Defend the change, don’t deny that it happened

Defend the change, don’t deny that it happened March 23, 2012

Things change. I change. You change. Seasons change. Fortune changes.

And theology changes.

Some changes are for the better. Some changes are for the worse. Many changes don’t fit neatly into classifications of “better” or “worse.” But for better or worse or neither, change is a constant.

In two recent posts here on the subject of American evangelicals and abortion, I have noted that the current stance of zealous condemnation of abortion reflects a big change. (See: “The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal” and “Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations.”) Look back 35 years and you won’t find evangelicals saying, thinking, believing or voting the same way. Roe v. Wade did not spark this change, it came later than that and apart from that. But something did, in fact, change.

Now, many of my fellow evangelicals approve of this change. They embrace it and accept it as a Good Thing. It is, they insist, a change for the better. I disagree, but I respect that this is a reasonable argument. It is a thing that can be argued.

We are, after all, evangelicals. Radical change — 180-degree reversal and repentance — is at the core of who we say we are. “I once was lost, but now am found / Was blind, but now I see,” etc.

It is possible for me to achieve disagreement with those who believe this change was for the better. I can argue that this newfound centrality of opposition to abortion as a core principle of identity has been an unholy disaster for American Christianity. And they can argue that, on the contrary, it represents a new, good, vibrant mission and a reclamation of ancient and essential Christian truths.

But achieving disagreement isn’t an option with those who claim not that this was a change for the better, but that it was not a change at all. That is an unreal and unserious claim. “We have always been at war with Eastasia.”

One specific change I noted recently involved the translation of Exodus 21. Again, it’s perfectly valid to argue that this is a change for the better. One can argue that the new translation is superior to the former one — that the original Hebrews misunderstood the original Hebrew. One can argue that the change was an urgently needed correction. But one cannot credibly assert that nothing has changed — that we are not now reading a different translation of this passage than we were reading 40 years ago.

The change can be defended, but it should not be denied.

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