A Mind-Blowing Assertion
Over the last couple of weeks, the internet waves have been exploding surged by the power of controversial statements made on a program of CrossPolitic. In this program, a guest named Jason Farley asserted that it was Baptist theology that gave rise to the individualism which has caused the transgender movement to blossom in our culture today.1 Now, before we examine this bizarre statement, let’s get a couple of clarifications out of the way.
First of all, the brothers at CrossPolitic are exactly that . . . brothers. They are not heretics out in left field or anything of the sort. Regardless of the fact I would differ with their theological views on some things (like baptism), they are most definitely brothers with whom I would agree on many issues. I am eerily close to a James White type of Baptist and they are Presbyterians of similar ilk with a few distinctions in views. It gives us enough common ground to agree on much, while having enough disagreements to throw a few brotherly jabs at one another. By making this claim, they are not saying Baptists are not Christian brothers who should be disfellowshipped, and neither am I, through writing this article, saying CrossPolitic is filled with heretics. Quite the contrary, these brothers have spoken well on many issues over the years. Although this statement about Baptist theology, individualism, and transgenderism certainly does leave us much to discuss.
The Pressing Question
Nonetheless, our immediate subject remains, was it Baptistic theology that gave rise to the individualism that led to the transgender revolution? To answer that question we come to another pivotal figure in this entire situation, Dr. Scott Aniol. He has written helpfully on numerous issues and I am incredibly grateful for his labors in the name of our Lord. He recently penned a piece to help sort out this entire circumstance. In order to make the claim that Baptist theology led to individualism, one would have to prove that Baptist theology is individualistic in the first place. To that question, Aniol writes:
“Baptists have always insisted that baptism be granted only upon a personal profession of faith because every clear New Testament example of baptism occurs for those who first confess faith, and the New Testament’s teaching on baptism always intrinsically connects baptism with faith (Gal 3:26–27, Rom 6:1–11, 1 Pet 3:21, Col 2:11–12). In other words, at its heart, Baptist teaching on baptism is never predicated upon an individualistic understanding of the nature of Christian piety or the Church. Rather, it is based upon how the New Testament inherently links baptism and faith. I’m not going to offer a full-blown defense of believer baptism here, because that’s not my purpose; I just want to stress the fact that Baptist theology of baptism is not rooted in individualism, but in the New Testament connection between baptism and faith.”2
Indeed, this is precisely accurate. Baptists believe in the baptism of the believer by immersion because of the pattern of the New Testament. Historically, going back through the Protestant Reformation (obviously as a Baptist I would argue ultimately back to Scripture), Baptist theology is covenantal, understanding the outworkings of the covenants across the entire span of the Word of God. Yet, the act of baptism is not merely an individual aspect of the church, it is also corporate. Aniol writes:
“But even more to the point, alongside considering baptism to be a visible profession of faith, Baptists have also historically affirmed the covenantal nature of both baptism as that which joins a believer into the covenant community, and corporate worship broadly as that which renews believers in their covenantal relationship with God and with the Church. The CrossPolitic crew seemed to assume that paedobaptists have a corner on recognizing the covenantal nature of the Church, while all Baptists consider baptism as only individual profession. But this is hardly the case in historic Baptist theology.”
Baptism is an action by which believers publicly profess their faith and identify with Christ and His church (see Dr. Aniol’s article for more on this subject). It is an action done to an individual with corporate meaning. Therefore, to call Baptist theology individualistic is to misunderstand its historic beliefs. In fact, historic Baptists like John Gill have condemned men or women cross-dressing or anything of that nature because of texts like Deuteronomy 22:5.3 Indeed, in terms of recognizing the corporate, not merely individual, identity of the people of God in the local church, A.W. Pink stated:
“A New Testament church is a local body of baptized believers in organized relationship, publicly and corporately worshipping God in the ways of His appointment.”4
Notice that Pink does not merely mention individual worship, but the unified and corporate worship of the local church together, not according to our dictates, but God’s appointments or commands. I agree with the CrossPolitic brothers that much of evangelicalism has become individualistic in terms of expressing worship according to human desires as opposed to divine dictates. But, historically Baptists have not argued for worship according to our wishes but according to God’s revelation. Individuals gather together in the local church to worship God corporately according to His Holy Word. Another Baptist I will quote, arguably one of the most influential, Charles Spurgeon who said:
“Oh, what a sacred oneness that is which subsists between all the Lord’s people! We are not simply brethren, but we are one; we are not allied by affinity, but by actual identity; we are parts of the same body; we are brought into spiritual membership with each other, as real and as effectual as that membership which subsists between the various parts of the body. Yet we are not all alike, although we are all of one body; some are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are bond, some are free; and yet, in some things, we are all alike, for we have all been baptized by one Spirit. And, moreover, we have all been made to drink into one Spirit; we have had one spiritual baptism, and we have had one spiritual drinking. Would to God that we felt more one, that our hearts beat more in tune with each other; that we had a sympathy with each other in woes and sufferings; that we had a fellow feeling with all who love the Lord; and could at all times weep with those that weep, as well as rejoice with those that rejoice.”5
Now, my point in using these quotes is to demonstrate that Baptists not only see the reality that individuals must repent of their sins and be baptized after faith, we also see the corporate identity in a covenantal way of the people of God. We are united to Christ by faith and counted as offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:27). Baptistic theology has a corporate element to it, for Scripture itself does. We recognize that the body of Christ gathers together corporately in local churches, so to describe historic Baptist theology as individualistic is to misunderstand the truth. Also, we see that Baptists, like John Gill, opposed the abomination of men acting like women, or women acting like men because Scripture denounces such actions. With all of these realities in mind, how could anyone assert Baptist theology led to the individualism which then led to the transgender revolution? Further than that, why would such an assertion be made?
Here we come all the way back to Scott Aniol’s article and work on this matter. He gives his assertion as to why the guest (Jason Farley) on CrossPolitic made such a statement about Baptists. Aniol writes:
“That said, Farley does grossly misrepresent Baptist theology, and as I’ll discuss in the second point below, I think it’s actually their postmillennial presuppositions that give rise to the whole ‘Baptists caused transgenderism’ assertion in the first place.”
For those perhaps unfamiliar with the term, postmillennialism is a specific approach to the subject of the last days.6 Literally, it means that Christ comes back “post” or after the millennium. It is too complex for us to attempt to break it down in detail during this post, but suffice it to say that postmillennial thought believes this age is marked by the progress of the Gospel with Christ’s kingdom expanding and growing ultimately consummating in His return at the last day.7 As an individual who is a Baptist, loves theology, and has studied every eschatological perspective in some depth, I have a uniquely vested interest in this particular area of the conversation. First of all, let’s give another section of Aniol’s article and then begin our interaction:
“You see, I don’t think it is actually Farley’s paedobaptism that led him to make the assertion that Baptist individualism caused transgenderism; it was actually his postmillennialism. Implicit in the assumption that it is the fault of the church that culture has reached this point is the assumption that it is the responsibility of the church to change, redeem, and transform culture for Christ. Though certainly not unique to postmillennialism (some Amillennialists like Russell Moore teach this, too), it is certainly inherent within postmillennial theology. As Longshore states in the Backstage portion, “It’s going to take a recovery of Christendom if we’re going to have this crazy train stop.” These men have a much grander conception of the Church’s role in the broader culture than the New Testament ever asserts.”
Even though I greatly appreciate and agree with the overwhelming bulk of Aniol’s article, there are a couple of issues I have with his general line of thought. First of all, not all postmillennials believe in transformation of culture. Dr. Kenneth Gentry draws lines between theonomic and pietistic postmillennials. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes this regarding Gentry’s summary:
“At this point in his summary, Gentry makes an important distinction between two types or groups of modern postmillennialists: pietistic postmillennialists and theonomic postmillennialists. The basic difference between the two has to do with the application of biblical law. ‘Pietistic postmillennialism (as found in Banner of Truth circles),’ Gentry says, ‘denies that the postmillennial advance of the kingdom involves the total transformation of culture through the application of biblical law. Theonomic postmillennialism affirms this.”8
First of all, then, if Aniol wants to maintain his line of argumentation it would actually technically have to be the theonomic postmillennialism of the CrossPolitic crew and specifically Farley he is referencing. Such a distinction may seem trivial, but in theological discussion, such precise language is a necessity for keeping hard, fast, and accurate representations of various positions. Granting that this is what Aniol had in mind, I still have an issue with his statement. You see, right before making the claim that Farley’s postmillennialism caused his analysis regarding Baptists and transgenderism, Aniol said:
“I’ve always told my students to never write a paper with a thesis that argues X caused Y. Such arguments are almost always fallacious, or at very least virtually impossible to prove.”
This brings me to my pressing question, and primary reason for writing on this entire subject. Why does Dr. Aniol’s claim that Farley’s postmillennialism led him to make the assertions about transgenderism have any more basis than Farley’s assumption about Baptist theology and transgenderism? Perhaps Farley simply misunderstands historic Baptist beliefs. Maybe, he lumps in all Baptists as dispensational and has never read a book about covenantal Baptist theology. Then again, it could be something connected with his postmillennialism. Or, it could just be that he is making what I would think is bad analysis and does not see his error. The point being, I have no earthly idea what caused the man to make this statement. While I would say there are rare cases where we can say that “X caused Y” I do agree with Dr. Aniol’s statement that we should be extremely cautious when making such arguments.
The Point: Wisdom, Robust Argumentation, and Biblical Thinking
I have differences with the brothers at CrossPolitic and with Dr. Aniol in terms of not only points they assert but even their line of argumentation. The assertion that Baptist theology led to individualism which led to transgenderism is frankly without any basis on a level I cannot even begin to assert. Yet, Dr. Aniol’s comments on postmillennialism are also problematic in my viewpoint. Yet, while these brothers are all much more intelligent men than I am, I do believe there is a lesson to learn in all of these things. The book of James says:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” -James 1:19-20
It seems to me like many comments on all sides have been made without deep thought and substantiation. Throughout all the smoke, I think this is one of the most pressing concerns I have in this entire scenario. Christians are called to think deeply on the basis of the Word of God. We want to use our speech wisely knowing how to answer each person (Colossians 4:6). Do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating for holding back on theological conversation because someone’s feelings might get hurt through giving doctrinal correction. Quite the contrary, I believe we need a deep doctrine of “Christian Troublemaking” whereby we stir up a holy ruckus for the sake of the kingdom by preaching the Gospel out of hearts of love for God, His Word, and others.9
However, with all that being said, Christian troublemaking does not include superficial analysis, unwise speech, or incorrect doctrinal analysis. I am not speaking here as one who is faultless, God knows I need grace for errors I have made in all these areas. And, I believe this is one of the primary issues of the entire debacle with CrossPolitic. What does Spurgeon, Gill, Pink, and Baptist theology have to do with the transgender revolution? Absolutely, positively, nothing whatsoever. Can we assert Farley’s postmillennialism drove him to such assertions? I fail to see how Dr. Aniol could claim that without having a personal conversation or apart from Farley’s explicit statements. Even if, his charge didn’t account for nuances within postmillennial eschatology such as that between pietistic postmillennialism and theonomic postmillennialism.
Brothers, let us be deeper in our thinking and more robust throughout our interactions. I do not believe anything has been said here on the part of CrossPolitic, or Aniol, out of a lack of love. However, I do believe there has been a shortage of accuracy and depth in the interactions so far. Should this article come across any of these brothers eyes, I hope they see my thoughts as coming from a heart of respect and love. You all have done more for the kingdom than I could ever hope to do, and I am simply a man trying to learn from this entire situation and share those insights with others. My prayer going forward is that we would all be deeper in our observations grounded in Scripture regarding what is transpiring in current theological and cultural moments. It is tempting to be short-sighted and without depth while analyzing cultural movements. We must avoid that temptation and walk in faithfulness to our Lord. May we move forward in that path for the glory of our Lord!
2 All quotes from Scott Aniol’s article can be found here: https://g3min.org/did-baptist-theology-cause-transgenderism-a-friendly-response-to-crosspolitic/
3 See Gill’s Commentary
6 For some of the core tenets of postmillennial thought see here:
7 Note: This is a very bare-bones generalization not meant to be an academically robust definition covering all postmillennial thought or variations between postmillennials. As an illustration, some postmillennials have historically believed that the millennial reign is a literal 1,000 years whereas others take it as a symbolic figure thus showing some variances within the camp. For an introduction to postmillennalism I would recommend Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillenialism by Dr. Greg Bahnsen: https://www.amazon.com/Victory-Jesus-Bright-Hope-Postmillenialism-ebook/dp/B00U6P35QK
8 R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According To Jesus, p. 205.
9 Jeff Durbin rightly outlines such an approach here: