What Should Christians Do When Asked to Make Anti-Abortion Arguments Without Using the Bible?

by John Ellis

With SCOTUS’ decision to allow Texas’s heartbeat bill to stand, abortion finds itself again among the most heated of topics within the public square. Not that the issue has ever drifted far from a place of prominence in our national discussion, but the current debate has reached a high-pitched fervor owing to the bill’s potential to help upend not only the abortion debate but the availability of abortion in red states that now see a blueprint to do an end run around Roe V. Wade.  Over the last two weeks, since the bill went into effect, my social media newsfeeds have evidenced the passion of both sides of the debate.

Already an emotionally and politically charged issue, our current levels of societal division make discussions about abortion a veritable landmine field stocked with the potential to destroy friendships, sever family relationships, and find yourself accused of a whole host of sins (from both sides). Please don’t misunderstand, I am not intending to appear as if I somehow stand dispassionately above the debate (I don’t). Nor am I suggesting that the stakes aren’t high, for either side. My goal is to remind us of those stakes and how our current environment is adding contentiousness upon an already baked in contentiousness and then point out that a tactic utilized by many abortion supporters not only adds unnecessary heat to the already jacked-up temperature of the conversation but is wildly misguided to the point of being loaded with hubris and guilty of dialectical bullying. To be fair, I doubt that most of those who use the ploy realize this. But that doesn’t make their tactic any less out of bounds.

As can be guessed from the title of this article, I’m referring to those times when abortion supporters insist that Christians are to make anti-abortion arguments without using the Bible if they expect to be listened to and engaged. Below, in italics, is a response to that “entrance fee” to the debate in the public square. Please note that the hypothetical response below employs a sharper and more antagonistic tone than I would use in conversation with an unbeliever. I use the tone here as a rhetorical means to help expose how extreme the abortion defender’s request is. If, brother and sister in Christ, you are ever asked to make an anti-abortion argument without using the Bible, please do not use the response below as a script.

So, without further ado, here is my response to the expectation that if I want to be heard, I can’t use the Bible when making anti-abortion arguments:

How dare you!?! How much arrogance does it take to insist that the only way you’ll interact with me is if I discard what’s most important to me – my submission to my King through faith – and submit to your worldview? Why is your hermeneutical lens automatically privileged over mine? Who decided that? You unilaterally? I would never ask you, as a non-Christian, to use the Bible to make arguments supporting abortion. You see, there is no such thing as a non-choice – a neutral ideology. Demanding that I don’t use the Bible is an ideological decision, and you don’t have the right to make that decision for me. So, no, I will not allow you to colonize my hermeneutic and force me off my dialectical land.

From here on, I’m going to unpack some of my response. Doing so, I’m going to begin with a concept I briefly discussed in my previous article, “Facebook Fact Checkers, Foucault, and the Far Right” (which can be read by clicking here): The concept of truth not being neutral is important. But, first, I probably should acknowledge that many anti-abortion Christians will reject my response as too presuppositionalist in a way that weakens their ability to save the lives of preborn humans by removing their ability to debate on neutral, common ground. Many Christians believe that the best way to convince a non-Christian is to not use the Bible when making arguments against abortion. Okay, but, for one thing, I’m not really a presuppositionalist in the tradition of Van Til (at least, not in the tradition of Van Til’s disciples).[1] Not really. Secondly, while I’m skeptical that cogent and coherent arguments against abortion can be made apart from the Bible, convincing me otherwise won’t undermine my larger apologetic point. Now, back to Foucault’s claim that truth is not neutral.

Knowledge (what’s true) doesn’t exist in a vacuum and our interaction with knowledge is always contextual. If I say to you “it’s hot outside today,” your appropriation of that truth claim (propositional statement) will be mediated through a whole host of contexts: Where did you grow up? Edmonton or Miami? Are you wearing shorts and a t-shirt or a suit and tie? Were you planning on going to the beach or mowing your lawn? And there are many other contexts that shape your “interpretation” of the truth that it is hot out.

Moving into an example with far more epistemic weight than the weather, and an example that is directly pertinent to this article’s question, when the truth claim is made that a baby’s heartbeat can be detected five-and-a-half to six weeks after gestation, none of us hear and respond (interpret) it as a stand-alone fact. Contra the positivists’ modernism, facts do not speak for themselves; truth is not neutral. For the person who is pro-abortion, that fact is mediated via a whole host of other commitments and presuppositions. The same holds true for the person who is anti-abortion. And for the Christian who is anti-abortion, that truth claim is mediated through the lens of their faith (or, rather, it should be but, sadly, is often not, something I may touch on in a bit). This means that asking a Christian to interact with the debate and its various truth claims in a manner divorced from their phenomenology is, as I stated in my answer above, incredibly arrogant, if not a form of bullying, and, frankly, an impossible ask. I, as in John Ellis, cannot wipe my being clean of my presuppositional commitments when discussing any truths (what counts as knowledge), including discussions about abortion. It’s literally not possible (and if you ask the people who know me best, my use of the word “literally” is weighty since I generally disdain its use).

Intimately connected to the fact that truth is not neutral is that our interactions and interpretations of truth claims derive from a controlling narrative. This is what most people refer to as a worldview. I much prefer the term narrative over worldview for reasons that are beyond my intended scope of this article. But if you want to substitute “worldview” for every instance I use “narrative,” feel free to do so.

I can’t think of a more helpful way to explain the importance of this in relation to the question at hand than using the words of Christian philosopher James K.A. Smith who wrote, “Different stories obviously envision different ends for humanity. So what constitutes good or proper [ethics] must be determined in relation to the particular founding narrative that we confess tells the truth about the world and the human condition.”[2]

Discussions about ethics – and this is the most important point that I want you, brother or sister in Christ, to grasp – is really a discussion about our controlling narrative. In reality, we’re not debating abortion; we’re debating who’s correct in their understanding of what the end of humanity is. That’s a big question, no doubt. A scary question. But an eternally important question. Don’t ever forget, when you’re debating abortion with a nonbeliever, as important as the lives of preborn humans are, the eternal life of the image bearer you’re debating is important, too. They’re not the enemy. Sin is. Thankfully, it’s not an either/or; we don’t have to choose between prioritizing protecting the lives of preborn humans at the expense of seeking to make disciples.

Discussing ethics is often the best (if not the only, in many circumstances) way into that larger discussion. Done well, on both sides, those discussions reveal our a priori commitments and beliefs as well as uncovering the cogency and coherency of our epistemic steps to our ethics; or, conversely, the lack of cogency and coherency of our epistemic steps. Furthermore, discussions about ethics also taps into our common humanity. So, for example, I believe that abortion is sin because God commands us to preserve life. The same controlling narrative that calls me to an ethic of anti-abortion is the same ethic that calls me to contend for racial justice, economic equality, and healthcare for all. And I wrote that previous sentence with the understanding that many fellow Christians who have been nodding their head in agreement and saying silent “amens” suddenly sat back and said, “Whoa! Hold up. You’ve gone too far, John.” Except I haven’t.

Sadly, and rendering their anti-abortion arguments ineffective, many white evangelicals in this country do not have a cogent and coherent controlling narrative because they are too much in the ideological thralls of modernism, not to mention their embrace of definitions of liberty/freedom that come from Locke and Mills and not the Bible. I contend that a full-throated embrace of the Biblical narrative provides the most cogent and most coherent explanation of the world around us and the human condition. It also provides the most compelling solution. Watering that narrative down with competing narratives held out by our political or historical or, God forbid, media heroes is a tragedy of eternal proportions.

Use debates about abortion for God’s glory and the advancement of King Jesus’ Kingdom. Doing so, of course, demands a defense of preborn humans who are also made in God’s image, but it also demands much more. It demands a holistic approach to the debate; an understanding that truth is not neutral and that our ethics are derived from our controlling narrative – all our ethics, not just the ones that allow us to virtue signal on Facebook in ways that earn us the acclaim of the political tribe we prefer. Setting aside our controlling narrative at the demands of unbelievers not only renders our anti-abortion arguments ineffective; it separates us from the last command our King gave us before he ascended back to heaven. Not to mention that the demand is a hubristic level of dialectical bullying that we shouldn’t cower before. Be bold. Proclaim the gospel in defense of preborn humans. Never surrender that.

Soli Deo Gloria

If you’re interested in reading my response to a specific pro-abortion argument, click here.

[1] If you want to know more about that, buy me a beer and then ask me.

[2] James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 103.

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