Sunday, May 10, 2015


I'm going to comment on this presentation by Russell Hunter:

i) Is it necessary for prolifers to make a biblical case for incrementalism? Not necessarily. Some Protestants mistakenly think sola Scriptura means treating the Bible like an encyclopedia. They think they need specific biblical warrant for whatever they do. But the Bible is not an encyclopedia of ethics. Scripture is very selective. There are many tricky issues on which Scripture is silent. So we need to distinguish between what Scripture commands, prohibits, and permits. If Scripture doesn't speak to an issue, then we're free to use unaided reason and extrascriptural evidence in moral deliberation. 

I'm not saying you can't make a biblical case for incrementalism. I'm saying you need to avoid framing the issue in a way which dictates in advance that you must be able to prooftext your position. For you can ask many questions which Scripture doesn't directly answer or address. Failing to recognize that limitation betrays some well-meaning Christians into very strained interpretations to prove their position from Scripture.

ii) Oftentimes, it's a matter of applying general revealed principles to specific issues. Or inferring general principles from normative examples. The Ten Commandments reflect the former, while the Mosaic case laws reflect the latter.  

iii) Another problem with framing the issue is when the justification for incrementalism is cast (or miscast) in terms of incrementalism as a pathway to the abolition of abortion. But although that's a laudable goal or ideal, the justification for incrementalism does not depend on whether incrementalism leads to the eventual abolition of abortion. Christians don't control the future. Christians have an obligation to do the best we can at present under the circumstances that God has put us in, at any given time and place. We can take actions in the present that affect the future, but our influence is limited. And our options are constrained by the providential situation God has put us in. 

iv) Towards the end of his presentation, Russell indicates that prolifers necessarily limit themselves to the status quo legal framework. He insinuates that prolifers eschew civil disobedience. 

But I don't think Scott Klusendorf was addressing that issue. I can't speak for Scott, but I'm guessing he takes the position that you should make the most of the democratic system for as long as you can. Work the legal system for whatever good that has to offer. See how far you can get with that. 

However, Scott might well think there are situations when civil resistance is permissible or necessary. Moreover, these needn't be mutually exclusive. You can exploit the distinctive advantages of different tactics. 

For instance, the civil rights movement combined civil disobedience (e.g. breaking Jim Crow laws) with legal activism. Activists pushed for the repeal of unjust laws and enactment of just laws. And civil resistance was sometimes used to pressure lawmakers. 

v) Russell plays a clip in which Scott says the prolifer is not deciding which children live and which children die. Rather, the gov't, left to its own devices, has taken the position that no unborn children have a right to life. That's the default position.

The prolifer is limiting the evil done insofar as possible given the reality he's forced to deal with politically. Promote good insofar as we can. 

I agree with Scott's statement. 

vi) Russell contrasts that with abolitionism. The "immediatist" tells the culture and the courts that regardless of what you say, laws protecting abortion are all null and void before God. An "immediatist" bill would always say, "now and for as long as it takes, over and over again," that all abortion is sin, all abortion is murder."

a) But in that case, "immediatism" is a misnomer or vacuous designation. In reality, the abolitionist is not an immediatist, but an indefinitist. "For as long as it takes" is inherently open-ended. It could mean 20 years from now, 100 years from now, or never. 

b) A "bill" is not a law. A bill is just a proposed law. To become law, it must be voted out of committed, brought to the floor for a full voted, passed (sometimes with a veto-proof majority, if necessary), then signed into law. 

So abolitionism reduces to sponsoring "bills" that are dead in the water. A piece of paper that goes nowhere.

Telling the gov't that laws protecting abortion are "null and void" doesn't change anything. Doesn't affect the status quo. Merely saying it's null and void doesn't actually nullify it. It's nothing but words. Blowing smoke. Meanwhile, it's business as usual in the abortion mills. 

vii) Finally, Russell attempts to make his own case for "immediatism" by quoting OT prophets. However, Russell's appeal suffers from a basic oversight that torpedoes his case. He's oblivious to the frame of reference that forms the basis for the prophetic allegation. OT prophets indicted Israelites for being covenant-breakers. The Mosaic law supplies the frame of reference.

However, the Mosaic law is a paradigm case of "incrementalism." The Mosaic law limits evil. Improves on the status quo ante.

The Mosaic law intentionally falls far short of legislating a moral ideal. It regulates many preexisting customs. Mitigates the worst evils. Establishes a minimal code of tolerable conduct. 

Indeed, many unbelievers and "progressive Christians" are offended by how many evils the Mosaic code does not outlaw. It curtails many abuses, but there are many evils it does not attempt to "abolish." For instance, the OT clearly disapproves of polygamy, yet there's no legal ban on polygamy in the Mosaic law. 


  1. Observation: I can only think of one place in Scripture where God's people directly apply moral influence or judgement upon another nation - the conquest of Canaan. Jonah does preach to Ninevah, and Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar's court, but the nature of these interactions is that even foreigners are answerable to God rather than specific moral teaching. Otherwise, all moral instruction and rebuke in Scripture is directed inwards, to the community of God's people. External declaration is almost always some form of evangelism, with the moral content a general declaration to repent of wickedness and turn to God.

    As such, Scripture does not place a general moral obligation to fight against evil outside the church community. We are not directly called to exert moral force against (say) abortion in pagan nations, nor does Scripture hold us to account for failing to do so. There is a recognition that the pagans are pagan, and steep in all kinds of wickedness. The gospel must be preached to them, but the church is not accountable for their sins.

    Arguably, the same applies within the secular state. Our leaders are not inherently of the church, and deny that they are directly answerable to its pastors and prophets. As such, we live as aliens and strangers in a pagan culture. We are called to be separate from such culture, taking our moral instruction from the Lord and not the World, and to live holy lives among the pagans. We do not have divine mandate to demand that they be moral, except by the work of the gospel.

    The church is commanded to show God's favour, love and mercy towards those outside her, and thus there will be causes where Christians, individually or corporately, will stand up for the weak, downtrodden and persecuted in society. In the case of abortion, specifically, I fully support those who labour in any way to oppose and repeal it. But as long as abortion is outside the community of God it is a moral blight on the pagans, not us, and I do not see where or how Scripture obligates us to intervene directly. The Church's failure to convict the pagans of their sinfulness and murderousness - despite trying - incurs bloodguilt on pagan hands, not our own.

    1. i) We have a general obligation to love our neighbors. That sometimes requires fighting evil outside the Christian community.

      ii) We also have an obligation to protect and provide for our dependents. But that can't be sequestered from what's happening in the general culture, for we live in the real world. Policies hostile to Christianity impact the Christian community.

      iii) However, it's wrong to blame Christians for social policies they were never responsible for in the first place. It wasn't pious Christians who produced Roe v. Wade.

      Abolitionists should stop guilt-tripping Christians for policies imposed from above by the power elite. We didn't cause that. And the power elite holds most of the high cards. Indeed, the power elite wins by cheating. It has the courts, police, and military on its side. That's very difficult to overcome.

    2. I agree. The abolitionist position - at least as exposed here - starts from the baseline assumption that Christian's have a moral responsibility for what happens in society around them. I'm arguing the opposite - that the default position is that the Church is (and should be) morally disengaged from pagan society, but love and/or wisdom may induce us to engage (e.g. James 1:27).

      That said, the holiness of the Church must stand as a witness to society also, and so we need the courage to be holy. By default, our holiness should be a passive witness, and our evangelism an active witness. Again, this does not preclude wise moral engagement (and may at times urge it), but reforming the morality of society is not our highest calling, nor the standard by which our faithfulness is judged.