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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

by

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.

Helpful Resources

Is Human Life Special?
by Gary Bates and Lita Cosner
US $3.50
Soft Cover
Who am I?
by Thomas Fretwell
US $16.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

John Z.
The heart of natural man is desperately wicked. It's hardly surprising that so many are okay with abortion and other evils.
Cameron N.
On the subject of the 2 approaches of Christianity I have some experiences. I was in one church group in college that could almost be described as a cult. They tried to make us as separate from the other students in the school as possible and even had students live on campuses. The group's only interaction with the outside world was preaching the gospel. I remember asking my friend why we don't refute the morals of the day (I was also in a philosophy class of Contemporary Moral Issues) and why aren't we calling out the evil that exists today. He said that's not important as spreading the Gospel. I was annoyed by their approach. The students listening weren't connecting to the message as real life. By that time I had dived deep into Creation Ministries, Eschatology, and Christian Ethics and was trying to get them to see that these subjects were of utmost importance in sharing the Gospel, but they just brushed off my words.

The second college church experience was just as bad. A cultural Christian friend of mine (not sure if he was really saved...) invited me to go to a Bible study one Saturday from this other church group. I went and the youth pastor pulled up a scripture (can't remember the exact one) and was like now what do you feel that means? The other students there started making up stuff that was clearly not what the Word of God said and I had to correct them. My friend was so annoyed at me hahaha. The Christian Pastor, who was supposed to be the authority, both acknowledged the clearly wrong interpretation as correct and the literal reading that I corrected and used evidence to back as also true. Leaving all the students there confused.
Bill P.
I suppose poetry is a good way for God to communicate truth with 7 billion free wills to deal with, and keep the path to Him still singular, but Genesis doesn't need a poetic explanation any more than finding 185,000 Assyrians dead outside your doorstep...I think it is just hard to explain to unbelievers how tragedy and torture can occur like the holocaust(or living in captivity for a few hundred years) and not seem capricious, or as God having to "work around" the free will of evil people. It is a similar moving target for pro-choice when the bar of science reduces their argument from 24 weeks to currently under 20 and so they retreat to "a few cells"...and claims that the 10 commandments , even if universal truths just came from other cultures that predate Moses "memorializing them", rather than the hand of God.
Lucien Tuinstra
I reckon your opening statement refers to 2 Kings 19:35, which talks about the angel of the Lord striking down 185,000 people in the Assyrians camp. It is a supernatural event and we take it at face value.
Why is there suffering in the world? One of the most asked questions Christians face, yet the answer only makes sense in light of Scripture (and not with millions of years of death, disease, and demise prior to the arrival of a man named Adam).
When it comes to the pro-choice camp retreating to "a few cells". In my article Doctors with no limits, reference 13 makes it pretty clear that 96% of doctors surveyed know that life begins at conception, yet 85% of the sampled people identified as being pro-choice. Of course, if people reject the Creator and men and women being made in His image, but instead adhere to evolution, then we are really just animals that can be disposed of.
Lewis John G.
For a solid Biblical work on Biblical Ethics I would recommend to your readers, ' Principles of Conduct, by John Murray.

It is popular today for 'evangelical scholars' to claim some or all of Genesis 1 is poetry. That claim is a 'red flag' for it is
an indication the scholar does not know Hebrew. (See Edward J Young's lecture given at Toronto Baptist College on
Genesis Chapter 1....)
S H.
Some very powerful and accurate conclusions for sure. I liken these new self-appointed 'moralists' that are redefining behaviour with ever-shifting boundaries to the Pharisees in the time of Jesus and call them the 'new pharisees'. But in this 'feelings' based worldview, the truth matters little. I believe a judge, making a disturbing ruling said something very similar a couple of years ago. But truth does matter in all areas at all times! And as we open up a door to some new evil, people walk through that door and the results are disastrous across society. Yet the solution (Jesus) is silenced while things get worse as a result of silencing Jesus - like building a house with no foundation and wondering why it falls down. We all know that without a set boundary, we can't even enjoy a game of sport but the boundaries are being simultaneously removed and shifted across society with people thinking the end result is tolerance and beneficial. The media fall over themselves to virtue signal and promote 'tolerance' but as stated this is really 'intolerance'. I often hear the word 'bigot' thrown around and usually it means the user doesn't really have an argument (not that you are often allowed to make an argument any more, especially in places of higher education - proving knowledge is nothing without wisdom!) I also ask who is the bigot? Someone who has a belief or someone who only allows others to have their belief. The answer is pretty obvious! Any solution without Jesus is bound to fail. Jesus told us to be salt and light so we're not cast out as the church. And Covid has shown people they are mortal and opened new doors. So let's continue to speak truth in real love and with real grace. The light of Jesus is shining ever brighter - attracting and repelling simultaneously!
Luke M.
Reminds me of when a Christian was asked about the state of affairs in American schools - the shootings etc, "where is your God in all this?" Their response was something like, "We told God we didn't want him in our schools any longer, and being a gentleman, God obliged. This is what has happened." (Attributed to one of the Grahams).
We need to have God in our communities and I believe this starts by having him first in our lives and living out that life unapologetically.

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