Book Review: Sharon James, ‘Gender Ideology’

Sharon James, Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need To Know? (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2019)

I wish I’d never read this book, but I’m awfully glad I did. Paradoxical as that may sound, it’s the best way I can sum up my response to Sharon James’s superb introduction to gender ideology.

Gender Ideology is a book I wish we had no need for. The contents are at times disturbing and distressing. We are confronted with stories of untold pain and anguish. We are lovingly warned of the damage that gender ideology is doing to a generation of children. We are led into an intellectual and cultural minefield.

But we are led by a wise and compassionate guide who has a firm grasp of her subject, a clear understanding of God’s Word, and an obvious love for the lives about which she writes. The book is short and accessible. For those who are new to the subject matter, it is an excellent first stop. And while it is not an academic treatise, those more familiar with the terrain will recognise the deep research that lies behind it, and will doubtless learn new things about how to respond well as Christians.

In a series of short and well-argued chapters, Gender Ideology addresses most of the important questions. After an introductory chapter that sets the scene, chapter two briefly answers questions like ‘What is the difference between sex and gender?’, ‘What is gender dysphoria?’, ‘What causes it?’, ‘Can someone really change sex?’ Chapters 3 and 4 explain the main points of gender theory, where it comes from, and why it matters, offering a perceptive Christian evaluation along the way.

Chapter 5 is a gem, and builds on earlier work that Sharon has done to give the clearest short introduction to the Bible’s teaching on God’s design of male and female that I’ve seen, and to set it against the false gospel of expressive individualism.

Chapter 6 is the most disturbing part of the book, as it considers ‘The “Transgendering” of Children’. Sharon unflinchingly exposes how children are at risk of indoctrination into gender ideology and being used as political pawns by trans activists. She also carefully distinguishes different types of gender dysphoria and shows the relevance of these distinctions for the care of children.

The book concludes with a call for respect: respect for human dignity, respect for the ‘ecology’ of humanity in God’s ordered creation, respect for doctors and children and parents and those who regret their transition, respect for free speech, respect for truth, and above all, respect for God.

I really like the tone of the book: never shrill, there is no huffing and puffing. It is all the more powerful for the calm and gracious way Sharon writes. Both the tone and the content is framed by a vital distinction between careful examination of the truth and a compassionate response to those who struggle with gender dysphoria. These things are never set against each other, but rather God’s truth is brought to bear with gentleness and respect.

I don’t believe in ‘must read’ books for pastors—we’re swamped with voices telling us how much we ‘need’ to buy this and read that. But for anyone wanting a clear and faithful introduction to these pressing questions, Gender Ideology is now top of my list, and a book I can wholeheartedly recommend.