Waiting for help to arrive can make seconds seem like hours. If you’ve ever been in the terrifying position of knowing that you or someone near you needs help, but that it is some distance out you’ll understand. Over the past twenty years the evangelical church has been caught up in a cultural collision which has inflicted heavy damages and some seemingly dangerous injuries, and help has not been readily at hand. The colonisation of Western epistemology by postmodernism, and the cognate judicial and ethical implications that it has brought have meant that belief has felt increasingly beleaguered and embattled. Few of our parents or grandparents could ever have foreseen the moral u-turns and tailspins which have characterised the past half-generation, and as those who have followed them we have perhaps felt trapped in the wreckage with solutions which don’t quite fit our acute problems.
This reality first came home to me as an undergraduate English and philosophy student over 20 years ago. New historicism was realising a scorched earth policy in terms of our whole self understanding, and as a young man it felt that the church was fast asleep to the issue. Writers like Os Guinness and D.A. Carson were helpful and steady-handed first-responders, stanching the dreadful losses which the church could otherwise have sustained. By the time I was in pastoral ministry the postmodern tsunami was still far from the shore of daily and domestic life, and works like The Gagging of God or The Gravedigger File, while carrying amazing credibility, were not written at a popular level. In the ten years that have followed it has been hard to put one’s hand to a text which can be shared with a young person, or with a concerned adult reader that would give them a means of understanding their now morally inundated world.
The first sirens that signalled help was on the way have been welcome indeed. Away from raw epistemology the ethical issues which have rewritten how society thinks and feels have begun to receive sustained and intelligent treatment by evangelical authors. When Christ intersected the life of Rosaria Butterfield, for instance, he was providing an individual who could write with personal authority, intellectual clarity, and popular appeal. We should thank God for her, and others like her who are emerging from the popular culture with more than a story to tell, but a way for us to biblically interpret our world.
Nancy Pearcey is one such person. In her latest book she tackles some of the biggest issues facing the church with a rigour and transparency which are simply stunning. Issues around abortion, euthanasia, gender identity, and sexuality are analysed in cool headed and warm hearted terms. What sets her book apart from some other recent titles is that it is not primarily concerned to address these issues at a pastoral level (although that is included) but in terms of epistemology. Pearcey cuts through the ‘what’ of recent developments and transports the reader into the ‘why’ of worldview. The reader can easily detect the intellectual depth and acute analysis which Pearcey brings to the table in writing this text, but it is all presented in such a manner that any thinking Christian might grasp its message.
The backbone to Pearcey’s approach is the idea of a body/person divide which has been subsumed into modern thought. This dualism is perceived as being at the core of how society can terminate children in the womb, prematurely end the lives of adults, and redefine the boundaries of human relationships and identity. The explication and application of this principle are compelling, with a definite sense that Gnosticism is alive and well in the modern world. Some of Pearcey’s arguments are so clearly in line with reality that one wonders how they have not thought things through in such a way previously.
It would be difficult to overemphasise the importance of this book. Every church leader should read it, chaplains involved with student ministry need to process the arguments made here, parents should buy two copies (one for themselves and one for their teenager) and use it as a way of helping young people to understand the whole concept of secular worldview. The ramifications of Pearcey’s research are massive for how we relate to our friends, families, colleagues, and even our political system.
It is all too easy to say ‘you must read’ about a book which has engaged our mind or pierced our heart, but this book really is a must-read for anyone concerned to understand their world, engage their world, and speak truth to it.
Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality
Baker Books, 2018
337pp., hardback, £14.99