Intersections

A Review of "Love Thy Body" by Nancy R. Pearcey

by: 
Janie Valentine, MA

In her 2018 book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality,[1] Christian apologist Nancy R. Pearcey tackles a variety of hot-button ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, hookup culture, and transgenderism. Chapter by chapter, Pearcey makes the case that Western secularism denigrates the human body by embracing each of these practices, and she defends the holistic realism of Christian ethics in response.

Pearcey, a professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, writes with evangelism in mind. She contends that Christians’ primary goal in working through such topics should be first to “tear down barriers to becoming Christian,” (p. 260) and to “draw people in by the beauty of the biblical vision of life” (p. 261). Throughout the book, Pearcey’s writing is clear and practical. She responds to anticipated questions and integrates personal anecdotes throughout. The book is a valuable resource for Christians, both in its helpful framing around the theme of the body and in the breadth of issues that it covers in a relatively concise space. It is an especially useful book for pastors, who must be able to communicate the truths of Christian ethics to increasingly skeptical audiences. Pastors would also benefit from Pearcy’s emphasis on the witness of the church as a loving community for “refugees of the secular moral revolution” (p. 264).

In the first chapter, “I Hate Me: The Rise and Decline of the Human Body,” Pearcey lays a foundation for understanding personhood theory and provides a short summary of the way that body/person dualism plays out in each of the major issues covered by the book. She explains that personhood theory “sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body as extrinsic to the person—something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes” (p. 21). She correlates this body/person dualism with the fact-value distinction, with the body relegated to the morally-neutral realm of facts (p. 24). Importantly, she explains how personhood theory allows for the attribution of moral relevancy to persons rather than humans (p. 27).

In chapter two, Pearcey applies this interpretive lens to the topic of abortion and, in particular, the difficulty of defining personhood. As demonstrated by the variety of conflicting definitions, “personhood . . . is virtually impossible to define once it is cut off from the sheer fact of being biologically human” (p. 57). As Pearcey points out, this is not an issue for those who embrace the wholistic view that “everyone who is human is also a person” (p. 48). When the person (however defined) is the locus of value, the biologically human bodies of non-persons can be destroyed and discarded with impunity. After covering this aspect of the abortion debate, the rest of the chapter branches out in a survey of the distinctively life-affirming character of Christian ethics.

Chapter three encompasses more than the topic of euthanasia as previewed in the book’s introduction. In these pages, Pearcey covers a range of additional bioethical issues including the use of embryos and aborted babies for medical research, gestational surrogacy, transhumanism, human-animal hybrids, and many others. Across all of these issues, Pearcey claims that “personhood theory is the concept driving threats to the dignity of human life today” (p. 85, italics original).

In chapters four and five, Pearcey addresses hookup culture and homosexuality, respectively. She explains that by separating the personal (emotional relationship) from the physical (sexual relationship), hookup culture “treats the body as nothing more than a physical organism driven by physical urges [and] treats sex as a strictly physical act isolated from the rich inner life of the whole person” (p. 121). She encourages churches to be more effective in communicating that biblical sexual ethics is not just a list of rules to follow, but a “rationally compelling and personally attractive” way to live as a human person (p. 153). Likewise in her discussion of homosexuality, Pearcey emphasizes the rationality of biblical ethics as teleologically grounded in the created order, with a “respect for our biology as an integral part of the person” (p. 161).

Chapter six deals with transgenderism, where the denigration of the body is perhaps most easily recognized. Transgender ideology explicitly embraces the idea that “the physical body is not part of the authentic self—that the authentic self is only the autonomous choosing self” (p. 196). As in previous chapters, Pearcey responds to common questions and objections related to the topic at hand, such as the issue of intersex conditions. She also exhorts churches to be welcoming and loving communities for persons who experience gender dysphoria.

In the final chapter, Pearcey takes on social contract theory, arguing that human society is built upon family relationships, which are covenants, rather than contracts. She contends that a “realistic political theory must begin not with rational adults calculating their interests but with a helpless infant who needs a network of love and care to become a rational adult” (p. 237, italics original). Humans are embodied, biological, relational creatures, not disembodied, autonomous wills. Pearcey concludes the book with a call to relationship and community, which resonates with her thesis that Christian ethics “expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person—one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview” (p. 15).

As helpful a book as it is, Love Thy Body is not without flaws. As others have already pointed out, Pearcey’s theological[2] and philosophical[3] explanations occasionally leave something to be desired, and the organization of the chapters could have been better. Additionally, slipped in among the many reputable, scholarly sources are a few questionable citations of inflammatory internet personalities (pp. 68, 96n37), which do a disservice to the overall gracious and conciliatory tone of the book. All in all, however, Love Thy Body is a valuable resource for Christians (and pastors in particular), as Pearcey succeeds in providing clear and concise explications of a broad range of ethical issues, all connected by the same overarching interpretive framework, and discussed with an emphasis on evangelism and Christian witness. This book has the potential to help pastors and their congregations grow in their understanding of, appreciation for, and ability to communicate Christian ethical teaching and its connection to human flourishing.



[1] Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018).

[2] David Shaw, “Why ‘Love Thy Body’ Is Such a Timely Call,” The Gospel Coalition, February 21, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/love-thy-body/.

[3]John Mark N. Reynolds, “Love Thy Body: Nancy Pearcey’s Book, Brilliant if Flawed,” Patheos, January 7, 2018, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/eidos/2018/01/love-thy-body-nancy-pearceys-book-brilliant-flawed/.

 

Janie Valentine, MA

Janie Valentine, MA

Janie graduated with her MA in Bioethics from Trinity International University in 2016. She is also an alumna of Union University, where she studied Social Work and Political Science. She lives in southeastern Wisconsin with her husband, Caleb.