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The obscuring of God’s image will hurt society

Review of In His Image: A biblical introduction to social ethics by Stephen McQuoid
Wilberforce Publications Ltd., London, 2020

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Published: 30 March 2021 (GMT+10)
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Dr Stephen McQuoid is General Director of Gospel Literature Outreach in the UK and holds a PhD in Theology. He grew up in Ethiopia and is now married with three children. Other books by the author include titles such as: The Quest for True Tolerance, Discipline with Care, and Learning to Share the Good News.

In His Image primarily deals with contemporary ethical challenges, and how churches should respond to them. In part one the biblical foundation is laid, that all human beings are bearers of God’s image. Part two addresses some of the societal issues in detail, and part three gives pastoral advice: loving people, but not affirming anything which goes against God’s will. This book deals predominantly with the current state of affairs in the UK, but undoubtedly it is highly relevant to most countries in the west, and further afield.

Biblical foundations

There are some issues with this book that need pointing out,1 the biggest being where the author describes the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib as poetry (p. 23; but see Is Genesis history or poetry?). He does somewhat retreat from that later, when he suggests “It may be that poetic language is being used” (p. 75). His decisions about what parts of the Creation account are poetry and what are historical are arbitrary. He states that Genesis 3 “clearly contains poetry” but believes this chapter “describes a real historic event” (p. 26). While he is correct on the history, his view that some things are non-literal opens a door for people to discount anything they find hard to believe—see also Is Genesis allegory or poetry? CMI (among others) has consistently argued that Genesis 1–11 has all the hallmarks of historical narrative—see e.g. The Genesis Account.2

The underlying fact which McQuoid desires his readers to remember is that “we as humans are ‘very good’” (p. 22)—as was the rest of the original perfect creation (see Genesis 1:31). People are made in His image, the very title of the book! McQuoid adds that “God made a world that was perfect and allowed for human flourishing” and this “is the world it ought to be”. Quite right, but owing to original Sin and the subsequent curse we human beings are no longer perfect (or even good; Romans 3:10–12), nor do we live in a pristine world. We face pain and suffering as a consequence of that fatal day in Eden—yet we retain His image, as the author agrees. In other words, our thoughts, words, and actions may obscure God’s image in us, but cannot erase it.

In chapter 2, McQuoid looks at Genesis 3 and discusses the dialogue that took place between Eve and the serpent—that is, the devil. First Satan casts doubt on God’s Word by querying, “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1). Next, he flat-out denies God’s Word, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Lastly, he claims, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The devil is cunning and knows that overtly suggesting that people disobey God, and instead do their own thing, would not work. McQuoid affirms, the “destruction of any worldview often begins with a subtle undermining and a fraying at the edges” (p. 26). Or, to put it differently, Satan deconstructs God’s sovereignty (in Eve’s mind) and says human autonomy is better than following God (contrast Proverbs 3:5ff).

When talking about the “creation narratives” (pp. 24, 25) the author does not seem to believe there are two different creation accounts, as many others have alleged. Rather, he says there is a different emphasis: Genesis 1 gives an overview of the creation week, whereas most of chapter 2 focusses on Day 6 events. McQuoid describes it as “God’s thinking in the creation of human beings” (p. 22).

Morality

According to McQuoid, rejecting God’s absolute standards is a very bad idea: “Moral relativism has the inevitable consequence of reducing ethics to their lowest common denominator” (p. 37). Yet, he rightly observes that, “Many in our society recoil at any attempt to establish fixed moral laws, arguing that freedom and law are incompatible” (p. 41). They fail to realise that not having laws will only lead to anarchy. The author uses sport as an example where rules enhance the fun, and also driving in traffic where regulations make it safer.

Tolerance

It is not enough for some that Christians should tolerate a sinful lifestyle. Many today also want us to accept, and even celebrate it (p. 38)! However, when we don’t, and speak against such behaviours, it turns out that the ‘preachers’ of tolerance are not so tolerant themselves. McQuoid calls it ‘The New Tyranny’ and quotes British historian Meic Pearse, saying:

“the currency of the term tolerance has become badly debased. Where it used to mean the respecting of real, hard difference, it has come to mean instead a dogmatic abdication of claims of truth and a moralistic adherence to moral relativism, departure from either of which is stigmatised as intolerance” (p. 39).3
commons.wikimedia.orgmoses-tablets
Moses breaking the tablets of the Law

In other words, people decide for themselves what is true and, what’s more, nobody is allowed to have a different opinion. As McQuoid puts it, “they are killing free speech”.

Decalogue

In Chapter 4, the author discusses the Ten Commandments. These, of course, are God’s laws, inscribed with His finger (Exodus 31:18). McQuoid connects the Sabbath day (4th Commandment, Exodus 20:8) with creation week. Moving to the fifth Commandment, he notes that, today’s “culture has put pressure on families to encourage children at younger ages to express that freedom [to act autonomously]” (p. 49). About the sixth Commandment, McQuoid says, “that murder is the deliberate taking of a human life without justification” and that “it should be clear that neither an individual nor the State has the right to take life without good cause” (pp. 50–51). Clearly this encompasses abortion.

Real cases

In His Image uses up-to-date examples to illustrate the topic of abortion, but also homosexuality, and transgenderism. A distinction is made between pro-choice and pro-abortion. The first group argues for “the woman’s right to choose what to do with both her life and that of her unborn child, and to take control of her ‘reproductive destiny’” placing “a high value on personal freedom” and “the liberty to choose”(p. 61);4 pro-abortionists see abortion merely as “part of a set of tools that helps women and men to enhance their lives by forming the families of their choosing”!5 Frankly, I struggle to see much difference, just as I fail to comprehend the appalling moral contradiction that, “babies born under 24 weeks6 can survive and are cared for in neo-natal units in hospitals” whilst “at the same time in the same hospitals healthy babies of similar age are being aborted” (p. 59). The former is of course very good, but the latter is something that God hates and will not turn a blind eye to (Proverbs 6:16–17).

McQuoid highlights another glaring hypocrisy: you may not discipline a child in Scotland by smacking, but you are allowed to take his/her life before birth (p. 63). A child’s parents can be dragged to court in Scotland if they have smacked their child’s bottom, but taking the unborn baby’s life is deemed perfectly acceptable.7

This book demonstrates that, by and large, society is obscuring God’s image. A case in point is that transgender people insist that they should be permitted to self-identify. McQuoid illustrates this by “a young, white male from the United States” who “self-identifies as a middle-aged female from the Philippines” (p. 95). This person is described as having ‘gender dysphoria’ which can lead to “anxiety and distress” (p. 87). According to the National Health Service (UK), “Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity”.8 Transgender people believe they were assigned the wrong sex or born in the wrong body (p. 90).9 Some people think that children at a very young age are able to assess the impact of such life-devastating decisions, long before we trust them to drive a car, get married, or vote.10

chocolate
A chocolate diet for our children?

McQuoid refers to an “over-zealous parent, with a particular worldview and life orientation”, but “the same pressure might come from teachers, social workers and peers, as well as from a wider culture” (p. 96). Some people might retort that we must not disagree with a child—be it teenager or younger—lest we be called transphobic parents. It is reasonable to ask those people this: When our children demand they have chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, do we hurry to the supermarket to cater for this new diet?11 Of course not. Children should be allowed to be children, and it is the responsibility of parents to bring them up to maturity, ideally in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).12

Concluding remarks

This book makes clear that society is moving away from biblical teaching. McQuoid suggests that one reason for this is that Christians have not helped by watering down the Bible’s message in order to appeal to those who won’t tolerate what it says—especially if it calls their behaviour sinful. Instead of being “salt and light” they have adapted to become more like—or “more attractive” (in their thinking) to—society. Other inappropriate reactions he describes are ‘monastic’ Christians retreating into their churches and the ‘gospel only’ approach. The first group does not interact with society at all; and the second strategy, which just preaches Jesus, does not really connect with society either.

Let people call Christians bigots and accuse us of intolerance; it only goes to show how intolerant they themselves are, as McQuoid acknowledges: “liberal culture, which prides itself on its own claim of being tolerant, is profoundly intolerant and condemning” (p. 110). Yes, the Bible is a book unto salvation, but the author argues that the ethical principles therein would be beneficial for society as a whole, if applied. It seems to me that, for millennia, people have believed they know better than God. When will we learn?

References and notes

  1. One scientific error has been communicated to the publishers. Somebody with XX chromosomes is labelled male and with XY chromosomes is labelled female. This should of course be the other way around. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, USA, 2015. Return to text.
  3. Pearse, M., Why the Rest Hates the West: Understanding the roots of global rage, Inter-Varsity Press, US, p. 2, June 2004. Return to text.
  4. This group might also argue that it is not a human life, but the obvious question raised is: what else would it be? Return to text.
  5. This may sound disrespectful, but if this group were saddened or angered by what they acknowledge, surely they would not proceed! Return to text.
  6. The legal limit for abortions in the UK, under the 1967 Abortion Act. Return to text.
  7. The Christian Institute, Scotland’s smacking ban now in force, christian.org.uk, 9 November 2020. Return to text.
  8. NHS, Gender Dysphoria; nhs.uk, accessed 4 February 2021. Return to text.
  9. Sex is not assigned at birth; it is determined genetically. Return to text.
  10. Du Cane, L., UK child becomes first 3-year-old transgendered child, NationalFile.com, 22 September 2019. Return to text.
  11. Inspired by Dr Julie Maxwell, a paediatrician. From the highly recommended DVD by Truth in Science (UK): The Transgender Agenda: A scientific and compassionate response | Medical and Education Professionals Speak Out. Return to text.
  12. Where children are abused there are, in most countries, already laws in place for that. Return to text.

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