Book review: 21st Century Science & Health

by Cheryl Petersen


Allow me a few clarifications before I begin this review. Then forgive me for a much longer review than I usually prepare.

[1] This book is about Christian Science (The First Church of Christ, Scientist), not Scientology. Don’t confuse the two! The former was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, while Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1953. Sorry, People magazine readers, this will not be a discussion about the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (Cruise is a celebrated member of Scientology).

[2] Cheryl Petersen undertakes the ambitious and somewhat frightening task of updating Mary Baker Eddy’s book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, rewriting it in contemporary language. Science and Health is, after all, the “voice of Truth to this age,” containing the full statement of Christian Science and the Science of healing through Mind. I asked Cheryl about her authority to rewrite a religion’s founding document, and she replied with some humility in an email that I will hopefully be able to share in a later post.

[3] My review is neither an endorsement nor condemnation of Christian Science, or of any controversies surrounding its healing practices. I do not have an opinion on Christian Science health care or any other contemporary issue relating to the religion, for I have not studied any statistics or the present-day practice. This is a review of only Petersen’s book.

So what is Christian Science? You may have heard only that it emphasizes healing, and this is not off the mark at all. Indeed, physical healing is inextricably intertwined within the core of the belief system. Christian Science “teachings are confirmed by healing. When, on the strength of these instructions, you are able to banish a severe illness, the cure shows that you understand this teaching and therefore you receive the blessing of Truth.”

And how do Christian Scientists heal? Well, not by slight-of-hand or by human mind over matter. Certainly not by surgery, drugs, or hypnotism. Healing is a matter of convincing the patient—providing a proper scientific argument, if you will—of the reality of Mind and its superiority over the illusion of matter. The cause of all so-called disease is mental. One disease is no more real than another. Mary Baker Eddie states that she never knew a patient who did not recover when the belief in the disease was gone. Quiet the patient’s fears, and show the patient that the conquest over sickness, as well as over sin, depends on mentally destroying all belief in temporal pleasure or pain. If you succeed in wholly removing the fear, your patient is healed.

It may be possible to garner hints about Christian Science beliefs by noting the words that Petersen chooses to capitalize, implying divinity: Science, Life, Soul, Mind, Truth, Love, God, Infinity, Principle. But in each case, the words must be examined carefully in how they are used. The term “Science,” properly understood, refers only to the laws of God and to Spirit’s government of the universe, including all people. Divine Science isn’t connected to what is called the hard or soft sciences (e.g. chemistry, biology, physics, and psychology). Divine Science rises above physical theories, excludes matter, resolves things into thoughts, and replaces the objects of physical sense with spiritual ideas. “Soul” is not an individual entity trapped within your body. It is part of a greater whole. “Life” is, well, where do I begin?

I cannot tell whether Mary Baker Eddy was 100 years ahead of her time or 1700 years behind. In many ways, Christian Science borders on both Gnosticism and New Age, though MBE had heard of neither and would denounce both. She marched to her own drummer, and quite successfully I might add. I think I understand correctly that she imagines humanity on a journey to enlightenment. Today, we eat right and exercise to retain our health, and she considers it foolishness to do otherwise. But we are learning about the living Spirit. Tomorrow, in that perfect day of understanding, we shall neither eat to live nor live to eat. Death will be conquered, eternal life begun, for we will no longer retain the mindset that we must die.

It should be also emphasized that Christian Science builds atop the foundation laid by the Bible. Mary Baker Eddy claims the Bible as her only authority, though her understanding differs from most Christians. Jesus, for example, is not God, but a human being who presented Christ, the true idea of God by healing the sick and the sinner and overcoming the power of death. Says MBE, “I will not lose faith in Christianity, nor will Christianity lose its hold on me.” Indeed, Christ’s resurrection lays the foundation for Divine Healing, for it is the ultimate proof. Jesus did not die, for Spirit is eternal, he merely overcame the illusion of matter. Hidden in the narrow tomb, Jesus remained alive, demonstrating the power of Spirit to overrule mortal materialist perceptions. Here we arrive at that troublesome question again: What is Life? The short answer: “Life is Spirit, never in nor of matter.” Another hint: “You will know Life when you stop knowing time.” Eeek, I better go open my Eastern Meditations book.

MBE reasons that she has proven the ultimate Truth in Divine Science because of her success in healing. The premises of Christian Science, including the unreality of matter and the reality and singularity of the Divine Mind, must be accepted then by deductive reasoning. “We admit the whole, because a part is proved and that part illustrates and proves the entire Principle.”

As to Petersen’s efforts, her book is well-written and captivating, managing to both highlight the origins of a religious movement and strike a chord with my own life and beliefs. I did feel a little frustrated at its redundancy. I think 150 pages could be pulled from the center without losing any substance. This repetition (as intentional as it may be) is what drops my rating from five stars to four. I also do not believe anyone can fully grasp the nature of this religion from a book; it’s unlikely that an outsider trying to understand will be fully sated.  

In closing, I confess I’m no expert on Christian Science though I’ve tried to convey the basics as described herein, so I invite practitioners to correct me where I have misrepresented your teachings! Thank you for sharing, Cheryl!



  1. I’m no expert either but I enjoyed this interesting review.

  2. thanks, Sheila, this post has had a ton of readers…who’d a thunk Christian Science would get this much attention?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Incredible! Superbly significant review. I am going to saving your web-site immediately. Thanks a bunch!

  6. good review. you comprehend christian science. thanks for bringing to the surface a few of those deep seated c.s truths not easily found in their sites; but rather books


  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, When to Pray | The Dubious Disciple - […] Christian Science practitioners who dreamed up the experiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. See for more information about …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>