Theological journal examines Roe v. Wade 30 years later

Communications Staff — August 12, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–It is clear 30 years later that the U.S. Supreme Court’s fateful decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade has bequeathed to America a culture of death, writers in the latest edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology conclude.

Four professors from Southern Seminary and three other scholars contribute articles analyzing the theological and ethical fallout that has ensued in the three decades following the ruling.

In his editorial, journal editor Thomas R. Schreiner shows the faulty thinking behind abortion which views the autonomy of self as taking precedent over the life of the child. Schreiner is professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary.

“Whether we think of euthanasia or of cloning, the moral vacuity of our generation is depressingly evident,” Schreiner writes. “Some defend ardently the lives of snails and whales, and would hesitate to crush the eggs of birds, and yet they insist that killing unborn human beings is legitimate.

“Compassion for the baby being formed in the womb is absent, even though ultrasound technology enables us clearly to see life in the womb. We can see the marvelously crafted little fingers and hands, hear the heart pulsate with life, and watch the baby suck his thumb. Still, many demand that the mother has the right to snuff out the life of the baby.”

In his essay, Russell D. Moore shows how evangelical theology at first embraced the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, but quickly did an about-face upon further investigation of abortion in light of Scripture. Moore is assistant professor of theology at Southern Seminary and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

Once evangelicals began to understand that the Bible does not place a sharp separation between body and soul and that humans are created as the bearers of God’s image, they rejected Roe and began to fight for the unborn, Moore recounts.

“The creation mandate of Genesis grants the primeval humans as the vice-regents of God’s dominion over nature in all of its forms (Gen 1:26; Psalm 8) — but it does not grant them ‘godlike’ dominion over human life,” Moore writes.

“Indeed, evangelical theology and its interface with the ‘theology’ of abortion rights has marshaled a compelling biblical case against such views of human autonomy in life-and-death decision-making, views that are essential to the case of Roe.

“… [E]vangelical theology has reasserted the biblical concept that the imago dei (image of God) that establishes the uniqueness of humanity is itself that which renders the murder of innocent human life unthinkable,” Moore writes.

The journal also includes a sermon on Psalm 139 by Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. Mohler argues that abortion is an egregious sin ultimately because it undermines the dignity humans have as persons created in the image of God.

“Christians must be defenders of human dignity and human life because we know the value of every single human being — born or pre-born — made in God’s image,” Mohler notes. “We are stewards of the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe. Thus, we are advocates for life and ambassadors of the Gospel. There is no time to waste.”

Kenneth Magnuson, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southern Seminary, analyzes the connection between contraception and abortion. His article focuses on the view of church father Augustine, who considered the attempt to prevent conception to be immoral on par with the destruction of the fetus.

Augustine argued that contraception sinfully separated sexual relations and pleasure from the openness of procreation. While most evangelicals reject Augustine’s view, it can serve as something of a corrective in our own day, Magnuson writes.

“We may be in some need of Augustinian correction,” Magnuson writes. “For instance, it is not quite right to say that Augustine has a negative attitude towards sex. Rather, his view is that sex (and even sexual desire), as part of God’s creative purposes, may be affirmed as good, but that fallen sexual desire is hopelessly tainted by concupiscence or lust.

“Augustine’s concern with birth control is at least partly that sexual desire aimed at pleasure as an end in itself either stems from or leads to lust, to the extent that not only is the attempt made to prevent conception, but if necessary, to kill what is conceived. Sexual pleasure is made to be an idol. Such is ‘cruel lust,’ in Augustine’s words.”

C. Ben Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Baylor University professor Francis J. Beckwith also contribute articles. The journal includes a panel discussion on abortion along with a number of book reviews.

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