The Briefing 09-04-14

The Briefing 09-04-14

The Briefing


September 4, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, September 4, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Obama draws clear red line against Russia’s aggressive ambitions

Standing and speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, the President of the United States spoke not only for the United States but also for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, when he declared, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,


It was not the government in Kiev that destabilized eastern Ukraine; it’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia,


The background of this is itself very interesting. President Obama has found himself being criticized in terms of ineptitude and caution in foreign-policy, not only by his more conservative Republican critics but also now by an increasing number of voices from within his own party – and even some within the Pentagon and his own administration. Speaking just a few days ago, Dianne Feinstein, the California Senator, a prominent Democrat who is herself the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described President Obama as


Very cautious — maybe in this instance too cautious


That’s been a rather mild criticism of the President, many have voiced even stronger criticisms and the President now appears to be gaining at least some voice in terms of drawing a line in the sand that is going to be very difficult to ignore. The President drew what he called a red line on Syria, a matter of about a year ago, and yet he didn’t stand by his own line; Bashar al-Assad  crossed it, and not only that, it has been crossed by many others thereafter.


But standing in Tallinn, Estonia, the President made comments that ought to have our attention. The big question, of course, is whether it has the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Intelligent Christians trying to understand this will want to get a couple of facts straight. Number one, President Obama was speaking at a NATO meeting in Tallinn, Estonia – Estonia is one of the three breakaway Baltic Republics that left the Soviet Union in its crackup in the early 1990s. And of these particular countries, one thing has been absolutely certain – Russia has never been satisfied with the fact that they left the former Soviet Union. Just as Vladimir Putin, in terms of his vision of greater Russia, has looked to Ukraine with a sense of very greedy ambition, the same fear is now upon the leaders of the Baltic nations that they may well be next. But we need to understand a very crucial distinction, the three Baltic republics – not only Estonia, but also Latvia and Lithuania – all three of them are now member states of NATO – Ukraine is not.


Many of us are old enough to remember when the world was divided during the Cold War between two great power blocks, as they were known – on the one hand the Soviet Union and its allies known as the Warsaw Pact and on the other hand, the United States and its allies known as NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But NATO still continues to exist and it exists for good reason. Many people have felt that NATO had fallen into a certain sort of disuse, or perhaps even irrelevancy, as the Cold War was understood to come to an end. But if anything is come to light in recent years and months it is this – the reason for NATO’s existence still continues to persist, and it persists because of the persistence of those who would threaten freedom; in this case the enemy of freedom and democracy and self-determination is an old enemy of those things, and that is Russia.


Russia, in this case, are turning not only to the kind of autocracy that was represented by Soviet communism in the 20th century, but also by old-style Russian autocracy that goes back to the imperialistic ambitions of the czars. Speaking to fellow NATO leaders in Tallinn, Estonia, President Obama yesterday said,


An attack on one is an attack on all, and so if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, ‘Who’ll come to help?’ you’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America.


Now there are red lines and there are red lines; the red line that President Obama drew months ago in Syria was one that could easily be overcome and the President, at least hoped, easily forgotten. This is not one of those lines. The President here has drawn a line in the sand that is one of those lines that is indelible. When the President of the United States says to the people of Estonia, when you ask who will come to help, and the answer comes with these words


You’ll know the answer: the NATO alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America.


Something is happening, and that something is the very real threat of war.


On Tuesday in this program we asked the question, if a world war was on the near horizon, would we see it coming? Well if the answer to that is yes, this is one of the signs we would expect to see. We would expect to see the President of the United States, pressed against the forces of reality, to have to say words no President wants to state. To declare, for the entire world to hear, that if one of these states, Estonia Latvia and Lithuania, is invaded, not only will NATO respond in terms of economic sanctions but as he said the Armed Forces of the United States of America. President Obama, compared to most recent inhabitants of the Oval Office, has been particularly reluctant to use this kind of language. And now, as the last two years of his administration, his time in office looms before him, he finds himself in a position he did not seek – and yet, it is a position he cannot now avoid.


This point was made graphically clear in an editorial that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. It’s one of those editorials that should go down in history for being well timed. Because the editorial is entitled “Deterring a European War;” we need to note that title very carefully – this isn’t about calling for a European war, nor merely warning about the possibility of a European war, it is about the logic and the argument of deterring a European war. As the editors write,


This week’s NATO summit in Wales is being billed as one of the most important in its 65-year history, and with good reason. The Atlantic alliance needs to prove it is serious about deterring the no longer unthinkable prospect of another major war in Europe.



And as they went on to say,


Lest you think we overstate, on Monday the Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted Vladimir Putin telling European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that “if I want, I can take Kiev in two weeks”—a statement the Kremlin did not deny…Mr. Putin is talking openly about “New Russia,” with specific mention of the cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as well as Odessa on the Black Sea.


Well the editors of the Wall Street Journal are getting right to the heart of the matter. Going back to the end of the 1930s, one of the things we now see very clearly in retrospect is that Adolf Hitler announced exactly what he was going to do. And yet, most people, many people, tried their very best to believe he didn’t mean it. When it comes to Vladimir Putin, just ask the people in Crimea if he meant what he said. And now when he holds up a map, featuring a country the he invented out of thin air, Novorossiya, what we’re looking at is a threat – a threat made openly, and a threat made more blatantly than many people could have even imagined when he told the leader of the European commission, ‘if I want to take Kiev, I can take it in two weeks.’


That’s a statement that goes beyond most of the comments made by Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s. The words written by the editors of the Wall Street Journal deserve very close attention when they continue to write, “Wars happen when aggressors detect the lack of will to stop them.”


The editors went on to say that this was the case in 2008 after Russia invaded Georgia; when NATO warned that Ukraine, which has been pushing Russia to move its Black Sea Fleet headquarters, could be next. The editorial in the Wall Street Journal demands our attention also because of the moral and historical clarity of a couple of the things that are clearly cited within this essay. In the first place, the editors write,


Wars happen when aggressors detect the lack of will to stop them.


The history of the 20th century, taken as if it were the only history we know, would make that point graphically and clearly. But then they end the editorial with these words and I quote,



The temptation of democracies is to believe that autocrats treasure peace and stability as much as we do. Europeans in particular want to believe that their postwar institutions and economic integration have ended their violent history. But autocrats often prosper from disorder, and they need foreign enemies to feed domestic nationalism. This describes Russia under Mr. Putin, who is Europe’s new Bonaparte. His goal is to break NATO, and he’ll succeed unless the alliance’s leaders respond forcefully to his threat.


One of the challenges faced by anyone who speaks about world affairs is the fact that many people, in particular many Americans, have a limited attention span for foreign-policy. But if that attention span is short, that’s a part of the problem. And even if it’s short, it better be directed to this problem and directed very fast.

2) Federal judge breaks trend by upholding Louisiana same-sex marriage ban

Shifting back to the United States, a federal judge in Louisiana yesterday upheld that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This ended a run of about 20 straight successes for the proponents of same-sex marriage in federal courts since the United States Supreme Court handed down its Windsor decision in 2013. Ryan Reilly reporting for the Huffington Post writes,


Bucking a nationwide trend, a federal judge in Louisiana upheld a state ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, writing that “any right to same-sex marriage is not yet so entrenched as to be fundamental” [he also pointed out] that gay marriage was “inconceivable until very recently.”


This judge may find that his decision, which does end 20 decisions in the opposite direction in the federal courts since 2013, will be overturned. It might be, at either the appellate court level or by the United States Supreme Court, but in any event, he deserves credit for making a very serious argument. In this case, this federal judge has had the courage to point out, that even if some court were to find that there is a right to same-sex marriage, it would not be a right described in the law as fundamental – so fundamental as to trump every other issue in the law. Furthermore, as he writes, if it is a right, it has been, as he writes, inconceivable until very recently. That’s an important piece of moral clarity brought to this, often unclear, issue when it comes to the court’s deliberations. This judge, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, wrote and I quote,
“The Court is persuaded that a meaning of what is marriage that has endured in history for thousands of years, and prevails in a majority of states today, is not universally irrational on the constitutional grid,”
That is an extremely important sentence. Here you have a federal district judge who points out, that even right now, in the month of September in the year 2014, a majority of states in the United States of America by democratic processes have bans, either in the law or in their state constitutions, against same-sex marriage. And thus as he writes, it’s not, to use his words, universally irrational on the constitutional grid; these states, acting in a way that they believed was constitutional took an action that they intended to serve to protect marriage. Furthermore in his decision, the judge says that he “hesitates with the notion that this state’s choice could only be inspired by hate and intolerance.”


That’s a response directly back to the Windsor decision, which also points back to another decision 10 years earlier in the case Lawrence v. Texas, in which the same Supreme Court Justice wrote the majority opinion, in both cases, it was Justice Anthony Kennedy when he pointed out that this kind of law had to be rooted, in his judgment, in the fact that there are some animus against gay Americans. This judge said that isn’t at all apparent in the actual legislative and political history of the ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Louisiana. Instead he says, Louisiana


Has legitimate interest whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not in the opinion of others, in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents.


Again a very important sentence, because just imagine the moral courage that this judge brought to that statement. He declared, after making clear the state is not acting irrationally in defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, by coming back to the fact that the legitimate interest of the state is, to use his words,


In linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents.


In other words, asserting that it does make a difference as to whether or not the family is defined as having both a mother and a father. That is a very important statement, and it’s a statement that no previous generation, or any previous culture, would’ve found, in any way, controversial to the very least.


A couple of things are going to be immediately interesting, the state of this judge’s decision, as undoubtedly the case is appealed to the US appellate court and eventually upon appeal probably to the United States Supreme Court, the only real question with the Supreme Court is which one of these cases it decides to take. That will frame the issue actually going into the court’s deliberations, expected to be this fall, within eventual decision by the U.S. Supreme Court likely to come early next summer.


But the second thing that’s going to be very interesting is to see how the national press deals with this judge’s decision. This does break a string of over 20 decisions in the federal courts thus far since Windsor. And it does break it in a very decisive way because this judge did not merely rule that the state of Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, he gave an argument for why it should be understood as constitutional, and a legitimate state interest, and one that recognizes the needs of children – to live in an intact family with their biological parents, otherwise known as a mother and a father. The very fact that that judge’s ruling will be considered wrong by some, controversial by many, and perhaps even shaky in terms of future appeals by most, that just points to the reality of the moral rebellion we are now experiencing, and the scale of the moral revolution that is now utterly reshaping the entire world around us.

3) Osteens’ prosperity cannot be preached in Mosul, should not be preached in Houston

Yesterday on my website at Albert I posted an article entitled “The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel.” My essay was prompted by controversy over comments made by Victoria Osteen, the wife of Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen – she’s also identified, by the ways, as one of the pastors of the church – when she stated in terms of the video that’s been circulating on the Internet and I quote,



I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”



She continued by saying,


So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”


As you might expect, the congregation responded with a very loud “amen,” and in that amen what you heard was the entire theological logic of the Bible turned absolutely upside down – telling us that the purpose of our living is not about God, and the ultimate purpose of life is not the glory of God, but rather our own happiness, which is, Victoria Osteen says: God’s greatest happiness as well, if we’re just happy, he will be happy.


There are monumental problems with this argument and most of you have figured that out a long time ago. The first problem is the word ‘happiness’ simply doesn’t even work here. The word ‘happiness’ is an emotive state used by most people in the United States in terms of the English language, and certainly that’s exactly what Victoria Osteen was talking about. The kind of happiness the she pointed to quite explicitly was not the joy that the Puritans and Reformers spoke about, nor the joy that the psalmist will refer to, but rather happiness as an emotional state. And the happiness that she’s talking about is one that she mentioned explicitly in the furtherance of her message, and that was a message about material benefits, about promotions at work, about the health and wealth that she claims – along with her husband Joel – are promised to believers. What we’re looking at here is a revival of the persistent old American heresy known as prosperity theology.


The Prosperity Theology movement, or the prosperity gospel, immerged out of Pentecostalism – especially in the first decades of the 20th century. And it was directly addressed to those who were identified at that time as the dispossessed, the very poor, those who had difficulty even having a roof over their heads and food to feed their families. In the context of that kind of poverty, the early proponents of the prosperity theology, or the word of faith movement, suggested that what God wants for all people is to bless them with innumerable, or to use Joel’s phrase: immeasurable blessings, including the blessings of health, of wealth, of prosperity – and it was a message that sold. It’s also a message that fails every conceivable test, it fails the biblical test, not only is that not taught in Scripture, it’s untaught in Scripture. Not only does it fail the biblical test, it fails the theological test, it isn’t compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, in contrast, a false gospel. It sits alongside the gospel as that which draws people away from the cross and resurrection of Christ, and certainly away from the biblical summons to faith in Christ and repentance toward God for our sins.


Furthermore, it’s the kind of message that very clearly fails a practical test; because those who preached the health and wealth gospel, well to be honest, many of them have become wealthy – but those who follow the gospel generally, have not. And when it comes to health, well even the proponents of prosperity theology tend to die right on time; afflicted with all the same illnesses and physical problems as the rest of us. The health and wealth gospel, the prosperity theology fails the biblical test, the theological test, it fails the gospel test, and it fails the practical test – but it is popular.  As one recent historian of the movement pointed out, what you see in the Osteen’s is the repackaging of an old message, what you see is a new softer version of prosperity theology – but scratch under the surface, it’s the same old prosperity theology, the same old false gospel.


I refer you to my essay for the argument in full, but I want to point to the title. “The Osteen Predicament” – why that title? It is because of this – it’s hard to believe with any straight face, with any moral sense of gravity whatsoever, anyone can preach this kind of message in a world in which recent headlines of Christians being evacuated from the Middle East, of Christians being beheaded in the city of Mosul, of Christians being assaulted and killed by forces such as Boko Haram in Africa. How can anyone preach the gospel of prosperity theology saying that God is obligated to give us health and wealth if we will only name it and claim, if we’ll only conceive it and believe it, when there are Christians who are paying the price of their Christian testimony with their lives, with their blood going into the sand in places such as Mosul in Iraq. The point of the Osteen Predicament is this, if you can’t preach that gospel in Mosul, you shouldn’t be preaching it in Houston. A reminder to us all, less we find ourselves in a similar predicament; if we can’t preach our gospel to the persecuted church, we shouldn’t be preaching it anywhere.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information to my website you can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to


Are you or someone you know considering college? I would really look forward to introducing you to the work of Boyce College. I would love to tell you more about Boyce at our Preview Day that comes up on October 31. Come learn how we are preparing the next generation of Christian young men and women to serve the church and to engage the culture. Learn more by going to Boyce


I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Obama draws clear red line against Russia’s aggressive ambitions

Obama Calls Ukraine a ‘Moment of Testing’ for NATO, The New York Times, (Julie Hirschfeld Davis)

Sen. Feinstein: Obama may be ‘too cautious’ in dealing with Islamic State, Washington Post (Josh Hicks)

Deterring a European War, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

2) Federal judge breaks trend by upholding Louisiana same-sex marriage ban

Louisiana Gay Marriage Ban Upheld By Federal Judge, (Huffington Post) Ryan Reilly

Federal judge upholds La. gay-marriage ban (Associated Press)

3) Osteens’ prosperity cannot be preached in Mosul, should not be preached in Houston

The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel, (Albert Mohler)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).