White evangelicalism, 1975: Before the change (3)

Here’s the next little bit from Norman Geisler’s 1975 Zondervan publication, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues.

Let me be clear here that I’m not intending to single out Geisler. Quite the opposite. The point is that there is nothing at all unusual about the views he expresses here or the reasoning he offers. This is what most white evangelicals believed at the time — people who regarded themselves, and who were regarded by others, as conservative.

Nor am I posting this material as any kind of point-scoring gotcha! game. It is not specifically meaningful that conservative white evangelicals have changed their mind and changed their way of thinking since 1975. Changing your mind is often a good thing. It can be evidence that learning and thinking have taken place. We’ll discuss this in more detail later to examine the causes and explanations for this particular change of mind, and to evaluate whether or not this change was a positive one. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t done for good reasons, and the outcome has been a disaster — spiritually even more than culturally and politically.) But that’s not what I want you to see here, today.

The point of posting this material is just to show that the change happened. What conservative white evangelicals believe and say in 2017 is very different from what they believed and said in 1975. And what they said back then is, in their circles, no longer allowed to be believed, no longer allowed to be spoken, and no longer even allowed to be considered or entertained as a possibility.

This change has become so paramount for white evangelical doctrine and practice that they needed to rewrite the Bible to accommodate it. That happened. The most Bible-y Bible Christians who ever Bibled took on a new core belief that was such a departure from their previous outlook that they took it upon themselves to change the words of their inerrant, infallible sacred text.

It’s impossible to overstate how huge that is. Even more so, it’s impossible to overstate the enormity of the fact that this was done — the Bible itself was changed — without anyone bothering to notice that it happened.

Geisled4

This is from pages 220-221.

C. When Abortion Is Justified

Abortion is neither the murder of a human person nor a mere operation on or ejection of an appendage of the female body. It is a sober responsibility to take the life of a would-be human being. The only morally justifiable circumstances for abortion are those in which there is a higher moral principle which can be served.

1. Abortion for Therapeutic Reasons — When it is a clear-cut case of either taking the life of the unborn baby or letting the mother die, then abortion is called for. An actual life (the mother) is of more intrinsic value than a potential life (the unborn). The mother is a fully developed human; the baby is an undeveloped human. And an actually developed human is better than one which has the potential for full humanity but has not yet developed. Being fully human is a higher value than the mere possibility of becoming fully human. For what is has more value than what may be. Just as the flower has more value than the germinating seed (a potential flower), so the mother is of more value than the embryo. She is a mature, free, autonomous subject, whereas the unborn has only the potential to become such.

The question may be raised here as to whether some potential humans are more valuable than some actual humans. What if the unborn will turn out to be an Albert Schweitzer and the mother is a derelict? What if the mother is a harlot and the unborn will turn out to be a missionary? One might be tempted to agree that a potentially good human life is better than an actually bad human life, if he could be sure in advance that the baby would turn out to be good. But this would require a kind of omniscience which only God has. Hence, only God could make a decision based on a complete knowledge of the end or results. Finite men must be content with the immediate consequences based on intrinsic values as they see them. On this basis an actual life (evil or not) is of more intrinsic value than a potential life.

Furthermore, God does not judge the value of an individual life by what a man does with it (evil or good) but by what it is. Jesus loved Judas even though He knew Judas would become infamously evil by his betrayal. A human life has value as such because it is made in the image of God — it has perfections and powers as God has, whether these are used to glorify God or not. Hence, when the choice is being made between the bad mother and a potentially good embryo, one must prefer the former to the latter on the grounds of intrinsic value, not pragmatic value.

If one were to carry through the logic that good men are better than evil ones, one could justify a host of inhumanities to criminals and so-called “lesser elements” of the race. Men who perform evil acts are not thereby intrinsically evil. Their intrinsic value as humans must not be judged by what extrinsic acts they have performed. They are not to be judged simply on the basis of what good they do for others but for the good that they are as God’s creatures. Hence, the higher intrinsic value of a mother must not be determined by what she does but by what she is. And the mother’s actual humanity is of more value than the unborn’s potential for it.

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