The Briefing 11-26-14

The Briefing 11-26-14

The Briefing


November 26, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, November 26, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Sec. Hagel’s resignation shows inadequacy of administration’s worldview in face of conflicts 

Chuck Hagel, the United States Secretary of Defense, has resigned his position. That resignation becomes effective as soon as President Obama appoints a successor and that successor is confirmed by the United States Senate. The story of Chuck Hagel’s resignation was lost in the flurry of headlines from events earlier in the week but it is important and it’s important to those who care about the world and especially to those who operate out of a comprehensive worldview. It’s important because Chuck Hagel’s resignation points to some of the realities we now face in the contemporary world.

Chuck Hagel was appointed less than two years ago as United States Secretary of Defense. He took office as a Republican; he came to prominence in the nation’s mind as a Republican senator from the state of Nebraska – senator with a demonstrated interest in foreign policy and national defense. But even as he was nominated by President Obama as a Republican to serve in this very crucial cabinet position in the Obama Administration, he began in a very tenuous way.

First of all, only four Republican Senators – remember he himself was a Republican Senator – only four Republican senators voted for his eventual confirmation. And in terms of his Senate hearings, they were, by almost any estimation, disastrous. Chuck Hagel, as the designated new nominee to be Secretary of Defense, seemed to be virtually unable to deliver coherent account of the world and the challenges facing the United States. That rocky tenure became only more tenuous in the course of the Obama Administration in the last two years when President Obama himself has been severely criticized – even by senior members of his own party, even by the last two the United States Secretaries of Defense to serve under him – in terms of his own handling of these crises facing the United States.

The bottom line in this was affirmed by Gerald Seib, writing for the Wall Street Journal yesterday, when he pointed out – the headline says it all – “Changing World Shrank Hagel’s Appeal to Obama.” What this means is that the Secretary of Defense became less and less effective within the Obama Administration in responding to these world issues, even as the President himself was being faulted by people in both parties for an ineffectual response. The world has changed; the world has changed in the less than two years that Chuck Hagel has been Secretary of Defense. It’s changed since 2009 when Barack Obama began his first term as president of the United States and the world has changed in ways that did not follow the script of the Obama Administration.

President Obama came into office pledging to end American military experience in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan; to pull back to a far humbler position in terms of the Middle East. But now in the last two years of his administration, the President has had to reverse course. Just in recent days the President has announced the United States military efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan will be increasing rather than decreasing.

And the world has changed even in terms of whose being talked about in the headlines. Two years ago no one was talking about the Islamic State or ISIS, but now the Islamic State as a resurgent Islamist movement in the world is consuming many of the headlines – both domestically and internationally. It’s now impossible to talk about the defense needs and challenges of the United States without talking about a group that wasn’t even known two years ago.

As Gerald Seib explains,

“The administration badly needed a public spokesman to deflect the charges, from Capitol Hill and elsewhere, that it had no clear strategy for dealing with the Syrian civil war and was falling behind the curve in the fight against Islamic State. But the White House never really trusted Mr. Hagel to be a reliable public spokesman.”

And the reason the administration – we may add – didn’t trust him is because he wasn’t trustworthy. In that sense, the lack of trust in Mr. Hagel had nothing to do with his ethical trustworthiness but rather with his competence; with his view of the world. The Obama Administration and its Secretary of Defense became faulted by the American people and by some of our key allies for failing to understand just how dangerous the world really is. President Obama, who early in his administration, far too early, became a laureate for the Nobel Peace Prize, found himself very quickly thereafter having to ramp up rather than down American military involvement – especially over the course of the last several months.

It is often the case that a President has a shakeup in terms of his senior political leadership, even the cabinet in the aftermath of a midterm election, especially one in which the President’s party gets a bruising defeat – as happened just days ago in the month of November. But the resignation of Chuck Hagel won’t solve the problems for the Obama Administration because the problems are being posed by a world that simply isn’t following the script of the President.

But this gets us right to the heart, right to the core, of the Christian worldview issues implicated in this controversy. Why should we care? Well we should care for this reason: every single person, especially one involved in terms of national affairs, especially a President of the United States or a Secretary of Defense, operates out of a picture of the world and that picture of the world is determined by the fundamental worldview. And in the case of the President and his current Secretary of Defense, both shared a picture of the world that suggested that the world should be basically peaceful – it should be expected to be a cosmopolitan association of nations that might be temporarily and in an isolated nature, interrupted by armed conflict. But the world, as it turned out, is not that world. The real world is a world in which the threats against the United States and against our allies were increasing rather than decreasing, were becoming more sophisticated rather than less sophisticated. And it turns out that the world, in terms of our enemies, is not so accessible in terms of the kinds of influence and persuasion that President Obama believed would rule the day in world affairs.

Now those who know American history will know that we’ve been in this very same place before. Americans were involved in these same kinds of conversations before what became known as the First World War and again, just a generation later, before what became the Second World War. And in terms of those two conversations, many of the people involved in those debates were the very same people separated by just 20 or 30 years. And now we find ourselves in the very same conversation once again. Christians, understanding the worldview issues at stake, will come to see the resignation of Chuck Hagel as a reminder that the world doesn’t bend to our world picture – rather our world picture has to been to the world. And furthermore, a biblical worldview reminds us that peace is not a normal state of affairs among nations; that in a Genesis 3 world, a fallen world, a world dominated by principalities and powers, a world that is dominated by sinful impulses, we shouldn’t expect that peace will be the norm. Rather we will understand that peace is a rare and all to be valued achievement.

Finally in terms of this new story we should consider the fact that we are talking about the resignation of a Secretary of Defense. That is something the founders of this nation wouldn’t have understood. Early on the United States had a Secretary of War, it wasn’t until the end of World War II when in the administration of Harry Truman that was shifted – the title of the department – from the Department of War, headed by his Secretary of War, to a Department of Defense, headed by a Secretary of Defense. President Truman, explaining that nomenclature change back in the late 1940s, explained that the title Secretary of Defense or Department of Defense would be far more accurate than Secretary of War with the Department of War. Why? Because in the view of President Truman, who had just seen the nation through the very end of World War II, the nation should understand that defense is ongoing when war should be episodic.

But President Truman’s other explanation was also very important. He said that only a strong national defense can avoid being in a continual series of unnecessary wars. Well, wars unnecessary or necessary pop up from time to time as the current war on terror makes abundantly clear. And even President Barack Obama, who came into office pledging to end the war on terror, finds that one of his final preoccupations and responsibilities is actually fighting it – maybe even expanding it.

Some will speak of Chuck Hagel as a political casualty but in one sense, he’s a world picture casualty; he’s a casualty demonstrating the danger of believing that the world will shift to our theory of the world. What President Obama and his administration are learning right now is that our theory of the world has to bend to the reality of the world.

Oh, and there is one additional thing to ponder in terms of this transition in the Obama Administration.

One thing this points to is the fact that the Obama Administration is followed the pattern of some previous administrations even moving further along this pattern and that is in centralizing authority within the White House. In many senses, the cabinet positions are becoming more and more irrelevant. Though perhaps necessary by political expediency, this isn’t good for our constitutional form of government because it is those cabinet heads, rather than people who report only to the President, who eventually must report to the Senate and the United States Congress and that’s an important distinction we shouldn’t lose in terms of these headlines.

2) Dem. Charles Schumer points to important worldview differences on vision of government

Shifting now to worldview in terms of domestic policy and our understanding of government, a recent speech given by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic Senator from New York is instructive in terms of understanding why, on so many issues, we don’t just disagree over policy but over the very vision of government. Senator Schumer seems to understand that. In a speech at the national press club, the New York Senator said that the Democratic Party, if is going to win in the future, has to in his words “embraced government.”

“If people don’t believe government can deliver, they’ll follow the Republican path. That leaves the job to Democrats. If we run away from government, the negative misperceptions about it will take root, and even if people support our ideas, they won’t believe government can deliver.”

In the most important and instructive section of his speech, he said this,

“We must convince the middle class that the only way out of their morass is by embracing a strong and effective government, not demeaning it or running from it,”

Now if you’re looking for a set of distinctions between the Republican and Democratic parties, it’s hard to imagine one more clear than this. But far beyond the partisan divide, you’re also looking at a basic worldview divide in terms of how we understand government. Some, in terms of our contemporary society, see government as a necessary structure, an institution given to humanity by God. An institution authorized, for instance as we see in Romans 13, with a limited set of responsibilities – to uphold justice, to fulfill certain functions for human flourishing – but otherwise, to get out of the way, and allow human beings and the more prior institutions of family and church to do what they are assigned for an even greater good of human flourishing.

The other view of government sees government as an end in itself, and government increasingly taking on the responsibilities that previously had been invested in the private sphere. But what you’re looking at here in terms of Chuck Schumer’s speech given at the National Press Club is the affirmation that he sees the future of his party, in terms of its political prospects, in siding with government. But he goes far beyond that and that’s what makes his speech really even more interesting. He actually believes that government is what helps people and he makes that abundantly clear. He says he has to convince the middle class that the only way out of their morass – that the huge statement by the way, he speaks here of the economic setbacks that have been suffered by the middle class especially since the last recession – he says the only way out is by “embracing a strong and effective government.”

Now at this point we can only ask the question, what exactly would government do? And the clear implication in terms of Chuck Schumer’s address is that the government would create jobs but those jobs would then be fed by the private sector. But the problem is of course the more you starve the private sector the more it costs to have government sector jobs. And furthermore those government sector jobs are outside the normal kinds of accountability and stewardship in terms of responsibility in an economy that are found in the rest of the society. So what we’re looking at here is really interesting. It gets to just what we expect out of government and just what we think government can deliver. There is no example the government that actually can deliver what is being promised here by Senator Schumer – deliverance from an economic morass by sheer government effort.

But to his credit, it is clear that Senator Schumer was speaking candidly. And also to his credit he’s speaking what he actually believes and that’s what makes the speech so interesting. At one point in his address he said,

“Democrats must embrace government. It’s what we believe in; it’s what unites our party; and, most importantly, it’s the only thing that’s going to get the middle class going again,”

Now quite frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine any other even Democratic Senator speaking so frankly. And the words are so clear they deserve to be repeated again. He said, and I repeat,

“Democrats must embrace government.”

Now notice his next words,

“It’s what we believe in; it’s what unites our party,”

Now that’s a truly interesting set of affirmations and I believe he really believes this. From a worldview perspective, one of most interesting aspects of this is the clarity offered by Senator Schumer in terms of this address. It sets up a really important national conversation, the very kind of national conversation that this nation desperately needs to have. A conversation that is beyond mere policies at the superficial level, it gets down to the most basic question. What is government for? What should we expect out of government? What can government deliver? How can we make government more accountable and more efficient? How can we aim towards human flourishing and see government as the friend not the enemy of that flourishing? But what exactly can government do?

Once again Christians understand that government is not an accident, it is a divine gift given to us for our good and for human flourishing. But the government that most leads to human flourishing is the government that steps out of the way and allows that flourishing to take place, a government that does not try to intrude upon the life of a family but rather to set up the conditions in which the family itself can flourish. There is no example anywhere on planet Earth, anywhere in human history of a government that can replace the functions of those primary prior institutions – especially the institution of the family.

Well, I’ll be honest – I found Senator Schumer’s address to be very refreshing. It’s refreshing to have a major American politician of his stature speak with this kind of conviction and clarity. And furthermore, it’s good to have someone of his stature begin a conversation America desperately needs to have. A conversation that may not go the way he intends for it to go, but nonetheless will be served by the fact that he at least, by his directness, helped to get it started. Even as there many public debates not worth having, this one is and for that reason we should welcome it.

3) Apple’s anti-AIDS campaign and other social causes reveals companies carry own moral agendas

Next, as the Christmas consumer season is now well underway, it’s interesting to see a front-page story this week in USA Today; here’s the headline “Apple Jumps in on Social Causes.” Christians involved in the workplace must recognize that there are worldview issues all around us, every single purchase we make, every engagement we have in the commercial economy, is one that is latent with worldview importance and sometimes not so latent, sometimes it’s downright evident, as this headline about Apple makes abundantly clear.

Marco della Cava, reporting for USA Today says that,

“The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant launches an unprecedented two-week campaign Monday [that’s right after the Thanksgiving holiday] that involves its app store, retail locations and online store,”

In what is described as,

“Yet another example of CEO Tim Cook’s push to boost the corporate image”

Now, let’s just state the obvious. Here you have USA Today in this lead saying this really isn’t about the social cause so much as it’s about polishing a corporate image – that tells us something however. You have major American corporations now, Apple perhaps at the forefront, trying to show just how progressive they are by their involvement in social issues that previous generations of the same corporate leaders would’ve avoided like anything – including Steve Jobs, the predecessor of Tim Cook, at Apple. Marco della Cava reports,

“This marks not only another salvo in Apple’s battle to polish its reputation as a company that cares about everything from the environment to gay rights, but also echoes a number of recent high-profile personal donations and corporate campaigns targeting the recent Ebola crisis from companies such as Facebook and Microsoft.”

But in terms of the actual effort beginning Monday at Apple, it’s about combating AIDS. Joining in effort started by the singer Bono of U2 in order to try to address the AIDS crisis not only the United States but especially worldwide. But the real point in this USA Today front-page story is not just about Apple and its new (Red) project, it’s about the fact that American corporations, especially in the Christmas buying season, are doing their very best to make a worldview statement, to make a statement of their own corporate brand and identity by siding with certain social causes. And you notice that all of them, that’s right all of them, are rather far on the left.

In a second story appearing in the same edition of USA Today by Marco della Cava, he writes,

“Connecting with consumers hearts is also a good way to tap into their wallets. A growing number of tech fueled startups make corporate giving a part of their business model; such as Warby Parker and Tom’s donating glasses and shoes respectively whenever customers place orders”.

But the article also makes clear that what these corporate giants are trying to do is to lead customers to believe they are somehow helping human beings by making their purchases. If you make a purchase, a certain amount of this goes towards a charity. Generally, as this article makes very clear, a rather progressive or leftist social cause. But no one’s actually doing the accounting on this. What you’re doing here is trying to make the consumer feel morally superior by making the purchase and leading the company to look morally superior by siding with, you’ve heard this before, the right side of history.

In terms of Apple’s new (Red) effort starting on Monday, the issue is AIDS but the background of this is the gay-rights movement as this article makes abundantly clear. And here you have a major tech giant, one of most famous brands in the world, seeking to brand itself rather significantly, with a whole new moral revolution. And of course Apple’s not alone, virtually all the major tech corporations are on the same pilgrimage and beyond that even major American retailers are trying to join the same kind of causes.

This is not to say that we can stay out of the consumer economy, it’s not to say we shouldn’t buy these products – it is just to affirm – as the Christmas buying season begins in all of its frenzy, that there is nothing without worldview significance and that is especially true every time we make a purchase. Every time we make a purchase in which we just might think we’re buying more than a product, we’re buying our own personal brand, a brand that includes a moral statement – whether we want it or not.

4) Thanksgiving Day a day of gratitude to God, a key component of Christian life

Finally, as Thanksgiving Day approaches we need to remember just why this day is so important and why Christians have to look at Thanksgiving Day in a fundamentally different way than those around us who simply see it as Turkey Day. In one sense, Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday because it was in 1789 that then President George Washington declared the first American national day of Thanksgiving by asking his fellow citizens to,

“Unite and most humbly offering our prayer and supplication’s to the great Lord and ruler of Nations”

From that point onward successive presidents have issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations and, at least in terms of popular American culture now, is seen as a long holiday and a major family reunion opportunity. Americans do often refer to this as Turkey Day because the secularization of the holiday is nearly complete. In our current secular age, it’s almost impossible even for an American President to refer in any clear way to any thanksgiving to God, any particular God, for the blessings that this nation has enjoyed.

The kind of explicit Christian reference that would’ve marked someone like George Washington is now something of an embarrassment to more recent inhabitants of the Oval Office – at least some of them. And what you now have is an American political class that tries to be thankful in some general sense to a God of some general being who somehow is generally well disposed towards us. But Christians need to understand that even as Americans may or may not be truly thankful on Thanksgiving Day, we need to remember that Thanksgiving is a perpetual Christian responsibility – it should be the first impulse of the Christian heart.

Perhaps more than anyone else in the New Testament the apostle Paul makes it preeminently clear why gratitude is a distinctive Christian characteristic. He actually roots sin itself in a sense of ingratitude. And he roots the rebellion of sinners against God in their own pride and ingratitude. It was the apostle Paul speaking of his own situation who said he had found reason to be thankful and to be content in whatever situation he found himself. When Paul rights of humanity in revolt against God, he explains that ingratitude is the signal indicator of that rebellion. Paul explains that sinners “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” when he writes about the roots of human sin in Romans 1:21.

From the very founding era of the church the worship of the church has often been described as Thanksgiving – that’s what Christians do. Not just on Thanksgiving Day, this is what Christians do every Lord ’s Day when we gather together. We gather together for several functions and for several reasons but central to the gathering of Christians together in Christian worship is to give thanks to God. The biblical worldview reminds us that giving thanks to God is explicitly rooted in the fact that we are the creature and God is the creator. Everything we are, everything we have, has come from God’s hand. And furthermore our Thanksgiving is only pointed in times past to the blessings God has given us but rather to our very existence in the present and our hope for the future.

So as you and your family gather together for what I hope will be a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration, I hope you gather together for true Christian worship – for the understanding that the very urgency of our hearts should be to express Thanksgiving to God who is the source of every blessing, even our basic being. So while Americans all around us may be celebrating turkey day and even the unbelievers say there’s something about being thankful, even just for being thankful, we need to recognize that this is the deepest impulse of the Christian heart, and in that sense everyday must be Thanksgiving.

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 Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Sec. Hagel’s resignation shows inadequacy of administration’s worldview in face of conflicts 

Changing World Shrank Hagel’s Appeal to Obama, Wall Street Journal (Gerald F. Seib)

Hagel Submits Resignation as Defense Chief Under Pressure, New York Times (Helene Cooper)

Defense Secretary Hagel, under pressure, submits resignation, Washington Post (Craig Whitlock and Missy Ryan)

2) Dem. Charles Schumer points to important worldview differences on vision of government

Charles E. Schumer to Urge Democrats to ‘Embrace Government’, New York Times (Jeremy W. Peters)

3) Apple’s anti-AIDS campaign and other social causes reveals companies carry own moral agendas

 Apple launches massive two-week (RED) campaign, USA Today (Marco della Cava)

Apple’s latest (RED) campaign pushes to end age of AIDS, USA Today (Marco della Cava)

4) Thanksgiving Day a day of gratitude to God, a key component of Christian life

Why Thanksgiving Matters, (Albert Mohler)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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

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