Eminent theologian points toward reformed understand of unborn PDF Print E-mail

Thomas F. Torrance, one of the world's most eminent contemporary reformed scholars, concluded in a recent speech:

The human embryo is fully human being, personal being in the sight and love of his or her Creator, and must be recognized, accepted, and cherished as such, not only by his or her mother and father, but by science and medicine.

Torrance has devoted a significant part of his theological career to the intersection between science and faith. Speaking to the Scottish Order of Christian Unity in Edinburgh, Torrance was responding to the question, "When does a Personal Being Begin?" He finds evidence for his answer in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: not only biological human life but also the spirit of the human being begins at conception. The human life of the incarnate Son of God began at the moment of his conception in the womb of his mother. That, says Torrance, is the basis for the early church's rejection of abortion and infanticide.

The human being is an integrated whole
Torrance openly resists the pre-Christian dualism that separates body and soul and leads the modern world--and the modern church--to uncertainty about when a human life begins. He argues that we need to recover the Judeo-Christian non-dualist way of thinking to understand properly the conception and life of the unborn child. Modern empirical and theoretical science, he says, rests on a notion of contingent rational order in the universe. And that order, in turn, is the result of the Judeo-Christian belief that God created the universe, matter and mind alike, out of nothing.

In creating human being, body and soul, out of nothing God did not give being and life to the body by itself, or to the soul by itself, but to man/woman in whom body and soul form a living unity. The human being is an integrated whole....

The Presbyterian Church needs to re-examine this matter
The arguments concerning the intersection of science and faith put forth by Torrance, and applied to the unborn child in his essay, "The Soul and Person of the Unborn Child," are evidence of the need for the church to explore once again its position on the unborn. In the 1970s the mainline Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church, departed from their own historical positions reflecting the unity of body and soul in unborn human life.

The most recent formal consideration by our denomination given to the spiritual and theological status of the unborn child and the church's position on abortion was in a policy document adopted by the General Assembly in 1992. Entitled "Problem Pregnancies and Abortion," the policy document resulted in what the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) oddly regards as one of many statements by General Assemblies since 1970, some of which are used to determine the denomination's social policy witness by a process of compilation.

The church needs a moral position on abortion as its starting place
But Torrance is getting at something far more important than the denomination's social policy. His work challenges the church to examine its own history beginning with the first chapters of Genesis. From the perspective of our Christian faith, we need to understand how the increasing body of scientific knowledge and medical technological capability which are available to us at the turn of this century applies to the unborn child.

It is time for our denomination to take a careful look at this particular intersection between science and theology.

Thomas Torrance was born in China, gained his higher education mainly in Edinburgh and Germany, and served the Church of Scotland with distinction as a parish minister and as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1976-77. He held chairs in Church History and Christian Dogmatics at Edinburgh University, and in 1978 received the Templeton Prize for Religion.



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