Verhey, a theologian who is now a professor at Duke Divinity School, begins his book with the premise that Christianity is a "religion of healing". From this jumping-off point, he endeavors to impart to the readers of his work the inevitable difficulties that followers of Christ have faced through the ages in dealing with this concept. He explains that at its inception, Christianity had to deal with other cultures and religions that also incorporated healing arts, as well as magic and miracle into their practice. He further instructs that the early Christians quickly realized that they could not be like the world, but had to set themselves apart from the world (Rom 12:2), with regard to their understanding and practice of their faith. He claims that we, as modern-day followers of the same Master, have to do the same. This concept of being different, this setting ourselves apart, is not as easy to practice as it sounds, however. It does not mean that we should be a peculiar people who refuse to adopt any of the customs, traditions, or practices of our society and who live in isolation (such as the Amish, for example). Christians would not do well, his writing suggests, to set ourselves apart in a commune. It is best to learn to live in community with others, and to seek to understand and incorporate our faith into the world that exists around us. What his writing encourages then is for Christians to be to be a discerning people who can somehow blaze a trail in our own culture that is consistent with the "story we love to tell and long to live" (p.5 ff), and yet at the same time to be able to incorporate the discoveries and advances that have been made in the world of modern medicine into our living and dying in such a way as to respect the memory of the story, while not completely discrediting the gift of modern medical technology. He calls his readership to "find a way in our own strange world of medicine" (p.3) by "discerning what is good and acceptable and perfect." To that end, he attempts throughout his work to instruct his audience on how one's reading of the Bible can inform and guide one's thinking and decision-making with regard to modern medicine and the difficult issues surrounding "birth and death and suffering and care" (p. 26) that we encounter.
The first third of the book consists of Verhey's expositions with regard to the history, theology, as well as linguistic and cultural anthropology that must be understood so that the reader might be better informed and therefore capable of this discernment which he advocates. Verhey is a very engaging writer who gives new meaning to the idea of "personhood" (Imago Dei), and elucidates the concept of "embodiment", as well as the importance of having a clear understanding of the concepts of "compassion" and "suffering". In the first four chapters, he spends a significant amount of time setting the stage for his readers and grooming them into the type of discerning, enlightened persons that he believes are best suited to engage in discourse in bioethics. He propounds the importance of the need to read, interpret and live Scripture with discernment and humility; the need to engage the community as a whole in prayerful discussion with regard to the issues, and to carefully engage in thoughtful analysis that employs discipline, submission, obedience, and humility.
"Discipline is the humility not to insist that Scripture be read `for ourselves', either by insisting on a `right to private judgment' in interpretation or be demanding that any interpretation serve our interests. It is the humility to read Scripture `over-against' ourselves and our communities, in judgment upon them and not in self-serving defense of them- to read it as we have noted, over-against even our conventional reading of biblical texts, subverting out own efforts to use Scripture to boast about our own righteousness or to protect our own status and power." (p.59)
Verhey challenges the reader to attend to Scripture with new eyes, an open mind and a pure heart.
After gently working with the readers through the first part of the book, Verhey utilizes the last two-thirds of his work to engage six "hot" ethical topics. The bioethical issues which he has decided to survey are: the Human Genome Project, abortion, "assistive reproductive technologies" (ART), physician-assisted suicide, care of at-risk infants, and the assignment of scarce medical resources. Throughout these chapters, Verhey does not so much try to get the reader to "see his point of view", as to encourage the reader to wear the lenses that he assisted the reader in fashioning for herself during the course of the first four chapters of the book.
In the preface of the book Verhey, tells us who he "is not": he states that "he is neither a physician, nor a son of one" (p ix); he defines the origins of his foray into the world of medical ethics as those of a theologian married to a nurse. He explains how as he listened to her stories, he began to feel that he had something to learn from these stories...and also something to add. He further informs the reader that he is a Christian and that his thinking and understanding of the subject matter of which he speaks is Christian- and he does this respectfully, forthrightly, unapologetically, and unabashedly. Having graduated from Calvin College with a B.A. and Calvin Theological Seminary with a B.D., it could be posited that he is a Calvinist thinker, or at least that Calvinist thinking informs his understanding. However, no Calvinist buzzwords like "sovereignty" or "predestination" or "elect" enter into this work. Indeed, whatever his specific slant, it is evident that Verhey's belief system is evangelical at the very least, and that he remains true to this tradition. It might be said best that he is working from a reformed Christian worldview. Further, his understanding of constructs such as "inbreathed word" and the doctrine of inspired scripture appear to be much less rigid than those of the standard Calvinistic stance.
Verhey states that God cannot be "domesticated", or made "serviceable to our own desires" (p. 26) Likewise, his admonition that Scripture, has frequently in the past been misinterpreted and similarly utilized by an arrogant readership to justify the behaviors and beliefs of the self-serving. (p. 38) Additionally, he warns that those who have been abused by this mis-use of Scripture have frequently been the weak and marginalized most often children, women and minorities. To that end, he admonishes the readers to, "admit that the words of Scripture are human words, words that...may not be simply identified with timeless truths dropped from heaven." (p. 37) This position could perhaps be misinterpreted and it could be suggested that Verhey contends that Scripture should not be read literally; but what he is saying is this: "Scripture is sometimes silent, sometimes strange, and frequently diverse", when it speaks of sickness and about healing (p. 37) Although these ideas might "put off" some readers, a careful analysis of his argument found on pages 44-62 shows that he is a man committed to the integrity, fidelity and authority of Scripture.
The book was enjoyable personally on several levels. The writing style that Verhey utilizes is one that can best be described as "pleasant". It is a far cry from other such works that are pedantic. In fact, the poetic style with which he writes made it quite difficult to read quickly, as I wanted to savor each cleverly crafted phrase. That said, it is with equal vigor that I commend the content of the book. As a Christian and a medical professional, I found the information to be enormously useful and informative. With Verhey as my "moral optometrist", I have found a new pair of spectacles with which to view my world, and I now see it not only as a "strange" one, but one that is more beautiful and less daunting because of this new insight.