The Briefing 09-09-14

The Briefing 09-09-14

The Briefing


September 9, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, September 9, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Momentum of Scotland referendum gentle reminder of transience of political realities

We are accustomed to the map staying relatively stable; certainly very stable when it comes to the most important nations on earth, the most long-lasting and intact nations over the last several centuries. Among those, without question, is the nation known as the United Kingdom. Americans often referred to the United Kingdom as Britain, or using the shorthand often as England. But the United Kingdom includes not only England, but Scotland and Wales – at least for now. But next week the population of Scotland is set to vote in a referendum about whether or not to remain in United Kingdom. And even as observers in London and elsewhere had expected that the vote would be a resounding no, the tables appear to have turned in the last several days before this historic referendum.


Now, people on both sides of the vote believe that it’s up for grabs. And there are polls indicating that there is a surge of momentum for the yes vote – that is for the people of Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom. Now to put this in perspective, just imagine the fact that England and Scotland have basically been united ever since they were united under one monarch and that took place in the monarchy of James I. He was James VI of Scotland, but upon the death of Elizabeth I, he became King James I of England. He continued as King James of Scotland and thus became the King of the same realm. And in unifying those realms under one crown, that was a major historical achievement. And even as most Americans know King James I because he was the king who authorized – what in Britain is known as the Authorized Version, known in the United States is the King James version of the Bible – James I basically set the stage for the unification of England and Scotland – two nations that had often been at war of the centuries into one realm. But that is all now threatened by a vote coming in just a matter of days. And if indeed, as the polls indicate, the people of Scotland vote to leave the United Kingdom, the map is going to change. And not just the map, but the nation of England – it will be forever changed.


Losing Scotland would be tantamount to a major portion of the United States deciding in one vote to leave. Scotland has been so incorporated into the United Kingdom that most people living today cannot even imagine, the inhabitants, that is, of either Scotland or England, what it would mean for the two nations to be separate. The reasons for the urge toward separation of Scotland basically come down to nationalism; and that requires us to think pretty carefully, because if the nation is the United Kingdom, then nationalism would mean Scotland and England and Wales remaining together. But if nationalism refers to Scotland as an independent nation, that redefines the terms. That’s why this is of urgent importance to the world; because even as there so many nations that are now understood to be basically artificial constructs, the reality is that we consider the United Kingdom to be a very natural constructs – to be a natural political gathering together of one people, united by one language, even though there may be regional interest in regional variations, the fact is that the United Kingdom has been considered just that – a political fact, a fact of life, a fact of the map, a fact of geography, and a fact of politics, a fact of culture as well. That’s now all very much threatened.


Now why should Christians find this of interest? Well because, even when we look in the Scriptures, for instance at the table of the nation’s – neglected by so many Christians – found in Genesis 11 we find the dispersion of human beings after the flood, according to clans and families and tribes and nations, but the nations defined in the table of Nations in Genesis 11, are not geopolitical nation-states, they are ethnicities. When missiologist now talk about unreached people groups, we’re talking about those ethnicities, and those are how the peoples of the earth are defined in Scripture. Scripture really doesn’t know any such entity as the nation-state. The nation-state is a modern development, and for the most part, the development of the nation-state has led to greater security and greater stability for people, and that’s why the nation-state has become the preferred model of political existence in the 20th and 21st centuries – but now that’s being threatened right in the very heart of Western civilization, right in the nation that gave the United States at least its first beginnings. We’re talking about England, we’re talking about Scotland, we’re talking about the United Kingdom. And we’re talking about a United Kingdom that, in a matter of days, may become profoundly un-United.


What should Christians think about seeing this issue in the news? Well for one thing, we should be reminded of the fact that the nation-state is a rather modern development in terms of human history. And we also need to understand that human beings, at the very core of our common existence, define ourselves in terms of some kind of community – eventually that community defined by culture, society, language, economy, and politics, becomes a collective, a collective large enough to be called a country. But the nation-state is not as stable as often we assume it to be, and that’s a very important Christian understanding. We tend to look at the map, we look at the nations as they’re colorized on the globe, and we tend to do believe that that simply the way things are, and the way things always will be.


But all you have to do is look at a succession of historical maps to understand that those maps have been rewritten time and time again. Just go back to the end of the 19th century, that’s barely just over hundred years ago, at that time most of the peoples of the earth were ruled over by crowned heads, that is by monarchs. Furthermore, most of those political realities were included within larger interest groups, commonly known as empires. There was, of course, the German empire centered in Prussia, the Hapsburg empire centered in Austria and Hungary, the British empire centered of course in United Kingdom, the Russian Empire defined by Russia and all the countries included within its orbit, and that’s just speaking of course of the landmass now called Europe. But what we’re looking at when we look at the world scene, whether it’s a map or a globe, is something that has been changing all throughout human history. One of the facts of living in a fallen world is that all of these political realities are extremely transient. Sometimes these political realities known as nation-states are so artificial that they simply do not hold together. The Soviet Union was an example of an empire, calling itself a nation that fell apart as soon as the political will to hold it together began to falter.


But no one in recent decades has look at the United Kingdom and seen something like the USSR, instead when we look at United Kingdom we see something more like the United States of America.


But wait just a minute; could the same thing that is now threatening to happen in the United Kingdom ever happen in the United States? The answer to that may be shocking to many people. The United States is held together by an act of political will, by a Constitution that holds together 50 different states in a compact. And, of course, after the Civil War, it was made impossible, constitutionally speaking, for a state to secede from the union. But the lesson to be learned right now from the United Kingdom is this – if the nation-state ever loses its plausibility from within, if the cause and the commonality that brought the nation-state together ever begins to falter and fall apart, the very existence of the nation-state is then called into question. It happened to the USSR, it is happening now routinely in many of the parts of the world marked by such intense conflict, it might happen next week in the United Kingdom. But Christians also need to look at this news and recognize the profound biblical truth that no country, no nation, no nation-state, is forever – no empire stands forever. To put in the vernacular, the powers that be, quite too soon become, the powers that were. This should lead Christians in every place and in every generation to understand, that we cannot identify Christianity or the church of the Lord Jesus Christ too closely with any nation-state, because that is to confuse the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world, and as for the kingdoms of this world, whether Scotland decides to leave United Kingdom next week or not, every single one of those kingdoms, one day, will be no more.

2) Loss of political hope impacts Russian mortality rates

Staying on the issue of the nation and the nation-state, but shifting from the United Kingdom to Russia, we need to note a very ominous and sad article that has recently appeared in the New York Review of Books, that is one of the most prestigious intellectual journals published in the United States of America, and the most recent issue features an article by Masha Gessen entitled “The Dying Russians.” The article really is remarkable, it points to the fact that Russia now has a lifespan, a life expectancy, which ranks it among the least developed countries on earth. As documentation Masha Gessen points to the fact that a 15-year-old boy in Russia today has a life expectancy that compares unfavorably to the life expectancy of a 15-year-old boy in Ethiopia, Gambia, or Somalia. Gessen cites demographer Nicholas Eberstadt who is written,


overall life expectancy at age fifteen in the Russian Federation appears in fact to be lower than for some of the countries the UN designates to be least developed […], among these, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Yemen.


So a 15-year-old boy, according to this research, alive in Russia today has a life expectancy that is now lower than a 15-year-old boy in Ethiopia, Gambia, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Yemen – and as for older Russians, the life expectancy is collapsing, and at the same time the birth rate is collapsing. So Russia is now caught in a double vise, it has one of the lowest birth rates found on planet Earth, a birth rate the doesn’t even come close to maintaining the current population numbers. And as for the death rates, they are just absolutely unprecedented in the modern age. If anything, the life expectancy the average Russian appears to be rushing back to something like that of the 17th and 18th centuries, not lunging forward as in other advanced Western nations. As Gessen writes,


In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner [than just a few years previous].


The combination of collapsing birthrates and collapsing life expectancy point to an ominous crisis that Russia now cannot avoid. Demographers looking at the situation in Russia now speak openly of the new term: ‘depopulation.’ What would be the reasons for the collapsing life expectancy? Russians drink more than those in almost any other nation, smoking rates are high, accident rates are high – but as Nicholas Eberstadt and others point out, there are nations with higher drinking rates, higher smoking rates, worse air pollution, and all this points to the fact that there is no easy health explanation for why life expectancy in Russia is collapsing. Instead, and this is what is really interesting – given the fact this article appears in the New York Review Of Books – virtually everyone looking at the situation now begins to believe there has to be some kind of spiritual explanation for the collapsing birthrates and the collapsing life expectancies taking place when no one should expect them to happen, where no one should expect them to happen. The one thing even secular observers are now pointing to, is the fact that Russia appears to be affected by a profound collapse of hope. And from the Christian perspective here is something really important – nations, as well as individuals, live, at least in part, on hope. If you take hope away, an individual begins to experience a shorter lifespan; that’s documented across the board. If you take hope away, birthrates also begin to collapse – indeed precipitously to fall; the reason for that is also understandable. The decision to have a child is itself a very profound statement of hope. And falling birthrates, at least in this kind of category, certainly point to a profound hopelessness.


One of the issues addressed in this article in the New York Review of Books is whether or not that hopelessness is tied to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Did the collapse of the communist dream and the myth of the revolution of the proletariat, lead inevitably to a delayed fuse of this kind of hopelessness? That’s certainly a plausible possibility. Certainly it also points to something else, if anyone places ultimate hope in any nation, in any culture, or in any political regime, that hope will soon turn to hopelessness – because there is no regime, there is no country, no empire, including the United States of America, that can be invested in that kind of hope. If we tie our hope to any earthly reality, if we believe that ultimately our security, our hope, our confidence in the future, is grounded in a political reality, whether it be a political reality established in democracy or the Communist dictatorship of the former Soviet Union, the reality is those hopes will inevitably collapse; and when they collapse, well just look at the evidence in Russia – collapsing with that hope, collapsing with that confidence, is the birth rate and the life expectancy. A very strange parable, found in a rather unexpected place, but one that should immediately resonate in the Christian mind, because this tells us what we should already know – those who trust in horses and chariots, in empires and nation states, will find those hopes ill-founded and collapsing, often with calamitous effect.

3) Georgia ethics commissioner corruption shows limitations of human government against sin

I am currently in Atlanta, Georgia, and it’s very interesting to note that there had been two successive days, with two headline news stories on the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution having to do with one story. That story is this, the head of the state ethics commission has been suspended because of unethical behavior. This is going to be a convoluted, and it is already a controversial case here in the state of Georgia, twists and turns and multiple complexities are found within this story, as you would imagine, but it reminded me of the consideration that came to me as a young child.


I can remember thinking this, ‘My parents are there to make sure that I behave, but then who make sure my parents behave?’ Well, ultimately I knew that it was God, but I also knew that there were policemen, and judges, and others, but who would make sure that they behave and that they do what is right? Well I knew at least that there were higher officials, there were those who were in Washington, DC. Growing up in Florida, I knew that there were those in the capital of Tallahassee. I knew that somewhere, there was someone, who could make sure that those, under their authority, were behaving and doing right, punishing the evildoer, rewarding the one who does well. As a child I found security in the fact that my parents were watching over me, and even though I didn’t think my parents needed much watching, I at least knew that someone was watching over virtually everyone. But here’s this front-page story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – what happens when the one who is supposed to be doing the watching, quite clearly, needs to be watched?


This is one of the quandaries of life in a fallen world. We do have the gifts that God has given us in terms of the structures of creation, we do have marriage, the family, we do have, of course, government, along with courts, and magistrates, rules, and laws, we do have oversight. As the apostle Paul made very clear in Romans 13, government does not exist on its own terms – it is indeed one of God’s gifts to us. But every government is led by fallen people, who act in a predictably fallen manner. And as so many cases of recent political corruption have made clear, just because someone holds a position of authority, doesn’t at all mean that they are without the propensity to sin – to often misuse their office. And what could be a more glaring example of that than the fact that, here you have the state of Georgia, the head of the state ethics commission, whose now been suspended for unethical behavior. But how is the state ethics commissioner suspended for unethical behavior? It’s because even as the ethics commissioner is supposed to be watching the ethics of other government officials, someone has be watching the ethics commissioner. But who is then watching the one who is watching the ethics commissioner? And who is watching the one who is watching the one watching the ethics commissioner? Or watching you? Or watching me?


The Bible reveals, and the Christian worldview certainly affirms, that the gifts God has given us in terms of the structures of creation, including the gift of government, are for our good. Human flourishing is found when those institutions that God has given us, are respected and acknowledged and obeyed as God had intended. But the problem with the government, the problem with parents, the problem with any authority, is that no human authority is perfect – every single human authority who shows up at any part in this process, from the citizen to the President of the United States, is according to Scripture, a sinner; and sinners will act, unsurprisingly, like sinners. That’s why we need these structures, but that’s also why in a fallen world, none of these structures of protection can actually keep sin from happening. They may ameliorate sin, that’s the old Christian language, that is they may minimize sin, cut down on the effects of sin, but no government, no ethics commission, can make anyone ethical; can make anyone behave morally. In reality, the law has a fundamental purpose. We should be so thankful that the law restrains human evil. We should be very thankful that government, in terms of magistrates, and judges, and police officers, grand juries, and all the rest, uphold justice. But they uphold justice only so far, even when they watch themselves or even when they’re watching us. Because as it is proved over and over again, the watchers fail miserably at watching each other. A headline like this, like so many headlines in the news, simply reminds us of the last verse in the Bible, “even so Lord, come quickly.”


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at 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 I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Momentum of Scotland referendum gentle reminder of transience of political realities

Britain faces storm as giant global investors awaken to break-up dangers, The Telegraph (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard)

Scottish independence: everything you need to know about the vote, The Guardian

2) Loss of political hope impacts Russian mortality rates

The Dying Russians, New York Review of Books (Masha Gessen)

3) Georgia ethics commissioner corruption shows limitations of human government against sin

Georgia ethics commission fires director, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Kate Brumback)

In Deal case, a coverup of a coverup of a coverup, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jay Bookman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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