Prenatal Genetic Testing and Abortion (Moreland/Rae)

 Our culture today has very subjective and illogical views on what it means to be a person.  For one of several examples, some say that an unborn baby with Down syndrome is not a person.  In fact, as many of our readers know, pregnant women can have tests to see if their unborn baby has a defect or health issue.  Moreland and Rae explain:

“It is widely assumed that if the couple were to get bad news about their child’s genetic makeup, they would end the pregnancy. But consider what that assumption indicates about the view of a human person. This kind of presumption about prenatal genetic testing suggests that personhood and the attendant rights to life are dependent on the child’s possessing an acceptable genetic makeup.  What constitutes such an acceptable makeup would be entirely up to the subjective preferences of the parents. It is solely the genetic anomaly that, in the minds of the parents, renders the fetus as less than a full person, since without the child’s anomaly, the parents would undoubtedly consider ending a pregnancy with their wanted child as immoral.

The fact that couples would end a pregnancy on the basis of genetic abnormality assumes that the fetus in the womb is not a full person.  Without that assumption, there would be no morally significant difference between ending the pregnancy when a woman is carrying a genetically defective fetus and ending the life of a genetically handicapped adult.  Society and the law take the latter as absurd, and in fact the argument is commonly made that the law owes even greater protection to the genetically handicapped because of their vulnerability. If personhood is denied based on genetic abnormality, then there is no justification for protecting the adult genetically handicapped population, which faces physical, mental and genetic challenges. Prenatal genetic testing and the corresponding assumptions about ending a pregnancy indicate a deeply flawed view of a human person.  Further, that assumption about what constitutes a person is illogical, since it cannot be applied evenly to all segments of the population.

I agree.  This example shows how our culture has a subjective and illogical definition of “person.”  Thankfully in Scripture we find an objective and logical definition: to be a human is to be a person and to be a person is to be a human.  This is assumed in Bible stories.  Furthermore, in Scripture a baby in the womb is considered a person.  It was David himself whom God knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  Even terminally ill humans are considered people in Scripture (e.g. the story of Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8).  This is objective and it makes sense.

Finally, this biblical definition of person means that all people – from embryos to newborns to middle aged to senior citizens, whether very healthy or very ill – all people are created in God’s image and have dignity and worth because of it. All these are people Christians are called to love and serve.  Don’t let anyone tell you that the Christian view of man is oppressive and dehumanizing.  The opposite is true!

The above quote is found on pages 308-309 of Body and Soul by J.P. Moreland and Scott. B. Rae.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Loss of the Christian Mind in America (Moreland)

As I was re-reading parts of Love God With All Your Mind, I came across this great section I had marked up – a section of the book where Moreland talks about the loss of the Christian mind in American Christianity.  I’ve posted it here before, but it is for sure worth noting again.  Especially fascinating are Moreland’s comments on how the rise of two major cults in the U.S. had a lot to do with the lack of doctrinal knowledge about the Christian faith:

“During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’”

“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of those movements on personal conversion.  What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that became part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.  One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York.  Thousands of people were ‘converted’ to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching.  As a result, two of the three major American cuts began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught ‘converts’: Mormonism (1830) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884).”

J. P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind, p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Anti-Intellectualism and American Revivalism

The historic Christian church has typically been a thinking church.  From Paul to Augustine to Bernard to Aquinas to Calvin to Owen (including many others), Christianity has had a robustly intellectual side to it.  Many Christians have taken seriously Jesus’ command to love God with our minds.

In the American church, however, there has been a strong strain of anti-intellectualism.  Even today, people still joke that seminary is like a cemetery where faith goes to die.  I’ve heard many Christians speak critically of higher theological learning.  Some Christian circles have a built-in disdain for academic theological and biblical studies.  With a critical tone they say, “You can’t learn such and such from any professor in seminary!”

J. P. Moreland noted that (generally speaking) Christianity in America started out with decent emphasis on theological/biblical education, but “in the middle 1800s… things began to change dramatically, though the seeds for the change had already been planted in the popularized, rhetorically powerful, and emotionally directed preaching of George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening in the United States from the 1730s to the 1750s.”

“During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’”

“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of those movements on personal conversion.  What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that became part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.  One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York.  Thousands of people were ‘converted’ to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching.  As a result, two of the three major American cuts began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught ‘converts’: Mormonism (1830) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884).”

Those are some important observations to note.  It is no coincidence that today there are many cults/sects in the United States that came out of populist American Christianity.  One blessing of rigorous theological and biblical study is it helps combat error.  One Puritan put it something like this:

“Ignorance is not the mother of devotion but of heresy.”

The above quotes can be found on pages 22-23 of J. P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind.

shane lems

Seven Obstacles of Spiritual Maturity

 I’ve been making my way through this outstanding book: Love God with All Your Mind by J. P. Moreland (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1997).  Among other things, I appreciated Moreland’s discussion of the “seven traits of the empty self” that are so prevalent in many Westerners today.  And these seven traits, Moreland argues, undermine and stand in the way of spiritual growth and maturity.  In other words, if we as Christians want to grow in Christian maturity, we’ll have to fight obstacles like these.  This post is a bit longer than usual, but I  urge you to take a moment to read these seven – they are very astute observations.

1) The empty self is inordinately individualistic.  …The empty self-populating American culture is a self-contained individual who defines his or her own life goals, values, and interests as though he or she were a human atom, isolated from others with little need or responsibility to live for the concerns of a broader community.  Self-contained individuals do their own thing and seek to create meaning by looking within their own selves.

2) The empty self is infantile.  It is widely recognized that adolescent personality traits are staying with people longer today than in earlier generations, sometimes manifesting themselves into the early thirties.  Created by a culture filled with pop psychology, schools and media that usurp parental authority, and television ads that seem to treat everyone like a teenager, the infantile part of the empty self needs instant gratification, comfort, and soothing. …Boredom is the greatest evil, amusement the greatest good.

3) The empty self is narcissistic.  Narcissism is an inordinate and exclusive sense of self-infatuation in which the individual is preoccupied with his or her own self-interest and personal fulfillment.  The narcissist evaluates the local church, the right books to read, and the other religious practices worthy of his or her time on the basis of how they will further his or her own agenda.  God becomes another tool in a narcissistic bag of tricks….

4) The empty self is passive.  The couch potato is the role model for the empty self, and without question, modern Americans are becoming increasingly passive in their approach to life.  We let other people do our living and thinking for us.  From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained.  Such an individual increasingly becomes a shriveled self with less and less ability to be proactive and take control of life.

5) The empty self is sensate (preoccupied with sensations).  As Christopher Lasch has observed, ‘Modern life is…thoroughly mediated by electronic images.’  Lasch goes on to point out that today, we make decisions and even judge what is and is not real on the basis of sense images.  If it’s on TV, it’s real.  Advertisements sell us things based on images, not on thoughtful content about a product.  The widespread emergence of the sensate self has caused us to be shallow, small-souled people.

6) The empty self has lost the art of developing an interior life.  …The self used to be defined in terms of internal traits of virtue and morality, and the successful person, the person of honor and reputation, was the person with deep character. [Today], however, the self has come to be defined in terms of external factors – the ability to project a pleasurable, powerful personality and the possession of consumer goods – and the quest for celebrity status, image, pleasure, and power has become the preoccupation of a self so defined.

7) The empty self is hurried and busy.  …The empty self is a hurried, busy self gorged with activities and noise. …A frenzied pace of life emerges to keep the pain and emptiness suppressed.  One must jump from one activity to another and not be exposed to quite for very long or the emptiness will become apparent.  Such a lifestyle creates a deep sense of fatigue in which passivity takes over.

Moreland is exactly right.  These are some brilliant observations about the “empty selves” of our culture.  He wrote these observations 15 years ago – these traits seem to be more pronounced today.  These are indeed the things which stand in the way of growing in Christian maturity – these are the things that stand in the way of the renewing of the mind, the taking up of our cross, denying ourselves, and fighting the good fight of faith on the narrow road to the Celestial city.  Get this book (Love God with All Your Mind), reflect on these seven traits (Moreland says more about them), and fight against them in your own life.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa