Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 37 (September 1985): 169-177.
The following is a personal account of the withdrawal from circulation of Brave New People. Originally published in the United States by IVP/USA, a new edition has been published by Eerdmans. References to IVP are to IVPI USA and not IVP/ UK, the publishers of the book in Britain.
At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 June 1984, my world changed. It was then that I was awoken from a deep sleep by the telephone at the side of my bed. Much to my somnolent astonishment it was Jim Sire phoning from the InterVarsity Press (IvP) headquarters in Downers Grove. His calculation of the enormous time difference between the Mid-West of the United States and New Zealand was two hours out-it was not 7 a.m. New Zealand time but 5 a.m.
I was not in a particularly receptive frame of mind at that hour; nevertheless, I was sufficiently awake to be aghast at what he told me. My book, Brave New People, had been very severely criticized by an anonymous writer (later to be identified as Douglas Badger) in Action Line, the newsletter of the Christian Action Council (CAQ. Letters were also arriving at IVP objecting to its publication, a move advocated by the CAC.
This was to be the first of a number of trans-Pacific phone calls. Later ones were to recount the material distributed by the CAC and the "open letter" circulated by Franky Schaeffer outside the Christian Booksellers' Convention in Anaheim, California; the picketting outside the IVP offices; the flow of critical letters (largely in response to calls by certain groups for the book to be withdrawn f rom circulation); the boycotting of all IVP publications by some booksellers, and the replies formulated by IVP to the critics of Brave New People and of IVP as a publisher of evangelical literature. And finally came the phone call announcing the end (as it then seemed) of the whole episode-the withdrawal of the book from the American market by James McLeish, the director of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF).
What had given rise to such unprecedented reaction? This was the first occasion in the 43-year history of IVP that a book had been withdrawn from circulation. My reason for writing Brave New People had been to inform Christians and others about the major technological developments in reproductive biology. My focus of attention, therefore, had been in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, cloning, amniocentesis, genetic counselling and the whole technological environment responsible for these developments. I had also attempted to view these procedures within a biblical and Christian framework.
The furore, however, was not over my treatment of these issues. My crime-I do not think that is too strong a word-lay in the chapter on therapeutic abortion. It was in that chapter that I had apparently transgressed all the principles of evangelicalism, by allowing for abortion under certain circumstances. A few of my critics even contended that I wrote the book in order to promulgate a liberal view of abortion.
The lines of battle all too quickly fell into place. I was depicted as the arch-proponent of abortion on demand with my critics representing the forces of anti-abortionism. Completely unawares, and certainly against my own desires, I found myself cast as a leader of the pro-abortion forces within evangelicalism. No justif ication, it seemed, was required to support this assignation, in spite of the fact that Brave New People only incidentally dealt with therapeutic abortion and hardly dealt at all with abortion in general terms.
I found that my "heretical" views had earned me
notoriety within evangelical circles. Not only this, but,
in the eyes of some, my views were so dangerous that
they had to be censored. And they were-for quite a
few months anyway-since
Brave New People
withdrawn from the American market by IVCF. The
censorship was carried out by a few self-appointed
guardians of evangelical morality, who conducted a
vociferous and concerted campaign against the book,
myself, and the publishers.
Headlines and Labels
The Christian media, like the secular media, feeds on headlines and one-liners. Hence, Action Line described Brave New People as lending Christian respectability to the "pro-choice" position.1 Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League described it as "one of the most blatant pro-abortion books I've ever seen"2 . For Curtis Young, Executive Director of the CAC, it represents the pro-abortion arguments of the 1960's baptized in Christian terminology.2
The Christian Courier in a headline described it simply as a "controversial abortion book and an editorial in that magazine thought it was "on the garbage edge of evangelicalism".3 For one writer of a letter to Christianity Today I had "advocated [the] murder of unborn children,"' while another considered that Brave New People "opens the doors for abortion on demand. "' According to this latter writer Brave New People can be compared to books promoting "incest, rape, pornography, and child abuse." When the IVP offices were picketted by members of the Pro-Life Action League the banners included slogans such a, IVP revives eugenics," "Let the handicapped live."Abortion the ultimate child abuse," and "Abortior kills babies."
The publishers have also been depicted in stark terms. IVP, for instance, was described as "a company which promotes therapeutic abortion;"6 while another claim was that "therapeutic abortion is backed by evangelical' publisher [Eerdmans]."3 One reviewer concluded that "Every secular publisher in the country has stuff like this."6Vitriolic Reviews
Franky Schaeffer7 described the book as an "amalgam of dishonesty," containing "coercive, leftist, and pro-abortion ideas." He saw it as a "noxious dish of reviving the eugenics movement of death as a solution to social problems," employing "seductive liberal jargon. " It was, he asserted, 11 a vehicle for the propaganda of the therapeutic abortion industry, dressed now in evangelical robes." On the basis of such an assessment, Franky Schaeffer suggested that it was time for IVP "to shut their doors," and that Christian booksellers should 11 re-evaluate [their] reason for stocking IVP books."
D. Gareth Jones (M.B.B.S. University of London; D.Sc., University of Western Australia) is Professor of Anatomy at Otago University in New Zealand. He has taught previously at University College of the University of London and at the University of Western Australia. Dr. Jones has published numerous books and articles in his field. He is the author of two books published by Inter-Varsity Press, Our Fragile Brains and Brave New People, the latter having been recently reissued by Eerdmans Publishing Company.
" an expendable elderly fetus." North also refers to my "incomparable hypocrisy" and queries my Christian position with the words, "He claims he is a Christian." North also suggests that I am destined for hell: " . . . the heat that he will face approximately ten seconds after his death."
Douglas Badger' places considerable emphasis on my use of the concept of personbood, arguing that it is not found in Scripture and that it was devised to "create two classes of human beings: those whose lives have value and those whose lives may be ended with impunity. " I am also said to have argued that "God cares little for babies who are spontaneously or intentionally aborted," and he implies that I would support all abortions performed on women whose pregnancy threatens their physical or mental health. Quite specifically, he interprets my stance as suggesting that "abortion ... is morally justifiable under many circumstances," and that I believe "that the destruction of unborn individuals is often the best solution to the problems of individuals who have been born."10 (Italics mine.)
Badger further proposes that my arguments are indistinguishable from those used to support abortion on demand and infanticide. The implication appears to be that I also support abortion on demand and infanticide. My approach is, according to him, "the standard fare of pro-choice apologists" and my defence of therapeutic abortion is the same as that of organizations such as National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood.
Badger also contends that I do not regard "unborn children as being the image of God," and that I "would deny that many handicapped individuals are persons." He argues that my treatment of the biblical texts relevant to the legitimacy of abortion is "dismal," and that I fail to come to terms with the biblical admonitions against violence-admonitions that in his view rule out abortion.
The theme of a number of my critics is that someone with my position on therapeutic abortion cannot be an evangelical. Jan Dennis,11 for instance, states this, and also contends that my whole view of human biotechnology is open to condemnation. According to his assessment of Brave New People, I "blithely endorse" a whole range of technological procedures, and espouse " quality of life" concepts as did Hitler's eugenicists. According to Dennis, I wish "to sanction the manipulation of a certain class of human beings (embryos and fetuses) in various unpleasant ways." I accomplish this, he continues, by declaring "fetuses non-persons;" in this I am compared to Hitler's eugenicists and to slaveowners in the South. Dennis describes me as being " pro-choice" and states that my "position inevitably leads to abortion on demand. " I am an example, he says, of those who have "accommodated themselves to the world" and "given themselves over to a reprobate mind." In short, I have jumped "on a bandwagon bound for hell."
My Christianity comes in for censure by Shelley Nicholson,12 who describes it as "pure, unregenerate, existential humanism." She interprets my discussion as leading to a view of God as "too old-fashioned to have addressed these issues [abortion and eugenics] in His word." She concludes her review of Brave New People by stating that it is "an excellent example of justice perverted .... God's Law replaced by man's. "A Personal Response
I have no wish to escape the force of these criticisms, since they may be true. If they are true though, I have to examine myself very seriously to see where I stand before the One I have long considered to be my Lord and my God. Brave New People was written as a Christian contribution to thinking on the implications of some of the new developments in biomedicine. When I am severely indicted by Christians, I must question whether I have been deceived, and whether my ef forts to speak Christianly on issues within society have been of any avail.
These are possibilities I dare not shun. My critics may be right; there is no place for me or those like me within evangelicalism. On the other hand, those critics who have castigated my contribution to the bioethical debate may themselves be wrong. In saying this, I am not suggesting that my views on the range of bioethical issues discussed in Brave New People are correct down to the last detail, nor that the stance of my critics on abortion does not have merit. Rather, the condemnatory tone of their criticism, the assurance that their views are the only tenable ones within evangelicalism, the personal abuse hurled at me, and the selective reading of Brave New People in which most of them have indulged, together amount to actions and attitudes that are foreign to Christian conduct.
As the person at the centre of this controversy, I have found it impossible to escape from the logic of this confrontation. Either my own position and my attitudes are anathema to true Christianity, or the attitudes of my most belligerent critics are impossible to reconcile with the standards of Christ.
It may be objected that I am too emotionally involved in the controversy, and hence my analysis is an unduly extreme one. After all, many Christians have been hurt by the criticisms of other Christians, and there have been many bitter controversies within the Church. And yet with hindsight we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the respective antagonists. All this is, of course, true; and if it was the case in this instance, I would have no problem. In the preface to the first edition of Brave New People, I expressed the hope that my arguments would be used as the basis of urgent and serious debate. I have never suggested that any of my views should be regarded as the last word on any subject. My aim was to inform, so that others might come to their own conclusions and formulate their own opinions.
Unfortunately, my critics have not allowed me this privilege. They have argued that Brave New People does not represent a legitimate contribution to bioethical debate within evarigelicalism. This is especially true of the discussion on therapeutic abortion, although it probably extends beyond the narrow confines of abortion. In their eyes there is no place within evangelicalism and evangelical literature for my contribution. They are sure that they are right, and they know equally well that I am wrong. This is their assessment ' and it is an extreme one-as manifested by their campaign to have Brave New People removed from the American market. My arguments are considered to De so dangerous that ordinary Christians must be shielded from them. There is no room for informed opinion or dialogue.
This is a possibility I have considered repeatedly over the past months. I have examined numerous biblical passages dealing with false teachers and false teaching, and I have also studied some of the confrontations experienced in the early church. Am I a false teacher. or do some of my critics fall into this category? I am deeply disturbed even at the possibility of such an antithesis, since I regard my critics as brothers and sisters in Christ. They are as much Christ's representatives as I am. If they deny my standing in Christ, that is their judgment and it is a matter between themselves and their Lord. Nevertheless, if they are prepared to divide the body of Christ over these matters, the question of false teaching cannot be completely overlooked.
My plea is that we all examine ourselves regarding the biblical mandate we have for our views and beliefs, and the extent to which our attitudes reflect the work of the Spirit. Are our cherished beliefs as firmly based upon biblical principles as we like to think, or do they subtly reflect many cultural and nationalistic pretensions? As we advocate our own position, do we do so with patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control?
My plea is that we all examine ourselves regarding the biblical mandate we have for our views and beliefs, and the extent to which our attitudes reflect the work of the Spirit.
I sympathize with all those who are appalled at the immense tragedy of abortion on demand as currently practised in many countries."13 The tragedy is perhaps illustrated most starkly in the United States, and some of the consequences of the present legislative situation in the United States following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 are horrific. I understand the intensity of feeling expressed by those with a high regard for fetal life, and I share it (however difficult it may be for some o my critics to accept this).
What I must object to though, are the procedures adopted by some of my critics. Ignoring the tone of my writing and also quite explicit statements about my stance on abortion-on-demand, sentences and phrases have been interpreted to mean what my critics think they should mean and not what I take them to mean. Further, on quite a number of occasions, my descriptions of other people's opinions have been interpreted as though they are my opinions. Even my attempts to show that fetuses and handicapped children should be treated with dignity and respect have been interpreted negatively, as though I believe that all fetuses and handicapped children are of no value and can be killed.
The difficulty appears to be that my critics recognize only two positions on abortion: the absolute protection of all fetal life, or abortion-on-demand. Since my position does not fit into the former category it must, it appears, fit into the latter. Hence, the attempts to demonstrate that I am a typical example of a prochoice, abortion-on-demand advocate. When I contend that this is not my position, I am accused of being superficial, inconsistent, or devious.
Underlying all attempts to establish this simple dichotomy is the belief that a final solution to the abortion question must be a legislative one. My critics would, I imagine, contend that abortion should be legally prohibited since it amounts to murder. Any less-than-absolute position on abortion is seen, therefore, as a threat on these two counts-it undermines the belief that the evangelical community is politically united in its absolute anti-abortion position, and it questions the assertion that abortion under every conceivable circumstance amounts to homicide.
A repeated criticism of my position on abortion has
been that many will stretch it and use it as an argument
in favour of abortion for reasons of convenience. This, it
is stated, is what makes my position and the book so
dangerous; the effect of my views will be to support
abortion-on-demand. Probably any rational response
by me will not placate those who believe this. It should
be noted, however, that my position differs from that
adopted by the Supreme Court in its
Roe v. Wade
decision; it is misleading, therefore, to move directly
from the consequences of that decision to the perceived
consequences of my position. Further, my remarks are
primarily addressed to Christians, who stand before
God for all their actions. My critics appear to believe
that Christians (and the public-at-large) only need
someone to suggest that abortions may sometimes be
permissible, for them to clamour for abortions for any
reason whatsoever. It is my hope that a careful reading
Brave New People as a whole
will convince my
readers that it is my firm belief that the decision by a
woman (Christian or otherwise) to have an abortion is
one of the most serious decisions she could ever take,
and it is a decision that should not even be contemplated except in the most dire of circumstances. For a
Christian it is a decision that should always be made
before God, and after much prayer and soul-searching.
To have an abortion under any other circumstances is
to fail in one's duty as a Christian and human being.
The absolute stance adopted by my critics would appear to mean that there are never any grounds whatsoever for an abortion, even when the mother's life is in danger. Whether this is the case I am not clear, except that criticisms of my position have not hinted at any exceptions to the absolute inviolability of the fetus. It has to be asked whether this stark absolutism has a biblical mandate, and also why such absolutism is not invoked by many evangelicals when it comes to divorce (OD which there is ample explicit biblical teaching), or to the taking of human life under other circumstances-at an individual level in self-defence or at a national level in both offensive and defensive wars.
Modern societies appear to thrive on labels. They are the easiest way we know of placing people and ideas in compartments. Once we have done this we can laud them or ignore them as we wish.
Modern societies appear to thrive on labels. They are the easiest way we know of placing people and ideas in compartments. Once we have done this we can laud them or ignore them as we wish. And so we have right-wing or left-wing, pro-life or pro-choice, proabortion or anti-abortion, creationist or evolutionist, capitalist or communist. Everything and everyone can be labelled; it is simplicity itself. Unfortunately, it does not allow for exceptions to a general rule or for any middle-ground or intermediate position. Labels acknowledge the legitimacy of extremes and of nothing else.
A book such as Brave New People must be labelled and, as we have already seen, it becomes a "proabortion" or "pro-choice" book. The fact that it is not primarily about abortion becomes irrelevant, as does the fact that it is neither pro-abortion nor pro-choice in the way in which society-at-large uses those labels. Such labels, therefore, are highly misleading and give to the book a false reputation.
One way in which this can be illustrated is by the extremely diverse reactions to Brave New People from outright hostility on account of its allegedly pro-abortion stance, to appreciation of its balanced treatment of all the bioethical issues dealt with, including therapeutic abortion. In general, the former response is that of those who have labelled it in a particular way, while the latter represents the response of many of those who have not attempted to see it in terms of one particular viewpoint.
Labels circumscribe what a person or book stands for. They also tell others more about the perspective the labellers than of those being labelled. What is so sa about labelling is that important contributions to an issue are lost. We do not read the writings of theological "liberals" or "cbarismatics;" we refuse to listen to "conservatives" or "premillenialists." No matter what our choice of labels to espouse or detest, we automatically shut ourselves off from the contributions of many devout, biblical Christians when we allow ourselves to be guided by labels alone. This is not to say that all books are of equal value, nor that certain theological contributions have not proved of greater value than others. What it does mean is that labels can be very misleading and may sometimes quench the work of the Holy Spirit.
To suggest that
Brave New People
sets out to advocate abortion is untrue, and yet this is the message of so
many of the labels that have been appended to it. They
detract from the thrust of the book as a whole, and
smother its Christian perspective on biomedical technology and the reproductive revolution. This, I contend, is a great disservice to the cause of Christ, and
impugns the integrity of those who have been misleadingly and unhelpfully
Scope of Evangelicalism
For many of my critics I cannot be regarded as an evangelical, since I cannot state categorically that personal life commences at day one of gestation. This, it seems, is being made a basic affirmation of evangelicalism, from which there can be no deviation. To adopt a Position that deviates from the view that the embryo is anything less than a person demanding complete protection under every conceivable circumstance, is to exclude one automatically from the domain of evangelicalism. According to some of my critics there is no room even for discussion of this point.
In our ardent desire to be thoroughly biblical on some peripheral issue (no matter how important in its own right), we ignore the plain teaching of Christ on the unity of his church.
Differences are still allowed within evangelicalism on issues such as baptism, the charismata, nuclear warfare, the role of women in the church, divorce; on a vast range of social questions, and even on the inerrancy of the Bible. But there are to be no differences on the precise nature of the personhood of the embryo. To deviate on this matter is to court spiritual and moral disaster. No longer is it sufficient to hold to classic evangelical affirmations on the nature of the biblical revelation, the person and work of Christ, or justification by faith alone. In order to be labelled an evangelical, it is now essential to hold to a particular view of the status of the embryo and fetus. Were this approach to be generally accepted it would have profound repercussions for the nature of evangelicalism. I leave it to others better qualified than I to pursue this matter further. The question confronting us is 'Do we have adequate grounds for making this issue a theological watershed?'
A somewhat different attack on my evangelicalism is provided by those who accuse me of having accommodated the thinking of a secular technological society. The essence of this criticism is that I do not take Scripture seriously. My principles have been moulded by technology; and I use Scripture to back up decisions already reached on humanist grounds.
Such a criticism has a spiritual veneer, since it advocates absolute standards. Any position recognizing exceptions to such absolute standards, no matter how rare, is condemned as less-than-biblical. This critique, however, takes no account of the theological principles outlined in some detail in Brave New People, and of their stress on the significance of people in their wholeness. It is also based on a variety of assumptions about the status of the fetus.
But is the absolutism promulgated in the area of prenatal life as faithful a manifestation of the biblical ethos as is often assumed? Is it maintained in other ethical areas, and can it be successfully translated from a general principle to the individual situation where the results of our fallenness may be all too evident?
A temptation to which evangelicals are prone when discussing ethical issues is to think that generalizations can suffice in the real world. It is easy to contend that the Christian position is always to preserve prenatal life, and to aver that any deviation from this viewpoint is sub-Christian. It has to be asked, however, what meaning this has in the midst of some of the horrendous dilemmas which doctors and families have to face. Christianity must speak a message of reconciliation and forgiveness to those in the midst of such dilemmas, and this is where a less-than- absolute stance on prenatal life may occasionally have to be contemplated.
All too easily we shun what we regard as compromise in these conflict situations. Generalizations about the inviolability of fetal life under every conceivable circumstance cannot cope, and yet many decry compromise and accommodation. In Brave New People I took seriously these conflict situations and I was castigated for it. Nevertheless, the challenge remains: 'Do our generalizations suffice when faced by these predicaments;' and 'Do we know how to show compassion and ethical discernment while continuing to be thoroughly biblical in our outlook?'
Evangelicalism remains very uneasy about technology. While we accept some aspects of it with hardly a whimper, we continue to fight a rearguard action against other forms of technology. Evangelicals are as dependent upon electronic and other forms of technological gadgetry as anyone else in our communities. We have also been very willing to utilize it in the proclamation of the gospel, and only a few voices have been raised against the dangers of an over-dependence upon technology. There have been few serious evangelical critiques of modern medicine, much of which we accept with gratitude and sometimes with adulation. And yet modern reproductive technology is viewed with fear and deep concern. Even here though, there is ambivalence. While contraception has gained widespread acceptance within evangelicalism, genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination leave us fearful and unhappy that humans may be playing at being God.
Some of these fears are justified, as I pointed out in Brave New People. What we have not accepted is that there is a legitimate place within evangelicalism for professionally-trained scientists and doctors to explore these realms honestly and openly. Without such exploration, the responses of evangelicals will continue to owe far more to conservative attitudes than to a seriously thought-out biblical assessment.Freedom of Expression
One of the major features of the Brave New People episode is our inability to cope with differences of opinion within evangelicalism. The reaction to an opinion considered unacceptable is to muffle that opinion and to ostracize its holder. It has to be asked whether we, as evangelicals, believe in freedom of thought.
Many evangelicals and fundamentalists complain bitterly about the humanist bias of the media in America and also of the difficulty of getting a fair hearing for the evangelical point-of-view. Unfortunately, these same people do not appear to be worried about stifling freedom of expression when it suits their own purposes. Neither do they worry about unfair bias when it works in favour of their cause. It should not surprise us then, that those outside evangelicalism look with suspicion on our claims to revere freedom of expression and opinion.
Allied with this is the readiness with which Christians will hurl personal abuse at other Christians. The lesson seems not to have been learnt that criticism of ideas and criticism of the people holding those ideas need to be clearly distinguished. I have no objection to people criticizing what I write-that is their prerogative. However, when this is accompanied by a questioning of my motives and an assault upon my character and reputation, the criticism has entered quite a different realm. And the question is 'Should this be a realm Christians enter?'
The result is that no distinction is made between public polemic and serious ethical debate, and evangelicals are not allowed to discuss in public controversial topics that have public implications.
In this regard, one is tempted to say that the
standards of some Christian groups are lower than those
of secular organizations. For instance, one medical
research funding body gives this advice to referees of
research proposals: "In your scientific assessment of the
application, you should attempt to avoid subjective
criticisms or statements that are personally damaging."
Oh, that Christians would adhere to the same standards
when disagreeing with their brothers and sisters in
We need to learn bow to disagree with each other in a positive and belpful way. We need to beware of turning friends into enemies, simply because we do not see eye-to-eye on everything. In my experience, fellowship has been completely broken with other Christians because we cannot agree on some matter peripheral to the essentials of our faith in Christ. This surely is scbism; it is a tearing-in-two of the body of Christ. What issues are that important? In our ardent desire to be thoroughly biblical on some peripheral issue (no matter bow important in its own right), we ignore the plain teaching of Christ on the unity of his church. This is to our shame, and it should make us re-examine whether our overall attitudes are as biblical as we may like to think.
Within Christian circles the principle of dialogue based on respect for each other's position and integrity should always be present. When this is lost, it is replaced by an unyielding harsh legalism that is prepared to destroy people and institutions in order to win a political battle. In the biomedical area we can be assured of one thing, and this is that the ethical dilemmas of modern medicine will not go away; they will only increase. The nagging question which remains is whether evangelicalism will provide constructive ways forward or simply piously-packaged solutions that ordinary evangelicals will ignore when confronted by difficult choices. Debate is essential. Some of it will be hard-hitting. But debate there must be within evangelicalism. Otherwise, we shall be left fighting old battles that have already been lost, and the loners fighting the contemporary battles will, for all practical purposes, be denied the name of evangelical.
Debate over complex ethical issues (and there are complex issues, despite what some of my detractors contend) has a place, therefore, within evangelicalism. More than this, debate is essential when tackling issues over which no evangelical consensus has been reached. The presentation of representative evangelical views is the essence of any community based upon belief in the priesthood of all believers. This right of presentation must, therefore, be safeguarded in the Christian community. Without this we shall soon succumb to dictatorship, and the end-result will be a totalitarian society and not one based upon the freedom and responsibility that are found in Christ alone.
A healthy Christian community is a debating community. Intellectual honesty and spiritual integrity demand this when the issues at stake are complex and difficult to unravel. This is not a call for cowardice, mediocrity or a blurring of ethical guidelines, but for an honest assessment of the moral burden placed upon us as Christ's representatives.Public Polemic and Serious Debate
Issues of public concern have long posed difficulties for evangelicals. After many years of neglect evangelicals have more recently realized the importance of a Christian voice in political and social matters. This is all to the good, and is a return to the realization that we are to exercise our ministry as salt and light within society. Nevertheless, social involvement has its dangers and one that is evident at present is the drive for a "unified evangelical voice" on certain issues within society. One of these issues is abortion.
No matter what the rights and wrongs of this evangelical concern, it has led to a pressure group mentality according to which there is only one stance on abortion that can be tolerated within evangelicalism. Any deviation from this rigid position is considered a betrayal of the evangelical cause. The result is that no distinction is made between public polemic and serious ethical debate, and evangelicals are not allowed to discuss in public controversial topics that have public implications.
A book such as Brave New People. which was written to explore complex and. in many instances, unresolved ethical quandaries is treated as though it was a political pamphlet aimed at advocating one particular viewpoint. The vicious criticisms of it are criticisms of it as a political polemic. Since it %vas not written in this form, its arguments are oversimplified. the bulk of the issues are ignored, and sentences or phrases are repeatedly taken out of context to mean something other than I intended them to mean. My vie-ws are treated as though they were written from a pro-abortion standpoint; they are then criticized within that context, rather than on their own merit. The end-result is that the glib descriptions of the book and the treatment afforded it are a travesty.
Having seen numerous criticisms of Brave New
People, I have been left wondering bow aDytbing could
be so misread, and how arguments could be so misunderstood. Plain statements are misinterpreted, and
often become the opposite of what was intended. While
I am sure I could have expressed myself more clearly, I
am equally certain that educated people should be able
to read what is written and to follow arguments even
though they may disagree with them or consider them
to be fallacious. The major stumbling block appears to
be that complex arguments and open-ended positions
are not acceptable in some bioethical areas-everything must be cut-and-dried and must conform to a
precise political platform. Unfortunately, the dilemmas
of life and death frequently do not conform to the
niceties of black-and-white political debate, and Christians should be the first to realize this.
The Way Forward
It would be quite wrong of me to end this article on a negative note. That should never be the conclusion to disagreement amongst Christians. As evangelicals we should be sketching out the common ground there is between us, and then with this as our basis we can begin the task of serious dialogue on those issues that divide us. For me, and I trust for evangelicalism at large, the only reliable framework is biblical authority; our only base is God-his character, standards and faithfulness; the Lord and Master is Jesus Christ whose totally unconventional directives provide us with important clues for the decisions we have to make in life; the Holy Spirit is our source of power and comfort. We should be characterized by an openness to Scripture, by new initiatives, by hope, and by a meaningful response to the real world in which we all find ourselves.
These are generalizations, and they may seem a long
way from the controversies surrounding
And yet they are not. Repeatedly throughout
the pages of
Brave New People
it is these principles that
I discuss topics from amniocentesis to
zygotes. By all means let others disagree with my views
on anything from amniocentesis to zygotes, but if they
are arguing from a Christian perspective it is also their
duty to demonstrate the faithfulness of their stance to
the principles of evangelicalism. This is the obligation
placed on all of us.
1Action Line 8 (4), 22 May 1984.
2News, "InterVarsity withdraws a book opposed by prolifers," Christianity Today 28 (13), 63-66, 21 September 1984.
3Christian Courier, pp 2A January 1985.
4Olson, J.R., Letter, Christianity Today 29 (1), 8, 2 January 1985.
5Protnicki, L., Letter, Christianity Today 29 (1), 8, 2 January 1985.
6Padgett, M., "No place for games," Presbyterian journal, p 5, 15 August 1994.
7Schaeffer, F., "An open letter to InterVarsity Press" and "An open letter to the Christian Booksellers Association and Christian Bookstore Owners and Buyers in America," 1984.
8North, G., Evangelical ethics 1984, Christian Reconstruction 8 (5), 1984.
9Badger, D., "The misuse of Scripture: creating a biblical mandate for abortion," National Right to Life News, pp 9,13, August 1984.
10Badger, D., "A response to criticism of Action Line review of Brave New People," Christian Action Council, Washington D.C., 1984.
"Dennis, J.P., "Review of Brave New People," privately circulated, 1984.
11Nicholson, S., "A review of Brave New People," privately circulated, 1984.
12These views have been expressed in the preface to the second edition of Brave New People.