Kathryn Butler writes an article for The Gospel Coalition that looks at modern medicine. In the article she talks about how medicine is “spiritually sick” and that even with modern ethics its still lacking. As I read this article I have concerns about doctors being evangelists and lines bleeding between professions. Chaplains and pastors have a role and can do that job. But let doctor’s focus on their role of serving the patient.
“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.“
“Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”
This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 NLT
San Francisco Bay Bridge in the fog.
Recently at The Gospel Coalition there was an article by Kathryn Butler that deserved a response. This is not the first time I have tangoed with Kathryn on the blogosphere. A while back she wrote a post at Desiring God about complementarianism that I wrote a response. You can read Kathryn’s biography in that post and the article in, “Critique on Kathryn Butler’s “From Medical Doctor to Stay-at-Home Mom” at Desiring God as Coming from the Son of a Neurosurgeon.” The article from Kathryn is called, “The Hospital Is Not Heaven: Discerning Secular Thought in Medicine.”
Overview of Kathryn’s Article
Kathryn’s article seeks to remind people that hospital is not heaven and that medicine while a gift from God is a profession that is secular due to its roots. She talks about how medicine can be corrupted and speaks of an example from abortion. Modern medicine traces its roots to the enlightenment and reminds people that Hippocrates who is considered the father of modern medicine is not a Christian. Then she looks at what doctors can be capable of in discussing the Tuskegee experiment which was exposed in the 1970’s. She then leans upon the ethical contributions by Thomas Beauchamp and James Childress who developed the four tenants of modern medicine in which modern ethics rests. Those four tenants are: non-maleficence, benevolence, respect for autonomy, and justice . Despite that Kathryn states the following:
We can attribute much virtue in medical care to Beauchamp and Childress’s emphasis on human dignity. But Scripture warns us of the limits of human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25), and advises us to trust in God rather than our own understanding (Prov. 3:5–6). As Beauchamp and Childress’s principles hang on public unanimity rather than divine authority, we expect their manifestations to shift and warp over time. A medical system based on societal consensus rather than firm grounding in the truth will bend to the winds of change.
She then discusses Beauchamp and Childress and explains how autonomy can become an idol. This is what she says in her article:
Yet the Bible diverges from secular medical ethics on the purpose of our God-given autonomy. From the biblical standpoint, God gives us freedom so that we may lead lives that point to his character; our freedom comes with the expectation that we exercise it for his glory. “And whatever you do, in word or deed,” Paul writes, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). While we remain free in Christ, the cross must temper our conduct (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
In contrast, autonomy divested of its biblical context turns away from God and toward the self. The right to choose reigns supreme, regardless of whether our choices reflect our identity in Christ. The chief goal in life shifts from serving God to fulfilling one’s desires. Freedom becomes an ultimate good, an end in itself, rather than a vehicle to glorify the Lord.
Autonomy led to sin in the Garden of Eden according to Kathryn. She also talks about how modern medicine is “spiritually sick.” What will that autonomy do for that patient who wants spiritual support? What about the ethical situation of assisted suicide? She calls for discernment in hospital corridors. This is what Kathryn says.
All this does not mean we should distrust doctors or shy away from the modern remedies with which God has blessed us. Contrary to media depictions of doctors as greedy and power-hungry, most physicians pursue medicine out of a genuine passion for helping others, often at great personal cost. And modern medicine literally saves lives. At its best, it reflects the mercy, and love for our neighbors, to which Christ calls us as his disciples. Medicine is a blessing from the Lord, and we should accept it with heartfelt gratitude.
Why Kathryn Doesn’t Believe the Lord is Sovereign
Despite the way Kathryn frames her closing statement there is one take away in her article that speaks volumes. Kathryn who is in the Neo-Calvinist movement shows that she doesn’t believe that the Lord is sovereign over medicine and the medical field. Her concerns reflect more of her view of medicine. In the end due to weak faith she believes in a limited “God”. What reveals that is how she views the topics of abortion, medical treatment and more. If she believe the Lord is sovereign she would trust God in all circumstances. Whether it be the cancer patient asking something difficult to the patient asking for an abortion. After all even if those issues did not exist there would be other ones that would be challenging her world view and theology.
The Physicians Should be Judged on their Capability and Training Not on Their Faith Plus Medicine is Not as Corrupt as Depicted
Kathryn seems to want physicians who align to her view of Neo-Calvinist theology. If a physician reads John Piper or immersed in Augustine’s City of God then that will be good enough. While that is not explicitly stated that it what is conveyed in the article. If only the right people with the right view of God are in the hospital corridors then all will be well. You will have the right people with the right “ethical” understanding. What should happen is that medical professionals should be judged and selected by their medical qualifications. When my father was dealing with a brain tumor I wanted the best trained physician to treat my Dad. I wanted someone who is qualified, knows what he is doing and is sensitive to the treatment of a medical condition. As it turns out the neurosurgeon who treated my Dad was Jewish. He did a good job and helped prolong his life even though the brain tumor was terminal. But my appreciation stemmed from his medical training.
The other factor that bothered me is the description of medicine being “spiritually sick.” To the contrary as a firm believer in modern medicine holds a lot of potential. While Kathryn Butler did state that medicine is a gift from God she later undermined that position by speaking about ethical issues from a certain perspective. Modern medicine has accomplished a lot in its history. From vaccines, to treatments of cancer and more. One day I believe there will be a vaccine for HIV. And medical diseases which kill people today will be better managed in the years to come. Including brain tumors which took the life of my Dad. Medicine is not spiritually sick as described by Kathryn. Instead its robust and has a lot of potential. And even with situations like abortion as she described in her opening what she does not state is that from time to time there could be a medical condition that makes an abortion necessary for health reasons. That doesn’t mean I like it but in dealing with the facts that needs to be considered if that arises.
Why I Would Not Seek Medical Care from Kathryn Butler
According to the description at The Gospel Coalition Kathryn left clinical practice to home school her children. After reading this article I am grateful that she removed herself from clinical practice. What Kathryn is doing is what a chaplain or a pastor should be doing. Doctors need to be focused on the medical issues before them. If a person has a spiritual issue then hospitals provide chaplains. Roles are defined and I become nervous when the roles bleed over. For a doctor to be pushing this in an article at The Gospel Coalition shows the problems in Kathryn’s theology. And on top of that she leaves out one of the biggest problems. She speaks of modern medicine being “spiritually sick.” I would point to the organizations she is publishing her material through as being spiritually sick. She is concerned with abortion but is she concerned with child sex abuse and how The Gospel Coalition helped cover up the problem by defending C.J. Mahaney. What about John Piper from Desiring God defending Mahaney. Physicians are trained to spot sexual or domestic abuse, why does Kathryn Butler have no problem, in publishing articles in questionable entities? She is concerned with the child in the womb, what about after its born? Or if there is “sound doctrine” does that make everything okay? Kathryn in articles like this does not exhibit sound judgement. That is part of the reason why I would not want her to be my physician. If I am being treated by a doctor I want them to devote their time to the science of saving life. Not be second guessing them based off what they profess when it comes to theology.