White evangelicalism, 1975: Before the change (pt. 1)

White evangelicalism, 1975: Before the change (pt. 1) September 11, 2017

The following is from Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, by Norman L. Geisler. The book was originally published in 1971, by the evangelical publishing house Zondervan. This is from the third printing, in 1975.


Later, we can discuss the substance of this and unpack it in greater detail. For now, I just want to put this out there and to note that Geisler was, and still is, regarded by himself and by others as a conservative white evangelical. When this book came out, he was Chair of Philosophy of Religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which is to say he was very much representative of the institutional mainstream of white evangelicalism.

This book was not perceived, in 1975, as in any way controversial. It was perceived and received as a straightforward articulation of what conservative white evangelicals then believed and what was generally accepted as what such conservative white evangelicals ought to believe.

This is from pages 218-219 (italics original). The book’s discussion of abortion continues for several more pages, and I’ll be posting more of it for future reference, trying to stick to under-500-word chunks so as to avoid any potential copyright concerns. That further discussion includes Geisler’s reflections on “When Abortion Is Justified” as well as “When Abortion Is Not Justifiable.”

II. An Ethic of Abortion

Birth control is essentially an attempt to prevent more life from occurring. Abortion is an attempt to take life after it has begun to develop, which is a much more serious affair. Birth control is not murder (i.e., the taking of a human life), but what about abortion? Is it murder? What does the Bible have to say on the subject?

A. Abortion Is Not Necessarily Murder

The one clear thing which the Scriptures indicate about abortion is that it is not the same as murder. For when a natural abortion was precipitated by fighting, the guilty was not charged with murder.

1. An Unborn Baby Is Not Fully Human — According to the law of Moses, the killing of an unborn baby was not considered a capital offense. “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined …” (Ex. 21:22). In the case of killing a baby, child, or adult there was more than a fine exacted — the life of the murderer was demanded (Ex. 21:12). Apparently, the unborn baby was not considered fully human and, therefore, causing its death was not considered murder (i.e., the taking of an innocent human life).

2. An Unborn Baby Is Not Sub-Human — If an embryo is not fully human, then what is it? Is it sub-human? Can it be treated like an appendix — an expendable extension of the mother’s body? The answer to this is no. An unborn baby is a work of God which He is building into His own likeness. It is a being with an ever increasing value as it develops. The Psalmist wrote, “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb … Thou knows me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth” (Ps. 139:13-15). Perhaps too much should not be made of this poetical description of an embryo, but it seems reasonable to conclude that there is a big difference between an unborn baby and an appendix. The former can become a fully human being; the latter cannot. A human embryo is a potentially human being, and an appendix is not. There is a vast difference between that which can develop into an Einstein or a Beethoven and an appendage of the human anatomy. The former has immortality in the image and likeness of God before it; the latter is merely an expendable tissue of the human body. Indeed, Christ was the God-man from conception (Luke 1:31, 32).



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