Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, by Nancy R. Pearcey. Baker Books, 2018. 336 pages.
“Morality is the guidebook to fulfilling God’s original purpose for humanity,” writes the author of a new book addressing cultural decay, “the instruction manual for becoming the kind of person God intends us to be, the road map for reaching the human telos.”
This new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, is meant to counter the most hot button issues facing culture—and Christians—today with tightly constructed arguments drenched in social science research and Biblical truths. Its author is Nancy R. Pearcey, an award-winning Evangelical author and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University.
In our postmodern age, it can be intimidating to challenge our secular culture’s reductive view of the body with absolute truths, especially with ever-expanding bullying tactics via social media. Thankfully, Pearcey’s Love Thy Body equips her readers to recognize the logical fallacies behind the deconstruction of the body, and by extension the efforts to hide evidence of human beings’ reflection of the image of God as Creator.
Pearcey, a former agnostic who as a teenager walked away from her Lutheran upbringing, is a widely respected intellectual and Christian apologist. She was featured in a 2015 Christianity Today cover story, “Meet the Women Apologists” and The Economist has called Pearcey “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”
To begin Love Thy Body, Pearcey identifies the driving force behind our most combative moral debates. That is, the shrewd separation of the psychological person from the physical body or the “two-story dualism,” as Pearcey refers to it. The history and framework of society’s person/body fracture is admittedly a bit complex. So it’s helpful to reread the first chapter as you move through the book so as to best recall how two-story dualism operates, as the author encourages her readers multiple times.
The book is structured as a sort of timeline. Pearcey starts with an examination of the Sexual Revolution’s separation of the person from the body, then on to the hookup culture’s parting of the personal emotion from physical intimacy, and finally queer theory’s division of the mind from the body. Notice the pattern that exists? The results, Pearcey explains, are moral harms like euthanasia, abortion, pornography, transgenderism, and more. Once the physical body is convincingly separated from the spiritual, anything goes.
The Sexual Revolution, for example, employed personhood/body dualism to devalue the human life of unborn children. By stripping unborn babies of personhood, their physical bodies in utero are deemed disposable. It’s not just the unborn. The same logic is the basis for euthanasia. Whether the subjects are senior citizens or the disabled, God is no longer viewed as the originator of human dignity. There are broader implications for a society that devalues the body, as Pearcey emphasizes, because “respect for the person is inseparable from respect for the body.” We should be wary of a society capable of choosing which human beings do and do not meet the criteria for respect and human rights.
Most helpful are Pearcey’s consistent reminders of the Christian ethics behind each moral issue she tackles. Christians—especially younger congregants—will be aided by Pearcey’s eye-opening comparisons between the secular and Christian views of the body. “Even in churches, young people often do not understand why the Bible teaches that same-sex relations are morally wrong,” Pearcey writes. With both compassion and intellect, she combats secular approaches with personal stories and research pointing back to natural law.
One comical story Pearcey tells is of a conversation she had with a group of twenty-something young men after a lecture. They jokingly asked her to offer dating advice in her next lecture. Pearcey learned that not one young man in the group had ever gone on a date. Although humorous, Pearcey uses the anecdote as a transition to the bigger, serious picture. That young men struggled to personally relate to women is attributed to the unhelpful advances of a hookup culture, which again, has successfully separated personal relationship from physical intimacy. The goal of the hookup culture, Pearcey writes, is to encourage “young people to disassociate their bodies sexually from who they are as a whole person.” What we are left with is a generation unwittingly forgoing marriage and fidelity for hookups and pornography.
This low view of the body and high view of self-interests is also driving the mind/body dualism behind gender dysphoria, as Pearcey explains “the body is dismissed as irrelevant.” What matters according to the arguments behind transgenderism is what our minds determines for gender, not biological sex. Despite the evidence of harmful implications associated with gender dysphoria, secular society continues to affirm mind/body dualism with legislation, the education system, and even through some church denominations.
Not only does Pearcey point out the brokenness of secular ethics, but she also provides practical redemptive solutions within each subheading of the book. For example, when discussing bioethical debates such as in vitro fertilization or euthanasia, Pearcey enlightens us all on life-saving embryo adoption and the dignity offered by hospice care.
The secular narrative is failing young people inside and outside of the Church, as Pearcey persuasively shows her readers. But she says the goal is not to win the debate, but to ultimately point back to our Savior Jesus Christ. “As we work through controversial moral issues,” she writes, “it is crucial to bear in mind the main goal. It is not first of all to persuade people to change their behavior. It is to tear down barriers to becoming Christian.”
Those looking for a thorough and Gospel-saturated breakdown of the moral challenges facing society and the Church today will undoubtedly value Pearcey’s latest work. Love They Body is certainly a book I will keep going back to for moral clarity on deeply-rooted moral debates again and again.