The Briefing 10-30-14

The Briefing 10-30-14

The Briefing


October 30, 2014

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

  It’s Thursday, October 30, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Houston withdrawal of sermon subpoenas does not negate danger subpoenas represented  Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced yesterday that the subpoenas issued to five evangelical preachers would be rescinded, the legal term is withdrawn. As the Houston Chronicle reports, the city of Houston will withdraw its controversial subpoenas of five pastors tied to a lawsuit over the city’s equal rights ordinance. Mayor Annise Parker announced that yesterday at a news conference. The decision according to the Chronicle comes amid a national firestorm over the subpoenas which had prompted outrage amongst Christian conservatives. Parker last week had left the subpoenas in place with a narrower wording, removing any mention of sermons. However, the Mayor also admitted that the sermons were not excluded and in so far as they addressed the issues of the subpoena, they were included in the demand for information as well. In her press conference yesterday the mayor said, “The move is in the best interest of Houston and is not an admission that the requests were in any way illegal or intruded on religious liberties.” That’s one of those statements that lead you to scratch your head and say, ‘well, then why did you do it?’ But the mayor had more to say, "I didn't do this to satisfy them [speaking of the pastors]. I did it because it was not serving Houston." Now the background of this is really important. The mayor and the city council narrowly pushed through a gay-rights ordinance that included one specific provision that said that transgendered persons in public facilities could use whatever restroom they demanded and that if they were not accommodated they could then file suit or file charges. Those who are in the city of Houston upset about that ordinance tried to use the constitutional means of a citizen recall; they collected petitions of needed signatures in order to get the issue before voters by referendum. But after collecting more than enough, indeed multiples of enough of those signatures, they then had the effort thwarted by the fact that Houston city attorney called most of those signatures invalid and thus turn back the referendum attempt. The lawsuit currently pending is from citizens in Houston suing the city government for that ruling; and that’s what led to the subpoenas that led to the current controversy. But the controversy isn’t going to go away. As the Houston Chronicle reported, “[Mayor] Parker said [yesterday] she was persuaded, in part, by the demeanor of the clergymen she met with Tuesday, saying they were concerned not about the ordinance or politics but about the subpoenas' impact on the ongoing national discussion of religious freedoms.” Now as a matter fact, subsequent to this, some of those pastors did say they had discussed the religious liberty issues with the mayor but they did not say what, she insinuated here, and that is that they weren’t primarily concerned in the first place about the ordinance itself. The Mayor went on in a somewhat confusing statement saying, "That was the most persuasive argument, because to me it was, 'What is the goal of the subpoenas?' The goal of the subpoenas is to defend against a lawsuit and not to provoke a public debate. I don't want to have a national debate about freedom of religion when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack. And by taking this step today we remove that discussion about freedom of religion,” Well I think she sincerely hope so. I think by this action she hopes she can get out of the mess she created for herself and her city on the issue of religious liberty. Well I don’t think the Mayor’s hope is going to be fulfilled; several reasons for that. First of all, the fact that the subpoenas were later withdrawn doesn’t remove at all the fact that they were at first issued. And furthermore they weren’t just issued by attorneys working on behalf of the mayor and the city; they were defended by the mayor and the city attorney. This is the same mayor who said about the subpoenas that sermons are – to use her very words – “fair game.” This is the same city attorney who, in a very public statement, said if these preachers were talking by issues he deemed political, then their own content was not going to be protected – their own speech was not going to be protected. But let’s remember why the mayor rescinded the subpoenas; she has said so in her own words: she did so because the issue had become a vast controversy nationwide and even internationally over religious liberty. She said that wasn’t the reason the subpoenas were issued. But here’s the problem: the subpoenas were issued to pastors for materials that were germane to their pastoral ministry. Those are the only subpoenas that are here in question and the only reason those subpoenas were ever issued was to get the material that the subpoenas demanded. There’s no way the mayor can get out of the argument she made herself. Christians looking at the story should surely be glad that the subpoenas were withdrawn. Just as a fact, that’s a very good fact. But we can’t forget that the subpoenas were already issued and we can’t ignore the fact that this represents a form of intimidation not only against the pastors whose sermons were first subpoenaed but to any preacher who will teach or preach on the terrain that some civic official will call political. And in this case, what city officials were deeming political was what was opposed to their own political agenda – plain and simple. Nathan Koppel and Tamara Audi reporting for the Wall Street Journal reported, “Christian leaders said the mayor’s decision doesn’t signal an end of threats to religious freedom.” That’s profoundly true. The Wall Street Journal called me and in the next sentence of that paragraph quotes me as saying, “This is a real warning shot showing how close we are to real infringement on religious liberty. A very clear signal has been sent, and we will have to watch this and other situations closely.” I stand by that statement, a very clear signal has been sent. We’re going to have to watch this situation and others very, very closely. And we have to remember that this does indeed underline just how close to us very real infringements and threats to religious freedom actually stand. It is undeniably a news story that these subpoenas were withdrawn, but that pales over against the significance of the news story that the subpoenas were ever issued. 2) Article against hell displays its significance for entire biblical worldview Many years ago my hometown newspaper, that the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, ran a church ad. The church had placed both the morning and evening services advertise (the morning service above the evening service). The morning service sermon title was “What Is Hell Like?” The wording for the evening service, “Come Hear Our New Organist.” Well that ad led to no shortage of laughter in South Florida but now Time magazine is out with a headline new story that isn’t a laughing matter at all – the headline, “What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like.” The article is written by John Shore, again it’s published at Time, and he begins the article by writing, “The idea that the Bible declares hell a real and literal place is no more valid than…” Let me interrupt him here and say, what would you expect to come next? Well here is what comes next. “The idea that the Bible declares hell a real and literal place is no more valid than the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality.” That’s his first line. It’s really important. One of the things that Christians need constantly to keep in mind is that the way we approach the Scripture shows up not just in one question but in all questions. And inevitably when you compromise Scripture ,when you come up with a revisionist hermeneutic (that is a method of interpreting Scripture) that allows you to say the Scripture doesn’t mean what it apparently does mean, then you won’t apply that to one area of life, you’ll apply that to many. So at the very beginning of this article John Shore announces – he advertises – his own hermeneutic by denying the reality of hell as a real and literal place by saying it’s no more valid than what he calls the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Any faithful reading of Scripture reveals that every time same-sex acts or same-sex relationships are referenced, they are condemned and there’s no way to be faithful to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, no way to be faithful to the trustworthiness and the truthfulness of Scripture, and to deny that fact. But there are those who’ve been trying to get around the plain truth and the plain reading of Scripture for any number of years on other issues, those issues preceded same-sex acts and homosexuality, but that’s the key issue on the front of our cultural conversation right now and that’s the key issue of biblical interpretation in many circles in the present. And that’s what makes a story really interesting, because even though he thinks he’s writing about hell, he’s actually writing about hermeneutics – that is, the science or the discipline of interpreting the Scripture. Recall that what he says here is that the idea of a real and literal hell is no more biblical than the idea of the condemnation of homosexuality – but he goes on. He writes, “Yet the idea that hell is real persists. Why?[He asks. He answers,] Because over the centuries those in positions of power within the institutions of Christianity have methodically, relentlessly, and with great art used the doctrine of hell to exploit the innate fear of death that is harbored by one and all.” He goes on to say, “Show me a Christian terrified of hell, and I’ll show you a Christian ready to pay good money for the assurance that he is not going there.” Well let’s just back away for a moment and say, let’s look at that last sentence. He says, “Show me a Christian terrified of hell, and I’ll show you a Christian ready to pay good money for the assurance that he is not going there.” Well, let me tell you – if you find a Christian terrified of hell, that’s a Christian who doesn’t understand Christianity. In other words, a Christian is one who no longer has any need to have fear of hell. A Christian is one who is assured that he or she is now in Christ and thus safe in Christ, never to be plucked out of the Saviors hands, safe from the fire and the threat of hell; safe eternally. But the real argument he’s making here is that hell has been used by those who are in power in the church in order to keep people faithful to Christianity or attract people to Christianity by the fear of hell. But then he raises the question, ‘what would Christianity without hell look like?’ He says, and I quote, “A Christianity without hell would be literally fearless. [He goes on to say] A Christianity without hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God. It would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love—but never downward to His/Her wrath.” He says, and I quote, “A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from. A Christianity without hell would trust that God’s loving benevolence towards all people (emphasis on all) extends beyond this life and into the next. Bringing peace about the afterlife, a Christianity without hell would free Christians to fully embrace this life, to heed Christ’s commandment to in this life love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In short, a Christianity without hell would be a fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired source of good in the world. And this Christianity would be more biblical [that’s his last argument]—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell.” Time magazine has never done us a better service by demonstrating what’s theologically at stake in the doctrine of hell. Some years ago I participated by interview in a cover story in Time magazine, the very same magazine, on the issue of hell. And it’s interesting that we can’t get away from hell; not just believers in terms of our imagination and our knowledge of health, but the secular world actually can’t get away from the notion of hell. Theologically that needs to be explained. Why is it so? The Bible tells us that it so simply because God made us moral creatures, he made every single human being in his image, and a part of being made in his image is that we have an innate knowledge, not only of the Creator, but of the fact that he will judge us. That point is made explicitly in the opening chapter to the book of Romans, Romans 1. You also have in this gift from Time magazine, a very clear indication of what’s at stake theologically in the doctrine of hell because what he’s calling for here is a Christianity without hell and then he asked honestly what would that Christianity look like. And let’s just consider what he said, ‘a Christianity without hell would look like a religion that points merely to the love of God, never he says, downward to his wrath.’ Well let’s think about that for a moment. Do even secular people really think that they want a God who is only love and never wrath? How would we know what love is unless there is something to which it’s contrasted? How would we know what the gospel is in terms of good news unless there’s bad news over against which it appears to be truly infinitely eternally good? But even secular people who want to say that all they want to believe in is a loving and entirely benevolent God, they don’t want that under all circumstances. Not when they look at the grotesqueness of unspeakable human evil; they don’t want a God who doesn’t judge such things as the Holocaust, as genocide, as child abuse, as ritual murder. They actually do want judgment, they just don’t want judgment on their own sins – which very typically they see to be much less consequential than the sins of those who were involved in such extreme sin – to use the way many secular people try to evaluate relative sinfulness. He says in short, a Christianity without hell would be fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired, as a source of good in the world, and as a way that Christianity would be made better, he says, it would be non-evangelical. His term is actually ‘largely unevangelical.’ Since as he says explicitly, very honestly, there will be nothing to save anyone from. Well then again let’s just look at what’s at stake. So a Christianity without hell – which is what John Shore is calling for – is a Christianity that would actually be Christian only in the sense that there might be some vocabulary left from the Christian tradition and from Scripture because what’s being left behind is not just the doctrine of hell. The point here I want to make emphatically is he really helps us here by demonstrating you can’t just leave hell behind; if you leave hell behind, you’re living a lot else behind. You’re not only rejecting hell, you’re rejecting the wrath of God – which means you’re not only rejecting the wrath of God, you’re rejecting the holiness of God, and you’re rejecting the justice of God. Because as the Bible makes clear, God can’t be just if he allows human sin to go unpunished. No one would consider a judge just who judges the guilty and innocent on exactly the same terms. That’s not justice, that’s not even benevolence. Furthermore, John Shore also helps us here by saying that a Christianity without hell would have to give up on evangelism which means it gives up on the gospel, there’s no bad news in terms of divine judgment from which the gospel would then be seen as good news in terms of salvation. But he also makes very clear even as he argues the opposite, he says that this Christianity about hell would be more biblical. Well now that’s very interesting, of course it wouldn’t be,  but how is he going to reconcile that? Well his next words are abundantly clear and wow, are they clarifying. Because what he say is, “…this Christianity would be more biblical [he then goes on to say]—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell.” Well there you have the real argument because John Shore is here arguing that a Christianity without hell will be more biblical but not when it comes to the words of Scripture but rather to what he calls its spirit. Well there you have it, if somehow you can claim that the message of Scripture is found in its spirit but not in its words, you really had come to the point that you are denying that the Bible is the word of God. You’ve really come to the point that there is no binding authority left, none whatsoever, when it comes to the Scriptures. When you finally reach the point that the only ways to understand the Scripture is to abandon the words, you’ve actually reached the point of hermeneutical nihilism – that is to say you’ve reach the point where your interpretation of Scripture is absolute nothingness, it’s whatever you say it is, there’s no corrective by the actual text of Scripture. And that ought to alert Christians to the fact that when people say we can have Christianity without hell, you need to understand you can’t have it just without hell, a whole lots going to go out with hell – and that includes the character and holiness of God, the justice of God and evangelism, the goodness of the gospel and any coherent reasonable honest interpretation of Scripture. 3) Population control anti-natalism of cultural elite closely tied to eugenics Shifting to Britain, on Tuesday the Guardian, that’s one of London’s most liberal newspapers and yet a newspaper that is vastly read not in Great Britain but in the United States, that newspaper ran a story entitled, “How to save the planet? Stop having children.” It’s one of those articles that tells us just where the worldview of the age is headed.  Frankie Mullin wrote the article. She first quotes Pippa Hayes, age 56, who wrote, “I was sterilised after the birth of my second son because I believed I had no right to have more than two children – it would have been more than my reproductive share. Humans are tipping the balance with the natural world, to the detriment of both humanity and the other species that share our lovely, finite planet.” Well it turns out she’s a medical doctor and it turns out that she’s trumpeting this opinion, not only in this article but elsewhere. She feels strongly that medical professionals should – to use the words of the article – “encourage people to have smaller families.” “Doctors should be promoting replacement number of children; two per couple, one per single parent. We don’t need to do this by coercion, we just need to talk about it.” Well this is a very interesting argument. It’s one of those arguments that tells us where the worldview of the ages is coming because of this. It tells us of the anti-natalism that is now shaping so much of elite opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. Anti-natalism means anti-babies, it means not having babies is held up as the virtue rather than having them. One of the first things we need to point out is that when that happens in a society, it is embracing what the late Malcom Muggeridge called the great liberal death wish – which is the you can have liberals without having babies. And that’s why he suggested liberalism is never a stable worldview because it doesn’t reproduce itself; not only ideologically but even biologically. But the most interesting aspect of the comment made by this medical doctor is that she can’t actually mean to be speaking to the people likely to read this article. Why? Because people on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America and in Europe, are basically having children below the replacement rate. The average American family is having children below the replacement rate, so also is the average couple in Europe, so that’s not who she’s really talking about. As a matter fact, later in the article The Guardian concedes that, conceding that in 97 countries the average woman now has fewer than two children, in the United Kingdom (where this article is published), the average couples having 1.7 children. She said the limit should be two, so she’s not talking about those people – who is she talking about? That’s where you need to see this second aspect of this that’s even more frightening. Because what’s really going on here is the claim that certain people shouldn’t have so many children and that goes back to the fact that the population limitation movement has been historically and is almost always tied to what is called eugenics. The actual agenda is not just about the total number of babies born, but the fact that babies are being born to the wrong people in the wrong places and that’s the real issue. For instance the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger in the United States, was very committed to eugenics. The motto of many in the movement was, ‘more from the fit, less from the unfit’ and that’s an undisguised form of racism. The same thing was true in terms of the same kind of movement in Great Britain. Again eugenics was at the very beginning of the call for contraception and birth control and abortion there in Great Britain as well. And the article becomes pretty clear as it continues that the real issue is that in other parts of the world people are having too many babies. Finally we need to note the Dr. Hayes said earlier in her comment, “We don’t need to do this by coercion, we just need to talk about it.” Well evidently in terms of North America and in Europe, you don’t even need to talk about it because people already are having babies below the replacement rate. And by the way that’s a problem. So she must be talking about somewhere else when she says ‘we don’t need to do this by coercion, we just need to talk about it.’ But here’s the reality, the people who are trying to force this kind of movement elsewhere in the world aren’t just trying to talk about it – they are trying to coerce it. The most coercive form of all is China’s infamous one child only policy that is so coercive it leads to infanticide and forced abortions and sterilization. When you look at this kind of argument, it’s almost never what it first appears to be. It appears to be a very quiet argument based in a consideration merely the number of children and merely in talking about it but as you look at the issue clearer, as this article makes abundantly visible for us, what you’re actually looking at is a form of coercion. And the only way this can ever be regulated is by state action and by coercion. And in the end this just goes to prove how anti- natalist, how anti-baby our society is really going. Because the real problem is we’re not having enough, and here you have an article in The Guardian saying, still saying, we’re having too many or at least some people – those people – are having too many. 4) Geographic clustering of worldview in America evidence of changing landscape of nation Finally time and again we come back to the reality that geography does have an impact on worldview and communities do tend to sort themselves out in terms of even the spectrum between conservative and liberal. And now The Economist of Great Britain is out with a list of the most conservative and the most liberal cities in the United States; ranking these city’s from those conservative to most liberal. Most conservative all according to The Economist is Mesa, Arizona followed by Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Virginia Beach, Virginia Colorado Springs, Colorado, Jacksonville, Florida, Arlington, Texas, Anaheim, California, Omaha, Nebraska, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Aurora, Colorado. At the other end of the spectrum the most liberal city is San Francisco, California – there’s a shock – followed by Washington, DC the nation’s capital. Then Seattle, Washington, Oakland, California, Boston, Massachusetts, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Detroit, Michigan, New York, New York, Buffalo, New York, and Baltimore, Maryland. You’ll notice some clustering here. New York State tends to have a cluster, California tends to have a cluster of liberal cities, and so also the cluster around Washington, DC – that would include Baltimore, Maryland. And on the conservative side you also have clusters – clusters especially in the great heartland of the country in states like Colorado and Texas and of course Nebraska and Oklahoma. And also interestingly when you’re looking at this report you see that there can be a state with one the most conservative and one most liberal cities in the same state; in this case you can look at Oakland and San Francisco, California on the one hand and Anaheim, California on the other. So even in the same state, a state as vast as California you can have more liberal and more conservative regions. Just look at the representation and House of Representatives and Congress and you’ll see the same thing. But there’s a final aspect to look at here in terms of worldview and demography. It comes down to this, by every study representation it almost is uniformly true that cities tend to be more liberal than the countryside surrounding them; that the metropolitan environment itself seems to be very conducive toward more liberalizing trends. So that tells you that around these conservative cities, the countryside is probably even more conservative; and around those liberal cities, you can’t count on the people outside those cities being nearly so liberals as the people inside them. So once again we learn that demography is never just a matter of statistics and studies of maps and graphs, it’s a matter worldview as well. And that really does tell us something about how we come to our worldview and how we maintain them. It turns out that where we live isn’t inconsequential. But that leads to a final question, do we choose where we live so that’s in accordance with our worldview or do we have our worldview shaped by where we live? The answer that is probably a bit of both, but the interesting this: most social scientist say that America is now becoming increasingly clustered by choice, by moving, such that over time before  are actually moving to states and regions – even cities – that are closer to their own worldview. So if the demographers know it, intelligent Christians ought to know that as well.   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) Houston withdrawal of sermon subpoenas does not negate danger subpoenas represented 

Pastors speak up on city’s decision to drop subpoenas, Houston Chronicle (Mike Morris and Katherine Driessen)

Houston Mayor Tries to Calm Uproar Over Transgender Ordinance, Wall Street Journal (Nathan Koppel and Tamara Audi)

2) Article against hell displays its significance for entire biblical worldview

What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like, TIME (John Shore)

3) Population control anti-natalism of cultural elite closely tied to eugenics

How to save the planet? Stop having children, The Guardian (Frankie Mullin)

4) Geographic clustering of worldview in America evidence of changing landscape of nation

The 10 most conservative (and liberal) cities in America, Salon (Allegra Kirkland)

Urban ideologies, The Economist

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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