InterVarsity Press, the publishing division of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), has halted further sales of the controversial book Brave New People. The book—written by medical biologist D. Gareth Jones—drew wide protest from prolifers who found Jones’s ideas on therapeutic abortion unacceptable.

The decision to withdraw the book was made by IVCF president James McLeish in response to numerous calls and letters of protest. Some donors quit giving to IVCF, and a number of others said they were reconsidering their financial support. The book generated controversy among Inter-Varsity staff workers and other employees, said IVCF public relations director Jimmy Locklear.

In a letter responding to persons who registered protests, McLeish states, “We did not publish, nor did Dr. Jones write, the book with the intention of supporting abortion in any way. However, the book is being perceived by the Christian public that way. Therefore, rather than detract from the campus ministry of reaching students for Jesus Christ to which Inter-Varsity is called, I am withdrawing the book.” It was the first time in the 43-year history of InterVarsity Press (IVP) that a book had been withdrawn.

Jones conceded in the preface to his book that his “stance on certain issues may appear liberal.” Despite his controversial views, the book—published in March—was endorsed by several leading evangelical thinkers including theologian Carl F. H. Henry and ethicist Lewis Smedes. Nevertheless, some opponents boycotted IVP materials. In its newsletter, the Christian Action Council (CAC) implied that InterVarsity advocated abortion on demand.

At this summer’s Christian Booksellers Association convention, prolife advocates distributed an open letter to IVP written by author and lecturer Franky Schaeffer. In the letter, Schaeffer said he is glad his father, the late Francis A. Schaeffer, was not alive to witness “this recent travesty, this amalgam of dishonesty published by a company largely built on the money made from his books.”

Defenders of the book say it has been unfairly portrayed by the prolife community. “This is essentially an antiabortion book,” Henry said. “Ninety-five percent of all abortions would be considered immoral by Gareth Jones.” He said banishing Jones from the evangelical community would be similar to excluding those who do not hold to the six-day theory of Creation.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY advisory editor Kenneth Kantzer, who wrote an endorsement for Brave New People, also said the book has been misjudged. In his endorsement, he said the book contains valuable information, but he made it clear that he did not agree with its conclusions. He said InterVarsity made a mistake in publishing the book since it does not represent the views of most of IVP’s constituents.

Jones, an anatomy professor at Otago University in New Zealand, parts company with staunch antiabortionists on the issue of when personhood begins. He acknowledges that a fetus is a human being. However, he distinguishes between human life and human personhood. Jones theorizes that there is no specific point at which personhood begins. He posits that a person is the product of a continuum, and that the processes of this continuum neither begin at conception nor end at birth.

Jones has a high view of fetal life. He classifies a fetus as a “potential person” on its way to achieving full personhood. He writes that there are never grounds for “lightly disposing of the fetus.” Yet he states that while “our view of the fetus should be a high one, it should not be an absolute one.”

In his book, Jones speaks out against abortion on demand. He does contend, however, that in some “extreme circumstances” abortion may be the best option. He cites as an example a fetus with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Children with this abnormality mutilate themselves compulsively, biting and destroying fingers and lip tissue. They vomit frequently, may scream incessantly, and usually don’t live more than 10 years. Even in these cases, Jones does not say abortion is “right,” but that it might be “the least tragic of a number of tragic options.”

His critics balk at the factors he uses to determine which circumstances are extreme. Among them are the degree of a fetus’s handicap, the pain the child might endure, and the financial and psychological status of the family into which the child would be born. Critics note also that since Jones does not ascribe full personhood even to babies and young children, he opens the door, at least in theory, to infanticide.

In a telephone interview, the author said he has been misunderstood. “I would not under any circumstances support infanticide,” he said. Jones said that in writing his book he considered such factors as the mental health of the mother “only in the context of severe genetic disorders, such as anencephaly (a condition in which major portions of a fetus’s brain are missing).” He said he wrote the book to inform Christians about ethical issues related to the latest medical technology. In other chapters he addresses such issues as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. “To lift one chapter from its context is to misunderstand the purpose of the book.”

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Nevertheless, CAC executive director Curt Young said the book will cause “Christians of weak conscience to stumble and commit the sin of abortion.… InterVarsity is accountable for what they publish.

“This book represents the proabortion arguments of the 1960s, baptized in Christian terminology,” Young said. “The only public policy that can come out of Jones’s position is … abortion on demand.”

Joseph Scheidler, whose Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League picketed IVP headquarters last month, said Brave New People, because of its subtlety, “is one of the most blatant proabortion books I’ve ever seen.”

IVP editor James Sire contended that even though Jones’s view is in the minority, there is no evangelical consensus on the issue.

The branch of IVP in England, which originated and co-published Brave New People, will continue to sell the book. Overseas, most of the protest has come from prochoice advocates who think Jones’s view on abortion is too conservative. IVP in England is controlled by Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, which has no formal ties with IVCF.

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