The Image of God, Personhood and the Embryo – Calum McKellar

I have to admit, I was excited to get my hands on this book! I had been wrestling with this very subject a year or two ago, and was frustrated at the lack of good Evangelical writing on the subject, so whenever I stumbled across the details [in Triple Helix, if I remember correctly] I was anxious to have it in my hands, and was duly provided thereof by Colin the Book. For the princely sum of £35 (steep, but worth it, now £15 on the publisher’s website, however!)

I can’t overestimate the value and pertinence of this book by Prof McKellar. It deals with an issue which is so vital, yet so poorly dealt with to date – namely, how we may see the image of God reflected in the unborn child. His thesis is that, from conception, the child in the womb is fully human, valuable, and reflecting the image of God, and worthy of protection and respect. He painstakingly charts the historical development of various strands through the centuries up to the present day – the moral status of the embryo, how we understand what is meant by the image of God, what it means to be a person, how God works through creation and how that applies to the developing child, and then, (the highlight for me) examining the implications of the incarnation of Jesus for how we consider the child in the womb. He goes on to look at the challenges raised by modern ethicists to these views of the unborn child, and provides counter-arguments to deal with the most up-to-date theories, and in a useful appendix looks at some of the new challenges faced with scientific advances, for example human-animal chimeras, single and multi-parent embryos. 

This is not an easy book to read at times, the writing can be flowery, and some of the quotations from modern theological works difficult to folllow, but I can’t overstate the importance of the subject matter and the thoroughness of his examination of the topics. It’s not just dry theorising either – at times there is very clear advice and direction, with a careful working through of the implications of certain positions. I have not come across a book which so clearly examines Patristic and Roman Catholic sources, but also recent Evangelical and Reformed writings on these subjects with such care.

This is a tremendously reassuring book – knowing that the current orthodox position on human life being recognised and present from conception has been held since at least the 6th Century adds weight to our arguments, and having so winsomely explained about the relevance of Jesus Christ being fully human at the point of conception was a delightful encouragement in the midst of such an adverse political and social climate currently experienced in Northern Ireland.

For me, it comes down to this – do we believe Jesus Christ is fully God, and fully human? If so, at what point did he become human? McKellar leaves us with only one option – at the moment of conception. If our Saviour was human from that point, then all human life needs to be considered from the moment of conception as valuable, and as healthcare workers we need to consider the implications for our practice, and speak out at the atrocities and injustices around us.

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