The Briefing 11-18-14

The Briefing 11-18-14

The Briefing


November 18, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, November 18, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Widespread support for military action against ISIS underlines it as stark image of evil

The third American and fifth Westerner was executed by the Islamic State over the weekend. In this case was a former Army Ranger by the name of Peter Kassig. According to media reports, Peter Kassig, age 26 when died just on Sunday, had been an Army Ranger who became captive. After having left the Army, he began a medical mission there to those in Syria on both sides of the Syrian conflict. He was taken captive in late 2013, and executed on Sunday. And also according to the world press, he had converted to Islam during his captivity, exchanging his name Peter for Abdul-Rahman Kassig. His chosen Islamic name meant ‘servant of the most merciful,’ but the Islamic State was certainly not merciful to Peter Kassig on Sunday, even though, according to those who been interpreting the video evidence of his execution it appears that Kassig did not cooperate with his captors in his final moments.

Several hours after the video was released, Pres. Obama made a statement in which he confirmed the execution. He also said the Peter Kassig “was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group.”  He went on to say, “Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter.” The President, who insists upon referring to the group as ISIS or ISIL – rather than by its preferred name, the Islamic State did use Peter Kassig’s Islamic name in a statement, underlining the fact that the Islamic State had murdered a fellow Muslim when they executed Peter Kassig.

The beheading of Peter Kassig just comes days after United States military and intelligence authorities indicated a very troubling development in that same area. It turns out that in Syria, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda (forces that have been at odds for the last two years) have now begun to cooperate, if not to consolidate their efforts. As American military intelligence agencies have indicated this is a very ominous turn, because the coalescence, even just the cooperation, of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda portends a very dangerous new development in the Middle East. At just about the same time the Pentagon warned Congress on Thursday that the long military campaign against the Islamic State, is in the words of the Associated Press, “just beginning.”

According to the AP report, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a cautious assessment of progress in the three-month-old war against Islamic extremists who brutally rule large sections of both Iraq and Syria – estimated, by the way, now at at least one third of the territory of both of those nations. But when Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey went before Congress last week they weren’t just bringing report. They were also seeking $5.6 billion in increased authorize spending to expand the US mission in Iraq and to send at least 1,500 more American troops.

But before leaving this we need to note that this is a significant departure, a new development, in terms of Pres. Obama’s handling of the situation in the Middle East. It was Pres. Obama, after all, as Commander-in-Chief who ordered American military personnel out of Iraq after several years of military action there. But now Americans are back; at least in number of about 1500 and others are already on the ground training local troops. This is a very significant political reversal, but it is also a step that is gaining widespread support in both political parties and at both ends of the political spectrum. And that’s worthy of our consideration.

Veteran political observer Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times writes,

“Remember when pundits were worried that Americans had turned isolationist? As recently as August [that’s August 2014], polls showed big majorities opposed to military intervention in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else.”

But now, he says in a CBS News poll just weeks ago a massive 71% of Americans said they supported continued air assaults against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

“Even more notable [McManus writes], the number of people who supported sending U.S. troops to Iraq “to fight ISIS militants” …had increased to 47%, up from 39% in September. And a big majority [he says] said they believed U.S. ground troops were needed to defeat Islamic State in the field.”

One of the things McManus points out is that this new military effort is being supported by the Left, indeed the far Left; the only socialist in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders the Senator from Vermont. Furthermore, it is also drawing very strong support from the right, including Senator John McCain and even Senator Rand Paul.

Now when you have a new political coalition that brings together senators like Bernie Sanders, John McCain, and Rand Paul, something is happening. And Doyle McManus says that something is the terrorism now so evident in the Islamic State – in particular the brutal killings of five Westerners and three Americans. One of the sober facets of the Christian worldview is the understanding that human evil is often distilled into a form that is like that now described as terrorism, and also very evident and all this horrifying reality in the Islamic State. What we’re looking at here is something that cannot be ended by cosmopolitan negotiation; something that can’t be ended by mere legislation; something that certainly isn’t going to be ended by conversation. It’s only going to be ended by force. And this is something that the American people and others around the world now know by intuition.

And the reason for that was actually articulated by President Obama in the aftermath of the brutal slaying of Peter Kassig. When President Obama said that Kassig was “taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group,” when he used that phrase ‘pure evil,’ he was pointing to the fact that there is no rational means of dealing with this in terms of anything short of deadly force. Oh, and there’s another very important aspect of this situation that is affirmed by the Christian worldview when it comes to this kind of human evil, the Bible makes very clear its source: inside the human heart. It also makes very clear the fact that though military action, judicial action, legal force, and other mechanisms to control and limit evil in terms of the fallen world, though they may have some limited successes – and even as we must try to use every mechanism at our disposal – the most effective human means can only restrain evil. Somewhat control evil. Perhaps limit the effect of evil and it spread.

But at the end of the day only divine judgment can bring this kind of evil to a final accounting, and to a final eradication. It’s for this very reason that even the most ardent and determined secularist, absolutely determined to use only secular categories in order to describe this reality, nonetheless has to use and inescapably, irreducibly theological vocabulary –  using that word ‘evil.’ A word in its essence actually makes no sense in a purely secular worldview.

2) Church of England formally approves women bishops despite counsel of Scripture

Shifting to Great Britain and the Church of England, John Bingham religious affairs editor of the Telegraph in London reports that yesterday the Church of England entered into what its Archbishop of Canterbury described as “a completely new phase of its existence.”

The reason for that was quite simple: it was yesterday that “the Church’s General Synod symbolically showed its approval for the change through a simple show of hands and a few signatures on a piece of paper.”

As Bingham reports, that opened the way for the first woman to be appointed to the episcopate, that is as a bishop, as early as the end of this year. And it means even that the next Archbishop of Canterbury or Archbishop of York (those of the first and second most important priestly positions in the church) could be female.

As Bingham reports, the legislation allowing women to serve as bishops was passed in July, but it received royal assent from the head of the church (that is Queen Elizabeth II) just last week. It became law just before 3 PM in Britain on Monday through a short item on the agenda of the General Synod which is meeting even now in London.

As Bingham reports,

“The brief but formally worded Canon was read out by the Synod’s chief legal adviser … followed by a vote, conducted by a show of hands. It was carried with an overwhelming majority, with [only about] 20 voting against.”

Now there’s a really important background of this development. The Church of England’s General Synod, just a matter of about two years ago, voted down this very measure. But there was huge cry and outrage in terms of the general culture responding to the Church of England’s General Synod, and the General Synod (we should note) that voted down the proposal for women to serve as bishops because an inordinate number of laypeople from the churches actually had a vote in terms of that assembly. But the secular outrage and reaction to back action by the General Synod was absolutely fierce. Even Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, representing the Tory Party, called upon the church to ‘get with the times,’ asking how long it would take for the church to come into the present age. There was an enormous threat against the Church of England offered by at least some in Parliament – in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords – to risk the church could even face disestablishment if it wouldn’t get along with the idea of full equality.

What we were looking at here was coercion from the secular state over against its established church. That’s another reason, by the way, as a Baptist I was certainly undermine the very danger of having an established church. It is dangerous to have an established church (that is a state church) and it is exceedingly dangerous to be a state church. But the Archbishop of Canterbury put himself on the line in order to bring his church into what the Prime Minister called the ‘modern age,’ by bringing about this authorization to allow women to serve as bishops.

Now in one sense this is just the logical extension of the church’s action two decades ago to allow women to serve as priests. It became rather untenable to suggest that women can service priests, but not as bishops. But in that earlier action evangelicals in the Church of England had warned that the church was turning its back not only on the Christian tradition, but also on the very clear words of Scripture. Now the Church of England two decades ago decided nonetheless it would defy the clear teachings of Scripture and get with the modern age is it defined then by ordaining women to serve as priests. Archbishop Welby’s comments after the vote are particularly instructive.

He said,

“I think it means above all that we have started a completely new phase of our existence as the church.

It has taken a very, very long time but the way is now open to select people to the episcopacy on the basis simply of our sense that they are called by God to be in that position without qualification as to their gender.”

Now that flies in the face of the fact that in the New Testament, where we have the Holy Spirit inspired definition of the ministry, it is not made without reference to gender. Far to the contrary.

But the Archbishop is surely not exaggerating when use the language describing the fact that the Church of England has now “started a completely new phase of our existence as the church.” Everything will change, as evangelicals warned two decades ago, and as evangelicals sought to argue just in the last several months. And even as the leadership of the Church of England just thinks it might have put this controversy behind it, another even larger controversy looms – that’s the larger controversy over homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And just as there was a secular outcry against the church’s position prohibiting women from serving as bishops, there is a similar outcry on the church’s reluctance (at least the reluctance on the part of many in the church) to endorse homosexuality and to allow the celebration and the ceremonial performance of same-sex marriages.

From a Christian worldview perspective the most ominous warning is this: a church that will look to Scripture and use the hermeneutical or the interpretive devices to get around the plain teaching of Scripture on gender will find it very difficult not to do the very same thing when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. That is, to use the very same interpretive devices and mechanisms in order to get around the New Testament’s very clear statements on sexuality, and of course also on marriage.

There will be some who will point to the action yesterday in the General Synod of the Church of England and say that it was inevitable development that actually will change very little. But that’s simply wrong. Archbishop Welby has it right on this score: his church did enter yesterday into an entirely new phase of its existence.

3) Link between view of God and same sex marriage reveals impact of Scripture on worldview

Meanwhile, while we’re talking about the link between issues of gender and sexuality, we need to look at a very important piece of research recently released. It was published in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, and was conducted by Clemson University sociologist Andrew Whitehead. What Whitehead found according to Pacific Standard (a science magazine) is that people who refer to God as Father are much less likely than others to affirm same-sex marriage.

Tom Jacobs writing for Pacific Standard writes,

“Quick: What pronoun do you instinctively use when referring to God?

An esoteric question [he asks]? Not at all. In fact, you just revealed quite a bit about yourself—including your likely view of gay marriage.”

He goes on to report that,

“In a recently published paper, Clemson University sociologist Andrew Whitehead reports that people who view God as a “he” view gay unions, and gay marriage in particular, far less favorably than those who do not. What’s more [says Jacobs], this holds true even after taking into account their image of God and beliefs about the proper relationship between men and women.”

In Whitehead’s words,

“Those who view God as a ‘he’ are signaling an underlying gendered view of reality that directs them to oppose relationships that contradict traditional gendered roles…[Whitehead went on to say in terms of his research] Because gay unions cannot symbolize this gendered reality, they are deemed inappropriate.”

Now clearly, there are multiple fascinating aspects of this research. In the first place, what might have motivated Dr. Whitehead to conduct this research in the first place? How did the question come to his mind? How did he then conduct the survey? Well, as it turns out he went to data it was found in the 2007 Baylor religion survey, in which those questions were asked.

“After crunching the numbers [says Jacobs], Whitehead found that “viewing God as a ‘he’ is significantly and negatively associated with support for same-sex marriage, net of all the other effects of the model, including various images of God and other traditional gender-role beliefs.””

Cutting through the scientific jargon, this means that even when you take other questions related to gender and set them aside – even when you take other questions related to the image of God and set those also aside – if you look at nothing but the chosen pronoun used to refer to God, that, according to Whitehead, is a stunningly effective predictor of that same person’s belief about same-sex marriage.

Whitehead’s article in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion also includes of these lines,

“[These people] may prove to be a group particularly resistant to liberalization because viewing God as masculine may exist as an integral part of their overall gendered worldview that extends beyond same-sex marriage issues. No longer viewing God as a “he” would not only mean a shift in attitudes toward same-sex unions but also in how their own marriages, society, or religious groups are ordered.”

That’s profoundly true and, furthermore, it affirms one of the major themes of our concern on The Briefing, and that is to point to the fact that worldview matters, and it always matters. In this case, you have a professor of sociology at Clemson University who points out the when you look at how persons refer to God – even just asking by the pronoun – and you link that to how effective it turns out to be as a predictor of you on same-sex marriage, Whitehead’s point is that something must explain this linkage. It can’t be an accident nor even merely a correlation. And that’s why, he goes on to explain, that it must be that there’s a fundamental difference in the worldview that makes this kind of linkage apparent. And not only apparent but predictable. And in that sense he’s absolutely right.

Furthermore, though he does not address this in the same language in his report, what certainly comes almost immediately to mind is something that can be put just this simply; those who are the most likely to use the Bible’s own revealed language for God including pronouns (including masculine references, most especially referring to God his father), those same people – shockingly enough – are also the ones who are most likely to affirm everything the Bible teaches about sexuality and about marriage. Needless to say, that would be a sufficient explanation for why using a masculine pronoun for God, and in particular referring to God his father would be a very accurate predictor of one’s position on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Concluding his article in the Pacific Standard, Tom Jacobs comes back to the issue and says that even as many people grew up with the understanding of God as Father,

“This research suggests carrying that understanding into adulthood has a surprisingly large impact on how we view this world, and how open we are to societal change.”

That’s another way of saying if that worldview is consistent from childhood into adulthood, that worldview is going to matter. Of course it will. Of course it always does. But Christians looking at this research and understanding that it actually makes sense to us – we might also want ask this question: why doesn’t someone reverse this research? Why doesn’t some researcher, perhaps even Dr. Whitehead himself, reverse the question and ask it this way: Is it true then that those who abandon the biblical language for God who abandon God’s own name for himself as Father, are they then in the very same pattern now far more likely to affirm the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage?

To put the matter as bluntly as possible, that would make an equal amount of sense. And of course it’s very easy to understand the logical leap from one position to the other. But it’s also interesting that evidently that question doesn’t have the same kind of interest among secular researchers as the one undertaken by Professor Whitehead. Instead they’re asking why won’t people go along with the normalization of same-sex marriage? Why is it that there are so many who won’t simply ‘get with the program?’

Well, as it turns out Andrew Whitehead’s research is extremely helpful in pointing out the biblical basis for that very reluctance; the reluctance to ‘get with the program’ of the secular moral revolution. Well it turns out that those for whom the Scripture is a binding authority find that it’s a binding authority in every dimension of life and thought. And that’s only consistent.

Furthermore, on the other side those who do not believe that the Scripture, in terms of its very clear teachings, is a binding authority in one area it becomes very easy if not inevitable to apply that same judgment to other issues and other texts of Scripture as well. That’s simply a matter of consistency. Which points to another very basic truth about our worldview; in spite of ourselves, in spite of our rational problems, in spite of our failings of logic, and despite our prejudices and our emotional responses, we actually tend over time to move into consistency. Over time our worldview begins to show a consistent pattern that reaches to all issues and every dimension of life. That too testifies to the fact that made in God’s image we are rational creatures to have a desire to move into a consistency. Those who seek to follow Christ faithfully will understand that every move towards consistency, in terms of Scripture, is a move toward faithfulness. And inconsistency when it comes to faithfulness to the biblical worldview is in itself unfaithfulness.

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 San Diego, California and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Widespread support for military action against ISIS underlines it as stark image of evil

Obama Calls Islamic State’s Killing of Peter Kassig ‘Pure Evil’, New York Times (Rukmini Callimachi)

Pentagon says US troops’ role in Iraq could expand, Associated Press (Donna Cossata and Lolita C. Baldor)

Americans rally ’round Obama’s war on Islamic State, but not Obama, Los Angeles Times (Doyle McManus)

2) Church of England formally approves women bishops despite counsel of Scripture

Welby hails new beginning for Church as women bishops becomes law, The Telegraph (John Bingham)

3) Link between view of God and same sex marriage reveals impact of Scripture on worldview

Viewing God as Masculine Impacts One’s View of God, Pacific Standard (Tom Jacobs)

Male and Female He Created Them: Gender Traditionalism, Masculine Images of God, and Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Unions, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Andrew Whitehead)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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