Tim Keller addresses abortion...

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(Tim) Here's an excerpt from a sermon recently preached by Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. It was transcribed and forwarded by a friend who's attended Redeemer for years. He was encouraged that Pastor Keller touched on this issue in a sermon.

Preached on November 30, 2008, the sermon was titled, "In the Image of God," and the text was Genesis 1:26-2:3.

What happens in a society that got its idea of human rights from a belief in the image of God, that all people are created in the image of God? What happens to that society when as a society as a whole it loses the idea of God? You see, what happens when you have a secular society in which most of the cultural elite say "well, we don't believe in God anymore, and therefore we don't believe human beings were made in the image of God, we just evolved, they are very complex organisms?"

Now, how do you ground human rights in the worth of the individual human being? What does that worth consist of? What makes a human being worthy of rights now that you don't believe in the image of God anymore?

And you realize that there is a huge problem right now in the philosophy, you might say in the upper reaches of the academic world, of the Western nations, Western culture. Because that's the question. If we don't believe in the image of God, this idea, what makes human beings worthy of rights and therefore protection? And here's what they are all saying. They are saying, if we don't believe in the image of God then we have to ground human rights in what they call capacities. You understand that?

The reason a human being deserves rights, protections, is because they have the capacity, they have the capacity to reason, they have self-consciousness, they have the capacity to make moral choices, they know right from wrong, they have the capacity for what some professors call "preferences." And because they have reason, and the ability to make choices and they have preferences, they are moral agents and therefore they are capable, or they are worthy of protection; they have rights.

But there is a huge problem with this whole approach, the secular approach to rights. It's huge. Nicholas Wolterstorff's new book on justice brings this out.

Peter Singer, at Princeton University, a prominent philosopher and ethicist, shows the problem and here's how he argues. He says he believes that's right, human rights are grounded in capacities. And that's why Peter Singer says I believe the Supreme Court was right when it said abortion was alright.

Now what was the reason that the Supreme Court said abortion was okay?

Now everyone gets so quiet here. Because the life in the womb doesn't have capacities. They can't make choices. They can't reason, they can't tell right from wrong, they can't live apart from the mother. They don't have capacities and therefore they don't have rights. And here's what Peter Singer says, yes he agrees with that. But if that's true let's keep something in mind. Born infants don't have those capacities either. They can't reason; they have no preferences yet. They can't make moral choices and neither can senile old people. And neither can very mentally handicapped people. And therefore, none of them .... if you believe abortion is alright, then you really can't protect the rights of any of these other people because their rights are based on capacities.

Now, do you realize how many people are furious at Peter Singer? They are furious. And every so often there is a big article in the New York Times about somebody who just fulminates against him.

Do you know why they are furious? Because he's right. He's right. If you don't believe in the image of God, what are you going to ground human rights in? You're going to ground it in capacities. If you can't protect the unborn you can't protect the newly born, you can't protect the mentally handicapped, you can't protect old people. It's a fact. It's logical. If you go back to the beginning of the Christian church, here's what you saw: they came into a Greco-Roman world that also grounded the idea of rights on capacities.  Aristotle said that some races are too emotional, they couldn't reason because they didn't have the capacity for higher reason. They deserved to be slaves. And in the Greco-Roman world you had slavery, you had terrible poverty, you had lots of abortion (it was very dangerous then, but it still happened), you had infanticide, it was perfectly legal, especially girl babies died of exposure. And you took the elderly and sick poor people and just let them die. And that was all legal; and it was done all the time.

But the Christians came along and they believed in the Imago Dei. And because they believed in the image of God, from the beginning they were champions ... well, first of all, they were totally against abortion, from the beginning. Because if you believe in the image of God you have to be. You have to be.  You know, I mean, if human life is good, then nascent human life has got to be good. But they were also against infanticide. They were not one issue people. They cared for the poor. They cared for women, they didn't make widows ... at that time most people said that if you are a widow, you've got to remarry. And the Christians said not if you don't want to, we'll support you. They were champions of women; they were champions of orphans; they were champions of the weak; they were champions of the poor. And they were against abortion. And they put the rest of the culture to shame because of their belief in the sanctity of life.

So that eventually, the whole Western world adopted the idea of the image of God. Because when you believe in the image of God, the circle of protected life expands. But if you don't believe in the image of God, if you only believe in capacities or some other trumped up approach to why we believe in human rights, the circle will continually contract. It will get smaller and smaller, and fewer and fewer people will be protected. You see how incredible, crucial, important, the image of God teaching is.

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And by the way, one more thing before moving on. I took most of my time on my first point, don't be afraid. But remember all year we've been talking about what would Redeemer look like as a community? Here's what it would look like:  what if we took the image of God seriously? First of all, regardless of what the law of the land says, we would know abortion, except to save the life of a mother, is a violation of the image of God. Number one.

Number two, the women who have had abortions, and the men who have helped them have abortions, would not feel like scum, because James 3:9 says you don't disdain, you don't demonize, you don't curse, you offer grace to everybody. You see if we believed in the image of God and say abortion is wrong, we wouldn't make women who have had abortions feel terrible, like scum or something. And we wouldn't be single issue people, we would be for all of the poor and all of the weak and all of the marginal. And we would be a very unusual community, wouldn't we? Now let's be that.