Wednesday, October 26

Wrestling with a Question in the New Study Guide Edition of Total Truth

by Nancy Pearcey.

Last week I reviewed Total Truth and promised that I was going to post a bit on one of the questions found in the Study Guide at the end of the latest edition. Hopefully, this will give you an idea what the added study guide is like and how it might be used.

The question I'm going to comment on is found on pages 492-493 in the Study Guide section, in the questions on Chapter 4. Here is an excerpt from the real-life set up to the question
Today abortion advocates are perfectly willing to say that the fetus is physiologically human--but that is regarded as irrelevant to it's moral status, and does not warrant legal protection. The deciding factor is "personhood," typically defined in terms of self-awareness, self-conciousness, or the ability to chose.

The two-story approach to life issues:

Warrants Legal Protection

Irrelevant to Moral Status

For example, in the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry surprised everyone by agreeing that "life begins at conception." Then why did he support abortion? Because, he explained in an interview with Peter Jennings, the fetus is "not the form of life that takes personhood in the terms we have judged it to be in the past." (ABC News, July 22, 2004)

This is not the whole of the lead up to the question, but it's enough to set the stage. Throughout Total Truth, Pearcy points us to the two-story division of life that is pervasive in our society. For instance, we have a value/fact split--values being supposedly personal and not arrived at based on objective evidence, and they stand over against facts, which are objectively verifiable. This same sort of split shows up in many different ways, including in the pro-choice/pro-life argument, as is laid out for us above.

Now, here's the study guide question:
Critics say the pro-life position is based on mere faith that life begins at conception--yet the beginning of life is a biological fact. By contrast, arguments for abortion rest on the concept of "personhood," a non-empirical, non-scientific philosophical concept. Does this suggest a way for pro-lifers to turn the table on their critics?

Let me start wrestling with the question by suggesting that many Christians hold a similar two-story split in how they think about life issues, even though they may not have let the split influence their ideas on abortion...yet. Instead of a top level that reads "PERSONHOOD," they may have a top level that reads "IMAGE OF GOD." How does "IMAGE OF GOD" get put up there in the upper story? It's carried up there when it's defined only as something beyond and other than being physiologically human.

When you list the things that make up our image-of-Godness, what do you list? What things have you been told are included in being made in the image of God? Usually we think of things like our ability to make choices, our dominion over creation, or our personality. I bet these are similar to the things John Kerry is thinking of when he defines "personhood." And they are all things that someone who is physiologically human (like a fetus, for instance, or someone severely brain-damaged) might not have.

Scripture doesn't spell out all that being made in God's image includes. There's probably a reason for that. Wayne Grudem says that "no list could do justice to the subject" of what it is to be made in the image of God, because "[t]he expression refers to every way in which man is like God."* When we draw up our little lists, we'd do well to remind ourselves that our defining points may be limiting our thinking as much as they are enlightening it.

If we define the image of God as not including mere human physiology, then we are withdrawing the only objective grounds we have for protecting some human life (like the recently conceived, for example), and in doing so, we've raised the protection of that human life to the realm of second-story truth. It becomes mere value separated from fact, or subjective truth as opposed to objective truth.

The objective grounds for protecting human life is given to us by God himself. Human life is like God and represents him in a way that animal life does not. After the flood, any living moving thing was given to humankind to kill for food, but the killing of other human beings was forbidden, "for in God's image God has made mankind." ** When we maintain the rightful prohibition against the killing of an already conceived life, we must do it on the grounds that those few living human cells are made in God's image, because that is the reason God has given us for the prohibition against taking human life.

Do we have scriptural warrant for believing that a few living human cells represent God? I believe we do. God saw, knew and loved our unformed substance, and had already formed days for us when we were only an unturned lump in our mother's womb.*** He was already in relationship with you as his image bearer before you had form. You might say you were still an "unformed image," but in God's eyes and his plans you had a firm reality as an image bearer, even though your own physical reality was just a few living human cells.

Another way to look at things is to recognize that human beings are being redeemed in a way the rest of living creation is not. Human life has special significance that comes from our bearing God's image, and God is redeeming humanity because he created us in his own image. The redemption process is little by little restoring more and more of God's image within us, "from one degree of glory to another..."**** When we are finally glorified, we will be made perfect image bearers: "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."***** Since no human life is beyond the reach of God's redemption, all human life, at least in some small way, must reflect God's image.

Did I answer the question from the study guide? Not really, but I think I started the ball rolling. What would you add? What would you disagree with? Does all physiologically human life carry God's image? Why or why not? What say ye?

[Note: I read this interesting piece this morning, and thought it relates in some way to this subject, but I didn't work it into my post: Historia ecclesiastica: THE ETERNALITY OF THE BODY.]

[Update, October 27: So what about DNA? Might it carry our image-of-Godness?]

*Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology, page 443.
**Genesis 9:6, NET Bible
***Psalm 139:16
****2 Corinthians 3:18
, NET Bible
*****1 John 3:2, KJV