reformed theology - Sproul
2 Biblical theology - God's big picture, Roberts
3 OT theology book by book - The Faith of Israel, Dumbrell
4 NT theology book by book - New Testament Theology, Morris
5 Systematic theology – Systematic theology, Grudem
6 Church - Centre Church, Keller
7 Culture - Mission of God, Boot
8 Ethics - New Issues facing Christians today, Stott
9 Work - Every good endeavour, Keller
10 Suffering - How long O Lord, Carson
11 Independency - Independency, ed. Stevens
12 Church history - Church history in plain language, Shelley

Character:
13 Commitment - Don't waste your life, Piper
14 Disciplines - Spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, Whitney
15 Prayer - A praying life, Miller
16 Godliness - The practice of Godliness, Bridges
17 Bonhoeffer (biography), Eric Metaxas
18 A chance to die (a biography of Amy Charmichael), Elizabeth Elliot

Competence:
19 Time management - Time for everything, Fuller
20 Eldership – The shepherd leader, Witmer
21 Ministry - The trellis and the vine, Marshall and Payne
22 Preaching - Speaking God's words, Adam
23 Leading worship - Worship in Spirit and Truth, Frame
24 Pastoral Care - Instruments in the redeemer hands, Tripp
25 Tackling sin - You can change, Chester
26 Leadership - Wisdom in leadership, Hamilton
27 Evangelism - Everyday church, Timmis and Chester
28 Apologetics - The reason for God, Keller
29 Bible study - Growth Groups, Marshall
30 One to one - One to one, DeWitt
31 Youth - Gospel centred youth ministry, Cole and Nelson
32 Women - Word-Filled Women's Ministry, Furman and Nielson
33 Parenting - Parenting against the tide, Benton
34 Family - Gospel centred family, Chester and Moll
35 Marriage - Married for God, Ash

Computer software:
1 The one I use is Logos bible software. You can have it on your PC, tablet and phone, and the amount of resources it can access means you can do a lot of cross-referencing within it. You can download the basic software for free and then pay to add modern Bible translations (I predominantly use the NIV and the NASB as a more literal version – Greek too if you are up to it), and reference books (there are an innumerable amount and the various IVP dictionaries in particular are worth looking at, but key would be the New Bible Commentary and the New Bible Dictionary).

2 E-Sword is an extremely good and free Bible software package that you can have on your PC or as an app on tablet or phone.

Some more historical reading:
A theology reader, Ed. Alistair McGrath
Early Christian writings: The apostolic fathers, ed. Louth
Confessions (autobiography), Augustine
Ecclesiastical history of the English People, Bede
Calvin's Institutes, John Calvin
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Brooks
Concerning the end for which God created the World, Jonathan Edwards
Lectures to my students, CH Spurgeon
The inspiration and authority of the Bible, BB Warfield
The cost of discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Essentials: A liberal-evangelical dialogue, Edwards and Stott
Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, ed. Packer and Stamoolis
Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, Gregg Allison
The kingdom of the cults, Walter Martin
Amazing Grace (a biography of William Wilberforce), Eric Metaxas
Susanna Wesley (biography), Arnold Dallimore
The Apocrypha


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Sunday, 11 June 2017

About the Trinity

It's Trinity Sunday. Here's an attempt at a summary of the section of the Athanasian Creed on the Trinity. 

This is one of the so called "ecumenical creeds" held to by the worldwide church as defining the true faith. It's been said since the 6th century but is is so wordy that it's not really used today. Even this summary would seem too much, but it's hard to get it any simpler if it is to still say what it says.

Great truth though. And worth turning praise.

A summary of part one of the Athanasian Creed
This is the faith of the church throughout history
that must be held to above all if we are to be saved:

We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.
For each is a distinct person but their divinity is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality one has, so have the others,
each being uncreated, immeasurable and eternal,
yet not three such beings, but one;
each to be confessed individually as almighty, Lord and God.
yet not as three mighty lords or gods, but as one.
Yet there is only one Father, not begotten nor proceeding from anyone.
There is only one Son, begotten from the Father alone.
There is only one Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
But not one of these is before or after the others,
not one is greater or smaller;
in their entirety the three are coeternal and coequal,
the one true and living God.

In everything we worship their trinity in their unity
and their unity in their trinity.

This is the faith we have received.

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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Am I being called to full time word ministry?

We live in a day when almost anyone can decide to plant a church and with sufficient ability set themselves up as its minister. However the key questions to be asked are these: As Christ is the one who holds "all authority," has he actually called and appointed a person to this role? Do their bear their authority as given to them by God's king?

When reading John Owen's "True nature of a gospel Church" some years ago I was particularly struck at his concern for this if a church is to be truly established by Christ.

Chatting with a student on the training course last week, I suggested there are four key things to consider in discerning whether Christ is calling them to this role:

(1) Has Christ given me the qualifications he asks for (Titus 1v5-9)?
He will not call any he hasn't qualified. So I must ask whether I fulfil the qualifications Paul outlines to Titus. Am I considered as "blameless" in the sense of not being charged with fault by those around me? Am I proved as sufficiently able to "manage" a church, especially by my ability to manage my family? And am I able to teach, not just by knowing sound doctrine and being able to encourage people in it, but by having the courage and readiness to confront error too? A prayerfulness of life is another qualification we might add as it should accompany the ministry of the word (Act 6v4). And we must note that if one considers the role or elder/overseer is reserved only for men, being male would be another qualification that is necessary.

(2) Has Christ given me the affirmation of his church (Acts 6v5-6)?
Elders in Israel were put forward by the people for appointment by the authorities, and in replacing Judas two candidates were nominated from which one was to be chosen. The sense is that the church is assumed to reflect the mind of the Spirit when it agrees that someone is fit for the role of elder/overseer - although this is generally subject to the agreement of others in authority, such as the apostles in Acts 6 or Titus in Titus 1. What this means is that the affirmation of the congregation any individual belongs to is paramount in discerning whether they are called to church ministry, as is giving the potential receiving church sufficient opportunity to get to know respective candidates for a role. Of course this presumes that the members of the church are truly converted, filled with the Spirit and so seeking to weigh someone's calling according to Christ's priorities. So churches that don't in some sense try to ensure a believing membership would need to look for affirmation only from those it sees signs of conversion within.

(3) Has Christ given me the desire to serve (1 Tim 3v1)?
This is a more subjective aspect of calling. And we should be cautious of it. We are not told Jesus only calls those who are eager, nor that an inner peace about a role is necessary if we are to conclude the Lord wants us to take it. Moses was quite reluctant and certainly without peace with respect to his calling. Nevertheless, Paul acknowledges the place for desire and was "compelled" by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. Moreover, Nehemiah set out on his great city-building task because the Lord placed it on his heart. And he kept to it because of that. In the same way, the elder/overseer is unlikely to persevere in building up the new Jerusalem of the church amidst all the pressures of the role, unless he has a deep desire to take on that role for the glory of God no matter it might entail.

(4) Has Christ given me the opportunity to serve (2 Cor 2v12)?
Given the above, if on applying for roles and praying for the Lord's guidance, an opportunity consistently fails to arise there may be a time for concluding that Christ may not be calling me to the role of elder/overseer after all - or at least not now.

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