Editorial (Spring 2023)

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“In mid-1993, more than a dozen leading Christian bioethicists gathered to assess the noticeable lack of explicit Christian engagement in the crucial bioethics area. This group sponsored a major conference in May 1994, ‘The Christian Stake in Bioethics’ and concurrently launched The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.”[1]

In June 2023, CBHD will hold its 30th annual conference. The years since the inception of the conference and The Center contain a rich history that stands as a testament to the many faithful bioethicists who have sought to fill the lack of “explicit Christian engagement” on bioethical issues. In order to honor this history and to press forward The Center’s mission to engage the pressing bioethical issues of our day through a distinctively Christian lens, this year’s conference theme is The Christian Stake in Bioethics Revisited: Crucial Issues of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Plenary speakers will include CBHD staff Matthew Eppinette (Executive Director) and Bryan Just (Event & Executive Services Manager) along with friends of The Center Peter Jaggard, Christina Bieber Lake, Adam Omelianchuk, Scott Rae, and Ambassador Morse H. Tan (who will present the inaugural Virtue Ethics Lecture). Join us June 22–24 for this celebratory event.

As a peer to the conference topic, and in celebration of this anniversary, this themed issue of Dignitas explores “Genuinely Christian Engagement in Bioethics.” Scott Stiegemeyer expounds on this theme from the perspective of a theological anthropology that is grounded in Church creed. Anna Vollema’s article focuses on the use of Scripture in bioethical decision making. Book reviews also return to Dignitas in this issue with Bridgett Jack Jeffries providing a review of Habits and Holiness: Ethics, Theology, and Biopsychology. In this book, author Ezra Sullivan explicates the ideas of Thomas Aquinas and his assertion that both the science and theology of habits should be considered in the cultivation of the Christian life. Heather Zeiger once again provides us with important bioethics news and updates. However, rather than the Covid timeline that has run for the past three years, Zeiger contributes a selection of key global health headlines stemming from The Center’s desire to address matters of global concern.

Bioethics, as it is worked out in the life of the church, is essential for an understanding of genuinely Christian bioethics. Scott Stiegemeyer provides an analysis through the lens of a theological anthropology anchored in the Apostles’ Creed. He states that we must build bioethics from a Christian ethos of what it means to be human. Thus, tenets of Christian orthodoxy, such as the Apostles’ Creed, provide a distinctively Christian framework for such a task. The first article of the Apostles’ Creed, that God is the maker of heaven and earth, provides a strong theological foundation for human dignity. Based on this truth, humankind is not only more than the sum of their parts (materialism), but we are also inherently the receivers of God’s grace. The second article, which provides a Christological anchor to the Christian faith, grounds bioethics in an understanding of redeemed humanity. Because Jesus exemplified redeemed humanity, the physical body is affirmed as good. Thus, human dignity is not grounded in any function or capacity of a person; rather, humanity shares in the glory of Christ, which affords respect. The final article of the Apostle’s Creed confesses the resurrection of the human body and presses bioethical concerns towards their eschatological end. Stiegemeyer writes, “If the human telos is to live in perfect communion with God, death is the great interruption from our fulfillment in Christ.” However, the bodily victory achieved through the resurrection affirms the body as a central part of human identity. Thus, he concludes by asserting that divine reconciliation must be central in bioethical discussions to promote healing and restoration in a world where moralism can fail.

The relationship of Scripture to bioethical reasoning is undoubtably complex. Anna Vollema seeks to add clarity to the discussion through exploring foundational theological assertions pertaining to Scripture and bringing them to bear upon the task of the ethicist in the formation of genuinely Christian bioethics. She utilizes an ontology of Scripture developed by John Webster, in which he asserts that Scripture is the redemption of the mundane whereby God reveals his divine presence and reconciles humanity to himself through it. The work of Kevin Vanhoozer is employed, displaying that the nature of biblical meaning is built upon the speech acts of the biblical authors, so that authorial intention—what the authors seek to do with words—must be the foundation of biblical interpretation. Vanhoozer further asserts that meaning at the divine level can also be understood in terms of speech acts; such divine communication is inherently Trinitarian and revelatory of what God is like. Upon this theological foundation, Vollema delves into the nature of biblical revelation as contextualized and canonized. Because Scripture is the redemption of the mundane, the reader must recognize the original context of Scripture as well as its diversity as God condescends to culture, historical circumstance, and the communicative methods of the time to self-reveal. However, through the whole of Scripture, biblical text is nuanced by biblical text so that revelation beyond time is communicated. Vollema then utilizes virtue ethics, particularly that of Moral Exemplar Theory, to display how God works through Scripture to redeem the reader. In the final section, Vollema’s assertions are integrated with those of John Kilner and Dennis Hollinger to provide guidance on the use of Scripture in bioethical decision making.

As The Center continues its mission to be a beacon of genuinely Christian bioethics amid an ever-changing bioethical landscape, we invite continued discussion and scholarship that exemplifies this pursuit. Dignitas will continue to include pieces that explore these ideas through our upcoming themed issue on socioeconomics and bioethics, followed by a special issue on what it means to be human. If you would like to respond to any of the pieces in this issue or in the issues to come, reach out to CBHD staff with an article proposal.


[1] Nigel M. De S. Cameron, “Center Celebrates First Anniversary,” Dignity 1, no. 1 (1995): 1.