Book Review: Embodied by Preston Sprinkle
I recently read a new book titled Embodied by Preston Sprinkle. It’s about transgender identities, the people attached to those identities, the Bible, and how the church should respond. Needless to say, it was a rather interesting read.
Honestly, there was a lot I liked about the book and it was incredibly well resourced. Unfortunately, there was also a lot I didn’t like about the book and it brought up a lot of concerning shifts on theology and whatnot.
What I liked:
This book was very well resourced. It had a least seven manuscript revisions and the bibliography at the end is extensive. Really, that’s one of the things I appreciated most about it. Even though I disagree with a lot of the subject matter, I like the source material, which is definitely something I’ll go back to in the future.
I also liked how Sprinkle continuously, to a fault (I’ll get to that later), landed on grace as the response to the trans movement. I’m not an overly grace-giving person in any sphere of life, so this book was a good reminder for me that more grace is usually a good thing.
Sprinkle also brought to light a lot of the toxic behavior that’s currently attached to the trans movement. For example, the New Jersey Department of Education officially encourages schools to report parents to child services who don’t enthusiastically-enough support their children who have trans-related concerns. He also points out how it’s problematic that the New Jersey (and many other) schools aren’t obligated to inform parents if their children are socially transitioning, going by a different name at school, or having the school use different pronouns.
I also really appreciated chapter ten, which was about rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Of all the chapters in his book, I think ten was the best one. Though Sprinkle didn’t specifically reference Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage book, a lot of what he said was in consensus with her findings. Much like Shrier, Sprinkle also went to great lengths to parse the differences between adults who wish to transition and minors, particularly adolescents, who wish to do so (like how for most kids with rapid-onset gender dysphoria, the dysphoria dissipates after puberty, if not sooner, 61-88% of the time according to all available studies).
What I didn’t like:
I’m just kidding. But kind of not.
Sprinkle went pretty deep on the Biblical exegesis of the Creation Story, Biblical masculinity and femininity, gender roles, male/female definitions historically, church history, Paul’s New Testament writings, and more. Those were all well and good except for some quibbles I have.
After nearly every statement he made explaining the Church’s stance historically or the Biblical perspective, Sprinkle would throw out caveats. Caveats like, “We can get the Bible right—but if we get love wrong, we’re wrong (Page 152).” He also used statements to the effect of “where the Bible is silent, we should be silent;” “If we don’t love well, then what the Bible says is moot;” “Grace should be number one and theology second;” and “Jesus never converted anyone by telling them the law.”
Another caveat that followed nearly every other statement about trans people was, “If you’ve met one transgender person…you’ve met one transgender person.” This referred to how one individual’s life experiences were unique to that one individual and weren’t applicable to any other person or situation, which I agree with, to an extent. However, Sprinkle was very heavy on individualism and the uniqueness of each and every trans person and how stereotypes and traditional behaviors rarely, if ever, pertained to any other individuals…except for when we’re supposed to use stereotypes that we’re not supposed to use.
Speaking of stereotypes, another recurring theme was that we (as Christians and the church as a whole) should avoid using gender stereotypes or traditional gender roles in any context because it’s largely cultural, but also the best way for a person to transition socially or otherwise is for us (as Christians and the church) to help them by using gender stereotypes and gender roles, but also, “If you’ve met one transgender person…you’ve met one transgender person.”
That’s a lot of mutual exclusivity and doesn’t strike me as being particularly coherent. But it’s in a book, so it has to be good, right?
Unless it isn’t.
Interestingly, Sprinkle brought up the topic of souls and went down several roads about what souls are, if they’re gendered or not, and the Biblical view of souls. Things got kind of weird in chapter nine, to say the least. Let’s take a trip back to page 152:
“I would say that the Bible and science offer much more evidence to support the view that our biological sex determines who we are. Our sexed bodies determine whether we are male, female, or both; and our embodiment is an essential part of how we image God in the world. I don’t think the Bible or science offers enough evidence to suggest that our gender (identity or role) overrules our sexed identity, even if we experience incongruence.
However, we should never downplay the significance of a person’s experiences or their internal sense of who they are. These can feel more real than the air we breathe. Any credible application of the conceptual points I’ve made must understand this: experiences might not define who we are ontologically, but they are nonetheless very real and significant. We can get the Bible right—but if we get love wrong, we’re wrong.”Embodied page 152.
In chapter twelve Sprinkle compared the arguments for and against using preferred pronouns, and both sides of it had some decent points. Sprinkle ultimately sided with pronoun hospitality, meaning using preferred pronouns. Below is some of what he had to say about it.
“…the fact is, the meaning of words is determined in part by cultural usage, and pronoun usage now includes gender identity, not just biological sex. That’s just how language works. You are not lying if you use “she” to describe a biological male whose gender identity is female, even if you disagree with this person’s choice to identify as female. You’re simply using language according to the social flexibility that language has always had.”Embodied page 203.
Sprinkle used Paul’s speech in Acts 17 as Biblical support for social flexibility with language and suggested that pronoun hospitality is the correct thing to do, partially based on Paul’s example.
Another interesting angle he took to support pronoun hospitality was this:
“One of my friends who identifies as nonbinary uses they/them pronouns, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve know this person for quite some time and yet only recently asked them why they use these pronouns. My friend, a biological female, is a sold-out believer in Jesus who struggles with serious gender dysphoria. For whatever reasons, when they hear people refer to them as “she/her,” it triggers their dysphoria. If the usage is persistent, it can lead to self-harming behaviors like cutting.”Embodied page 209
I’m sympathetic to not intentionally doing things that provoke others to behave badly, but there also has to be a line somewhere. Generally speaking, you’re responsible for your own behavior, just as I’m responsible for mine. I understand not being a jerk and not intentionally antagonizing someone (I’m pretty sure that’s called “bullying”), but this example seems like a stretch to me, especially since Sprinkle goes on to say that using preferred pronouns “might nudge people to put down the razor blade and not cut themselves.”
This shift takes it from a tangible “I know this person and know that if I do x it will cause them to struggle,” to “I’m going to walk on eggshells and hopefully avoid potentially maybe causing problems to the general public.” There needs to be a line somewhere, and I don’t believe Sprinkle’s suggestion here is a practical one.
Sprinkle goes on to say,
“To me, this is an easy one. I think we should do our best to use they/them pronouns for the following reasons: One, they/them pronouns can be used generically of any human and can be used in the singular. In fact, Merriam-Webster Dictionary not only says that they can refer to a singular object (including a person) but also recently added that they/them can refer to a “single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” Two, they/them is gender neutral; it’s different than calling a biological male “she” or a biological female “he.” Three, on a practical level, it might nudge people to put down the razor blade and not cut themselves. Four, it could make nonbinary or trans*-identified people actually want to be around you rather than run the other way.”Embodied pages 209-210
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary people added they/them as a political move to support a social agenda more than anything, so I’m not convinced they’re actually a credible source for using preferred pronouns with the reasoning of “because the dictionary says it’s grammatically correct.”
Again, I’m all for not being an obnoxious jerk, but there needs to be a line somewhere. I also think there’s a difference between changing one’s language when communicating to people we know versus to the general public. Context matters.
Sprinkle successfully put forward a fairly coherent book that was well resourced and obviously had a lot of thought and care put into it, especially given the current political climate. Overall, it was a decent book with a lot to take away from. However, there is still a substantial amount that I vehemently disagree with and will be hard pressed to change my mind on.
Additionally, it was a good reminder that all relationships, particularly Christ-centered ones, are balanced with grace and truth…and I need to be more graceful than I often am.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Opinions? Comment below or shoot an email to Adam@LetsDigress.com! And please, be kind and grammatically decent.