Would this take the offense out of preaching against abortion?

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Craig

Puritan Board Senior
Here's an excerpt I found of a sermon delivered in a PCA church concerning the imago Dei...it is really quite superb, but then it seems to undercut itself later on. I'm purposefully leaving out the name of the preacher and the congregation...I just want to know if I'm crazy or if there's something disjointed about this, that the importance of the issue is, in the end, a little less offensive than it really is.

Note: this is not about a particular preacher nor is it about a particular church. I prefer input from pastors/elders/teachers. Part of me wonders if the pastoral impact of the last section could have possible negative results.

What happens in a society that got its idea of human rights from a belief in the image of God, that all people are created in the image of God? What happens to that society when as a society as a whole it loses the idea of God? You see, what happens when you have a secular society in which most of the cultural elite say "well, we don't believe in God anymore, and therefore we don't believe human beings were made in the image of God, we just evolved, they are very complex organisms?"

Now, how do you ground human rights in the worth of the individual human being? What does that worth consist of? What makes a human being worthy of rights now that you don't believe in the image of God anymore?
And you realize that there is a huge problem right now in the philosophy, you might say in the upper reaches of the academic world, of the Western nations, Western culture. Because that's the question. If we don't believe in the image of God, this idea, what makes human beings worthy of rights and therefore protection? And here's what they are all saying. They are saying, if we don't believe in the image of God then we have to ground human rights in what they call capacities. You understand that?

The reason a human being deserves rights, protections, is because they have the capacity, they have the capacity to reason, they have self-consciousness, they have the capacity to make moral choices, they know right from wrong, they have the capacity for what some professors call "preferences." And because they have reason, and the ability to make choices and they have preferences, they are moral agents and therefore they are capable, or they are worthy of protection; they have rights.

But there is a huge problem with this whole approach, the secular approach to rights. It's huge. Nicholas Wolterstorff's new book on justice brings this out.

Peter Singer, at Princeton University, a prominent philosopher and ethicist, shows the problem and here's how he argues. He says he believes that's right, human rights are grounded in capacities. And that's why Peter Singer says I believe the Supreme Court was right when it said abortion was alright.

Now what was the reason that the Supreme Court said abortion was okay?

Now everyone gets so quiet here. Because the life in the womb doesn't have capacities. They can't make choices. They can't reason, they can't tell right from wrong, they can't live apart from the mother. They don't have capacities and therefore they don't have rights. And here's what Peter Singer says, yes he agrees with that. But if that's true let's keep something in mind. Born infants don't have those capacities either. They can't reason; they have no preferences yet. They can't make moral choices and neither can senile old people. And neither can very mentally handicapped people. And therefore, none of them .... if you believe abortion is alright, then you really can't protect the rights of any of these other people because their rights are based on capacities.

Now, do you realize how many people are furious at Peter Singer? They are furious. And every so often there is a big article in the New York Times about somebody who just fulminates against him.

Do you know why they are furious? Because he's right. He's right. If you don't believe in the image of God, what are you going to ground human rights in? You're going to ground it in capacities. If you can't protect the unborn you can't protect the newly born, you can't protect the mentally handicapped, you can't protect old people. It's a fact. It's logical. If you go back to the beginning of the Christian church, here's what you saw: they came into a Greco-Roman world that also grounded the idea of rights on capacities. Aristotle said that some races are too emotional, they couldn't reason because they didn't have the capacity for higher reason. They deserved to be slaves. And in the Greco-Roman world you had slavery, you had terrible poverty, you had lots of abortion (it was very dangerous then, but it still happened), you had infanticide, it was perfectly legal, especially girl babies died of exposure. And you took the elderly and sick poor people and just let them die. And that was all legal; and it was done all the time.

But the Christians came along and they believed in the Imago Dei. And because they believed in the image of God, from the beginning they were champions ... well, first of all, they were totally against abortion, from the beginning. Because if you believe in the image of God you have to be. You have to be. You know, I mean, if human life is good, then nascent human life has got to be good. But they were also against infanticide. They were not one issue people. They cared for the poor. They cared for women, they didn't make widows ... at that time most people said that if you are a widow, you've got to remarry. And the Christians said not if you don't want to, we'll support you. They were champions of women; they were champions of orphans; they were champions of the weak; they were champions of the poor. And they were against abortion. And they put the rest of the culture to shame because of their belief in the sanctity of life.

So that eventually, the whole Western world adopted the idea of the image of God. Because when you believe in the image of God, the circle of protected life expands. But if you don't believe in the image of God, if you only believe in capacities or some other trumped up approach to why we believe in human rights, the circle will continually contract. It will get smaller and smaller, and fewer and fewer people will be protected. You see how incredible, crucial, important, the image of God teaching is.

* * *

And by the way, one more thing before moving on. I took most of my time on my first point, don't be afraid. But remember all year we've been talking about what would ***** look like as a community? Here's what it would look like: what if we took the image of God seriously? First of all, regardless of what the law of the land says, we would know abortion, except to save the life of a mother, is a violation of the image of God. Number one.

Number two, the women who have had abortions, and the men who have helped them have abortions, would not feel like scum, because James 3:9 says you don't disdain, you don't demonize, you don't curse, you offer grace to everybody. You see if we believed in the image of God and say abortion is wrong, we wouldn't make women who have had abortions feel terrible, like scum or something. And we wouldn't be single issue people, we would be for all of the poor and all of the weak and all of the marginal. And we would be a very unusual community, wouldn't we? Now let's be that.
 
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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I think point 2 is more about dehumanizing sinners rather than pretending that the sin itself isn't reprehensible. I think the whole point he makes is very sound prior to that last point. I might have made the point differently at the end but what precedes it is very good.

I've made the point many times that Romans 1 demonstrates that progression: forsake the knowledge of God -> all sorts of crimes against those who bear His image. The minor prophets are full of this progression. They begin with the charge that the Nation is idolatrous and then what is the fruit: injustice and a disregard for the downtrodden.

True religion cares for widows and orphans because they bear the image of God and not because of the benefit they offer us in return. It's the same with the unborn.

-----Added 1/7/2009 at 09:42:25 EST-----

So, getting back to point two (sorry I got distracted for a moment), there is a tendency when we are repulsed by a sin to forget that the sinner still bears the image of God. As I understand his last point, we would do well to remember that even the sinner bears some dignity not for their intrinsic worth but because of the extrinsic quality of the image they bear. We sometimes tend to turn others into monsters instead of recognizing the filth that Christ had to wade through to get to us.
 

he beholds

Puritan Board Doctor
I think he is correct. I don't think it is our job to make those women and men feel like ****--I think we should work toward their restoration, instead, while working to prevent new abortions.

-----Added 1/7/2009 at 09:50:38 EST-----

whoa--I did not write a bad word there, just so you all know!
 

Craig

Puritan Board Senior
I think point 2 is more about dehumanizing sinners rather than pretending that the sin itself isn't reprehensible. I think the whole point he makes is very sound prior to that last point. I might have made the point differently at the end but what precedes it is very good.

I've made the point many times that Romans 1 demonstrates that progression: forsake the knowledge of God -> all sorts of crimes against those who bear His image. The minor prophets are full of this progression. They begin with the charge that the Nation is idolatrous and then what is the fruit: injustice and a disregard for the downtrodden.

True religion cares for widows and orphans because they bear the image of God and not because of the benefit they offer us in return. It's the same with the unborn.

-----Added 1/7/2009 at 09:42:25 EST-----

So, getting back to point two (sorry I got distracted for a moment), there is a tendency when we are repulsed by a sin to forget that the sinner still bears the image of God. As I understand his last point, we would do well to remember that even the sinner bears some dignity not for their intrinsic worth but because of the extrinsic quality of the image they bear. We sometimes tend to turn others into monsters instead of recognizing the filth that Christ had to wade through to get to us.

I completely agree...I wonder, however, if point 2 allows for real redemption for the abortionist and the woman who had the abortion. I don't think we should unneccessarily drag our feet on the offensiveness of abortion...i.e. how offended *we* are by it, but the moral gravity of it being clearly acknowledged would glorify God's grace.

You, for example, immediately recognize the glory of Christ and His sacrifice. That is the product of repentance. I don't see that being the driving force of point 2. The tender conscience, by God's Spirit, would likely be driven to their knees, but that would be in spite of what was said, not because of it. That would be the Spirit superceding what was said, not attending to it.

In the end, I'm left thinking the rejection of the Imago Dei is more of an intellectual problem than a moral one. At least, that's the conclusion I walk away with after reading point two of the sermon. Along with that, easy believism and the gravity of economic poverty and not the poverty of our souls.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I'm just trying to give him the benefit of the doubt based on the whole of the presentation. The rejection of the image of God is both moral and intellectual as the moral affects the intellectual.
 
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