God created man and declared him “very good,” both body and soul. Man fell, both body and soul was involved in the fall. Everyone after Adam is born corrupted and fallen, having both inherited sin (the tendency to sin) and imputed sin (the judgement of the first sin is on them). The inherited sin in “sinful from conception.” How did the our souls become sinful? It was either through God’s direct creation of the soul and him, independently from Adam, corrupting the soul, or our soul fell due to our relation with Adam. God does not create sinful things. There is no possibility of the soul being affected due to its contact with the body at conception or sometime after, therefore the parents must be responsible for the creation of the soul and it was created indirectly by God through the parents just as the body was. The Bible values the body and soul equally as demonstrated by the resurrection. Therefore, the soul is a part of the body and grows in and with the physical. If the soul is part of the body, then we are full persons at conception. Therefore, one cannot have a correct theology and support abortion.
Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans are pro-choice with regard to abortion. This is interesting considering that similar polls tell us that the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. This begs the question, Can a Christian support abortion? Considering the monumental overturning of Roe v Wade today along with my constant discussions with people about this on my Facebook Page (Follow here). As well, the fact that my grandmother had 13 abortions and attempted to abort my mom many times along with the fact that I have at least on prior girlfriend who had and abortion, makes me keenly interested in this. Would my soul have been placed in another body or would it have never existed at all had the abortion attempt worked? Will I have another son or daughter in heaven or did he or she never really exist?
Creation of the Soul
Without getting into any of the medical details or even physiological reasons for abortions (for I am not a physician or a physiologist), I would like to deal with the issue from a purely theological standpoint. Where one stands on abortion, I submit, has more to do with one’s theology than one realizes.
Can a Christian support abortion? The answer is “yes,” if they have a generally accepted theology that allows them to do so. The issue comes down to one’s beliefs concerning the creation of the soul. The theological issues of abortion are not spoken of or understood much today, yet the implications are significant. The question that one must ask with regards to this issue is this: When does the soul/spirit (immaterial aspect; henceforth soul) join with the physical (the material aspect) of a person? This is often referred to as a debate about the constitution of man. If the soul is part of the physical body from conception, then abortion is out of the question. The person is a complete person, material and immaterial, body and spirit, from the beginning and has not only divine recognition but a divine mandate for life. They are protected by the little ol’ “thou shall not murder” thingy. Any premature cessation of this life by an outside agent would amount to murder. But if there is a time when the physical “fetus” is without an immaterial aspect, then, during this time, the fetus is not a person, but simply an extension of the mother’s physical nature. The question is, when does the body receive the soul?
There are two positions that have been represented prominently throughout church history and it is with these two I would like to wrestle. See which one sounds right:
The belief that the soul is created directly by God and “inserted” into or united with the body which in turn is created indirectly by God through the parents. In other words, the soul is created immediately by God, while the body is created mediately by man. This position has significant support in contemporary and historic theology. Noteworthy adherents to this position include Wayne Grudem, Charles Hodge, Louis Berkholf, and John Calvin, and enjoys the support of most Roman Catholics. The basic defense for this position is that God, the Father of all spirits (Heb. 12:9), is the only agent that can create an immaterial entity. Kind gives forth to kind. Man is physical and can only birth physical. Therefore, God must have created the soul directly, outside of the mediating agency of man.
*This view is to be distinguished from Creationism as a view about the creation of the world and the age of the earth.
(from the Latin tradux meaning “inheritance or transmission”) The belief that while God is the ultimate creator of all things, He uses secondary causes to bring them into existence. If God ceased from creation after the sixth day and no longer is creating ex nihilo (out of nothing), then all creation since the sixth day is initiated mediately through secondary causes, including the soul. Everything that was needed to produce all of humanity, body and soul, material and immaterial, was already in Adam and Eve. To put the matter plainly, parents are just as involved in the creation of the soul as they are the body. God does not use a special process for the creation of the soul. The basic defense of this position is focused on the negative implications of the creationist position. If God creates the souls directly, without the mediating support of humanity, how does one explain the sinfulness of the soul? If people are born with a fallen sinful nature (Ps. 51:5), how did the soul become corrupt? Did God create a sinful soul and place it in a sinful body? Can God create something impure? Traducianist are quick to charge the creationist with making God directly responsible for sin. The traducianist does not elevate the value of the soul above that of the body. Therefore, a traducianist believes that the soul/spirit is created in and with the body. There are not two acts, but one. Traducianism is not without its support. Noteworthy traducianist are Tertullian, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edward, and Millard Erickson.
Why Creationism is and Unbiblical
Now, back to the topic of abortion. Theologically speaking, it is impossible for there to be a Christian traducianist who supports abortion. Why? Because the traducianist’s theology precludes a necessary belief that a person is complete from the moment of conception. There can never be a time when the child is without a soul. The parents provide the soul at the same time and in the same way as they provide the body. As the body develops, so does the soul.
A creationist, on the other hand, may support abortion. Why? Because no one can say with any amount of certainty when the body is united with the soul. Is it at conception? Implantation? At heartbeat?During the first, second, or third trimester? At birth? Or even sometime after birth like the age of accountability? This leaves a crack in the door theologically. A deferment to ignorance is the only recourse for the creationist, being agnostic as to when the soul is united to the body. While this deferment may suggest that the best stance for the creationist concerning the abortion issue is one of non-support, this does not necessitate this position. One can be a Christian creationist and support abortion based upon reliance on the findings of the medical community. If the medical community can provide further information that leans in favor of a stance that a fetus is not really a person based upon issues of psychological response along with physiological issues dealing with the “parasitic” (so-called) nature of the fetus, then the creationist may lean in favor of a pro-choice stance on the issue.
I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, so I am going to say something as clearly as I can: Our stance concerning the issue of abortion is not our guide with regard to this theological issue. In other words, we do not choose the position that best fits our agenda one way or another. We should not root for the traducian position because we don’t believe in abortion and we should not root for the creationist position because we do support a woman’s right to choose. We must seek to find the truth, not defend our preconceptions. If creationism is the best option in dealing with the biblical evidence, then that is where we go (and then, maybe, punt to science). But if the traducian position provides better answers, then we go there, letting its theological implications provide us with a proper response to the issue of abortion.
I am a traducianist. Not because I seek a solid theological stand against abortions, but because I believe that it is the best option that deals most comprehensively with the biblical data and a systematic Christian worldview. I believe that the creationist view (which is, unfortunately, the most prominent and popular among the laity) assumes an implicitly unchristian stance concerning the relationship of the body and the soul. There is no reason to say that the soul is of special nature, having to be created directly by God.
Gnosticism’s Influence on Creationism
This line of thinking (that the soul must be created directly by God) evidences more of a Gnostic worldview than it does a Christian worldview. Gnosticism was a first-century Greek philosophy that crept into Christianity here and there and still plagues our thinking at the most fundamental level. This is the key point that must be understood: the Gnostics were dualists, believing that all things material were essentially evil, while all things spiritual were essentially good. For a Gnostic, the ultimate goal of humanity was for one to escape the confinement of the material body, finding fulfillment in the spiritual existence. Gnostics saw the material as bad, the spiritual as good. But the Christian worldview is just the opposite. That is why the resurrection was “a stumbling block to the Greeks.” Christianity affirms the essential goodness of all creation, even though it has been infected with sin. Our goal is not to escape the physical world, but to sanctify it. God declared all things good at creation. He declared man as “very good.” When man sinned, God did not cast aside His original intent, opting for a “plan B,” but immediately began the process of redeeming the world that He created. When people die, there is an unnatural breach in their personhood, separating the immaterial from the material, the physical from the spiritual, but this does not suggest that the immaterial soul is somehow better or more highly favored in God’s eyes than the body. In fact, the consummation of redemption comes at the resurrection of the body, when the soul is reunited with the physical body and the new heavens and new earth (material) are created. All this to say that Christians are not gnostics. We believe in the eternal value of the material world and our bodies. Since there is no reason to say that the soul is better than the body and, therefore, must be created directly by God (and there is every reason to believe that God creates both the body and soul indirectly), Creationism does not have a leg to stand on. The parents create both the body and soul. The physicality of the fertilized egg proves the existence of the soul.
This Gnostic disdain for physicality has unfortunately found its way into Christianity in many ways, even with some of the best theologians. The early Church believed the soul was created good, directly by God, and then inserted into the fallen body. In the early church, all things physical or “worldly” (John’s word that has been misinterpreted a great deal, i.e. “do not love the world…” etc) were seen as evil. Sex was viewed as a necessary evil rather than a beautiful creation of God with pleasure gifted by God. Monasticism (Monks who sought silence and isolation) was highly valued, thinking that the pleasures of this world were all evil. People have seen culture and government as evil because they are part of this world. Some Christians have gone to the extreme and even seen developments in technology as evil, so they create societies where they have no phones, cars, or electricity. We are not complete without them. The Bible is seen as a book of God to the neglect of the contribution of man (this has had great repercussions hermeneutically). Again, I believe the Church has devalued the body and elevated the soul just like the Gnostics, believing that while man can create the body, only God can create the soul. This has left the door open for Creationism and the possibility of abortion. There is no reason for this. The creation of the body and soul are both equally miraculous.
Can a Christian be Pro-Choice? Yes, if they adopt a destructive, marring, and heterodox theology. Since God did not create the soul as a sinful entity, since God stopped creating on the sixth day, since the Bible values the body as much as the soul, the soul must be created by the parents in and with the body.
While there are many good Christians, contemporary and throughout church history, who have held to the Creationist view, I believe that they are wrong and unfortunately mislead on this topic. Having said this, I believe that when it comes to abortion, while one’s theology may wrongly allow them to support it, their theology evidences more of a Gnostic worldview than a Christian worldview. The body and the soul cannot be dichotomized in such a way. The parents create both the body and the soul at the same time as mediate You get the point. This view has affected us more than you think. We even have people who see the desire for death as they will be spiritual beings and not have the confinements of the body. They don’t realize that our ultimate goal when we die will be to get our bodies back (2 Cor 5:1). of God.
In short, I believe the issue of abortion is a theological issue. Sadly, I believe, this understanding escapes the forefront of the debate because so many in the church today have relegated theology to a seat of irrelevance and impracticality. Concerning my grandmother’s abortion attempts and my girlfriend’s abortion, I would not have been placed in another body as my soul was created in and with my body and only “fits” that body. It would be impossible to inhabit another body and make it mine. As well, I do have a child in heaven as its soul existed at the moment of conception.
To hear more about this issue, listen to or watch The Theology Program session 3 and session 4 of Humanity and Sin.
BTW: I actually debated Obama about this exact thing in 2007. Funny story for another time.
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