The Briefing 12-01-14

The Briefing 12-01-14

The Briefing


December 1, 2014

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


It’s Monday, December 01, 2014, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Secular theology of modern politics mirrors structure of Christian worldview

On The Briefing we seek to look at the intersection of theology and the news of the day; the Christian worldview and current events. That is made abundantly easy this week with a cover story that appears in the Weekly Standard. The article by Joseph Bottum has the title, “The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas” and this article is a blockbuster in terms of the Christian worldview and understanding our own times.

Joseph Bottum begins his essay by discussing a professor by the name of Kim Radersma. He then writes this,

“In another age, Radersma might have been a revivalist out on the sawdust circuit, playing the old forthright hymns on a wheezy harmonium as the tent begins to fill. In a different time, she might have been a temperance lecturer, inveighing in her passion-raw voice against the evils of the Demon Rum. In days gone by, she might have been a missionary to heathen China, or an author of Bible Society tracts, or the Scripture-quoting scourge of civic indifference—railing to the city-council members that they are like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:16, neither hot nor cold, and God will spew them from his mouth.”

But, says Bottum, that’s not exactly what’s going on here. It’s close; however, it’s not exactly what’s going on here because Kim Radersma is not a Christian evangelist. He writes, in fact,

“But all such old American Christian might-have-beens are unreal in the present world, for someone like Kim Radersma. Mockable, for that matter, and many of her fellow activists today identify Christianity with the history of all that they oppose. She wouldn’t know a theological doctrine or a biblical quotation if she ran into it headlong. And so Radersma now fights racism: the deep racism that lurks…in our thoughts and in our words and in our hearts.”

That’s not to suggest the Joseph Bottum doesn’t believe that racism is sin, he profoundly does believe that. But he does not believe it is the theory of everything, that it explains everything about the cosmos or even by human behavior. It does explain however the program –  that is a PhD program – that Kim Radersma is now undergoing at Ontario’s Brock University; it is entitled, the critical whiteness studies program. She writes,

“I have to every day wake up and acknowledge that I am so deeply embedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body, I have to choose every day to do antiracist work and think in an antiracist way.””

She said that at a recent teacher’s conference.

Now once again Joseph Bottum does believe that racism is sin, but then he points to the fact that its sin, it’s the very notion of sin that is actually absent from the secular analysis. He writes, and I quote,

“Some of this, of course, derives from the perception of actual economic and social effects still lingering in the long aftermath of racial slavery and segregation. But taken just as a concept, considered purely in its moral shape, white privilege is something we’ve seen before—for the idea is structurally identical to the Christian idea of original sin.”

That’s an incredibly well-written paragraph. He’s suggesting that this new secular theory, this new secular theory of what’s wrong with the world is, and mark his words very carefully, structurally identical to the Christian idea of original sin. He doesn’t say it’s theologically identical, only structurally identical. In other words, this is an attempt to replace the Christian understanding of original sin with an original something else, and the original something else in this case is original racism.

But Joseph Bottum is actually onto something larger than looking at this particular issue or this teacher. He’s looking at the fact that our contemporary secular discussion in politics won’t stay secular. And of course from a biblical viewpoint, we will come back and say it can’t stay secular. But as he discusses, what we’re looking at here is not just one doctrine that is “structurally identical to the Christian doctrine of original sin,” he points to the fact that deeply theological or spiritual issues keep emerging even in supposedly secular contexts.

In a truly interesting historical section in this essay, which is the cover story in this week’s Weekly Standard, he goes on to cover the rise and fall of the Protestant mainline in the United States – pointing to the fact that this Protestant mainline, made up of now liberal Protestant denominations, form the moral backbone of American society. But then those churches began to secularize themselves and they began to take on their own secularized notions of sin, abandoning the biblical worldview and its understanding of sin for a new understanding of sin that located sin in a mere superficial morality and in merely external acts and furthermore, shifted the entire idea of sin to society and off of the individual.

As Bottum correctly notes, the critics of this kind of transference came from both the left and the right. From the right in people like J Gresham Machen and from the left from people like Reinhold Niebuhr. Both saw that this was an incredibly superficial understanding of sin. But Joseph Bottum writes, it set the stage for these churches and the culture that they had represented to be co-opted by a new secular theology and that’s exactly what he’s writing about.

He point in particular to the rise of the social gospel movement in the early 20th century, pointing to the fact that it was Christianity effectively without Christ. And that led to the secularization of these churches and thus to the secularization of sin and the secularization of virtually every other major Christian doctrine as well. Bottum takes a very close look especially at the kind of racial studies that are ongoing in America’s most elite academic institutions. And he points to the fact that there is a deep revivalist impulse behind them and there is a deep ideological impulse behind them as well. And even as these are supposedly secular programs, they are driven my something that can’t be explained merely in secular terms; they’re driven by an effort to replace historic Christianity with an entirely new worldview.

In the first section of his essay, he’s pointing to the fact that there is an explicit attempt to replace the doctrine of original sin with an original something else that isn’t sin. He then writes, and I quote,

“The doctrine of original sin is probably incoherent, and certainly gloomy, in the absence of its pairing with the concept of a divine savior—and so Paul concludes Romans 5 with a turn to the Redeemer and the possibility of hope: ‘As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Think of it as a car’s engine or transmission scattered in pieces around a junkyard: The individual bits of Christian theology don’t actually work all that well when they’re broken apart from one another.”

Score that for a profound Orthodox theological insight in a secular news Journal. But Bottum also points to the fact that this supposedly secular discussion that turns out not to be so secular after all, will not stay neutral when it comes to Christianity. It is replacing a worldview explicitly based upon the Christian worldview to one that is explicitly antithetical to it and quite hostile as well. He mentions the teachers conference over race in which a presenter name Paul Cavell defined white privilege is,

“…the everyday pervasive, deep-seated and institutionalized dominance of Christian values, Christian institutions, leaders and Christians as a group, primarily for the benefit of Christian ruling elites.”

In another section of his essay, Bottum points to the fact that on the secular left you can quickly become ‘one of them’ – that is, one of the enemy – by simply making a comment that is considered so outside the pale that you’re no longer considered inside the group – even if you had been one of the major supporters and even funders – the exhibit A in this case is the actor Alec Baldwin.  But Joseph Bottum’s point in pointing to Alec Baldwin is to the fact that something like church discipline is going on here, only in terms of the modern academic culture and where the cultural elites are forming this kind of moral worldview, there isn’t a church but there is a form of discipline. You’re quickly out if you are found to be unacceptable by those who are in.

Furthermore, even though these elites would claim they have absolutely no creed, as Bottum indicates, they certainly do. And the violation of that creed makes you a heretic that must be expelled almost immediately. That’s what happened to Alec Baldwin. And as George Will explained (and his name will come up again in just a moment) the kind of action that is taken by those in the inside group to how some like Alec Baldwin is made so that they, not Alec Baldwin, will be recognized as being one of the good people, the good people were so outraged they know how to get rid of heretic when they see one.

This kind of shunning, using the language of church discipline Bottum writes about, is what happened to Brendan Eich after he resigned from Mozilla, an Internet software company he himself had founded, or at least cofounded, for the fact that he had given a contribution back in 2008 to California’s proposition eight – the effort to identify in the California Constitution, marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. Just that very small donation, given all the way back in 2008 once discovered by the new moral police was enough to get Brendan Eich ousted from the very company he had cofounded. And of course, he’s not only ousted from the company, he is ousted from the company of all right minded people, according to the new moral police. And then Joseph Bottum mentions George Will, the very columnist I quoted just a moment ago because George Will has also been ousted. He’s also been shunned by all right minded people from this kind of intellectual and academic elite, simply because he stated the obvious and that is that the new sexual morality of mere consent on America’s college and university campuses won’t protect anyone. Joseph Bottum then writes with such deep perception,

“Our social and political life is awash in unconsciously held Christian ideas broken from the theology that gave them meaning, and it’s hungry for the identification of sinners—the better to prove the virtue of the accusers and, perhaps especially, to demonstrate the sociopolitical power of the accusers.”

But then in concluding his essay he says if this is going to continue, and if the forces of the new righteousness as they style themselves, is going to be successful, they can’t merely shun those who have the wrong ideas. They have to silence them as well. He points to at least two recent examples of academic book burning. But the burners of these books were not conservative professors burning anti-Christian or liberal books, but rather liberal professors, in the first case, burning books that were opposed to climate change. Or in the second, burning Christina Hoff Sommers book, The War Against Boys, in protest against its “perceived anti-feminism.”

The idea of silencing the opposition and even of burning books goes back, as Bottum indicates, to Pope Pius IX in his 1864 encyclical, The Syllabus Of Errors when he wrote, “error has no rights.” In at least this case, Bottum writes, the Pope was actually the Pope and he was writing on behalf of the Catholic Church. He at least knew it was a church. But Bottum then writes,

“As the New York Times reported in June, at many colleges including Bowdoin, Vanderbilt, and the 23 campuses in the Cal State system, administrators are removing official recognition from Christian prayer and reading groups, mostly for these groups’ refusal to accept non-Christians in leadership positions. This might be taken as covered primarily by the idea of shunning, but it contains an element of prohibited opinions and banished books as well.”

He then writes about the actual banning or silencing of student groups, including a Nietzsche club at University College London; they were unable to meet to discuss where the most influential philosophers of the late 19th century simply because conservatives had used his ideas in times past.

Finally Joseph Bottum writes about the incredible parallels behind much of the modern environmental movement and historic Christianity. Again, he’s not talking about the substance of the doctrines but rather the structure of the very idea – the structure of the worldview. He writes, and I quote,

“I wonder, though, whether these global-warming critics have seen all the way to the bottom of their analogy—for much of radical environmentalism has, in fact, the shape of a Christian worldview. Or, at least, what a Christian worldview would be if it lacked any role for the gospel. This is a supernaturally charged history: We have an Eden, a paradise of nature—until the Fall, with the emergence of sentient human beings as polluters. We then have a long history of the gradually increasing immorality of smog and litter, all aiming toward the apocalypse of the final injuring of the Earth beyond repair. Strong environmentalism is, in essence, an unknowing recapitulation of St. Augustine. Or, at least, the dark half of the theologian: what Augustinianism would look like if you stripped away the idea that there might be salvation. What Augustinianism would look like if you had just the human stain, without human redemption. Environmentalism often comes to us these days as a political idea with a particular spiritual shape. It comes to us as Christianity without Christ.”

To put the matter bluntly, this is one of the most important essays to appear in print in a very long time. And the provenance, that is the source, is especially important. This is the cover story in this week’s issue of the Weekly Standard, that is a political magazine – this is not a theological Journal. But that makes the point emphatically because Joseph Bottum is writing about the fact when you talk about politics, ancient, modern, or postmodern, that politics is always infused with theology, with worldview, with spirituality, whatever you want to call it politics will inherently be deeply religious, Once again, even though Joseph Bottum doesn’t write about this, the Christian worldview explains not only the what but the why. Explaining that God made us as the only creature made in his image as spiritual beings who simply can’t not be religious. We can’t avoid being theological, we are theological to the core because we seek a theological narrative in understanding our lives. In other words, we are preprogrammed by our creator as religious beings because he made us that way in order that we might know him.

In terms of our understanding of our present political moment, nothing comes close to this essay in explaining where we now stand and why. In his brilliant analysis Joseph Bottum points out the what’s really going on on the left is not secular at all – it is deeply religious, it’s just the old Christian doctrinal system evacuated of all Christianity and filled with something else. The doctrine of original sin is now replaced with the original something else and the means of redemption, if it’s pointed to it all, is likely to be by science or genetic engineering or environmentalism or something of the like. Included in Bottum’s essays is a quote from GK Chesterton that I was thinking of even as I read his essay. It is this,

“The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad, isolated from each other and wandering alone.”

And though he doesn’t say it straightforwardly in this article, we need to be reminded of the fact that those who are pushing this worldview are evangelist in their own right. They are pushing their own gospel, their own worldview, and they are pushing it very effectively especially on the young American who show up on American college and University campuses. But as Bottum shows, that’s not the ambition, or at least that’s not the limit of the ambition of the secular left, or the so-called secular left. What they are really trying to do is to evangelize the entire culture.

2) Church of England deems Sunday services inconvenient, New Testament considerations irrelevant

Next on the theme of Christianity, devoid of Christian content, we look to an example which comes to us in the pages of The Telegraph, a major London newspaper. How’s this for a headline? “Sunday morning inconvenient for church services … says Church of England.” As John Bingham, the religious affairs editor for The Telegraph writes,

“Sunday morning is an inconvenient time for church services because people are busy shopping and doing DIY, the Church of England has admitted. Worshippers are increasingly turning their backs on the centuries-old practice of attending worship on Sundays because of other leisure and social ‘commitments’, it said”

The church authority cited in the article is the Dean of Litchfield, the Very Reverend Adrian Dorber who said many people still crave quiet reflection but are seeking out less pressurized times in the week to worship than Sunday mornings. The Dean of Litchfield said that weekends are now,

“…very committed for most families in an era when life is ‘run at the double.’”

The article also cites the fact that midweek services in the Church of England have doubled in attendance. Wait a minute, you’re not going to be impressed, even as weekly attendance and Sunday services has fallen below 800,000 – that’s for the established church, the Church of England in Britain and remember that Britain has a population of 64.1 million people. But speaking of the fact that midweek services have doubled in attendance the Dean of Litchfield said that that is due to the fact that the midweek Cathedral services were likely to be “reasonably short” and that’s part of the attraction. The Dean went on to speak of the popularity, the new popularity, of these midweek services by saying,

“People often squeeze them in to very, very pressurised lifestyles, whereas at the weekend you have got commitments with children doing sport, shopping, household maintenance. Life is run at the double these days and weekends are very pressurised and very committed. Taking out half an hour or an hour during the week is much more negotiable, it comes out of much more discretionary time.”

Well let’s look at the point being made here. Are these midweek services actually growing in popularity? Yes, they have doubled. They’ve doubled to the new attendance of 15,000 people a week. That’s 15,000 people, up from 7.5 thousand people. And that’s 15,000 people out of a population of 64.1 million. This is a church that celebrating having now up to 15,000 people out of 64.1 million in midweek services even as their losing people by the hundreds of thousands on Sunday morning.

There is absolutely no acknowledgment in this news article coming from either the reporter or any of the Anglican authority cited about the fact that Sunday worship has something to do with the New Testament and with the practice of the apostles. For we are told that they did not forsake the assembling of themselves together and we are also told in the book of Revelation that they gathered together on the first day of the week in honor of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. The tradition of Sunday worship for Christians is not something that emerged at some particular social point for some cultural reason – there was a deep theological reason. For in the era in which the church first began to meet for worship in the context of the Roman Empire, every day was like any other. They chose the first of the week, not because it was then a day off, but because it was the day on which the Lord had been resurrected from the dead.

What you have in these Anglican authorities is absolutely no reference to any Christian obligation or responsibility to gather together on the Lord’s day at all. It’s not even mentioned. Furthermore, there is a celebration even as attendance of the church has drop below 800,000 on Sunday morning – that’s for all Church of England parishes, cathedrals, churches, you name it, on the Lord’s day – and they’re celebrating the fact that there up to 15,000 people in midweek services, they’re actually looking at the fact that they are going to have to writes Sunday off because people are just too busy, what with all the other activities and don’t forget they actually use the word commitments. And this leads me to one of my fundamental principles in terms of church life – most churches and denominations die, not of homicide but of theological suicide and here’s a prime example of what the kind of theological suicide looks like.

3) PD James’ popular mystery novels reflect reality of transcendent morality

Finally, and staying in Great Britain, one of the major literary figures of the 20th century died last Thursday. She was Phyllis Dorothy James White, later known as Baroness James of Holland Park, better known as P.D. James. As Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times remarked,

“Ms. James was one of those rare authors whose work stood up to the inevitable and usually invidious comparisons with classic authors of the detective genre, like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. A consummate stylist, she accumulated numerous awards for the 18 crime novels produced during a writing career spanning a half-century. Seven of her mysteries were adapted for the public-television series ‘Mystery!’ and were broadcast in Britain and the United States.”

We simply should note that several of her books also became major films, including her dystopian novel The Children of Men. The New York Times secular obituary of P.D. James noted,

“Reviewers frequently lauded Ms. James for ‘transcending the genre,’ but she was a champion of the detective mystery, which she called ‘a literary celebration of order and reason.’ She considered it a modern morality drama by virtue of its affirmation of enduring social values. In turbulent times, she said, people turn to detective stories for reassurance as much as entertainment ‘because they do affirm the intelligibility of the universe, the moral norm, the sanctity of life.’”

Now the New York Times did not attribute those values to the Christian worldview but P.D. James most assuredly did. Her writing was deeply steeped in the Christian worldview and she was drawn to the detective story, to the mystery tale, precisely because of the morality involved in what it showed about human nature, about human sinfulness, and about the endurance of a moral code that wasn’t invented by humanity but rather given to us. P.D. James deeply cared about morality, about right and wrong, because she believed that they were transcendent values and she believed that because of the Christian worldview.

As the Wall Street Journal’s obituary cites Michael Dirda, the prominent literary critic for the Washington Post,

“Her work was dark and gritty, and in 20 years will still be read because of her portrait of English life,”

He then went on to say,

“There are terrible crimes sometimes at the heart of them; they weren’t genteel in any way. In these books you cared about who was guilty and who wasn’t.”

That’s because P.D. James deeply cared about who was guilty and who wasn’t. She also cared deeply about human life, the sanctity of human life, which is what is reflected in perhaps her most unusual book because it wasn’t a detective story. And that was her 1992 novel entitled The Children of Men, later made into an American motion picture. That novel presented a dystopian, that is a horrifying future humanity in which children were no longer born. In many ways, even writing from over 20 years ago, she saw the brave New World of reproductive technologies around us and she also understood the fact that we were encountering an antinatalist worldview, a worldview opposed to the very reproduction of humanity itself.

P.D. James who died at age 94 will certainly be missed, as will her detective Adam Dalgliesh who will continue to live on in her writings. Writing of her most famous detective P.D. James wrote,

“Perhaps Adam Dalgliesh is an idealized version of what I’d have liked to be if I had been born a man,”

And that leads me to a final point, many evangelical Christians are unaware of the fact that the detective novel, in this case the murder mystery, really emerged from Christians in an explicitly Christian worldview. In particular, in the English-speaking world appearing first in Great Britain and then passing to the United States in terms of mass popularity. But there are many reasons why the detective story is important to the Christian worldview. It’s because the very structure of intelligibility, that’s what P.D. James wrote about, the very structure of the understanding of the cosmos, the very understanding of morality that’s at the heart of the stories, remember they only makes sense if murder is wrong and if crime is punished, these things point to the fact that the actually demonstrate how the Christian worldview operates in a fallen world. In a culture increasingly distant from and hostile to Christianity, it’s hard to imagine how these detective stories can continue in their moral shape and that would lead to a mystery I’m not sure even Adam Dalgliesh could unwind.

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) Secular theology of modern politics mirrors structure of Christian worldview

The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas, Weekly Standard (Joseph Bottum)

2) Church of England deems Sunday services inconvenient, New Testament considerations irrelevant

Sunday morning inconvenient for church services … says Church of England, The Telegraph (John Bingham)

3) PD James’ popular mystery novels reflect reality of transcendent morality

P. D. James, Creator of the Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries, Dies at 94, New York Times (Marilyn Stasio)

Novelist P.D. James Dies at 94, Wall Street Journal (Alexis Flynn, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, and Brenda Cronin)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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