Biblically speaking, is our biological sex an essential part of our identity? Are there unique differences and roles for men and women? In this live interview, Sean and Scott talk with Biola professor Erik Thoeness and Scripture and gender. They also discuss some practical ways to love people with gender dysphoria.

Dr. Erik Thoennes is committed to teaching biblical and systematic theology so that he and his students love God and people more fully. He strives to make the necessary connections between the study of theology, obedience to Jesus and fulfilling the Great Commission. He has taught theology and evangelism at the college and seminary levels for several years and is a frequent guest speaker at churches, conferences and retreats, in addition to co-pastoring a local church. Thoennes has received the University award for faculty excellence and professor of the year. His research interests include godly jealousy, the atonement, the exclusivity of Christ and theology of culture.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Welcome to “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture”, a podcast from Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University. I’m your host Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and professor of Christian ethics.

Sean McDowell: And I’m your co-host Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics.

Scott Rae: I want to welcome you to a special edition of our podcast today and let you know that you can also view this on video at So join us now for our conversation with Dr. Erik Thoennes.

Sean McDowell: Does the Bible say anything about sex and gender? Are there differences between men and women? Well, given so much conversation about sexuality today and issues of gender in the LGBTQ conversation, it’s more important than ever that we think carefully about this, but also think biblically. I’m here with my co-host, Scott Rae, from Talbot School of Theology. We have a

guest today, Erik Thoennes, a Bible teacher, beloved professor, former football player, who’s willing to talk about these issues that a lot of people want to avoid.

So we’re really grateful that you would come on and talk with us about this. You’re in the classroom with students, I see you bringing students when you go out and speak. You have a lot of conversations with young people today about this. What are some of the questions you’re hearing them ask about issues of gender and as it’s tied to scripture.

Erik Thoennes: Well, what's fascinating about that question is how much the questions have changed since I started teaching almost 25 years ago. There used to be questions way further down the road of what does it look like to take leadership in a marriage or in the church? Now, the very existence of objective categories of male and female are up for grabs and being questioned. And so the conversation has moved so much further back to foundational issues of the sheer existence of a created, intended difference between male and female or whether that's just sociologically or culturally determined or merely biologically determined, which by the way can be altered. So the questions more and more keep going back to whether or not someone's subjective experience determines a reality or not. Or if there's an objective intentional design in creation. The questions have moved so further upstream.

Scott Rae: So Erik, one of the things we so appreciate about having you with us is the clarity with which you speak to these issues as a theologian. And so, what we wanna start with is what would you say are some of the principle elements that you think are crucial in formulating a theology of gender?

Erik Thoennes: Well, the first thing I would say is I would wanna be super positive about it based on the fact that an all wise, all good creator, who is displaying his glory and creation made male and female. That male and female issues are not problems to be solved, but God intended designed realities to be celebrated and enjoyed. And to image him. And so, I'm so concerned that we tend to just see it as a problem, we almost wish the Bible didn't talk about. Instead of saying, no, our creator knows best, who we are and how we're intended to live and eagerly go to the scriptures to find out what God says is true. Rather than letting our experiences or our cultural problems or the fact that sin has so messed up the realities of male and female. That it's just a negative thing that's a burden to us rather than something for God's glory, for our joy, and actually to display the gospel. I would want to start with not sort of a few passages that delineate roles, but I would wanna back it all the way up to Genesis 1 and make sure we start with God's wonderful design and creation and realize we don't get to the very goodness of creation until we get to the male and femaleness of it.

Scott Rae: I figure after all, there's a good reason why he said in Genesis 1:31, that at the end of it, it was all very good.

Erik Thoennes: That's right. And male and female is an essential part of that. There's this idea that human beings determine reality rather than the creator doing that. And so much of our lives are as Christians needing to conform to what God has created in spite of our fallen natures. Instead of trying to transform it to what we would prefer it would be based on our feelings, our inclinations, our past experiences, whatever they may be. And so much of our lives is saying yes, Lord to what he's designed. And even though it's been so marred by the fall, nevertheless, living according to that and seeking to be faithful to what he's created.

Scott Rae: Does it seem to you that we have sort of lost some of the impact of the fall in this conversation? Because it seems to me when we put the primacy on our feelings and our inclinations, we sometimes lose the idea that those have been deeply affected by the general entrance of sin. And I mean, if I lived out my life according to my feelings, that would've been a train wreck a long time ago.

Erik Thoennes: Yeah, if I always followed my natural inclinations and desires, I'd be in prison right now for a very long time. Even on my way over here, I would've done something that it would've gotten me in prison in traffic. So absolutely, this sort of Disney movie theme of following your heart, depending on where your heart may be leading you on that day could be a disaster.

Scott Rae: Well, yeah, I'm not so sure I wanna follow my heart that Jeremiah calls it desperately wicked.

Erik Thoennes: Desperately wicked, right, right. Now the idea is to be transformed in our thinking so that our heart is changed in a Godward direction, and then we can start to live more instinctively or according to where our hearts are inclined, but we need to be very suspicious of where it's leading us from day to day. 'Cause the Bible says we suppress the truth and unrighteousness. And although we have transformed character and from the inside out, there've been changes, new creatures in Christ, there's still a process of aligning our affections and our thinking to what God says is true.

Sean McDowell: Erik, you're not only a professor, but also a pastor, which I deeply respect because you're working with people just through life's issues and challenges and problems, et cetera. How would you minister to somebody? So to take some of this theology down to just a person wrestling with gender dysphoria, how does this theology inform the way you would approach somebody and just love and care for them?

Erik Thoennes: Well, the first thing I would wanna make sure we remember when it comes to any sexuality issues is sin has affected all of us in every area of our lives. And so in one sense, I don't wanna put sexual sin or sexual dysfunction or disorders in some separate category from any other sort of sin that I deal with. The Bible does say sexual sin is sin against the body. There is something deep Sean McDowell: Right.

Erik Thoennes: about it in who we are. But at the same time, I don't wanna put it in some completely different category that whether it's my pride or my critical spirit or my impatience, that I'm fighting, that we're all in this together, no temptation is seized you that isn't common to man. And so I didn't wanna sort of relegate some sins to especially bad category and make it even more complicated than it already is. And so on one hand, I wanna help people grow in their relationship with the Lord and in their Christ-like development, no matter what challenge they're up against. Having said that, our sexuality is deep in who we are and our culture is so hypersexualized. And increasingly, people define themselves by their sexual desires, which is tragic that I would be defined by any desire I have, that we need to help people not feel imprisoned by what inclination desire they have, realizing we're all dysfunctional in every way and sinful in all areas of our lives, including our sexuality. I'm a sexual sinner. I've got problems sexually. Everybody does. And so I wanna help folks who are confused, getting mixed messages from culture, being affirmed in whatever it is they may be feeling to step back and say the power of the gospel and the power of the spirit can lead you to Christ-like conformity and in holiness, whatever the battle is you're up against.

Sean McDowell: I think that's great. Before we jump in, what's so helpful at this is we've had Christopher Yuan on our program before. And he talks about how some people will approach him and say, "Well, I don't have same sex attraction so I can't help this person." It's like, wait a minute. We all have common temptations, common issues, there might be something unique about this, but we can relate and administer to them. So that first step is huge.

Erik Thoennes: And I love his is book, "Holy Sexuality." I think that point of pursuing holiness in our lives, whatever the battles we might be having is so helpful. And to make sanctification, whatever the challenges we're facing, our goal, I think simplifies things in a really clarifying way.

Scott Rae: Erik, let's go back to the classroom here for a minute and I'll take us out of the church here for a minute and back into the classroom. What are some of the main areas where you are seeing students raise the most questions about the biblical teaching on gender? Are there specific tension points that students feel?

Erik Thoennes: I would say it boils down to this idea of conforming to a God-designed reality rather than affirming where I happen to be right now. There's this idea that in some way, live out of conformity to what's coming naturally in my life is somehow inauthentic and phony. There's this idea that authenticity means living out of your gut, living out of what's happening naturally right now. And so to say to your friend who has embraced a homosexual lifestyle or a gender identity different than the one they're biologically were born with is somehow calling them to inauthenticity. To be fake or phony. And this idea of embracing who you are, who you've discovered yourself to be based on how your perceptions of yourself are today to challenge that seems like a cardinal doctrine you just can't mess with. And so it seems so unkind and intolerant to challenge a friend to live according to God's design for them when it is in conflicting feelings of how they're approaching it right now. So a genuine compassion for friends who've embraced a lifestyle or an identity counter to God's design seems mean. It seems unkind. And so we have what I call truthfulness compassion that it's not compassion grounded in truth according to God's ways and word, but compassion in affirming what your friend is feeling right now. And so, it's really tough to stay under biblical authority when your friend seems to be at odds with it and you wanna be a good friend. And so to me, it's that relational crisis so many of my students feel. Even if they're not personally dealing with something. They know really nice, kind, good people, friends, family members in their lives who are embracing an unbiblical approach to sexuality. And it's really hard for them not to affirm it because they feel like they're mean when the fact is you're unloving from a Christian perspective if you affirm anything, not according to God's design. It's unloving to do that.

Sean McDowell: So we think Christian students, I found have just imbibed this sense of authenticity in the way that you described it. Are there any just practical, helpful illustrations or ways that you try to get students and even Christians to say, wait a minute, maybe this isn't biblical or helpful or a good way of authenticity. Here's what it really means to be authentic. 'Cause it seems like that's at the root of it. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be authentic? And we could talk about biblical teach and until we’re blue in the face, but if we don't rewire what the good life is, all that is gonna be for not. So are there ways with your students that you try to help them to understand? No, that's not the authentic life, following what you feel. Here's what the authentic life is, biblically speaking.

Erik Thoennes: Right, So there's this idea that authenticity requires a living according to how I feel. When biblically, integrity, it means that you live according to what God says is right and true regardless of how you feel. And that's not hypocrisy, that's actually integrity. And I think what I try to help people realize is how unrealistic it is to think it's even possible to always live according to how you're feeling. So let's just take something unrelated to this topic. Forgiveness. So if I know it's right to forgive someone and I offer them forgiveness and then two minutes later, I feel unforgiving. Well at that point, I have a few options I could say, well, I guess I'm a big phony. Or I guess I didn't mean it. Or I can say, oh, I guess there's a process in walking down the path of working toward aligning my feelings and even my thoughts to what God says is true. And so I recommit to that forgiveness that I authentically committed to. And then look at that. I made it 15 minutes without any feelings of unforgiveness. [laughing] And then before you know it, it's an hour and then maybe I could go whole day without feeling any unforgiveness. And before you know, I've gone three months, six months, and eventually, I've put that sin to death of unforgiveness. And I wasn't being inauthentic in that process. I was actually just realizing, oh, it's a process to grow in conformity to the truth rather than just how I naturally instinctively feel. And so I think we give people a really unrealistic view of what life is like growing as a Christian or in our character to be like Christ if we give the impression that it just has to happen. And that there's a delay between my affections and my righteous commitments, that's not being a phony, that's staying committed to what is right and good in spite of how I feel. And I think God's really honored by that. In a way even more than when it's just flowing. When the right thing is flowing from me. I think God loves when we submit to his word even when it's not coming naturally.

Scott Rae: Yeah, it seems to me, that sort of the thing where it happens regularly where we know what's right intellectually, but we've gotta wait for our heart to catch up to that. Sometimes if you've been hurt badly, it takes a while for that to happen.

Erik Thoennes: That's right.

Scott Rae: And it seems to me, sort of the whole point of Christian ethics is to put guardrails around our desires. And in fact, I think most of what Christian ethics does is give you moral instruction that enables you to transcend your desires and that you make you make choices that are different. I mean, Paul in Roman 7 was clearly conflicted between what he knew to be right, and what he wanted to do. I mean, that was a big conflict for him. And I think he recognized that a big part of becoming more like Christ is denying yourself, taking up your cross, submitting your desires to the Lordship of Christ and choosing to follow him on a day by day basis. I mean, it just strikes me that the whole being authentic, really strikes at the heart of what the whole enterprise of Christian ethics is about.

Erik Thoennes: Right. And discipleship is related to the word discipline and discipline required because of that conflict that we experience every day. Now, I wouldn't want anyone to think that desires are bad. I actually think even my sinful desires can be traced back to God-given image of God-based desires that I'm just seeking to have sex.

Scott Rae: That have been disordered.

Erik Thoennes: That's right. And so, even sinful sexual desires and temptations and actions, I think tend to get back to just a deep desire for intimacy. That are just being approached in shortcut ways or ways that seem more expedient or easier. But if you get down to the root, I'm created for intimacy with God and with other people. And so I wouldn't ever want anyone to think that desires are bad in of themselves, it's just understanding what we’re created for. And then that out in ways that God has said will only lead to fulfillment of those desires, which are according to him and his ways.

Scott Rae: I so appreciate your helping us see the deeper issue underneath this. 'Cause I think there really are some much deeper things that go to the heart of our discipleship in our equipping of students. But let me go back to specifically the sex and gender for a moment. What distinction, if any, do you make between biological sex and gender? How, if at all, are those different?

Erik Thoennes: Right. Boy, the terminology can be so confusing because often, people are using words and people are defining them differently than the person using. So defining terms is really important. And typically, people these days are using sex to define your biological born male or female identity. And gender tends to now be used to describe the cultural sort of trappings that tend to come with that. And so I think it can be helpful to realize how people are using those terms when we're talking to them. I don't ultimately find it helpful to make that kind of distinction because I think it can cause confusion as if there is what you're born and then sort of what you decide then. Irrelevant of how you're born. And Nancy Pearce's book, "Love Thy Body" is so helpful here that more and more people are viewing the body as almost this irrelevant thing instead of a tremendous gift from God. That shows us who we are as a male and female. And that shows up

in the issue of abortion. It shows up in transgenderism, it shows up in issues of homosexuality as if the body's irrelevant in the way it's designed. So I think that's really important, but I do wanna be very aware of how people are using those terms when I interact with them. But I don't like to make a big distinction between those to accept in the fact that we need to realize their wonderful God-intended distinctions in how he's made us. And like everything else, those get worked out and interpreted culturally, but that's true of everything in life. Everything is in a cultural context and I need to be aware of what are unnecessary cultural, stereotypical ways of thinking about these things relative to biblical teaching on it. But at the same time, I don't wanna overdo those distinctions because I think it can actually lead to more confusion.

Scott Rae: So does the Bible even have a concept of gender?

Erik Thoennes: As a cultural?

Scott Rae: Yeah, as a cultural construct?

Erik Thoennes: Well, I think the Bible demands that we appreciate culture because it's revelation of God throughout time and cultural expression. Now people can use culture to explain away what the Bible says. Well, it's a different culture, so it doesn't really apply to us. So our job is to respect the time and the place and the culture, the Bible teaches things. But then at the same time, to translate it into our culture, that doesn't transform it into something else. That's the challenge of biblical interpretation at its core is to respect the historical nature, the revelation we find there. But at the same time, translated in our day without turning it into something other than it was ever intended to be.

Sean McDowell: So biblically speaking, is biological sex an inherent part of what it means to be human? And where does scripture teach this?

Erik Thoennes: Yeah, I think it is part of what it means to be human and it teaches it right from the beginning all the way through, with a clear understanding that there are men and there are women. And that sin right from the beginning, messed that up. And even Satan's attack, I think was to divide male and female and get us at each other instead of for each other. And so right from the beginning and throughout the Bible, we see sin just causing serious devastation all the way through the Bible. Often, in primarily male and female relations in the way we aren't for each other. So I think right in the beginning, we see God creating male and female, as we said before. And we don't get to the very goodness until that happens, but I believe that God wants to image himself all through creation, but primarily in humanity and in humanity, one of the primary ways he wants to image himself is making humanity equal in nature, but distinct in male and female in a way that actually reflects the unity and distinction in himself. And he says, male and female are ahad in the same way God is one. And so the oneness in God, although distinct in persons, actually shows up, not as an analogy of the Trinity, but in a way that images God in a unity and diversity in humanity itself. And the oneness is meaningful because there's difference. The oneness is meaningless unless there's difference we start with. And then we have a beautiful unity in male and female and marriage in that. So the oneness in God, within diversity in God is displayed in humanity in that way.

Sean McDowell: So biblically speaking, is it important how we express our sexuality? Does that matter? And what biblical guidelines might there be for how we are to live out our maleness and or our femaleness?

Erik Thoennes: Right, so within evangelicalism, this is where some difference of interpretation and opinion come in. But I believe that God makes us male and female. And what I wouldn't wanna do is so fear culturally imposed stereotypes that would say, well, all men should be like John Wayne and all women should be like Marilyn Monroe. I'm dating myself there [laughing]. To the point where I then wouldn't give any clarity about what this does mean. I hear a lot of people who believe in biblical distinctions, sort of throwing up their hands and saying, "But I don't know what it looks like." Now, to be sure, from culture to culture and relationship to relationship, there are going to be judgment calls on what it looks like. But I think we've got to give a culture that's desperately in need of clarity on this issue, clarity on this issue, not by overdoing it and say, "All men should love NASCAR and hunting. And all women should love knitting and crocheting." And so it's not personality. It's not hobbies. It's not the movies you like, thank goodness because “Pride and Prejudice” would be my preference over “Fast and Furious” any day.

Sean McDowell: Wow, okay.

Erik Thoennes: I'm gonna throw that out there. But it’s not our hobbies or movie preferences.

Scott Rae: Good to know [laughing].

Erik Thoennes: But I do think it gets down to a relational dynamic between men and women that reflects the biblical pattern of the way I would put it, to sort of summarize and try to give some clarity is the meaning of manliness if gentleman is gonna mean anything anymore. And lady is gonna mean anything anymore. And chivalry is gonna mean anything anymore. When Paul says, "Act like men" to the Corinthians. Or even God says to Job, "Gird up your loins like a man." That's a male-specific term there. It's gotta have some meaning. And you don't say, well, it's just in that culture. Manliness meant something distinct. I still think it does. And so the way I boil it down and plenty of people disagree with me is I think the biblical pattern is that men in relationship should feel a general relational dynamic of responsibility, provision and protection. Now that's gonna look really different depending on the relationship Sean McDowell: Okay.

Erik Thoennes: depending on the context. But it's interesting with these shootings, say in theaters or in schools. You have these stories of these young men giving their lives sometimes to protect Sean McDowell: Yeah.

Erik Thoennes: people. Now, I don't doubt women are completely courageous and strong and bold, but no one says, “Hey, why aren't more women stepping up and protecting these young men on the football team?” But it's these guys who are doing this. And there's something so right about that. I mean, when a guy steps in front of his girlfriend in a movie theater to protect her. I think there's something in everyone and there's something right about that. And when it was women and children first in the "Titanic" to get in the lifeboats, I think deep down, we know there's something fundamentally right about that, that reflects relational dynamics that we can't help but affirm. And so even in the movie, "Titanic" as much as Hollywood wants to get away from these categories, they just can't because it's not grounded in history of what happens in those situations. But also, I mean, if in the Titanic, she's in the water and finally just slips away, everybody say, "What are you doing, dude? Get off the board." So there's a relational dynamic that I think is wonderful in God design that will look very different depending on the circumstances and those things. But I had a dear brother come to me not too long ago, who's dealt with same sex attraction his whole life. And he said, "So often, I listen to Christians talk about male and female." And he's fighting the good fight. He's seeking to live out his manhood. And he said, "But when I listen to so many Christians talk, they talk about what this doesn't mean so much. That I have no idea what I'm fighting for every day." He said, I don't even know what it means to be a man anymore and what I'm fighting for in that."

Scott Rae: I suspect this may be the first time some of our listeners have actually heard somebody put shoe leather on that idea and have it make sense to them. That I think is really helpful. And I think we've all known people who have tried to make this specific, but have gone way out there beyond what I think the Bible would allow us to do. And I think to say that, how those three things are gonna work out, may look completely different in different cultures. I think gives a lot of room for culture to have the kind of impact that I think it was intended to have in a good sense.

Erik Thoennes: Right, and it might not even find an actual expression. So if I'm on a bus and there are no seats left on the bus and I have one of the seats and a

young lady gets on who's 23, she's an Olympic swimmer. More fit than I have ever been and my broken down 57-year-old body physically needs that seat more than she does.

Scott Rae: She's not getting it.

Erik Thoennes: [Laughing] No, that's the point. She is getting that seat. I'm gonna get up and give her my seat. And it's not because physically she needs it more, I actually need it more. But there's something in me that isn't gonna sit there as she stands up. Now, she may be insulted as if I think she needs it more than I do, but that's really not the point. I want to live out a manhood in a way where I actually want my sons to think differently about the way they relate to their sisters than the way they relate to each other. And so, I have a friend whose son came home one day and he hit a kid at school and he punished his son. And then his other son came home and hit a kid at school. And he found it was a girl. And the kid was saying, "Well, she's bigger than I am, dad." And he said, "I don't care." And he said, "The whole world stopped in my home." And he said, "And I want my boys to know that it's bad to hit a boy at school. But if you had a girl at school, the whole world's come to a stop. And if you hit a boy defending a girl, you'll get a trip to Dairy Queen." [laughter] Because there’s a difference and he wants them to know that. And I think so many guys are really confused about what it means to be a man. And women are too. I mean, women are more and more to that, I've read one author that says if a woman decides to stay home and raise her children, she's immoral. It’s swung so far from women feeling like they have to do that to now, if they do it, it they're somehow betraying their sex.

Sean McDowell: So what would you say to a dad who they decide that the mom's making more money and the dad's like, “I'm gonna stay at home and raise the kids.” What would be your response to that?

Erik Thoennes: Again, I think these are judgment calls we make and there have been times in our marriage where Donna has been the main breadwinner when I've been a full-time student. And I don't think there's anything wrong. I have a friend who mowed lawns for a living and his wife was a lawyer. And he said, "Well, you think I'm gonna keep mowing lawns?" So she ended up being the main breadwinner, but the point, but he never lost his sense of a manly responsibility that the family was being taken care of. And that fell to him ultimately in a way. And that's why I say there's a relational dynamic that has differing degrees of expression, depending on the context and the relationship. My friend whose wife was the main breadwinner, he never lost the sense that this is on me. And by the same token, one of the most manly men I've ever known was named Mark Ritering. And Mark was a police officer up in the central valley, just an incredible man. And he got ALS.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Erik Thoennes: And for the last several years of his life, was unable to do anything for himself, physically, nevermind care for his family the way he had before that. And so his wife did everything. But Mark never lost that instinct he had. And the police officers in his area stepped in and took over husbandly and fatherly responsibilities for him in that sort of way. So there are different relationships and dynamics like Mark where he's physically incapable of even protecting his family from a burglar, but he's gonna make sure they're taken care of.

Sean McDowell: So it sounds like the dance you're trying to keep in is the sense of keeping the distinction between male and female, but not importing cultural stereotypes. When I speak to audiences, I'll say regular, give me an example of a manly man. First two always, David and Samson. I think once somebody has said Jesus. [laughs] One time. Which tells me this John Wayne kind of tough men, don't cry has influenced us in some ways. But then on the flip side, there's this sense of like, completely obliterating that distinction. We have to keep both those intention. And sometimes, there's a little variance there. That's just where that gets tricky, doesn't it? There's a judgment call, biblical scripture, and maybe grace for others who nuance it a little differently. Is that kind of the medium ground we should try to find ourselves in?

Erik Thoennes: Well, nothing's surprised me more since I became a leader in different ways in the church than how many judgment calls about getting this stuff right, God leaves up to us. Really, I have a relative who says, "Oh, you Christians, you got this little Bible. You never have to think for yourselves or answer any questions. Any time you get a question, you just go to the Bible and you get the answer." And I just say, "You have no idea how much we wish God were a little more explicit about things." But what I would wanna make sure we realize is this challenge of working this out in daily reality without throwing up her hands and saying, well there's a difference, but I don't know what it is.

Sean McDowell: Sure.

Erik Thoennes: It's true in so many areas of our life, let's take generosity.

Sean McDowell: It's fair.

Erik Thoennes: Bible says to be generous with a cheerful heart, and I wanna go, ah, could I get a percentage on that? [laughing] Or at what point am I being a good steward? So is my $35 watch good stewardship?The Bible doesn't tell me. And so we need to work this out together or opposing racism in our culture. What's the wisest way to do that? What's the best way to do that? What's the proportional emphasis of that? These are judgment calls. It's not just male and female that requires daily judgment calls. It's almost every area of our life getting it right in our context to do that. And I wouldn't wanna overcomplicate it. So what does it mean for me to feel responsible for the spiritual welfare of my family? Well, it means that family devotions in something that Donna may come to me and say, "You know, it's been a while since we've read the Bible with the kids." And I'm gonna say, "Yeah, bust it. Let's gather around in the living room tonight." And Donna always says, "I wanna be a joy for Eric to lead." And man is she. And so even in that dynamic, there's a healthy responsibility. I feel that can feel like a burden at times, but at that I don't wanna shirk because that's an instinct I think men especially have. We're happy to let the responsibility go elsewhere. And man, women are great at doing what needs to be done. And in many ways, men are falling so far behind socially. And I think a lot of it is because trying to avoid toxic masculinity means avoiding masculinity.

Sean McDowell: That's right.

Erik Thoennes: And that I think it makes it worse. I don't think the solution to toxic masculinity is less masculinity. I think it's more biblical masculinity. That's like, Jesus. Just what you said that, I mean, if a man were loving his wife like Jesus in strength and love and kindness and compassion and patience and truth, well, who would fight against that?

Scott Rae: Yeah, I think it's not an accident that when Paul talks about male, female relationships and marriage it's the husband who gets the much tougher command. To love his wife as Christ loves the church.

Erik Thoennes: That's right. Any man who reads Ephesians 5 and says, "Yeah, this means I get my way." Has no idea what he just read. When its wives, submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ love the church. He should say, what? If you wanna start playing the fairness game, get off the bus now. Because I know how he loved his church, he died for her when she hated him. Nevermind when she earned it or something. So that call to Christ, like self-sacrificial loving leadership has to be what we are defining leadership by and not cultural. It doesn't mean you get to be a bully and get your way.

Scott Rae: Yeah, I don't see anywhere in that passage where that gives the guy a claim on his wife.

Erik Thoennes: Not at all.

Scott Rae: Not at all. It's the wife who's got a claim on the husband.

Erik Thoennes: [Laughing] That's right.

Scott Rae: To love her appropriately. I have to tell you, the part about protection too, I think resonates with me as a dad. Because one of the incidents that I am most proud of my kids about was when my middle son came outside of a club where his band was playing and they were packing up their stuff in the parking lot and about 20 feet away was a guy who was wailing away on his girlfriend.

Erik Thoennes: Oh my goodness.

Scott Rae: Beating her physically. And to hear him tell about it, he sort of instinctively stepped into the middle of that. A girl he never met, never knew, never would see again, stepped in the middle of that and broke it up, ended up being costly for him. 'Cause the guy a shot on him that knocked a tooth out before--

Erik Thoennes: Best tooth he ever lost.

Scott Rae: It was, it was. Before he ended up basically disabling the guy and protecting her. But I remember, and he was really quite, I think, appropriately proud of himself for that. You could look at that and say, "You were an idiot to step into the middle of that."

Erik Thoennes: Yeah, right. Practically speaking.

Scott Rae: I mean, it really didn't make a lot of sense, but it was something, he didn't think about it. He just instinctively stepped in and protected her. And I was very proud of him.

Erik Thoennes: I have two teenage boys and they both regularly say to me, "Dad, I really wanna get in a fight protecting somebody." [laughter] They'll like have dreams about it. They're like, "Dad, I had a dream last night that there was this girl in trouble at school and I just beat this guy up." And there's something I love about that. And again, it doesn't mean that Scott Rae: Of course.

Erik Thoennes: women don't have protective instincts.

Scott Rae: Of course.

Erik Thoennes: And there may be a woman who's actually a judo expert who's better at defending herself than I would be defending her. But the point is, do I have that instinct?

Scott Rae: Well, we don't call women with young children Mama Bears for nothing.

Erik Thoennes: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

Scott Rae:'Cause that protective instinct is absolutely very strong.

Erik Thoennes: Absolutely.

Scott Rae: But I think expressed in a somewhat different way.

Erik Thoennes: Right, right, right. And so again, people immediately say, well, I think when I say, I think men should have a relational dynamic and an instinct to provide, protect ,and initiate, people immediately will say, "Oh, so does that mean women don't provide protection?" Not at all. That's why I say it's a relational dynamic and a degree of relational dynamic that is expressed. And so again, this is in no way devaluing women or diminishing the way they incredibly provide, protect and initiate. But I do think men are created to express this to a greater degree.

Scott Rae: Yeah, and that doesn't suggest that outside of the home, that it's not a wide open playing field for women to exercise leadership in whatever capacity they're capable of carrying.

Erik Thoennes: Exactly. But even then, so one of my main bosses here at Biola is a woman and I submit to what she tells me to do, I have no problem with that. But even in our relationship, I don't wanna say it's no different than a relationship I would have with a man. There should be still something to carry over. What I wouldn't wanna do is say, yes, the specific roles are delineated in the home and the family biblically, but everywhere else is no different. Because that's weird. Then it makes it seem like a single person isn't a man or a woman until they get married. Or until you're in an elder role or submitting to an elder, your manhood or your womanhood isn't kicking into gear. And the example of your son is a good example of that. So he didn't say, "Well, I'm not gonna get involved 'cause this isn't a church or home context." There was something about his manhood and the womanhood.

Scott Rae: He didn't even have to think about it.

Erik Thoennes: Exactly. And so, I mean, Kevin Young calls it narrow complementarianism or broad complementarianism and his terms can be loaded but if you do think there are distinctions, I wouldn't wanna reduce it to, well, it's just a family in the church as if your manhood and woman who is in neutral until you're in those contexts. That'd be very strange if God made all of humanity one or the other, but it was only operative in those two contexts. Now the specificity and the clarity of the roles is more laid out clearly, obviously in those two areas.

Scott Rae: Yeah, I wouldn't wanna be misunderstood.

Erik Thoennes: Right.

Scott Rae: As being somehow discouraging to women, not to be all that they could be in the workplace or in other arenas.

Erik Thoennes: Right. At the same time, I wouldn't want them to feel like they need to be a really great mom and wife and CEO to really be a successful woman.

Scott Rae: Hopefully, we're over that notion that you can actually have it all this side of eternity. [laughing] Tell me how that works out.

Erik Thoennes: Right, right.

Sean McDowell: Couple theological questions for you related to transgender. But first, just one theological question. I'm curious what you would say is you said our biological sex is essential to who we are. That's what it means to be human. So when we die and we go to heaven, do we continue our maleness and femaleness into eternity? If it's essentially part of who we are, it would seem like either we would change in our essential nature or it would continue.

Erik Thoennes: I think it continues because I do think it's essential to who we are because on one hand, we need to affirm our common humanity that we all equally share

Sean McDowell: Amen.

Erik Thoennes: and have dignity from it. But in the same way, not only will male and female endure, I think the unique personalities every one of us has been given by God will continue as well. I think you're going to be as recognizable if not more so 'cause your image of Goddness will be more on display than ever, Sean, when I see you in heaven. I don't think I'm gonna say, and you are? [laughing] 'Cause I think even our particular unique personalities will carry over and with that are male and femaleness.

Sean McDowell: That makes sense. Let's shift to some of the comments we hear today. Like you'll hear people say things like I'm a man trapped in a woman's body. Now I never want to downplay that if somebody really feels that that rings true to them, that that is somebody's experience. But is it biblically and hence, metaphysically possible to be a man trapped in a woman's body or a woman trapped in a man's body. Why or why not?

Erik Thoennes: Yeah, let me preface my answer by saying this. I think one of the areas we miss doing this issue well is on one hand, realizing there's a cultural revolution that's happened in the area of sexuality that I think is dishonoring to God, it's destructive to human flourishing and it actually inhibits gospel advance because the gospel is in part advanced in the way male and female relate in marriage and more broadly in the church. I think our holy lives as men and women are the backdrop that the gospel advances. A lot of passages of scripture bear that out. But I think it's important to distinguish being a cultural movement that we should call out and combat and individuals who are caught up in this cultural movement.

Sean McDowell: Amen.

Erik Thoennes: And there should be tremendous compassion and care. So I appreciate why people say, especially conservatives, facts just don't care about your feelings. What I say is, well, that's true, but I do, and God does. So I

appreciate what they're saying. Facts aren't transformed by your feelings like we were saying in the beginning of the time but human beings relating to each other and ministering to each other have to be really concerned about how people are feeling and what their experiences have been and the challenges they're going through. I don't want you to be judgmental of me when you become aware of different sins in my life. I want you to say, "Well, how'd you get here?" And I want you to be sympathetic to what I've gone through. So distinguishing between a cultural movement, we should oppose and individuals who are caught up in that cultural movement, I think is really important. So there's a prophetic cultural concern we need to have as Christians. But then there's also personal pastoral concern that will have a very different complexion to it and way of dealing with it. Then maybe what we would say in a paper refuting ideas related to this idea. So I mean, I've had a lot of experience dealing with dear people who are going through this battle and all levels of the spectrum from I'm embracing this fully to, I'm gonna fight it according to biblical authority and everywhere in between, both with gender dysphoria and same sex attraction and to deal with individuals where they are. And ask great questions and find out where they are and enter into the struggle with them as a fellow struggler is incredibly important on a relational pastoral level. And then address issues like that with an appropriate amount of, you know that's incoherent. You know for all of human history, that's not how people have thought. Carl Trueman's book, "The Rise of the Modern Self" Sean McDowell: Great book, great book.

Erik Thoennes: is so helpful in this. Where he says, he writes the whole book, trying to help people realize how incoherent that statement is. And relatively new it is. I mean, he said his grandparents would hear something like that and just laugh. But we've gotten to the point where we so affirm our subjective experience. That makes sense. Not even to just liberal elite academics, but to the average guy on the street. Well, cool. And we sort of along with something that isn't coherent with reality or a reason.

Scott Rae: So take it a step further pastorally. How would you help parents who have kids who are experiencing gender dysphoria?

Erik Thoennes: I would take the long view of raising children and I tell myself this all the time as a dad. That there are days if I judge my child's future on what just went down today, we're all in trouble. [laughter]

Scott Rae: I don't want that verdict as a parent.[laughter]

Erik Thoennes: I'm in the most trouble, very often how I perform. Remember my daughter said to me one time, "Daddy, you have idea what it's like to be an 11-year-old girl." And I said, "You're exactly right, Caroline. And you have no idea what it's like to be the father of an 11-year-old girl so let's just learn together here." [laughter] And so I would say do your best to enter into that situation with a long view, but with truth and love. And to realize that to sympathize to the point where you're not truthful is damaging to your child. And to speak truth without a sympathetic tenderness is damaging your child as well. And I always try to help my kids realize that I still battle sin every day of my life. I never wanna appear to them like I've arrived or I've gotten this figured out and I'll say to them, "Look, we're in this together. And right now in your life, I'm probably your best friend to help you fight this battle because God's given me to you. With all my faults and sin, I'm your parent."

Scott Rae: Like it or not.

Erik Thoennes: That's right, I'm in this with you. And sometimes, it means clearing the decks when there's a major challenge and saying, all right, I just can't do this area of my life anymore 'cause this has become a priority for me. And something like a child going through a crisis in their sexuality in some way, probably deserves taking some things off your plate so you can bear down and just even spend more recreational times. So it's not just this that you're dealing with in their life.

Sean McDowell: Good friend of mine, his daughter was wrestling with questions on this. And he said he had an insight when he said, "I didn't have to first convince my daughter of an argument or position. I needed to convince her of my love." I thought what a beautiful place just to start with a long term view. Last thoughts, are there any books of the Bible? Any resources if somebody says, "Okay. I see some of the confusions coming from the culture, coming from the church, I wanna develop a more robust theology of just gender." And obviously, there's the debate between egalitarianism and complementarianism. What would be a good next step for somebody to just solidify their biblical understanding on this issue further?

Erik Thoennes: Yeah, so much that'll be determined by the particular issues. Kevin Young has just come out with a concise good book on male and female that I think is really helpful. "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" has been tremendously helpful for me from an exegetical standpoint, dealing with key passages of scripture that didn't directly relate to this. Sam Andreades has a book called "EnGendered" that I found super helpful as well. Sam actually studied people who had lived in homosexual lifestyles, who now were in really healthy heterosexual marriages.

Sean McDowell: Interesting.

Erik Thoennes: And he found that in his research, the key issue was clear roles as male and female in those heterosexual marriages that were healthy now. And not leaving it super ambiguous like people are inclined to do. And I think Sam's book does a great job of dealing with that sort of issues. Christopher Yuan's book, "Holy Sexuality" has been really helpful. So those are some I'd recommend. There are a lot of great resources out there.

Sean McDowell: That's great. Dr. Erik Thoennes, thanks for taking the time and letting us just kind of probe your mind on some sensitive, difficult topics today that oftentimes, people don't wanna talk about. But the scripture has a lot to say about this. It's not black and white in every circumstance like you said, but it gives us guidelines and we can work these out with grace and truth with others. So thanks for joining us on the "Think Biblically" podcast.

Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast “Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture”. The “Think Biblically” podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, offering programs in Southern California and fully online, including the Institute for Spiritual Formation. Visii to learn more. If you enjoyed today’s conversation, please consider giving us a rating on your podcast app. Every review helps. And please consider sharing it with a friend. Thank you so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything. [upbeat music]

Those of you watching, we are starting to release videos about once a month or so where we're doing our regular podcast episodes together, Scott Rae and I just talking about cultural issues. And so make sure you go to the podcast and subscribe for the weekly episodes we release, but also stay tuned for some other video ones coming up soon.