Book Review: Innocent Blood by John Ensor

I wasn’t sure I was going to read Innocent Blood by John Ensor. It wasn’t because I had any disagreement with the premise of the book… it was that I didn’t really want to think about it. As I suspect the vast majority of us know, there are few subjects touchier than abortion. No one’s having casual conversations at Starbucks about whether or not it’s morally justifiable or compatible with Christian faith, nor does it make for good dinner conversation.

And I wonder if the reason I didn’t want to even have to think about it was more because I don’t like the idea of being seen as “one of them”—the (well meaning) pro-life folks who often stand outside the local hospital with signs and gruesome pictures. And as much as the idea of doing that makes me uncomfortable, you’ve got to hand it to them for doing something instead of the nothing that I’m often guilty of.

But, as Christians, are we allowed to be silently pro-life? If we’re privately opposed to something but not also publicly, what does it say about us—what does Scripture have to say to us on this matter?

Bloodguilt

Ensor, citing Deuteronomy 19:7-10, explains that, “God’s people are called to prevent both the death of innocents and the bloodguilt that results” (p. 8). Biblically, he says, we are not permitted to be silent. And the result of his study is a plea that forms the structure of this book:

My plea is that whenever we encounter such a situation we resolve not to accept it, rationalize it, bury it under allegedly higher priorities, or pretend we do not know it is happening. Instead, like those who came before us and who are commended for their faithfulness, may we fight the shedding of innocent blood with all our moral might and practical effort, on the spot and for the long haul. (p. 11)

As Ensor weaves his argument, looking first to the preciousness of life in the sight of God (ch. 1), he drives home a devastating reality: none of us are exempt from this bloodguilt (ch. 2). After some challenging speculation about what we may or may not have done in the case of lynching in the 1930s, he writes:

Abortion, like lynching, is the shedding of innocent blood, is it not? Have you made peace with it? Have you navigated around it? Can you lift up your hands and say, “I did not shed this blood, nor did I see it happening”? … Have you understood with moral clarity the need to rescue the weak and the innocent? Have you asked God for the moral courage to do so? When I asked myself these questions a while back, I came up short. I was Pilate. My silence had left my own congregation with bloodguilt. This is all the more tragic because in the unfolding glory of the redemption, God has gone so much farther than to offer the blood of a heifer. I decided to repent. (pp. 57-58)

As I read these words and gazed upon the picture that was included at the end of the chapter, I couldn’t help but think back to my days in college when I wasn’t pro-choice, but pro-abortion. I was very, very okay with the idea. To me, a pregnancy wasn’t a baby, it was a condition. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I would mock the people who did choose to speak out against abortion as being backwards and ignorant. (God has a wonderful sense of irony, does he not?)

Needless to say, I had blood on my hands in the sight of God. And only blood could atone for my sins.

Blood-Bought Forgiveness

Fortunately, God provided that atonement in the death of Jesus. In chapter three, Ensor beautifully unpacks not only the necessity of the atonement, but also its promise—its cleansing us from guilt. It’s the only thing powerful enough to cleanse the conscience, restore our relationship with God and to satisfy the cry for justice that innocent blood demands.

Abortion, Ensor explains, is fundamentally a gospel issue.

To think of abortion as a secondary issue—or worse, a merely political issue—is to fundamentally misunderstand the defining experience of our times. It also means we fundamentally fail to see the central truth that the cross alone can cleanse the conscience from the debilitating effects of bloodguilt.

Our capacity to simply ignore the influence of abortion is crippling the effectiveness of the gospel. Abortion’s role in the consciences of hundreds of millions of people in the United States alone is a boil that festers just under the surface of all Christian endeavors, and it needs lancing. It needs to be called out by name, confessed by name, and brought under a gospel that declares that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood, that is, by the blood of Christ. (p. 68)

Just let those words sink in. If abortion is a gospel issue, we must repent of our desire to keep silent. We must put away our notions that it’s a mere political topic. While it most certainly has political implications, it’s goes much deeper than politics. It’s a question of worldview.

Ensor’s greatest strength in this book is that he doesn’t shy away from this reality. In fact, he is so prophetically forcefully (and I use that term carefully, but deliberately), that we cannot help but be stopped in our tracks. If we are truly followers of Jesus, then we are not permitted to sit on the sidelines of this issue, nor can we with biblical support find defense for any other position than being pro-life.

Those words were difficult to even write as it grates against so much of my upbringing and my past (as mentioned above). In Canada, where I live, we have no set laws on abortion. But the philosophy that undergirds its acceptance is now being applied to infanticide, as in the case of Katrina Efferts, who was recently given a suspended sentence of three years for murdering her newborn, with the judge declaring that this act of infanticide was little different than abortion.

Philosophically, this judge may be able to justify her ruling, but it’s no different than Pilate’s washing of his hands. The blood remains on their hands. And if we remain silent, not simply about abortion, but about the hope the gospel brings to those who have had one or performed one, it will remain on ours as well.

Innocent Blood is perhaps the most personally convicting and challenging book I’ve read this year—so much so that I’m still wrestling with what needs to change, of what I need to repent and how to move forward. You will not enjoy reading this book, but you would do well to do so.


Title: Innocent Blood: Challenging the Powers of Death with the Gospel of Life
Author: John Ensor
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)