The Briefing 10-29-14

The Briefing 10-29-14

The Briefing


October 29, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, October 29, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Reinstatement of Rev. Frank Schaefer a failure of United Methodists to maintain own doctrine

Most major American denominations one way or the other have been dealing for the better part of last 20 years with the issue of homosexuality, same-sex relations, same-sex behaviors, and the entire complex of what is now referred to as the LBGT movement. In mainline Protestantism the story has been by and large one of accommodation to that movement; one of eventual concessions being made first toward the normalization of homosexual behavior and then towards the recognition and celebration of same-sex relationships. Even to the point that most of those liberal mainline Protestant denominations now at least to some point allow their clergy to perform same-sex ceremonies and recognize same-sex marriage.

The outlier among those mainline Protestant denominations has been United Methodist Church. That church of course traces its roots all the way back to John and Charles Wesley. And deep in the Wesleyan tradition of holiness there is an instinct among United Methodists that holds them to a certain understanding of what it means to resist sin and to embrace holiness; that is at least one theological hold upon that denomination. The denomination has been conceding point after point in terms of biblical authority in recent years and theologically it now includes a wide diversity and pluralism of theological positions. But why has the United Methodist Church not moved in so far a liberal direction as those other denominations? It has to do with the fact that the United Methodist Church a generation ago decided to include churches from non-North American locations, in particular from Africa. And so many those churches from the Pacific Rim and especially those churches in Africa are staunchly resistant to the normalization of homosexuality and to the legitimization of same-sex relationships. And that’s why that church, rather than moving to the left in general as a national and international body, has been in something of a pause and perhaps even on some questions moving to the right.

But that church now faces an inevitable moment of decision. That was made clear on Monday when the church’s Judicial Council, meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, decided that a United Methodist pastor who was defrocked after officiating at his gay son’s wedding will after all be able to stay in the ministry. The United Methodist top court made that decision after the Rev. Frank Schaefer had been defrocked after he had performed a same-sex ceremony for his son. At least three of his children are gay and he performed the same-sex ceremony for one of them – that led to the fact he was defrocked by a lower Methodist court. Upon appeal, his appeal has now been successful and he is now not defrocked but in essence re-frocked; his temporary suspension from the ministry has been lifted. Now the court in Memphis on Monday did so, they said, because of a technicality and the technicality itself is a part of the problem. We need to look at this very closely because what this tells us is that a denomination that wants to take a half measure, in terms of censoring a pastor, is going to find out that a half measure ends up meaning almost nothing; that is the great lesson of this United Methodist experience.

That lower United Methodist Court did not defrock Frank Schaefer for performing a same-sex ceremony, but for not pledging that he wouldn’t do it again. Now a church that is unwilling to deal with the fact that one of its ministers has blatantly and flagrantly violated its own law, in this case known by United Methodists as the book of discipline, a church that is unwilling to deal with that violation and only seems to be willing to deal with the fact that the violator will not make a pledge not to violate again is a church that is doomed to this kind of death by technicality – and in this case that’s exactly what this church is looking at. Because a church that cannot and will not hold its clergy to its own doctrine and principles and laws is a church that is headed not only for disaster, not only for inevitable numerical decline, but for a total theological abdication of responsibility. Because if the church cannot even and will not even police what its own clergy, what its own ministers and pastors will do and will say and will not do, then that church is looking at an inevitable collapse; it’s looking at an absolute incipient disaster.

And that’s where the United Methodist Church now stands. It’s standing at the brink – at the precipice – of that kind of disaster. There is still time for that church to turn and that’s where evangelical Christians committed to the full authority of Scripture need to pray that this very important, very historic denomination – this denomination that along with Baptist represents the largest group of evangelicals in the United States – this denomination we need to pray will actually, perhaps by that intentional influence coming from Africa and elsewhere, stay true to the Scripture. And if it does so it’s going to have to do so in a way that’s clear, clear enough, that a violation becomes the issue, not just the promise that the violator won’t violate again. This affirms once again that when you’re looking at so many of these cases, church by church, denomination by denomination, when you’re looking at Christianity writ large, in many cases it’s not really a question of what does the Bible say, it’s a question of whether or not the church has the fortitude to make it stick.

2) Pope’s attempts to reconcile creation and evolution foments confusion, departs from ex nihilo

Shifting now to Rome in Vatican City, Josephine McKenna of Religion News Service reports that on Monday, that’s just two days ago, Pope Francis I waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life. According to McKenna saying the Big Bang theory did not contradict the role of the divine creator but even required it. She went on to say that the Pope was addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They were gathered at the Vatican to discuss the topic ‘evolving concepts of nature.’ The Pope as quoted by Religion News Service said,

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,”

He went on to say,

“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

RNS then reported the Pope’s words,

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. [He went on to say] Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Now the first thing I want to say is that regardless of the translation, this is a very muddled and confused, even confusing, statement. But pause for just a moment and realize that here you have Religion News Service, one of the most respected news agencies in the world, quoting the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church as stating among other confusing things that God “is not a divine being.” Now that’s one of most shocking things I’ve seen in news media in my entire adult life. It’s hard to imagine news more significant than the Pope declaring, in speaking to a Pontifical Academy of Sciences meeting, that God is not a divine being.

I looked at this story again and again; I read it over and over again, but there is no doubt that this is exactly what RNS reported – that the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church said just Monday. And furthermore, I waited to see if RNS might almost immediately publish some kind of clarification or retraction – it didn’t come. So I asked my office directly to be in contact with reporter to ask if this was a translation issue. Just late yesterday that reporter, Josephine McKenna, reported back saying that she was happy with her translation even though she’s unsure what the Pope intended; in other words, quite explicitly, she sticking by her story. She’s even sticking by her translation.

Now we have at least two huge new stories here. The first new story is that the Pope said such a thing. Now let’s just grant for a moment that the Pope almost surely did not mean what the context here seems to imply that he met; what the words themselves even more clearly seem to imply. There must be something else behind this and in the total context of the Pope’s address it appears that what he meant to say was that God the creator, as revealed in Scripture and Christian tradition, is not some kind of blind impersonal mere deity but an intelligent creator who had a plan for his creation. But that’s not what he said, at least not according to the translation and the report offered by Religion News Service.

But that leads to the second big news story here. How can it be that a news organization with the scale and scope and reputation of Religion News Service can put out a news report saying that the Pope on Monday declaring that God is not a divine being and there appears to be almost no conversation about it and no demand for clarification? At least, not until we asked for clarification and later yesterday we had a second clarification from the reporter who said that the word ‘demiurge’ used in some other translations would be acceptable. But she continues to stand by her original translation. Well I stand by my claim that this is a very big story. I don’t think it’s so much the fact that it’s a big story because the Pope meant what he is reported here as saying, I think more likely the big story is: where’s the controversy over the misunderstanding? Or where’s the controversy and demand for clarification over what the Pope apparently is understood to have said?

But that leads to an even bigger story from an evangelical and Christian worldview perspective. What we have here on the part of the Roman Catholic Church is an absolute fierce determination to try to state at every conceivable point that there is no basic problem or conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical and Christian account of creation. And the Roman Catholic Church has been about this for a very long time. The last to Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their own way tried to make similar statements. Now you have this Pope coming out with a statement that there is no inherent conflict between evolution and creation. And then you look at the report and you see he said some things that are, in the long run, just as interesting and just as scandalous as when he said that God is not a divine being, or was reported or translated as saying so.

In McKenna’s report she also quotes the Pope as saying,

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,”

Now that would seem, by any means, by any legitimate interpretation, regardless of any variant translation, to state that God the Creator is somehow, in His act of creation, accountable to laws external to himself. The moment you do that you actually depart from the Christian tradition. You are departing from the very clear statements of Scripture, you are exiting from the Christian affirmation of creation ex nihilo, that is God’s sovereignly and unilaterally acting, ex nihilo, out of nothing to create the cosmos and all that is. And you’re entering into a worldview in which God has to deal with either stuff that exists before he creates or with laws that conscribe his creative activity. Either one of those, and at least one of those seems to be absolutely necessary to the Pope statement, is theologically disastrous and not only separates the Roman Catholic Church from evangelicals, but is now separating the Roman Catholic Church from the longer and more historic Christian tradition.

But there’s another huge problem here. And the Pope statement, regardless of his translation, demands that we look at it in the face. And that is this: the Roman Catholic Church, supposedly now, officially says there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical account of creation. But in order to get there it has to do a couple of things that we should notice and notice very carefully. In the first place it has to de-historicize much of the biblical account. It has to say that when you’re looking at the first two chapters of the book of Genesis you’re not looking at literal space-time history. But the second thing you have to do if you’re going to make that claim is you’re actually going to have to redefine the theory of evolution and that’s what the two previous Popes did quite explicitly.

The official statements of the Roman Catholic Church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI both defined evolution in such a way that evolution would not prevent an affirmation of the special creation of human beings and would not prevent the affirmation of the historicity of Adam and Eve and the common descent of humanity from them. But here’s what you need to note: no acceptable theory of evolution held in any major academic city in the world makes those allowances. So in essence the Roman Catholic Church publicly says there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical and Christian understanding of creation, but they actually redefined at both ends of the equation. The Christian doctrine of creation is redefined but so is the theory of evolution and that’s why it become so frustrating to evangelicals when we’re told that the Roman Catholic Church says there’s no conflict; as this Pope just recently said in one of the most muddled statements ever I have seen from the Vatican, that there supposedly is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the Christian account of creation. But when they do so they are basically counting on the fact that people aren’t going to read the footnotes because if you read the footnotes, it’s just not so.

But it does appear as this latest report comes out, regardless of the news source, that this Pope has taken that argument one step further. If indeed the Roman Catholic Church, if indeed the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, now holds that God was constrained in his active creation such that he was accountable to anything external to himself, we’re now talking about a wholesale departure from the biblical doctrine of creation.

3) Report reveals influence of secular schools as engines of secularism

Shifting to the question of education and religion, The Economist, that very influential British newsmagazine, just a few days ago was out with a story entitled: “Falling Away”; the subtitle said this, ‘How education makes people less religious and less superstitious too.’ It’s a very interesting story. Once again, The Economist does not credit reporters so we simply credit the magazine. But the magazine states that,

“Just one extra year of schooling makes someone 10% less likely to attend a church, mosque or temple, pray alone or describe himself as religious, [That according to] a paper published on October 6th that [according to the Economist] looks at the relationship between religiosity and the length of time spent in school.”

It looked at a change in the compulsory school-leaving age in 11 European countries between 1960 and 1985 in order “to tease out the impact of time spent in school on belief and practice among respondents to the European Social Survey.”  As The Economist says, that’s a long-running research project. The next paragraph says this,

“By comparing people of similar backgrounds who were among the first to stay on longer, the authors could be reasonably certain that the extra schooling actually caused religiosity to fall, rather than merely being correlated with the decline.”

During those extra years according to The Economist the big issue might be that there are more rigorous mathematics and science classes taught. And,

“And increased exposure to analytical thinking may weaken the tendency to believe.”

Well it’s an interesting story, it is the kind of thing that would be of interest to a theologian; I looked at it very carefully. And here are a couple of thoughts that that come immediately to mind. This report makes no distinction between the impact of education and the impact of school, now that’s a crucial issue. Those are two different things. Education is about learning, school is about the institutional context in which that takes place. I think there is no reason to doubt that the longer one is in one of the secular school systems of Europe the less likely one is to be referenced as a believer. But the big issue here that isn’t even confronted in this story is the fact that those schools, those institutional contexts, become the very engines for the secularism their here trying to report on and trying to track and measure.


And that gets to another issue, the choice of a context for education. The choice of an educational option or school goes a long way in determining the kind of worldview that student is going to eventually receive. This points to the formative powerful educational influence and that’s exactly why Christian should pay attention to this story – education matters and for that matter, school matters. The choice of an educational option has a great deal to do with the character of the student in the end, with the beliefs of the student in the end, and completely what the worldview that student is going to have at the end of the educational process.

We shouldn’t doubt this research for a moment. There is no reason to doubt that the longer a student, especially a teenager and adolescent, is in one of these very secular institutional school settings in Britain and throughout Europe, there is no reason to suspect that it will be wrong that those students every single year would become more secular. That’s actually what we should expect. But that’s where we need come back and say that a clear distinction needs be made between education and school because this report actually doesn’t measure education at all – only length of time in particular school settings and in that institutional context.

There is a second issue to look at here and that has to do with the fact that when you’re looking at the countries that are being surveyed here in the European social survey, and look at the years – remember those years were 1960 to 1985 – that’s the very quarter-century, the very 25 year period, when Europe itself made that giant secular turn. When you look at the 20th century and you look at Europe, the period between 1960 and 1985 is when churchgoing rates in those countries fell precipitously. It just might have much more to do with the fact that these parents weren’t taking these kids to church, in terms of the fact that they turned out to be less religious as measured in terms of this study. That make sense as well, but that doesn’t get factored into this report. One of the things we need to keep in mind is that the culture is a whole and when you look at the public schools you look at what is eventually a reflection of the culture. And in Europe when you look at the secularization of those nations, you have to look at the schools as both a reflection of that secularization but – here’s the point – also an engine for that secularization. And that’s why Christians in the United States looking at a report like this need to understand that there are some institutional educational context that are deadly seriously damaging to religious belief, that are deeply subversive to the Christian worldview, and that will have an in evitable impact upon the students who were in those classrooms; year-by-year, year after year. The other thing we need to recognize is that when we’re looking at the total society making a turn, there is no reason to believe that there will be any distance between the secularization of the society and the secularization of the schools. But we also need to recognize that the cart and horse question applies here is well. It is more likely that it’s the secularization of the schools driving the secularization of the culture than the other way around. And that’s simply because what happens in the classroom eventually is what determines the shape of the culture. Christian parents be alert, be aware, be understanding, be very aware of this.

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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Reinstatement of Rev. Frank Schaefer a failure of United Methodists to maintain own doctrine

Pastor who performed gay marriage keeps ordination, Associated Press (Travis Loller)

Frank Schaefer wins final reinstatement with Methodists, Religion News Service (Cathy Lynn Grossman)

Top court affirms Schaefer’s reinstatement as clergy, United Methodist News (Linda Bloom)

2) Pope’s attempts to reconcile creation and evolution foments confusion, departs from ex nihilo

Pope Francis: ‘Evolution … is not inconsistent with the notion of creation’, Religion News Service (Josephine McKenna)

3) Report reveals influence of secular schools as engines of secularism

Falling away, The Economist

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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