Love Thy Body (Book Review)

She did it.  But I’m not surprised.  Nancy Pearcey, evangelical scholar extraordinaire, has managed to write the best book to date on the questions about life and sexuality that swamp our culture.  Love Thy Body (LTB) comes with high praise from a wide range of conservative Christian leaders and scholars.  Not that I’m anywhere near keeping company with such folks, but I’m happy to add my accolades to theirs.

She did it.  But how?  Pearcey didn’t sit down one day and decide to research and write a book.  Much more than a response to questions Christians and others ask today, LTB is a positive presentation of what the Bible teachers, and what the Church has historically taught, on the broad topics of life and sexuality. The book is also not a “snapshot in time” kind of argument.  Over the span of years, the author developed her material in the Christian college classroom and the crucible of speaking in public venues.  I love slow-cooked book like this one because they contain tested, mature, and nuanced reflection on contentious (and unfortunately politicized!) subjects.  Starting from a foundational principle she learned first from her mentor, apologist Francis Schaeffer, Pearcey systematically examines each domain of life according to the philosophical worldview analogy of the upper/lower story.

LTB contains many of the key features of a comprehensive book: a couple pages of author endorsements, an introductory essay that guides the reader with first principles, full and focused chapters that are not too long (40 pages is pushing the limit), a study/discussion guide, extensive bibliographical notes including where to go for deeper research, and a general/name index.  As long as I’m making my book feature wishlist, I’d like to see in a beefed-up second edition:

  • A brief and memorable quotation accompanying each chapter title
  • Footnotes instead of endnotes (please!)
  • A preface by another author
  • A concluding summary chapter to bookend the introduction and sew it up nicely

But these are minor quibbles about an exquisitely crafted book.  But don’t take my word for it.  Take a look at the table of contents:

Introduction: A Guide to the Wasteland

  1. I Hate Me: The Rise and Decline of the Human Body
  2. The Joy of Death: “You Must Be Prepared to Kill”
  3. Dear Valued Constituent: You No Longer Qualify As a Person
  4. Schizoid Sex: Hijacked by the Hookup Culture
  5. The Body Impolitic: How the Homosexual Narrative Demeans the Body
  6. Transgender, Transreality: “God Should Have Made Me a Girl”
  7. The Goddess of Choice Is Dead: From Social Contract to Social Meltdown

In the first chapter, the author provides a synopsis of all the issues the rest of the book will address, and then argues they are all rooted in a kind of self-hatred that is specifically body-loathing.  Chapters 2 and 3 tackle issues related to life (abortion and euthanasia).  While anti-abortion and pro-life logic is well known 40+ years after Roe v. Wade, the topic of euthanasia is not as familiar in modern culture because it is a more recent debate.

Though abortion and euthanasia are currently hot-button partisan issues, the lion’s share of press and culture war battles revolve around the topics LTB engages with in chapters 4, 5, and 6.  Young people lament that the dating culture is dead.  Because no one but conservative evangelicals (statistically speaking) goes on dates anymore, singles have forgotten how the dance the steps of romance.  It turns out the death of dating, and the social code it created and enforced, has dreadful consequences for singles looking for love.  The end result is the ubiquity of hookup culture on college campuses and in gentrified metropolitan regions.  It is a scary prospect of raising boys and girls in the world we live in, knowing that when parents launch them into the world there is rampant nihilism in the arena of love, romance, marriage, and sex.

All that being said, I was plowing through LTB to get to chapters 5 and 6.  LGBT issues totally dominate the political and cultural landscape in the (post)modern West.  This is where all the action is right now.  And this is where Pearcey’s work shines brightest.  While younger writers have come to the subjects of homosexuality and genderqueer theory from a position of joining an ongoing conversation, Pearcey as a seasoned elder-stateswomen in the evangelical world speaks from a position of experience.  She’s lived long enough, and been engaged in the conversation long enough to remember what life was like before the current craziness.  Her longitudinal knowledge translates to a quality of human wisdom that sees where adopting such ideologies, identity, practices, and policies eventually leads.  And where is that?  To human brokenness, despair, suicide, bitterness, and regret.  She knows these from personal relationships cultivated with friends, colleagues, and others who she stays connected to over the years.  The personal stories she recounts are compelling, and one of the surprises I found in a book that is mostly philosophy, theology, hard science, and social science.

One of the things I appreciate about Pearcey’s approach on these issues is her dogged commitment to be a compassionate apologist.  As a thinker, she relentlessly draws out the questions that most people are afraid to ask.  Especially the non-PC questions that attempt to shed light on the deep inconsistencies and hypocritical stances that LGBT activists and allies propagate.  Such as:

  • If sexual orientation is fixed by our biology, genes, and other material factors, then why are our biology, genes, and the like deemed irrelevant to gender identity?
  • If LGBT people are a class of people who need to be legally protected, how does that work when people opt in and out based on their feelings of sexual attraction and gender identity?
  • If it is considered vitally important to smooth the path of gender transition toward desired cross-sex hormones and surgeries, why is it considered imposing a death-sentence on transgendered identified people for urging them to wait or work toward changing their feelings when feelings of gender fluidity are admittedly unstable?
  • Why are testimonies of those who leave the homosexual or transgender lifestyles suppressed and vilified?
  • If tolerance of others is the goal, why aren’t dissenters also tolerated but instead tarred as homophobic/transphobic bigots ?  Isn’t that the precise definition of intolerance?

Pearcey is fearless in leaving no stone unturned in the quest for truth, but she returns to the gospel to offer hope to the confused, the struggling, and hurting, the alienated, the broken, the sinner.  And she urges the church of Jesus Christ to learn from past mistakes and begin welcoming the stranger into her midst.  The deeds of hospitality will never be the same offered to different people.  Context and individual needs guide the kind of love given.  Still, the gospel is not subjective.  It is an objective announcement that God knows we are all broken and hurting, and simultaneously rebel sinners with backs bend away from God and toward our chosen idols.  And yet, God chose to love us so much he sent his one and only Son to live and die for us, and to save us from our fallen nature and our chosen sins–even those related to sex and gender.  Real people with real LGBT issues have found hope in the gospel as countless ambassadors of Christ lead them to the life-restoring grace found in him.  Pearcey, as one faithful and loving ambassador, reminds us to remember the gospel is the remedy for a sufferer beat down by both natural and divine law.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Chapter 7 attempts to wrestle with wider public policy and cultural trends, while proposing why the orthodox Christian ethic for life and sexuality is the solution to reclaiming God’s purposes for human flourishing.

Whenever I have opportunity to dialogue with friends or family (especially those who are Christian) who are passionately and intimately involved with any of these delicate issues, LTB may be the first book I point them to.  There are simpler book and resources available, but sometimes when a person has drunk deeply of sophisticated liberal writings, bringing a simple counterargument to the discussion is not wise.  Most people are not aware of serious intellectual firepower coming from an evangelical Christian because they don’t bother to look deeper when the 15-page pamphlet answer doesn’t answer their questions.  That is why LTB is a necessary addition to the growing body of Christian apologetics on questions about life and sexuality.  Books like this one are where the honest seeker will begin to find solid answers.  But again, don’t take it from me.  Professor Robert George of none other than Princeton University calls it a “terrific new book.”

If you’re leaning toward siding with the prevailing cultural positions on such topics, then you really can’t say you’ve thoroughly wrestled with opposing viewpoints until you take a look at Nancy Pearcey’s Love Thy Body.  And you’ll be glad you did.

Resources

Read an excerpt from the book

Interview with the author at By Faith

Interview with the author by Sean McDowell

Interview with the author at The Gospel Coalition

Nancy Pearcey talks on C-SPAN about her book, Love Thy Body, in which she examines the cultural shifts in attitudes towards human sexuality and the impact of those changes on related socio-political issues.

Audio discussion on The Transgender Phenomenon. By Nancy Pearcey and Jonathon Van Maren

How the Transgender Narrative Perpetuates Stereotypes (excerpt from the book’s chapter on Transgenderism). By Nancy Pearcey

Sex, Lies, and Secularism. By Nancy Pearcey

Spirited discussion between the author and opponent Jonathan Merritt

Nancy Pearcey: Christians Should ‘Build Bridges’ With Feminists to Resist Transgender Ideology. By Brandon Showalter

Reviews

Amazon

Anchored in Christ

Apologetics 315

Bellator Christi

Cathy Duffy Reviews

Challies.com

Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Culture Watch

First Things

Goodreads

The Gospel Coalition

In Christus

Juicy Ecumenism

Patheos

Reformation 21

Thoughts From the Glen

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