Review: J. M. Vorster’s The Gift of Life (Part 2): Postmodern Identity Politics Gets A Galatians 3:28 Makeover

At this point it is worth asking: What informs Professor Vorster’s overarching moral vision? Throughout The Gift of Life, the contention is that definitions of human dignity found in the liberal democratic and human rights traditions can be translated into Christian value (84, 97). In other words, humanist conceptions of equality and the Word of God are not mutually exclusive. A Christian anthropology “may well approach relationships from the premise of the equality of all people as a creational principle” (86).

How then is this vision worked out in terms of moral specifics? I offer some of Vorster’s more pertinent examples. For one, systemic racism is apparently still rampant in developed Western countries and needs to be addressed. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is cited as evidence of this (72, 99, 222).

Second, the preferable approach to economics fits best within a democratic-socialist framework as it provides for the poor and grants freedom to all (97). He cites as qualified support the neo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse (183).

Third, fundamentalist religions—including Christianity—have played a major role in perpetuating the “sins” of patriarchy that have subjugated women and children. The solution is complete parity between males and females inside and outside of marriage. There are, it seems, few if any gender roles rooted in biology. When gender distinctions do exist, the male is invariably the abuser: ranging from quashing talents and making children anxious through domestic violence. Racism, slavery, and the subordination of women are lumped together without qualification (84ff, 110, 135, 179).

Fourth, while claiming that Scripture denounces gay sex and affirms monogamous heterosexual marriage, Vorster also believes the church should be open to the possibility of committed life-long gay love (185–88, 231–2). In addition to encouraging such openness, human dignity and flourishing according to The Gift of Life, considers homophobia or prejudice against homosexuals inside or outside the church to be inhumane (89, 96, 130, 135, 195, 229). Furthermore, Vorster quotes affirmatively the Hate Speech Bill of the South African constitution, which precludes intolerance toward the intersexed and homosexual in any social setting, including the church (175). In short, according to Vorster, the moral shortcomings described in this paragraph are manifestations of the sinner’s revolt against God and his search for power (89).

It was pointed out earlier that Vorster basically affirms natural law and Enlightenment liberal political traditions. Hence, one would expect to find ethical claims that make room for hierarchies and distinctions embedded in the created order. Furthermore, one would expect a wariness of civil policies that police freedom of expression, especially within the institutions of family and religion. Yet, The Gift of Life adopts an ethical perspective that flattens out many of the distinctions historically affirmed by natural law and conservative Christian traditions: whether it be equal opportunity capitalism, gender roles informed by biological sex, or sexual identity shaped by gender.

To be sure, the best of political liberalism has afforded rights to all. However, this does not mean that the likes of females abandoning motherhood for promotion, the affirmation of same-sex unions, or the practice of non-Christian spirituality are necessarily morally just simply because provision is made for them in civil policy. What everyone, including Christians, should be able to expect is a robust constitution that makes provision for debate and disagreement on these matters. That freedom of individual moral expression has historically been granted by Western governments is less a function of “evil” permissiveness and more pragmatic wisdom for the stubborn realities of diversity—sordid and otherwise—in a fallen world. In other words, the pursuit of social equality does not necessarily mean morality or justice according to God’s natural (moral) laws. 

Yet, Vorster makes significant use of the equalizing human rights agenda as something of a catch-all for Christian ethics. He harnesses the egalitarian spirit of political liberalism, Marxism, and postmodernism as his guiding principle. This said, he would not want to be accused of putting together a moral theology built on a humanist enterprise. Hence, the argument in The Gift of Life is that the equality necessary to a dignified life is not only rooted in the sense of justice built into divine image-bearing (natural law), but more importantly the liberation offered by the gospel, especially in texts like the “magna carta” of Galatians 3:28 (10, 85, 89–93). But can Vorster argue consistently in this direction? Does the Bible do so?

In several places in his book, Prof. Vorster is careful to distinguish the church from the broader civil order. In one place, he argues that the Bible should not be read as a scientific manual. Pastors are not psychologists or sociologists or politicians (40, 119, 133). In another, he argues that churches should stay out of politics (143). Furthermore, Vorster claims he does not want to wade into the debate (even though he does) about the social calling of the church (123).

At the same time, Vorster claims that gospel-informed human flourishing outside the church should be mirrored inside, insofar as equality is integral to God-imaging dignity and worth. One way to reflect this is in church governance which is local and eschews abuses of power that ecclesiastical hierarchies invariably create. Following Bonhoeffer, a “reformed” polity is wary of the hollow formal structures of so-called fossilised top-down religion that have so dominated the history of Christendom (125, 134, 180–81). Another democratic contour for congregational life is that all forms of social division are to be bridged, including straight and gay, male and female (130). As to the latter, much is made of the so-called Christian male subjugation of women in the home and their exclusion from office in the church. According to Vorster (85–93, 108–112), this form of religious fundamentalism and incivility, lumped together with greedy colonialism and racism, must be excised from among the faithful.

The Gift of Life is clear that Christians are to be agents for moral renewal based on the worldview set forth in Scripture. In its official institutional role, the church is to proclaim the principles of the social and political order implied in the immanent reign of God. This, the church’s so-called “prophetic” role, also includes admonishing the state to implement certain egalitarian principles into law (130-131, 143). As to individual Christians scattered in vocation, they are envoys commissioned to introduce the ethic of the immanent reign of God to the world as the design for human flourishing. They are “called to echo in society the prophetic ministry of the written [W]ord” (136).

©Rev. Dr. Simon Jooste. All Rights Reserved.

Part 1.

Part 3.


Jooste, S.N., 2022, Embodiment and Power: The Essential Nature of Office in the Identity

Politics Debate, Calvin Jubilee Bookfunds, Potchefstroom/ Amazon Kindle.

Jooste, S.N., 2021, “From Orange to Pink: A History of Politics and Religion in South Africa’s Cape Town”, Modern Reformation Magazine, Nov-Dec 21;

Machen, J.G., 1923, Christianity and Liberalism, Macmillan, New York.

Thiselton, A., 1997, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, Zondervan, Grand Rapids.

VanDrunen, D., 2010, Natural Law and Two Kingdoms: The Development of Reformed Social Thought, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

Vorster, J. M., 2021, The Gift of Life: Toward an ethic of flourishing personhood, Aosis, Cape Town. Online access:



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