"The Illusion of Agony"

"The Illusion of Agony: A Comprehensive Critique of Dr. Robert Wennberg's book, Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy" [1993], by Douglas Gwinn, is held by 39 libraries including the Los Angeles Public Library, the New York Public Library, the UCLA University Research Library, the Cornell University Library, and the University of the Philippines. What follows is the online edition of The Illusion of Agony.


Seldom has any social issue divided a nation the way that abortion has divided America. The essence of the conflict was captured in the title of a cover article in U.S. News and World Report for October 3, 1988: "Abortion: America's New Civil War." In spite of this cultural war, many Christians remain indecisive about abortion. Others feel strongly in like manner as the late Christian author Joseph Bayly who described abortion as "our great national sin" [Eternity magazine, June, 1984, p.56].

Between 1985 and 2000, I familiarized myself with literature on both sides of the abortion debate. I was able to read more than seventy books which delineate the biblical position on abortion. For the opposing viewpoint, I took the time to read five recently published pro-choice books which were written by Christians.

Four of those five books were characterized by varying degrees of theological departure from orthodox Christianity. For example, the editor of one pro-choice book (with whom I met) stated to me that she no longer perceives God as "Father." [She no longer sings, "This is my Father's World" :-)]. She told me that the Bible has been thoroughly corrupted through the centuries by male chauvinists who altered the Scriptures so that God appears to be of the male gender. She related the tragic story of her alcoholic father whose abusive behavior created constant turmoil for her family, shattering her image of what a father should be. Her book suggests that abortion can be a blessing from God and is often a better choice than childbirth. I mention this as an example of how far from biblical truth the pro-choice movement has strayed, particularly among those who call themselves "Christians."

One of the five pro-choice books that I read was written by a committed evangelical Christian, my brother in Christ, Dr. Robert Wennberg. Entitled "Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy" [1985], it becomes the subject matter of this website and we will examine it closely. Dr. Wennberg taught philosophy at Westmont College for 36 years. "Life in the Balance" stands alone as the only "evangelical Christian pro-choice book" in the literature.

If library holdings are a fair measure of significance and I believe they are then "Life in the Balance" is very influential because more than a thousand libraries hold it, according to WorldCat (OCLC). A number of pro-life writers have taken "Life in the Balance" to task, such as Francis Beckwith in Politically Correct Death (1993). There have been numerous published reviews of "Life in the Balance" in scholarly journals. There is no question but that "Life in the Balance" enjoys a wide audience especially in academic venues and is frequently referenced in other works. I believe we will continue to see "Life in the Balance" impact abortion discourse for many years to come.

After I read the entire book, I had the privilege of meeting with Professor Wennberg who graciously conversed with me for two hours in his office at Westmont College on January 26, 1990. It was a stimulating conversation about abortion and about "Life in the Balance." Unlike his book, I got the impression that Dr. Wennberg
himself leans toward the pro-life position, not pro-choice. I pointed out to him that his book delivers the pro-choice position.

For the record, in this first-time meeting with him, I grew to understand why Dr. Wennberg was so popular at Westmont and why he was chosen five times as "Professor of the Year". You couldn't find a more engaging and honorable person. Several of his former students have emailed me, speaking highly of him as a Christian, as a scholar, and as a friend. I can only echo their praise of Dr. Robert Wennberg. And may I congratulate you, Bob, on your recent retirement after a distinguished and successful career in higher education!

Over the years, Dr. Wennberg and I have corresponded extensively. Whenever he has written to me he has always been charitable. One time he characterized my book review as "vituperative." I scrambled to find this word in the dictionary and then started excising the "vituperative" stuff from my review. The truth is that Robert Wennberg, whether inadvertantly or purposefully, has stimulated my thinking toward improving this review. As a result, I've begun focusing more on facts instead of feelings. As an avid pro-lifer, my heart sometimes runs ahead of my reason. Yet, when all is said and done, I'm convinced that my own concern for unborn children and their mothers is shared equally by my friend Robert Wennberg.

The following is a critique of "Life in the Balance" from an evangelical and pro-life perspective.

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{The extensive quotations of "Life in the Balance" are used by permission of the copyright owner, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, and by the book's author, Professor Robert Wennberg}

Note: Excerpts from the book are immediately preceeded by the page number from which they are quoted and the initials of the book's author, "R.W." My own commentary begins each time with my initials, "D.G."

R.W.: p. xi)"...the considerable complexity of the abortion issue suggests to me that some measure of uncertainty is appropriate in whatever position one adopts." He later refers to "moral uncertainty" (e.g., p.19)

D.G.: My response is that the main reason many people are uncertain about the morality of abortion and what position to take is that they have not been educated in fetal development (fetology), abortion techniques, abortion complications, post-abortion psychological sequelae, and biblical principles and doctrines surrounding the abortion question. Uncertainty about whether or not to kill unborn children is not, in my mind, appropriate, nor can its propriety be so quickly spoken into existence.

R.W.: p. xi) "The book reflects my attempt at thinking this issue through - a task none of us ought ever to suppose we have completed once and for all."

Of course, if one were to say such a remark concerning a proposal to kill three-year-olds, it would raise some eyebrows. Dr. Wennberg is appealing to a perceived need for moderation and open-mindedness about a proposal that allows for the premeditated taking of innocent human life.

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R.W.: p.20) "....abortion is relatively pain-free."

Not according to many women who have had abortions. Listen, for example, to Angela Phelps recount her (early) abortion experience. It was a "suction-aspiration"
the most common method.....

"As I was told to lie down and wait, intense fear came over me......I screamed, 'Stop! Please stop!'....I grabbed my stomach again and began to cry out in acute pain.....I wasn't ready for this. Planned Parenthood said it was simple and the pain would only be compared to menstrual cramps. But what it really felt like was having my insides yanked out! So much tugging and pulling! Oh how I wanted him to stop!" [San Diego Christian Times, "It's a Matter of Life" special edition, 1989, pp.10,11]

R.W.: p.23) "....the pain (of abortion) is now removed."

Previous error (from page 20) now expanded. No attempt is made to classify the pain of the mother by type of abortion. For example, prostaglandin abortions induce intense labor with violent contractions of the uterus. This type can be done at any time during the pregnancy, but is primarily used after the fourth month.

Aside from the question of whether women feel pain, aren't we forgetting someone? [Please see the 14th chapter on "Fetal Pain" in Why Can't We Love Them Both?, by Dr. and Mrs. Jack Willke, 2003]

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Columnist George Will quotes Professor John Noonan of Cal-Berkeley Law School, "....beginning with the presence of sense receptors and spinal responses, there is as much reason to believe that the unborn are capable of pain as that they are capable of sensation." ["Abortion is a Real Pain to the Aborted", Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1981, part II, page 11].

R.W.: p.24) "To deny a woman an abortion in such cases (rape/incest) is to make her carry through with a pregnancy that was forced on her to begin with."

This is one of the classic themes propounded by Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. To completely unravel it for careful consideration would take us beyond the scope of this book review; but let me offer just a few observations.

I do not deny the horror and treachery of rape or incest and we must be sensitive and helpful to women and children who are violated in this tragic way. In addition, rapists
if brought to justice are given sentences today which are far too light.

We are believers in an all-powerful, loving and merciful God. Is the best answer we can come up with (when pregnancy results from rape/incest) that of

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taking this newly conceived life that belongs to the Lord, and putting him or her through a suction abortion machine that turns a growing baby into bloody mush? Is that our answer? God help us if it is! We need to reach out in love and acceptance to the woman who has been victimized, and when a child results, she needs our help all the more. Enabling her to obtain an abortion or to find reasons to have one is not a form of help.

The violence of abortion should never be the Christian response to the violence of rape or incest. Abortion is the ultimate invasion of privacy, a violence against the woman and her child which results in the death of the child. It doesn't make sense to tell the victim of violence (the victim of sexual assault) to aid and abet in another violent act (abortion).

Pregnancy as a result of sexual assault is rare, and among reasons given for abortion, rape and incest account for less than one percent. Nevertheless, the abortion industry, working hand in glove with the liberal media, continues to barrage and manipulate public opinion to "have pity" on the "twelve-year-old rape victim" and grant her an abortion so she can put the rape behind her. Why does the rape victim always seem to be a twelve-year-old? This is in keeping with their effort to elicit the greatest amount of sympathy. The younger the victim, the greater the sympathy for abortion.

Can we not see that this appeal to kill innocent children who result from rape is nothing less than a cover of smoke for the surreptitious advancement of their agenda calling for the continued legality of abortion-for-any-reason? Rape and incest provide the perfect public relations platform for abortion advocacy.

A definitive and compelling discussion of the question of abortion in the cases of rape and incest is found in Aborted Women: Silent No More by David

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Reardon [Crossway Books, 1987, pp.188-218]. A brief excerpt is in order. Paraphrasing Mary Meehan, he writes:

"For the majority of pregnant rape victims who wisely choose to give their children life, the choice for childbirth is the choice which says: 'This rape will not dictate my life.' It is a choice which wrestles something good from....evil. Instead of remembering only her fear and shame, her choice allows her to remember her courage and generosity." [p.198]

R.W.: p.26) "...the value that attaches to the fetus."

What amount of value attaches? Who assigns the value? What criterion are used to quantify the value? As Christians, we should hold the unborn in the same high esteem they are held by God in the Bible, not higher, and not lower. The unborn are known to the Lord, loved by Him, and created in His image. They are our brethren, certainly among "the least of these" of whom Jesus spoke, and I believe, they are the least of the least, the most vulnerable and precious of all God's creation; equally as valuable to Him as you and I.

R.W.: p.27-28) "To be sure, the fetus is not self-conscious, is not yet a rational being, and has no desires, hopes, or aspirations that will be frustrated by death. But neither does the newborn infant possess rationality, have desires or the like and yet most people would be reluctant to kill infants with the same regularity with which we now kill fetuses. Both the fetus and the newborn are biological life on the way to becoming personal human life".

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D.G.: Thus begins his depersonalization of infants and the unborn. The main problem with this is that most people do in fact regard newborns as "persons". His contention that newborns do not "have desires" is without merit and brings into question whether he has ever heard a baby cry.

He will now set up his own criteria for what is a "person", a word (by the way) that is of Latin origin. In English usage, "person" is primarily a legal term. Therefore, if you can strip the unborn of "personhood", you strip them of their legal right to life. Wennberg would have done better to refer to an unborn child as a "developing human being" who deserves to live.

The other day, I stumbled across the July [1993] issue of LIFE magazine. The cover article is all about babies and how very intelligent they are even though we may not realize it. For example, at three months, babies can learn and remember for weeks visual sequences and simple mechanical tasks.

R.W.: p.35) "Thus although a fetus is human, it is not a person as we have defined the term, inasmuch as it has not yet developed the functional ability to engage in personal acts.

"To be sure, the biological basis for personal life is developing as the fetus grows, but personal life itself does not emerge in the womb at all, nor will it begin to emerge until some time after birth, when the socialization process begins. We rightly acknowledge a fetus to be a potential person, for after a certain period of time and with normal development an individual with rational, moral and spiritual capacities will normally come into existence. And we rightly acknowledge the newborn to

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be potential persons as well they are not yet persons when judged by these strict criteria; for they do not engage in personal acts of intellect, emotion, or will all that being consequent upon post-natal development. In fact, newborn humans function at a mental level below that of newborn animals (horses, for example). So if an acquired rational capacity is the mark of personhood, then infants are not persons. Thus whereas both fetuses and newborn infants possess biological human life, neither one yet possesses personal human life."

The operative phrase regarding personhood is, "as we have defined it." Denying the personhood of infants once again, denying that they can engage in "personal acts of emotion or will", again raises the question, "Did you ever hear a baby cry?" A baby wants milk and won't stop crying until this desire is fulfilled. Babies need love and a wide range of emotional interaction with their parents.

Wennberg's criteria for personhood is arbitrary and meaningless. He would have to answer the questions, "When does a 'newborn' become an 'infant'?" "When does an 'infant' become a 'child'?" When does a 'child' become an 'adolescent'?" When does an 'adolescent' become an 'adult'?" These words are helpful linguistic approximations, not scientifically demonstrable categories into which, at any given time, all people can be grouped conclusively.

The above excerpt from page 35 is, in my mind, the turning point of the book. Once you declare that the unborn are not persons, you are progressing along the road to the pro-choice camp. And as Diane and

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Jeffrey Greenberg of Wheaton College observe, "By eliminating rhetoric, pro-choice correctly translates as pro-abortion." [Abortion, Hoffmeier, ed.; 1987, p.230]

Let us now inquire into the various Greek and Hebrew words for infants and the unborn that God uses in the Bible. Remember, the word, "person", is Latin in origin, and therefore is not found in the languages used by the writers of the Word of God, though the concept is there. [I find it notable that Webster's dictionary defines "person" as simply "a human being."]

The Hebrew word "nephesh" is crucial here. Dr. James Hoffmeier of Wheaton writes:

"Mention has already been made of (Dr. Bruce) Waltke's two important articles (1969, 1976). In the first, he argued that the human fetus was not regarded as being a nephesh. Subsequently, he reversed this position, stating 'the image of God is already present in the fetus....We conclude then, on both theological and exegetical grounds, that the body, the life and the moral faculty of man originate simultaneously at conception.'

"That the fetus is regarded as being a nephesh is important, because much of the debate surrounding abortion concerns whether or not the fetus is a 'person', and nephesh, as well as meaning 'life' and 'soul', also means 'person'. Furthermore, the fetus cannot simply be considered a 'potential person', as many argue. From the perspective of Deuteronomy 25:11 and Hebrews 7:10, 'potential life' is in the loins of the father.

"Since the Hebrews did not distinguish between an unborn or a born child, and because the fetus was considered a nephesh that had the image of God, we need go no further than the sixth commandment

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('Thou shalt not kill') to find the biblical prohibition against abortion. It is hard to believe that God, who orders the protection of a bird's eggs in a nest (Deut. 22:6), should not do the same for man, his special creation. We are reminded that Jesus said, 'Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will.....Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.' (Matt.10:29,31)" [Abortion, 1987, p.61]

Allow me to paraphrase Dr. Victor Gordon (of Wheaton) on the New Testament view of fetal life. The Greek word "brephos" refers to the six-month fetus John the Baptist (Luke 1:41,44). The same word elsewhere means newborns and older children. Luke 18:15-17 is instructive where the word "paidion" is used interchangeably with "brephos." [Abortion, 1987, p.80]

More could be said about this, but suffice it to say that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament can be said to view prenatal human beings as less valuable to God than postnatal human beings, regardless of age.

R.W.: p.40) "But it doesn't follow that God confers this (image of God) status on those without the potential for personal life, who cannot ever participate in those purposes." (e.g., the anencepahalic)

D.G.: One would ask, "Not ever? Not even in heaven?" Wennberg's answer to this seems to be that those who are not made in the image of God (if that could be possible), will not go to heaven. (See my discussion about the "image of God" in response to page 105.)

R.W.: p.42) If I may paraphrase him, Wennberg seems

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to be defining spirituality as being dependent on one's ability to flesh out that spirituality.

D.G.: My response is that a Christian who slips into a coma (for example) is just as spiritual as he was the previous moment before going unconscious. Certainly, the indwelling Holy Spirit does not depart when one's cognitive, rational abilities are diminished or suspended. Wennberg has placed the concept of spirituality on the gradualism slope where it ought not to be. Spirituality, for the Christian, is an "all or nothing" proposal. You are either in the Kingdom of God or you are in the kingdom of darkness [Colossians 1:13], a fact well known to Dr. Wennberg.

R.W.: p.42,43) Wennberg grants "image bearers" and "potential image bearers" possession of a right to life.

D.G.: Could somebody please tell me what a "potential image bearer" is? Reader beware! The "right to life" of which Wennberg speaks is on a continuum just like personhood and image bearing. It's a gradualism that leads to abortion rights and the death of the unborn.

R.W.: p.44,45) He repeatedly states that man "has a soul".

D.G.: Rather, the Bible says that "man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). It is crucial that we understand this transaction. God was creating the first man, Adam. Adam was not born of a woman. The woman, Eve, was created by God subsequent to the creation of Adam. When God breathed into Adam the breath of life thus making him a "living soul", God decreed that all human life that proceeded from Adam would be considered "living souls". There is only one kind of "living soul" here on earth and that is ones who are alive.

When God created Eve, He did not "breathe into (her) nostrils the breath of life". Why? Because she had come from Adam who was already a living soul. Stated another way, by virtue of God creating her "out of Adam", Eve was a soul. God creates souls, "ex nihilo". This is latin for "out of nothing". While it is true that souls come from God, it could also be said that souls come from souls. The Bible does not say that Eve "became a living soul" because, by virtue of being human, Eve commenced being a soul from the moment that God fashioned her. This is very important because all offspring of woman are therefore souls.

There is nothing magical about needing to breathe one's first breath. Nothing magical about reaching a certain stage of development. The unborn child, at every point in time from conception, is already a living soul and must be considered a full person just like you and me.

This is a Biblical principle, one that Wennberg misses. Man's soul and body are inextricably united; in theology, this can be called "the unity of man." (See my commentary below regarding page 51) Please also see John Jefferson Davis, Chapter 4 of Abortion and the Christian [1984]

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R.W.: p.48) "....we have no biblical grounds for the belief that God will choose to sustain the existence of fetal souls (assuming that there are such things)."

Yes, the Bible teaches that the unborn are souls. But if someone doubts this, wouldn't it be eternally better to err in favor of the unborn? In this matter of continued existence, it would favor the unborn to be ushered into the presence of a loving heavenly Father upon their deaths.

And though we might be thought by some to err in this matter, we would be erring in the direction of life if we intervened to save the unborn. To err in the other direction
that of allowing the unborn to be killed would be catastrophic for the unborn (in this life) despite the fact that the unborn child goes directly into the presence of the Lord after the abortion.

R.W.: p.48,49) "The problem is posed for us because in each of these cases (fetuses, infants, the massively retarded) there is no personal life and consequently no "person" that can be preserved beyond the grave....

"After all, we are supposed to recognize people in heaven and perhaps even more importantly
to recognize ourselves. But we would not recognize this former fetus or former infant and neither would a former fetus or former infant be capable of self-recognition."

Note the continued depersonalization of infants. Most Christians who have lost an infant would bristle at the notion of never being reunited with their baby!

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The Bible frequently teaches that we will recognize and fellowship in heaven with people who we knew on earth. For example, David stated that he would be reunited with his child who died. And the Transfiguration suggested that the people who are in heaven are recognizable to us and to eachother. In the event we don't know anybody in heaven (in terms of earthly remembrance), I believe that we will also know everyone by virtue of knowing in full, as Paul taught. At best, this is a moot point by Wennberg and has no effect on the personhood of the unborn.

I recommend a book by Clifford Bajema, Abortion and the Meaning of Personhood (1974) which I've recently placed online. It makes a strong case for the personhood of the fetus from the moment of conception. 

R.W.: p.49) "....characterless spiritual substratum...." may be what fetuses and infants possess (instead of actual souls) and this "substratum" may well be recycled by God when a fetus or infant dies.

D.G.: The Bible knows nothing of the sort. Is this a venture into "New Age", something akin to reincarnation? "Recycling" is what you do behind the supermarket with your aluminum, plastic and glass. God doesn't recycle, he creates.

Our creator God is not limited in His resources. He doesn't sit up there in heaven scratching His head, wondering how best to utilize His allotment of souls. There is no limit to the number of souls whom God may continue to create in the miracle of conception. This being the case, there is no need for spiritual recycling and there is no such thing as "characterless spiritual substratum".

R.W.: p.50) As to whether fetuses or infants who die go to heaven or not... "On this matter, I am not aware of any clear teaching in Scripture, so I feel there is reason for justified uncertainty."

The Bible doesn't say that infants (or the unborn) do not go to heaven if they die. It does say that God takes a special interest in them [Matthew 11:25; 21:16]. And as Jesus said, "the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." [Luke 18:15,16]

There are a lot of subjects on which the Bible does not specifically teach or outline all details. For example, is there life on other planets in other galaxies and if so, is the blood of Christ as shed on this earth the propitiation for their sins as well as ours? Depending on how you answer this question, you could devote your life to reaching

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other galaxies for Christ. The point is, we shouldn't derive principles for our belief and conduct based on the silence of Scripture.

Regarding fetuses, Billy Graham wrote back to a woman who had written to him complaining of guilt over an abortion she had. Billy assured her, "I want you to know that the child you aborted is with God in heaven at this moment." [Answers to Life's Problems, Word Publishing, 1988, p.187]

R.W.: p.51) He concludes this discussion with the assertion, "....whether fetuses have immortal souls is essentially irrelevant to the abortion debate."

On the contrary, I contend that the fetus is a soul. This full status as a soul entitles the fetus to be regarded as fully human and worthy of protection. The Bible does not indicate any point in time other than conception for the supposed "implantation" of the soul. As Dr. John Warwick Montgomery has aptly pointed out:

"For most creationists, the moment of conception is the point when the soul is bestowed (ex nihilo) ....For the biblical writers, personhood in the most genuine sense begins no later than conception: subsequent human acts illustrate this personhood, they do not create it. Man does because he is (not the reverse) and he is because God brought about his psycho-physical existence in the miracle of conception." [in Birth Control and the Christian, Spitzer and Saylor, ed.; Tyndale, 1969]

R.W.: p.59) Wennberg expresses ambivalence about whether a pregnant woman who lives in poverty should abort.

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D.G.: As this argument goes, if the child were born, you would supposedly be perpetuating poverty because the child will grow up to be poor, thus repeating the cycle. What is really meant is that one's "quality of life" or standard of living is of greater significance than life itself. As Christians, we should find that kind of logic morally intolerable.

R.W.: p.66) "'The fallacy of the continuum'.....By this mode of reasoning one could show, for example, that there is no difference between night and day, since as you move from twelve midnight to twelve noon, there is never any discernible difference from one moment to the very next."

He here dismisses Dr. C. Everett Koop's pertinent point that if you wouldn't kill a newborn baby who everyone considers precious, would this same baby not be precious one minute before he or she is born? What about one minute before that, and one minute before that, etc.? [Koop, The Right to Live; Tyndale, 1976, p.27]

Isn't it remarkable to find Wennberg, the big proponent of gradualism that he is, objecting to a gradualism from the anti-abortion camp?

R.W.: p.87) "The Christian faith holds that the infant is biological human life on the way of becoming personal human life
on the way, that is, to thinking, loving, willing, and worshipping and that all this is God's intention and purpose for that life."

Rephrased from page 28. It sounds very Christian to talk about worshipping and loving God, but we're still on the gradualism slope.

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Ironically, Dr. Wennberg immediately quotes Psalm 139:13 and 16 as if for support; however, these verses are about life in the womb and say nothing about infants. Wennberg was on the subject of infants; he fails in his attempt to make it look like the Scripture supports his gradualism theory.

R.W.: p.101) "Infanticide is wrong because it contravenes a divine intention for the infant's life, not because it contravenes the infant's right to life."

Let me counter with an ingenious idea.....Why can't we say that abortion is wrong because (for one thing) it contravenes a divine intention for the unborn child's life? For further reading along these lines, I would direct you to Professor John Jefferson Davis' discussion in Abortion and the Christian, chapter 2, "Leading Ethical Positions".

R.W.: p.105) "In the case of a severely retarded individual, however, there is no capacity for agency, because in effect the human biological organism is critically defective. Nevertheless, its defects do not render such an organism any less a divine creation, and since it shares the biological form ordained by God to bear moral and spiritual agency, it deserves more respect than is appropriate for mere animals. We may judge that such an individual is not in the image of God and that it does not have a person's or a potential person's right to life, but for all that we do not relegate it to the status of an animal (even if we have a high view of animals)."

I'd like to offer a better way than Dr. Wennberg offers. Instead of the unborn being described as "potential human life," let's think of them as "human life with great potential."

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Notice how Wennberg refers to the unborn with the word, "it", instead of "him" or "her". This is a subtle form of depersonalization, robbing unborn children of their humanity and personhood.

This section about "retarded individuals" is an inadvertent slap in the face to the entire handicapped community. It also points to Wennberg's apparent belief that the image of God is measurable, an idea that is foreign to Scripture. If "God made man in His own image", then we should expect every human being to be created in this same image.

God's image is intangible and is stamped upon everyone from the moment of conception. I like the succinct yet penetrating way that Francis Schaeffer put it: "The unborn child is a human being created in the image of God, and to deny this is to deny the authority of the Bible." [The Great Evangelical Disaster, p.108]

Dr. Wennberg's use of the word "defect" is disappointing. In a sermon on Psalm 139, Pastor Chuck Swindoll objects, "At birth, in God's eyes, there is no such thing as a 'defect' or 'accident' or 'misfortune'." Pastor Chuck says that God takes the responsibility [tape #75, August 2, 1972].

God is the author of life and He is intimately involved in the growth and development of the smallest human embryo.

R.W.: p.115,116) "....we may very well feel a stronger obligation to save the life of an adult (or older child) than to save the life of an infant should we be in the unfortunate and tragic

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circumstances of having to choose between them. Nor do I think that this inclination is merely a product of our awareness that the adult (or child) is already an intimate part of a matrix of human relationships and would be more sorely missed; to some considerable extent, I think, we make the decision because we implicitly discern the presence of personal life in the child (and adult) and its absence in the infant."

Just another approach to strip infants of personal life. Wennberg sets up a hypothetical situation, mixes in his gradualism, and the infants lose again.

R.W.: p.119) "....a newborn infant devoid of personal characteristics."

Repeating something again and again does not cause it to become true! Even newborns have personal characteristics, desires, and wants.

R.W.: p.123) "....there is no reason to believe that honest and careful reflection on the abortion issue must yield a theory that is able to crank out precise answers to all abortion questions."

This is rephrased from page ix. "Reflecting" and "agonizing" about abortion can become an end in itself. Some material, some disciplines are more complex than others and require greater study. A truly Christian worldview requires that people examine evidence and come to a verdict about many things, such as "Did Jesus Christ die on the cross and rise again?" Or, "What are the implications of His death on the cross in terms of my own eternal destiny?" You see, if someone merely "reflects" or "agonizes" on questions about Jesus Christ and never comes to a verdict, their spiritual destiny hangs in the balance. And that could be eternally tragic! Why should questions about abortion be treated with any less enthusiasm? Why settle for agonizing when you can know with greater certainty by further study?

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R.W.: p.137) "I think most people feel that there is a connection between the degree of a woman's responsibility for an unwanted pregnancy and the strength of her obligation to bring that pregnancy to term the greater her responsibility, the greater her obligation."

So, if your sister used up the birth control pills or if your boyfriend ran out of condoms, or if the birth control failed or ___________ (you fill in the blank), then the unborn child can be "terminated" more easily? This sounds like abortion for any reason, i.e., abortion on demand.

By Wennberg's standard, the only unborn child with a moral chance of survival is when a woman intentionally gets pregnant for the express purpose of bearing a child of either gender and is not persuaded by any third party to abort. Lest the reader think that Wennberg is opening a pro-life window, we will soon see that woman has the final say, "the central decision" as Wennberg will call it, and this decision ought not to be impinged upon by the law of the land. More on that later.

Have you noticed the way that Wennberg frequently appeals to the judgment of "most people"? Christians, however, should have a higher standard than most people since we are called to "not be conformed to this world." [Romans 12:2]

Wennberg fails to recognize the hand of God in the creation of life in the womb. It is God who creates life, not woman, and therefore God takes the responsibility. In the Kingdom of God, there are no "accidental", "unplanned", or "unwanted" pregnancies. God wants, loves, and plans every unborn child. There are no surprises to God.

If the wanting by God doesn't turn you on, try this.....Unborn children are wanted by millions of couples

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who can't conceive and are forced to wait, sometimes up to three years to adopt a child. There is no greater gift to anyone than the gift of a child, a much wanted child. To assert that a "pregnancy is unwanted" is to foster an attitude of selfishness on the part of the pregnant woman.

R.W.: p.138) "....in principle we can still say that the greater the burden a woman has to bear in carrying through with a pregnancy, the more likely it will be that her responsibility is reduced."

Notice how quickly Wennberg has diluted what on the previous page he called the woman's "responsibility", now reduced by the degree of what he calls the "burden." There seem to be no absolutes for Wennberg, only scales and balances.

R.W.: p.145,146 "....abortions do benefit some people.....the benefits of an abortion are not open to a similar dispute or surrounded by comparable controversy. To secure those benefits is undeniably good
even those opposed to abortion do not deny that fact."

I do not deny that abortion doctors make lots of money by exploiting women. These unscrupulous doctors do benefit from abortion, if blood-money is deemed "beneficial."

It's quite a leap from there, however, to assert that the women upon whom the abortions are performed could possibly "benefit" from abortion. Conducting themselves outside the will of God, they soon discover a spiritual heartache more acute than labor pains. Many women who have had abortions would disagree with Wennberg, including Nancyjo Mann,

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founder of the group, Women Exploited By Abortion (W.E.B.A.):

"In fact, as we will see (in this book), half of all aborted women experience some immediate or long-term physical complications, and almost all suffer from emotional or psychological aftershocks. Instead of being a giant step forward for women's rights, legal abortion is the most destructive manifestation of discrimination against women today." [forward by Nancyjo Mann in Aborted Women: Silent No More, by David Reardon, 1987]

Moreover, I strenuously object to Wennberg's continual failure to recognize the baby in the abortion equation. Death does not benefit the preborn infant! That there is a little baby growing in the womb is a fact which cannot be overemphasized.

R.W.: p.149) "....the right to life does not include the right to use another person's body (without that person's consent) in the way that the fetus needs to use the mother's body."

The reason a fetus needs the mother's body is because God ordained that it should be so. When a woman or girl consents to sexual intercourse, there is an implicit responsibility involved; if a child is conceived, he or she should be brought to birth. Other than biologically, this responsibility is shared by the man; he cannot delegate it to the woman.

Notice that Wennberg slips up here and indirectly identifies the fetus as a "person", contrary to what he says on page 35. He writes... "another person's" body. That would make the fetus a "person," and suddenly a bearer of significant rights in Wennberg's world.

R.W.: p.149) "Abortion continues to be wrong, I wish to stress, even if there is no violation of a right to life."

A gratuitous concession in light of the "pro-choice" conclusions that are coming. What he's really saying is that abortion is a necessary evil, a notion which I oppose.

I grew up in a family where we learned that when something was "wrong", you don't do it. We find out

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what is wrong by learning and applying God's Word in our daily lives. The Word of God is the only reliable guide for the determination of right and wrong.

Robert Wennberg, on the other hand, utilizes yardsticks such as "what most people think". By failing to start with the Bible, then failing to stick to the Bible
thus failing to derive principles from the Bible along the way, Wennberg falls victim to the weeds of secular thinking. Evidently, his underlying premise is that a life issue such as abortion could somehow be a morally neutral area about which the language of the Bible does not speak in the imperative sense.

R.W.: p.156ff.) Wennberg offers his version of an analogy about a famous violinist, postulated originally by Judith Jarvis Thomson.

D.G.: Though I personally shy away from analogies to abortion, I would direct the reader to the excellent discussion about the violinist in Francis Beckwith's Politically Correct Death, (page 128-135). I recommend an analysis of the Thomson violinist available online by Scott Klusendorf if you click here: visit this link.

R.W.: p.165) "So I conclude that there is reason to believe in the first place that abortion is not murder, and in the second place that abortion is not the kind of 'causing to die' that should be criminalized."

Observing otherwise is Dr. Harold O.J. Brown of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

"Since biblical ethics forbid the taking of innocent life (not, however, the taking of all life, as biblical regulations concerning capital punishment and waging of war show), an individual committed to biblical ethics can accept the practice of abortion only if it can be shown that the fetus or unborn child is in fact not innocent

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human life in the Bible's sense (*). Much effort has been expended by pro-abortion forces to demonstrate this, most of it frustrated by the relative unanimity of medical and scientific evidence and opinion to the contrary. But where it has not been possible to convince Christians to withdraw their opposition to permissive abortion by showing that it is not killing, large numbers have been effectively reduced to silence, or even approval, by the slogan 'freedom of choice'." (* footnote: "Historic Christian teaching has always made an exception for abortion in the rare cases where it is necessary to save the mother's life, when Tertullian, for example, refers to it as a 'necessary cruelty'. Cf. my essay, 'What the Supreme Court Didn't Know: Ancient and Early Christian Views on Abortion', Human Life Review, Spring, 1975, pp.15-18") [The Reconstruction of the Republic; Arlington House, 1977, pp.122-123]

R.W.: p.167) "My conclusion from all this, then, is that women ought not to be forced to carry through with unwanted pregnancies (encouraged perhaps, but not forced), even if it is the case that a fetus is a person with a person's right to life."

Wennberg's concept of "right to life" is quite different from what you would be told by, for example, the National Right to Life Committee.

Note Wennberg's repetition of the term "unwanted pregnancies" (from pp.137,138) and his complaint that child-bearing could be "forced". Granted, a pregnancy resulting from rape would be "forced" in a sense, but Wennberg opens the "rape umbrella" (if you will) so that the "forced-ness" now extends to the carrying to term of all unborn children regardless of the circumstances under which they were conceived. Wennberg appears to be jumping on the "all sex is rape" bandwagon, a common theme in pro-choice literature.

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This reminds me of the silly theological debate about whether the Lord Jesus Christ was "forced" to die on the cross for our sins. The point is that it was God's will for Him to do so. Jesus wanted to do the Father's will, but humanly speaking, He did not want to die. Good thing Jesus wasn't "pro-choice" about dying for our sins!

What the world desperately needs are godly, Christian women who want to do God's will, namely to bring the baby to birth (for starters). I pray that God will give women the moral fortitude to do so, and that the fathers would support them in this decision for life.

It is God who creates life in the womb. It is God whose hands weave intricately. To harm the unborn is to poke the eye of God. To choose abortion is to tempt God and "force" Him to exercise His justice. I invite the reader to check out what God says about His creation of life in the womb, some Bible verses I put together.

R.W.: p.170) "....conception (marks) the beginning of a right to life...."

Wennberg's redefinition of "right to life" is coming to fruition now and will be intermingled with the "right to choose" abortion.

R.W.: p.170) "It is my contention that the right to life possessed by the human fetus ought to be understood in a qualified sense, the right to life that begins at conception ought to be understood as increasing in strength as the fetus grows and develops...... I advocate, therefore, the gradualist

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thesis, recognizing that it is not problem-free and that it cannot be held with complete certainty."

p.173) "....the pregnant woman ought not to be forced to bring her pregnancy to term but should be granted the power to make crucial decisions in such matters; ....the woman has the right to decide which burdens she will or will not bear; ....though the woman may act wrongly by not bearing a particular burden, nevertheless criminal law ought not to be allowed to make the decision for her."

Dr. Wennberg has now articulated the "pro-choice" position. The notion that women should be able to decide what burdens they will and will not bear, needs to be addressed. Taken to its logical next step, infanticide should be legalized because parents shouldn't be "forced" to change a baby's diapers or to do anything that is inconvenient. The noise of a crying baby, for instance, could be considered an invasion of privacy. Or if a child doesn't meet his parents expectations by the age of, say, ten years old (e.g., by flunking school), then his parents ought not to be "forced" to keep feeding him; he can be eliminated on account of the indication that he may "never amount to anything". If enough key people in his life such as his parents, teachers, or playmates repeatedly drill into him that he may never become a productive member of society, his desire to excel and achieve will be greatly diminished.

Let me hasten to point out that aside from the fact that abortion leads to infanticide, assisted suicide, and other evils, abortion stands by itself as a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude throughout America. Abortion is the daily destruction of human life right down the street from where you and I live.

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R.W.: p.175) "....we ought not to seek to criminalize abortion any more than we ought to try to outlaw divorce."

Jesus said that due to the hardness of men's hearts, Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce. (Jesus limited this permission strictly to the case of immorality). God hates divorce, but divorce, as tragic as it is, is not on a par with the deliberate destruction of innocent human life. The analogy is therefore invalid.

If there should not be laws against abortion, then why should there be laws against any wrongdoing? The reason we need laws is because we perceive there to be what we call "victims of crime". Take, for example, domestic violence. One spouse, usually the husband, beats up the other spouse or the children. We have a victim and we have a wrongdoer. No one would argue, in their right mind, that the perpetrator ought not to be "forced" to stop beating his wife or children.

By the same token, we see the unborn child as victim
not a willing participant in their own death and as such, if their rights as persons could be recognized, unborn children deserve to be protected by law for the same reason that battered women should be protected by law.

R.W.: p.175) "....our denial that abortion involves the violation of a right to life certainly does not commit us to a positive view of abortion."

"Pro-choicers" commonly deny being in favor of abortion. The best refutation of this denial is to ask the largest

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abortion provider in America, Planned Parenthood, how many maternity homes they have and how many children they placed for adoption lately. The answer to both questions is "zero".

I'm not saying that Robert Wennberg favors abortion. What he personally believes is different than what he wrote in his book. He wrote to me once that he is "neither pro-life, nor pro-choice; I am pro-agony." It so happens that his book uses language that is identical to that of the pro-choice movement.

R.W.: 175) "....the woman's right to make the central decision."

The so-called "central decision" is Wennberg's euphemism for the killing of a child who is being fashioned by God, if this decision is to procure an abortion.

Can it be considered morally right to grant women the power to decide who will live and who will die? Would it not be the height of arrogance to require a baby
who can't speak for himself to have to persuade his parents to want him in order to be able to live? The sovereignty of God over the womb ought not be suspended in order to satisfy someone's convenience.

If woman is granted this kind of power over life, then God is dethroned and Woman has become god (small "g"), usurping the Lord of Life. Let it never be.

R.W.: p.176) "I am convinced that the fundamental thrust of OUR (emphasis by D.G.) anti-abortion efforts must consist of moral persuasion coupled with the offer of practical and compassionate assistance to those women confronted with unwanted pregnancies."

D.G.: Having articulated a number of pro-choice ideas as his own, Wennberg now identifies himself with pro-lifers.

As I mentioned earlier, Robert Wennberg is no proponent of abortion. Since he proposes moral persuasion and practical assistance for pregnant women, I conclude that Dr. Wennberg would rather assist than agonize. Therefore, it is my honor as a member of the pro-life community to embrace Dr. Wennberg as "one of us." Now, let's roll up our sleeves, join hands and hearts, and get to doing that practical stuff of which Professor Wennberg speaks.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Author's note to all Westmont students, alumni, faculty, staff and other Westmont friends

   I'll keep this note brief because I've already made the case against Life in the Balance, by Robert Wennberg. Here is what I want to say and I've said this to the president of the college already... Life in the Balance ought not be sold in the Westmont College bookstore. It should be available only in the Westmont College Voskuyl Library, as it currently is. But to continue to sell a pro-choice / pro-abortion book on a Christian college campus is a slap in the face to Almighty God. It is an endorsement of abortion in the midst of a community of young people who need the truth from God's Word, not reasons to excuse illicit conduct. Please join me in persuading Westmont College to remove Life in the Balance by Robert Wennberg from the college bookstore.

Thank you,

Douglas Gwinn

P.S. Professor Wennberg died in 2010, may he rest in peace. His former colleague Dr. Jim Taylor was kind enough to create and continues to host a Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Dr. Wennberg's life and works. These works would include the book which is the subject of this critique. I joined the group and after a couple of years I mentioned that I had met with Dr. Wennberg in his office in 1990 and that he was disappointed to learn from me that his book delivers the pro-choice argument, as I quoted his own book to him. Not only was my comment about this meeting deleted by Dr. James Taylor of the Westmont College Philosophy Department, but he also banned me from this Wennberg Facebook page. Apparently, in Jim Taylor's world, you are not allowed to shed the light of the Word of God onto the errors of a former Westmont professor, especially if that person was the "Professor of the Year" at Westmont College several times. God takes a back seat to Dr. Wennberg's errors which, if James Taylor has his way, will never be refuted on the Westmont campus. Before this author goes to heaven, it is my intention to convince Westmont College to stop selling this pro-abortion book.


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Updated on Mother's Day, May 10, 2015

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