Revisiting Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

I originally posted the following article four years ago, here, and with the current discussion of Planned Parenthood and the renewed cultural debate on abortion this is a particularly relevant post to revisit. What follows is an unedited reposting of my 2011 article followed by a brief addendum to clarify the original conclusion.

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Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

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Addendum 2015-08-05

The church is a global reality and when I address issues, such as this one, my primary concern is how the global church should respond. And our primary response and concern must be proclaiming and incarnating the Gospel (Ephesians 6:10-20). After all abortions do not occur simply because they are legal or because of Planned Parenthood. No, they occur because of our insatiable desire for control, for sovereignty; they occur because humans, both as individuals and as humanity, a global culture, are unflinchingly committed to our rebellion against the true Sovereign. That must be our first and primary response. Any other primary response is, as I said four years ago, incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

Now, I still have little patience for evangelical political activism. As Ed Stetzer lamented in Breaking the Missional Code, ” For many, evangelicals have become a voting block rather than a spiritual force” (2006:9). Political activism alone, defunding Planned Parenthood for example, would only be as beneficial as God bringing the Jews out of Egypt without also bringing them to Himself. But in 2011 I was unbalanced and failed to recognize the uniqueness of the American situation. The global church must respond with the Gospel, as in many places political change is not possible in the same way that it is in the United States. The church mush make the gospel our primary concern, we must make the truth known, we must seek to see men and women reconciled to the God whose image their born and unborn children bear.

At the same time when there is opportunity seek political change we must do so humbly, with a knowledge that political change is important but not ultimate. God is redeeming the whole of creation from the cancerous cells growing in your body and the raging of the seas to the political and cultural structures of man. He is, and ultimately will, set those things right, their rebellion will be brought to an end, and the earth will be renewed and inhabited by the new humanity. But the renewal of creation is inextricably tied to the reconciliation of God and man (Romans 8:18ff.). So feel free to contact the political powers that be and seek to persuade those who make those decisions but do so knowing that what your neighbor who is considering an abortion needs most is not legislation but reconciliation.

I hope this was a beneficial read and I hope that this addendum has clarified what was lacking in my previous conclusion.

Biblical Authorship… A Divine Message With Human Personality

It is an amazing thing to think about the authorship of the Bible. To think about a man writing it, under the influence of the Holy Spirit is one thing but to think about everything that has happened aside of writing is even better. We have found numerous scrolls and pieces of ancient manuscripts that prove the age old book dates back to the period it claims to be written during. This helps scholars find misprinted or mistranslated words in the text and make for a better and more reliable translation. The amazing thing about all of this is that it is not man’s doing or finding it is God’s plan in revealing these things on his timing.

Divine Preservation

Some ask why we have not found any originals but just copies and manuscripts that are years younger than when the original authors composed. The only answer that is both logical and biblical is that God did not intend for those to be found because he knew the prideful and selfish ways of his people. He knew that if we did have the originals we would worship the pieces of papyrus and stone rather than the words engraved on them. We see this in both the biography of Israel in their worship of hand made idols as well as the Athenian worship of comets and other galactic objects. In our finite minds, we would hold to those pieces of paper as if they were God himself, we would worship them and revert to the days before the protestant reformation, the days when artifacts and icons were worshiped by Catholicism.

Divine Authorship

It is hard to comprehend that God could do such a thing through sinful humans, that he could use them to compose a book that is both flawless and without error. From start to finish it is both one macro-narrative as well as multiple short-stories that add up and fit perfectly like a puzzle forming a beautiful image from its tiny pieces. The way I think about it is descriptive of a painter. A painter sets out to put together a beautiful painting of a landscape with different brushes and colors. Although the painter has a plan of what he wants the final portrait to look like, he doesn’t have an exact image in his head because each brush and color has its own distinct personality and style. God has used many people and many stories the put together His law, His Gospel, and His narrative, but the big picture is an image that could only have been conceived by God Himself.

Rethinking the Seeker Paradigms

I am sure that most of you are familiar with the Seeker Driven and Seeker Sensitive paradigms of corporate worship.  They have after all been popular methods of “church growth” for quite some time now.  In a recent conversation I had with a friend from seminary he described his church as being “seeker coherent” a phrase which I think adequately describes the biblical model for corporate worship and also fits well within the current church growth jargon so as to be easily understood.  I want to look at these three paradigms side by side and see how this new category of Seeker Coherent differs from the other two.  I will begin by stating that both the Seeker Driven and Seeker Sensitive paradigms are built upon false presuppositions which find no biblical support.

Seeker Driven

This model is syncretistic at best.  The needs of the so called “seeker” drive the direction of all that the church does.  This means that the church’s theology and methodology are radically altered by the needs of those it is seeking to attract.  In this paradigm the church tends to be focused on meeting felt needs, which are usually physical or psychological, rather than on proclaiming the gospel and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

Seeker Sensitive

This is by far the most popular model within Evangelicalism and chances are that the methodology of the corporate worship service that you attend has been profoundly affected by this methodology.  This model can be summarized by the phrase “build it and they will come” like the above model it presupposes that hordes of lost individuals in rebellion against their creator are lining up to attend corporate worship somewhere every Sunday.  Within this model the focus is on meeting felt needs as above and gospel proclamation, although this can be debated, rather than equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.  Within this model the pastor is the church’s primary evangelist and “seekers” are brought to this corporate event to hear the gospel.

Seeker Coherent

Unlike the above two models this model’s primary focus in on equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.  Since corporate worship is the gathering of the people of God to worship God it is counterintuitive to make the central focus of this event the evangelization of the lost.  Rather the corporate gathering of the church aims to glorify God and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13).  If it is all about equipping believers and glorifying God then why have seeker in the title?  I think the answer is found in Scripture.

“22Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (I Corinthians 14:22-25).

There is far too much going on in this text to fully explain here; however, several observations can be made that are pertinent to the discussion at hand.  Critical to understanding the presence of unbelievers in the corporate assembly of the church is the repetition of the conjunction “if” Paul is giving a hypothetical situation.  Mass amounts of unbelievers entering the assembly is not normative; this is a devastating blow to the Seeker Driven and Seeker Sensitive paradigms.  Furthermore, if Paul were encouraging a Seeker Driven/Sensitive paradigm, as proponents of these views claim, then why would he discourage the use of tongues if they are a sign for unbelievers?  Rather he encourages them to prophesy, to corporately proclaim the Word of God, and because of this the unbeliever will be convicted of both his sin and the presence of God.  What Paul is encouraging them to do is to focus on equipping the saints for the work of the ministry to preach to proclaim the Word of God; he want the glory of God and the people of God to be the central focus of the corporate gathering of the Church.

However, notice also what he is arguing for.  He is arguing that what happens in the assembly should be coherent, easily understood, by any unbelievers who should enter.  Thus we have a church both fulfilling its biblical purpose and doing so in a way that is comprehensible to the culture in which that church gathers.

An Addendum

While “Seeker Coherent” fits well within the current church growth lingo I do not prefer to use the term “seeker” because it seems to contradict Romans 3:10-11.  Within Scripture there is a category of individuals known as “God-fearing.”  Such language is certainly unpopular in an age where God is viewed as a cosmic Santa Clause rather than a sovereign Creator and Judge; however, different terminology should be used to emphasize the total depravity of man and the sovereignty of God in electing individuals to salvation.

A Brief Respite from Finals Week

This is the last week of class at TMS and next week is finals week so I do not have time to post much. However, I thought I would pass along an interesting post from the Logos Bible Software Blog entitled Smokers Drive Up Costs of Bibles the article is both interesting and contains a very humorous photo, enjoy. I would also recommend that you go to Mark Driscoll’s blog and watch The Banned Church Planting Video it is only eight minutes and worth the time.

Seeker Sensitive Blogging

For those of you expecting criticism you will be sadly disappointed. In fact, I myself am guilty of seeker sensitive blogging, after incessant complaints concerning the layout of my blog I have decided to re-code it. It is my hope that this simpler layout will placate the complainers among you, just do not expect to have your ears tickled. LOL

Anyways I have not posted in quite a while because school, namely Greek Exegesis II is killing me. I hope that I will have some more posts up soon. In addition, I just recently joined Facebook so look for me on there.