Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review: The Case for Life

Quick Facts:

Title: The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture
Author: Scott Klusendorf
Publisher/Year: Crossway, 2009
Pages: 254


The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf is an absolutely outstanding defense of the pro-life position with regard to the abortion debate. Being familiar with Scott's work through Stand to Reason I was looking forward to this book with much anticipation. Scott is one of the most able, articulate, persuasive, and winsome pro-life speakers in the country and his book does not fail to deliver. Scott lays out his thesis in the introduction:

My own thesis is that a biblically informed pro-life view explains human equality, human rights, and moral obligations better than its secular rivals and that rank-and-file pro-life Christians can make an immediate impact provided they're equipped to engage the culture with a robust but graciously communicated case for life.1

The book is broken down into four parts and 19 chapters:

Part 1: Pro-Life Christians Clarify the Debate (chapters 1-4)
Part 2: Pro-Life Christians Establish a Foundation for the Debate (chapters 5-8)
Part 3: Pro-Life Christians Answer Objections Persuasively (chapters 9-15)
Part 4: Pro-Life Christians Teach and Equip (chapters 16-19)

Part 1: Pro-Life Christians Clarify the Debate

Many people think the abortion debate is a morally complicated one. It's not. This is not to say that abortion cannot be psychologically or emotionally complex for many people. It certainly can be. But it doesn't follow from this that abortion is a morally complex issue. It is wrong to take innocent human life simply because they are in the way and can't defend themselves, plain and simple.

In chapter one of his book, Scott begins his defense of the pro-life view by simplifying the abortion debate to the one question that truly matters: What is the unborn?  Scott puts it this way:

If the unborn is a human being, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong...Conversely, if the unborn are not human, killing them through elective abortion requires no more justification than having your tooth pulled.2

Scott makes his case in two steps: First, he simplifies the debate to one question: What is the unborn? Second, he argues for the pro-life view. First simplify, then argue. This is the pro-life two-step.

In addition, this chapter also includes important tactics such as "trot out the toddler" and philosophical arguments like the SLED test. Defenders of the pro-life position will want to master these. See pages 25-29.

In chapter two Scott makes his case for the humanness of the unborn. The verdict? Science is on our side. Embryologists agree that from the moment of conception the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being. Scott sums it up this way:

You didn't come from an embryo. You once were an embryo. At no point in your prenatal development did you undergo a substantial change or change of nature. You began as a human being and will remain so until death. Sure, you lacked maturity at that early stage of your life (as does an infant), but you were human nonetheless.3

In other words, "embryos are human individuals at a particular stage of their development."4 This is an important point to grasp. No one is arguing that embryos are fully mature and developed human beings. Neither are newborns or toddlers for that matter. Rather, embryos, like newborns and toddlers, are human beings at a particular stage of development.

In short, the unborn are distinct from their parents possessing their own unique chromosomal structure and directing their own internal development. They are living because dead things do not grow, metabolize, or react to stimuli. And they are human because they come from human parents and have a human genetic signature.

Scott  goes on to address six common objections which defenders of the pro-life position will want to familiarize themselves with. He ends with a very important final consideration: construction verses development. In short, human beings develop. They are not constructed. All the unborn needs is time and nourishment, just like the newborn. See pages 40-47.

In chapter three Scott asks the question, "What makes humans valuable?" While science can tell us whether or not a thing is human, science cannot tell us how that human should be treated. Scott sums up the pro-life Christian rationale this way:

Pro-life Christians contend that human beings are valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are, creatures endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to life. That right to life comes to be when they come to be. The science of embryology establishes that we each come to be at conception or at the completion of a cloning process. From this it follows that we had the same basic right to life then as we do now.5

This rationale is grounded in the substance view of human persons. Substances are not purely physical things made up solely by the sum of their physical parts. Rather, substances, including human beings, are living organisms which have the ability to maintain their identity over time even though their physical make-up may change. In other words,

...the substance view tells us that you are identical to the embryo you once were. You were the same being then as you are now, though your functional abilities and physical characteristics have changed. From the moment you began to exist, there's been no substantial change in your essential nature. Moreover, you are intrinsically valuable in virtue of being you, not in virtue of some attribute you acquire at some point...6

Some pro-abortion choice advocates reject the substance view of human persons and instead attempt to ground human equality and human rights in one's ability to function or exert certain capacities. Sometimes referred to as functionalism, Scott points out several problems with this view, one of the most obvious being that this view also disqualifies newborns from being recognized as "human persons." See pages 51-54.

Scott goes on to address several other topics in this chapter including the argument that brain function is the beginning of a person, the opposition from animal rights activists, and the "your view is religious" objection. See pages 51-60. This chapter is jam packed with great information and insight and deserves a careful reading to absorb all of the details.

The chapter ends with a brief look at the history and current state of our legal environment with regard to abortion. Scott sums it up this way:

First, the purpose of government is not to create rights but to secure ones that we already have by nature. Second, one cannot speak seriously of things that are truly rightful or of human rights in general without assuming moral realism--that is, the belief that right and wrong are real things, not merely constructs of human opinion or culture. Put simply, if moral truths do not exist as a foundation for law, then law itself becomes merely a system of raw political power accountable to no one.7

Ironically, it is the pro-life position that is "liberal" in the truest sense of the term since it is pro-lifers who are committed to protecting the smallest, most vulnerable, and most defenseless members of the human community. Rather than discriminate on the basis of color and gender, our society today discriminates based on size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency.

In chapter four Scott tackles the subject of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). ESCR is controversial because human embryos are destroyed in the process. But like the issue of abortion, the issue of ESCR boils down to one fundamental question: What is the unborn? The pro-life position can be summarized as follows:

Pro-life advocates agree that we should save lives. We also support funding stem cell research. But we're opposed to one kind of stem cell research that requires destroying defenseless human embryos so that other humans may (allegedly) benefit. That's immoral.8

In fact, because human embryos are human beings at an early stage of development, the same arguments used against abortion may also be used against ESCR. In other words, because ESCR destroys human embryos, and human embryos are human beings, and destroying human beings so that others may (allegedly) benefit is immoral, ESCR is therefore immoral.

Scott goes on to outline the basics of stem cell research, common myths perpetuated in the media, its history in the U.S., and the problems associated with ESCR. In short, embryonic stem cells are hard to control, expensive to produce, and treat no known diseases. Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, treats seventy-five known diseases and doesn't kill the donor in the process. So why all the infatuation with ESCR? There may be something else going on here. See pages 80-84 to find out what.

Part 2: Pro-Life Christians Establish a Foundation for the Debate

Not only does science and philosophy support the pro-life position but the Christian worldview provides a rational foundation for the abortion debate.

In chapter five Scott addresses the nature of truth and the topic of moral relativism, a view of morality our culture is saturated with to the core. Addressing this topic becomes absolutely necessary given its prevalence and the fact that often the claims of pro-lifers are misunderstood. This is seen in such cliches as "Don't like abortion? Don't have one!" or "I'm personally opposed to abortion but I think it should remain legal." In short, pro-lifers are not making subjective preference claims when they say abortion is morally wrong but rather objective truth claims. Scott lays out some fundamental problems with moral relativism as well as a brief history outlining the move from moral realism to moral non-realism.

In chapter six Scott exposes the myth of moral neutrality. Both sides of the abortion debate have views they want to legislate and it is impossible for the state to remain neutral. However, it is often pro-lifers who are accused of trying to "legislate morality" while pro-abortion choice advocates get a free pass. In short, pro-lifers are dismissed as "religious" because of an unwillingness by pro-abortion choice advocates to address the issues. This is intellectually dishonest. How bout we stick with science?

In chapter seven Scott looks at the question "Does God Matter?" and presents a defense of Christian theism. Scott sums up his goal this way:

I simply hope to show that even if the pro-life view cannot be explained without ultimately grounding it in the Christian faith, it does not follow that the pro-life view is inherently irrational: Christian theists make rational arguments in defense of their position.9

I was not expecting this chapter in a book on pro-life apologetics, but it was a welcomed surprise! Scott does a great job of marshaling up an assortment of Christian evidences. This chapter is a great summary of the many arguments used by Christian apologists. Scott addresses common atheist positions such as the presumption of materialism, scientism, and the "religion is the root of all evil" mentality. He presents a coherent and rational foundation for Christianity by presenting arguments from design, evidence for the resurrection, and New Testament manuscript reliability. He also relates the failure of materialism to account for the existence of minds, ideas, and morals, all of which can be explained and exist quite nicely within the Christian worldview. An excellent chapter summarizing the rational foundation of Christian theism!

In chapter eight Scott ends this section by addressing the Bible's silence on the topic of abortion. Scott summarizes the chapter this way:

We don't need Scripture to expressly say that elective abortion is wrong before we can know that it's wrong. The Bible affirms that all humans have value because they bear God's image. The facts of science make clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are unquestionably human. Hence, biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn just as they do to other human beings.10

Scott is not arguing that a case for the humanness of the unborn cannot be made from the Bible. Rather, he is pointing out that even if the Bible is silent on the issue of abortion (which it is in the explicit sense), it doesn't follow that abortion is justifiable. To reason this way commits a logical fallacy, an argument from silence. And if silence equals permission then everything the Bible is silent on must be permissible, including racial discrimination against blacks, killing abortion doctors for fun, and lynching homosexuals.11 But this is absurd.

The problem with this line of thinking can be exposed with a very simple question: "Are you saying that whenever the Bible does not specifically condemn something, it condones it? If not, what's your point?"12

Scott goes on to give a better explanation for the Bible's silence on the issue of abortion (see pages 136-140) and addresses the argument that the unborn are not human since they have not taken their first breath. Once again we come back to the one question that matters: What is the unborn? In this case, "science gives us the facts we need to arrive at a theologically sound conclusion."13

Part 3: Pro-Life Christians Answer Objections Persuasively

Not only to pro-life advocates argue persuasively for the humanity of the unborn and our moral obligation to protect them but they also answer with reason and persuasion the most common objections put forth against the pro-life position.

In chapter nine Scott moves from debate to dialogue and demonstrates how to maneuver tactfully in conversations on abortion. Those of you familiar with Greg Koukl's book Tactics will find the information in this chapter immediately recognizable. Scott takes many of the tactics employed by Greg and applies them directly to the abortion conversation. A host of common pro-abortion choice objections are presented along with engaging questions to ask in response. Scott states, "Again, the goal is to engage your critics, not silence them. Stop worrying about winning a debate. Just keep asking good questions."14

In chapters ten through fifteen Scott addresses some of the most common arguments put forth by pro-abortion choice advocates. These include "Women will die from illegal abortions," "You shouldn't force your view on others," "Pro-lifers should broaden their focus," "Rape justifies abortion," "Men can't get pregnant," and "It's my body, I'll decide." The fundamental problem with most of these objections is that they beg the question. They assume the unborn is not a human person.

Chapter eleven once again hits on the topic of moral relativism. In chapter fifteen Scott deals with some of the more philosophically sophisticated pro-abortion choice arguments put forth by Judith Jarvis Thomson, Eileen McDonagh, and David Boonin. All of the chapters in this section are excellent in providing responses to common objections and cutting through the smoke screens put forth by pro-abortion choice rhetoric.

Part 4: Pro-Life Christians Teach and Equip

It is not enough for Christians to be informed on these issues. We need to equip others to engage. We live in an age where science trumps morality and individuals are simply uninformed when it comes to the issues surrounding abortion and ESCR. In other words, we have a lot of work to do.

In chapter sixteen Scott outlines four essential tasks that pastors concerned with biblical truth need to accomplish:

First, Christian pastors need to emphasize a biblical view of human value and ensure their congregation understands that abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. Second, they need to equip their congregation with pro-life apologetics so they can compete in the marketplace of ideas. Third, they need to emphasize the healing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and preach repentance and forgiveness for post-abortion men and women. Finally, Christian pastors need to overcome their fear that abortion is a distraction, their fear of driving people away who might otherwise hear the gospel, and their fear of offending people with abortion-related content. Scott sums it up this way:

In conclusion, as a pro-life pastor in the twenty-first century, determine to preach truth and equip your church family to engage the culture with a robust but graciously communicated, biblical worldview. Always stress grace. Give hope to those wounded by abortion. Ask God to fill your heart for lost and hurting souls. Then speak and show the truth in love. They can take it.15


In chapter seventeen Scott gives an excellent presentation of the gospel for those post-abortion men and women who are struggling with the decision they made. The gospel is summed up as follows:

The Gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy.16

The bad news is that we are desperate and depraved, rebellious and disobedient sinners against God. The good news is that Christ died for the ungodly so that through repentance and faith we may receive the righteousness of Christ. The solution to guilt is not denial, it's forgiveness. Scott states,

My message to that hurting post-abortion woman was simple: You don't need an excuse; you need an exchange--your sinfulness for Christ's righteousness...if you're in Christ, the penalty for your past, present, and future sin has already been paid. God accepts you because you are clothed in the perfect righteousness of God.17

In chapter eighteen Scott deals with a topic which is controversial among evangelicals themselves: co-belligerence. Can Christians work together with Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and even atheists, in their fight against abortion? In one word, "Yes." Evangelical Protestants do not have to compromise on theological doctrine in order to fight against social injustice: "Cultural reform efforts are not primarily about religious doctrine but social justice. To work, they must be broad and inclusive."18

Scott addresses several arguments in this chapter put forth by Evangelicals who oppose co-belligerence and presents several illustrations and examples which demonstrate the effectiveness of co-belligerence in creating a more just society. I think one example in particular is insightful for thinking about this issue:

...if a critic of evangelical co-belligerence had a two-year old daughter who stumbled into a swimming pool and needed immediate medical attention, he would gladly work with Catholic paramedics to save her life...If the critic of co-belligerence will work with Catholics to save his own child, what's wrong with working with them to save somebody else's (unborn) child?19

In chapter nineteen Scott ends his book by laying out a game plan for pro-life apologists. Can we win? Yes, if pro-life Christians equip themselves to engage. Science, morality, and reason are on our side. Pro-abortion choice advocates are increasingly unwilling and unprepared "to confront the growing philosophical sophistication of pro-life advocates."20 Scott outlines three important goals:

First, we need to recruit more full-time apologists. Here's why:

There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. That's because killing babies is very profitable while saving them is very costly. So costly, that large numbers of Americans who say they oppose abortion are not lifting a finger to stop it. And those that do lift a finger to stop it do just enough to salve the conscience but not enough to stop the killing.21

Second, we need to systematically train youth. Part of this training involves showing kids what abortion really is. This leads us to the third point: we need to go visual. Again, we need to show people what abortion really is. Scott makes the point, "Any student who is old enough by law to get an abortion without parental consent is certainly old enough to view the consequences of that choice."22 Pro-life advocates need to use both facts and imagery with grace and precision. Scott says, "Pictures change the way people feel about abortion, while facts change the way they think. Both are vital in changing behavior."23 We need to open the casket on abortion because "until we do, Americans will continue tolerating an injustice they never have to look at."24


I believe abortion is the moral issue of our time. Christians need to become more informed, more active, and more gracious in defending the pro-life view. I have read several books on this topic and I could not recommend Scott's more highly. If you read one book on pro-life apologetics make sure it is this one. I leave you with Scott's closing words from his introduction:

Admittedly, a book about pro-life apologetics may not appeal to some lay Christians. It seems many believers would rather focus on end times rather than these times. That's a mistake. Humans who ignore questions about truth and human value may soon learn what it really means to be left behind.25

Additional Resources:

1. Visit Scott's sites Life Training Institute and The Case for Life
2. Scott Klusendorf audio compliments of Apologetics 315
3. Stand to Reason resources
4. More on this site: Apologetic Junkie Resources on Abortion

You also may want to check out these books:

1. Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice by Francis Beckwith
2. Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is It Legal? Is It Possible? by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
3. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl
4. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl

1. Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 15.
2. Klusendorf, The Case for Life, 24.
3. Ibid., 36.
4. Ibid., 37.
5. Ibid., 50.
6. Ibid., 50-51.
7. Ibid., 66.
8.Ibid., 71.
9.Ibid., 112, his emphasis.
10. Ibid., 135.
11. Ibid., 136.
12. Ibid., 137.
13. Ibid., 141.
14. Ibid., 155.
15. Ibid., 215-216.
16. Ibid., 217.
17. Ibid., 221.
18. Ibid., 225.
19. Ibid., 230.
20. Ibid., 235.
21. Ibid., 236.
22. Ibid., 239.
23. Ibid., 241.
24. Ibid., 243.
25. Ibid., 15.


Michael Baldwin said...

Really good, thorough review, thanks Aaron. I was wondering, does he deal with using sentience as the criterion for personhood in this book? If he does I'm guessing it's under the bit on functionalism, but that is the single decently thought through criteria I've heard from my pro-choice buddies; they subcribe to utilitarianism. This means that they are (to a certain extent) also able to be kind relatively consistent in that criteria.

Aaron said...


Thanks for the comment and question.

Without all the details regarding your friends' argument I'll try and make a few comments. Please let me know if they are helpful or if I need to explain more.

First, because sentience is dependent on higher brain function, the argument from sentience is similar to the argument from "brain waves" or "brain development" and is therefore vulnerable to the same critiques. This could be classified as a type of functionalism (since the unborn now "feels" it is functioning as a human person) which Klusendorf addresses (though I don't think sentience is specifically mentioned). Also, Beckwith addresses the "brain waves" argument in Defending Life pages 154-159. Also see Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert George pages 166-173 for more on sentience.

Second, your friends are failing to distinguish between a natural capacity and an immediate capacity, which Klusendorf addresses in chapter 3. Again, this is functionalism at its core.

Third, again I don't know all the details of your friends' argument, but "sentience" as a criteria for personhood seems completely arbitrary. I would put the burden of proof on them to defend the idea that sentience transforms a non-human piece of protoplasm that can be readily discarded into a valuable human person that is protected under the Constitution.

Fourth, if human personhood is grounded in sentience, then it seems to me our status as human persons, along with our human rights, comes in varying degrees based on each individuals level of sentience. Again, this is vulnerable to the same critiques of functionalism. On this criteria a person who is more sentient is more human and has greater rights. But this seems absurd on the face of it.

Just some random thoughts Michael, hope that helps. God bless.

Michael Baldwin said...

Thanks for your response, Aaron, I appreciate it.

They would say that picking sentience is not arbitrary because pain and pleasure are the only things that govern human decisions. Everything we do is based on pain and pleasure, we all like pleasure but don't like pain.

Therefore, they subscribe to utilitarianism and say that pain=bad and pleasure=good.
They would also probably veer more to rule utilitarianism, that is, saying that human beings have the deepest experiences of pain and pleasure (because we have emotional pain, psychological pain, even arguably moral pain) and so therefore we derive a rule for human beings in general and it doesn't vary based on individuals. So because human beings as a species have these deeper experiences and have an added moral dimension, human beings as a species are given certain rights in order to maximise happiness, and because of these deeper experiences have more rights than animals.

I don't know if you know Peter Singer, but he's the kind of guy that they would be agreeing with here. They are also strongly in favour of generous animal rights and some of them are vegies, all of this because obviously animals can feel pain and pleasure and so they deserve rights to maximise the "greatest good for the greatest number".

But I will have to take a look at the critiques of functionalism as I think that would be a good way to deal with this utilitarianism.
Thanks for those references.