Although not without the occasional inconsistency, Embodied is marked by a powerful commitment to biblical truth matched by an equally strong concern for real people. Accordingly, the work is set in a decidedly pastoral frame and is marked by a deeply compassionate tone throughout.
Of all the recent evangelical engagements with the questions raised by transgender experience, Preston Sprinkle’s Embodied is, arguably, the most comprehensive, penetrating and compelling. The book not only addresses the cultural, medical, psychological and social angles of the trans phenomenon, but also includes several chapters of incisive biblical exposition and valuable theological exploration (plus 43 pages of endnotes). Although not without the occasional inconsistency, Embodied is marked by a powerful commitment to biblical truth matched by an equally strong concern for real people. Accordingly, the work is set in a decidedly pastoral frame and is marked by a deeply compassionate tone throughout.
The opening chapter (“People”) introduces readers to a number of real people and their stories. In chapter 2 (“Ten Thousand Genders”), Sprinkle turns to definitions, starting with the key term, transgender, and the various shades of what it might mean for someone to label themselves “trans*.” (Sprinkle adopts the practice of putting an asterisk after “trans,” to indicate that he is using it “as broad umbrella term to include a whole range of identities that aren’t strictly transgender, such as nonbinary, genderqueer, and the like” [p. 33].) He then proceeds to discuss terms such as gender dysphoria, transition, cisgender and intersex, before explaining the difference between sex and gender—parsing the latter in terms of gender role—“how males and females are expected to act in any given culture” (p. 43)—and gender identity—“one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both, or neither” (p. 47).
After further unpacking the question “What Does it Mean to be Trans*?” in chapter 3, chapter 4 (“Male and Female in the Image of God”) begins a series of chapters which examine the Bible’s teaching. Sprinkle starts by stressing the importance of human physicality to divine image-bearing, in order to make the important point that “we bear God’s image as male and female” (p. 67). While Sprinkle is quick to clarify that male and female are sex (not gender) categories, he strongly affirms Phyllis Bird’s contention that biological sex is “an essential datum in any attempt to define the human being and the nature of humankind” (p. 68, citing Bird, “Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh,” Theology Today 50 : 531). Indeed, it is our sexed embodiment that explains why “Jesus views Genesis 1–2 as normative” (p. 70); Paul “sees the body as significant for moral behavior and correlates the body with personhood” (p. 71); “Scripture prohibits cross-sex behavior” (p. 72); and “sex difference probably remains after the resurrection” (p. 75). Of particular importance is his observation that “the incarnation of Christ affirms the goodness of our sexed embodiment” (p. 74).
Chapter 5 wades into the conflicted terrain of “Gender Stereotypes.” Sprinkle notes that while stereotypes may be accurate descriptions of how many men and women behave, “they aren’t biblical prescriptions for all” (p. 85, emphasis original). In fact, he suggests that “Scripture contains hardly any sex-specific commands” (p. 92). He does, however, observe some—many pertaining to husbands and wives (e.g., Eph 5:22; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1), some concerning the ministry of women in the church (e.g., 1 Tim 2:12; 1 Cor 14:34–35), and others (e.g., Deut 22:5; 1 Cor 11:2–16) “establishing a principle that men and women should maintain distinctions in how they present themselves” (p. 94). Nevertheless, he is concerned that this principle be applied with care, as “the meaning of clothing is culturally bound” (p. 95).