The Briefing 01-05-15

The Briefing 01-05-15

The Briefing


January 5, 2015

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


It’s Monday, January 5, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


The first edition for The Briefing for the year 2015 begins as the year begins with a good many headlines, all of them demanding attention from a Christian worldview. The last edition of The Briefing for the year 2014 was dated December 19, the very next day in New York City two New York City police officers were gunned down in cold blood by an assailant. The man’s name was Ismaaiyl Brinsley, he committed suicide after killing the two police officers. The officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot at point-blank range as they sat in their car in Brooklyn. The man who committed suicide after killing them had traveled all the way from Baltimore, Maryland after he already vowed to kill police officers.


With Christmas approaching, the murder of the two police officers plunged New York City into both a moral and a political crisis. The moral crisis was caused by the realization that two New York City police officers had been killed in such a calculated and brutal killing. The cost was made very clear; Officer Ramos left not only a wife, but two teenage sons one 13 and one 17, Officer Liu was representative of the rising numbers of Asian Americans in the New York City Police Department ranks. Coming just as millions of New Yorkers were settling in to celebrate Christmas, the killing of the officers shocked the supposedly unshockable city of New York – representing a very clear reality of evil in an undeniable and unavoidable way.


The political crisis exposed the deep rift between the liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police force. At the funeral for Officer Ramos, thousands of New York City police officers turned their back on the mayor as his image was on a widescreen speaking at the funeral. According to the press, hundreds of New York City police officers did the same yesterday at the funeral services for officer Liu. Speaking shortly after the shootings, New York’s police Commissioner William Bratton said,


“Today two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation. They were [said the Commissioner], quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced.”


The killing of the two officers came in the aftermath of a national controversy over relationships between the police and minority communities. But the killings underscored more than anything else, the daily dangers faced by law enforcement officers and the grave danger embraced by a society that does not respect and honor those who protect that very society.


Just a few days later on December 28, death took a very different face when Air Asia flight 8501 disappeared from the radar. It disappeared with 161 souls aboard. And, once again, the world was facing the fact that an airliner connected with Malaysia had disappeared. Unlike the Malaysian airlines jetliner, this Airbus A320 disappeared on a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore. And it disappeared just shortly after the pilots had asked for permission to ascend to a higher altitude to avoid neighboring thunderstorms. Unlike the disappearance of the Malaysian airlines jet earlier in the year, news came rather quickly – in just a matter of days – that debris had been found in the Java Sea off the island of Borneo. Even though the wreckage of the jetliner is in what is considered to be relatively shallow water, the rough weather of the monsoon season has made retrieval efforts all but impossible.


An interesting twist to the story, the Indonesian government indicated that the airliner did not have permission to fly that route on the assigned day. As of yesterday, American aviation officials are raising very serious safety questions since it appears that the two pilots of the plane were effectively on their own in terms of understanding the weather challenges they may have faced. The actual cause of the crash brings to mind, in terms of many aviation experts, the crash several years ago of an Air France jet over the Atlantic; a crash that was blamed on the freezing of certain altimeter instruments that effectively caused the plane the stall.


In another very sad dimension to the event, the Wall Street Journal reported on the 1st of January that of those on the plane – that is 161 – 41 were actually members of one church, identified in some press reports as one Christian denomination. Taken together, these two new stories underscored during the Christmas season, the fact that we really do live in a very dangerous world; a world described by the hymn writer as one filled with dangers, toils, and snares. Headlines like these should cause Christians to develop the continual reflex of remembering that this is why the coming of the Prince of Peace is so urgently and eternally important. Even as Christians celebrated Christmas at the end of 2014, death was staring us in the face in the headlines.


But speaking of headlines, it was actually a cover story in Newsweek magazine that attracted so much Christian conversation as the year came to an end. The double issue of Newsweek is actually dated through January 9, but it hit newsstands just after New Year’s Day. However, internet editions of the article were available even before Christmas. The cover of Newsweek showed a Bible with the words, ‘The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a Sin.’ The author of the lengthy multi-thousand word essay was Kurt Eichenwald, a reporter primarily known for reporting on economic and financial matters. The article is nothing but a hit piece upon the Bible and especially upon evangelical Christianity. The opening paragraphs of the Newsweek article made the point emphatically. Eichenwald wrote,


“They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.”


Then he went on to write,


“They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.”

With opening sentences like that, we were warned that a salvo of anti-Christian attack was coming and that’s exactly what is found within the article. As a matter fact, the article even exceeds the kind of ominous expectations one might have from both the cover and even those opening paragraphs. As I wrote in my own essay responding to the Newsweek article posted on December 29, it’s one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise. In his article Eichenwald wrote, and I quote,


“Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.”


What’s really going on here becomes very apparent when the articles taken as a whole. Kurt Eichenwald is writing a scathing attack, not upon Christianity in its liberal form, but upon evangelical Christianity or upon any form of historic Christianity that is tied to any claim to biblical authority.


Eichenwald was very glad to cite far left Bible scholars and theologians such as Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina, but he presented absolutely no balancing argument; representing no claim to even have spoken with any credible conservative scholars. No conservative scholar is even cited or referenced within the article. Instead the article simply repeats and rehashes liberal claims about the Scripture that have been made for the better part of the last 200 years; some actually older. He falsely claims that all we have are translations of translations of translations – an abundantly false article.


Christians certainly understand that the English Bibles they read are indeed translations, but the best translations available today are very credible translations of very credible text. The kind of political argument that Eichenwald makes is that the New Testament canon in particular was simply put together in some way to serve the cause of the Roman Empire – especially through the agency of Emperor Constantine. He pointed to the Council of Nicaea, held in what is now Turkey, in the year 325 as evidence of the fact that Constantine used that opportunity, politically, to settle the New Testament canon – that is the set of books officially recognized as the New Testament. But any credible historian would understand that the New Testament church and the apostolic church that followed had already begun to recognize those writings that are now recognized as the New Testament; using the standards of apostolicity, that is apostolic authorship, and catholicity, which is to say they were recognized by all the churches, and gospel content, the church had settled relatively early on understanding which of the many writings about Jesus were to be understood as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the kinds of claims that Eichenwald makes about the Scripture – about its textual history, about the problems of translation – all of these things are either abundantly well-known or largely misrepresented.


Eichenwald’s misrepresentations go so far as to be absolute falsehood. Even when he’s right, and he says something that is abundantly true, it’s usually irrelevant. An example of this is when he cites, as a supposedly translation problem, the fact that the Greek language, in terms of its koiné Greek expression, is written without spaces between words and without normal conventions of punctuation. He suggests that the danger is that one can mistranslate the Scripture, misreading something for instance as ‘let’s go eat, mom’ as ‘let’s go eat mom.’ But as I wrote in my article, no mom has ever been in danger of being eaten because of a misunderstanding of punctuation. Context has always been determinative in terms of these kinds of readings and on no crucial point of any importance, not only in the Bible but in any fundamentally important ancient text, has this really been a problem – ever. He points to textual issues involved with the ending of Mark’s gospel and with the Johannine account that is in the gospel of John, about the woman caught in adultery, without recognizing that these are issues that no evangelical seminarian would be troubled by after an initial and responsible consideration.


Furthermore, when he looks at the Bible itself, he really gets to the point. When it becomes clear that his targets are actually not the translation and transmission of Scripture, but what is found within the Bible itself. For instance, as the article unfolds, it becomes very clear that Eichenwald holds a deep animus against the doctrine of the Trinity, and in particular, against any claim to the divinity of Christ. Also at the center of his target are those who believe in the divine creation of the universe and, here comes no surprise, anyone who holds the Bible’s teaching on sexuality is to be normative. My article published at on December 29 goes into considerable detail in terms of the analysis of Eichenwald’s article.


The important thing to recognize here is that the Newsweek cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate; no journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.


But there’s a deeper point to be understood here in the context, not only of this article, but of similar articles and similar attacks upon the Bible. What do these things actually underline? These attacks underline the fact that the Bible is still very much a threat to a secular society; that the Bible still haunts even the secular mind, that not only the existence of the Bible but the clear teachings of the Bible continue to exert a formidable force upon the conscience of people even in the supposedly post-secular West. We should note the fact that a secular magazine and a secular journalist actually felt it was important to attack the Scripture in this way, and not only the Scripture but evangelical Christianity.


Finally we also need to note that the real scandal of evangelical Christianity, as made very clear in this article, is its claim to biblical authority. The real problem that Kurt Eichenwald has with evangelical Christianity, and this becomes abundantly clear, is the fact that evangelicals claim not only that God exists, but that he speaks and not only that he speaks, but he has spoken in a book, and not only a book, but in a book particularly known to be the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. The real animus that Kurt Eichenwald and Newsweek demonstrate against evangelical Christianity is the claim that the speaking God has spoken and that we are thus accountable to his words – the words that are found in the Bible itself.


But Kurt Eichenwald’s article also makes a very important link between biblical authority and Christology. How do we know who Jesus is, what he accomplished, why he came? Without the Bible as our trustworthy authority, we simply cannot answer those questions. That is the ambiguity openly and eagerly embraced by liberal theology. It’s the ambiguity that is forbidden by the apostolic testimony in Scripture, and that’s the real stumbling block. It’s not the Scripture that is the stumbling block – not in its essence – it’s not evangelical Christians, it’s Jesus Christ. That becomes abundantly clear. If you take away the Bible, you take away the knowledge of Jesus – the Jesus fully human and fully divine, whose birthday we just celebrated at Christmas and whose incarnation is the great dividing fact of human history. It was certainly no accident that it was on the day before Christmas Eve in the year 2014 that Newsweek decided to drop this article.


In this week’s editions of The Briefing we will look at several of the other major headlines in recent days, but we need to note as this edition comes to a close today that today in Boston, Massachusetts a major criminal trial is going to begin. It’s the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man arrested as the surviving assassin who planned the bombing of the Boston Marathon and carried it out; killing three people and injuring another 260 in the year 2013. On Saturday, two judges of the three-judge panel of federal appeals court, turned back an effort by Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys to have the trial postponed and moved out of Boston – claiming that there’s no way Tsarnaev could gain a fair trial in the city where the Boston, Marathon bombing took place.


Tsarnaev will face 30 charges in terms of the trial that begins today and federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the most serious of the charges, including intentional murder and terrorism. Prosecutors will claim that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, both from Chechnya, had plotted and planned the bombing of the Boston Marathon, intending to bring about as much death and mayhem as possible. They will link the two brothers to Islamic separatists and terrorist efforts and they will make very clear their claim that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was an active plotter and participant in the terrorist act. Tsarnaev’s attorneys are expected to claim he was simply caught up in the web of conspiracy led by his older brother, Tamerlan. Tamerlan was killed in a police chase in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing.


From a Christian worldview perspective there are several important considerations here. First the fact that it is a civilizational achievement based upon the Christian worldview that grants to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the reality of the promise of a fair trial, of a jury trial; of the reality that he is not summarily to be convicted and simply punished by the state but rather that the state will go to the incredible expense and the excruciating difficulty of bringing its case and proving it before a jury – something that is made possible because of a certain understanding of human rights and human dignity. The very human rights and human dignity that the Tsarnaev brothers were seeking to attack when they bombed the Boston Marathon and they set in motion the events that would lead to three deaths and the horrible wounding of over 260 others.


The other thing to recognize is the fact that the human heart cries out for a kind of justice that can actually only be brought about by proving the case. This is something that many Christians fail to understand, a trial like this is not only important because of the rights of the accused – those must be recognized as very important to our legal system and to our understanding of human dignity and justice. But the justice our hearts cry out for is a justice that demands that the facts of the case be settled, that the evidence be presented, and that we come to understand this horrible act in all of its horrible reality and force us as an entire society to recognize that something like this happened. And that it happened not because of some kind of accident but because two individuals – one of them now on trial – plotted this in order to make a political statement. They consider the expense of human lives by this kind of deliberate attack as one that was justified by some ideological cause.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will have the opportunity to present the most robust defense. His defense team will be able to take every piece of evidence and try to find some way to get it excluded from the consideration. But the reality of the pleas made by his attorney in recent days to try to delay the trial and to move it out of Boston is an acknowledgment of the strength of the case against him. It’s also an acknowledgment of the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is trying to set in motion some foundation for a subsequent appeal – meaning he fully expects, or his defense team expects, that he will be found guilty.


A very interesting thing to watch in terms of this trial is whether or not the issue of Islamic terrorism is given an adequate understanding because federal authorities are very convinced that Tamerlan Tsarnaev became radicalized, in terms of Islamic extremism, after he had made a visit back to his native Chechnya shortly before he returned to the United States and began planning this attack. Federal authorities also said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had made very clear statements linking the act and his particular personal involvement to Islamic extremism. But during the court proceedings, or in the media attention to those proceedings, will the issue of Islam gain any kind of adequate hearing? That’s going to be a very interesting thing to watch. But this points to a very important final consideration: our quest for justice, our hunger for justice, is a hunger to know not just when, where, and what, but why. Why points to the motivation for such a murderous act. Why would anyone do such a thing? Why would anyone even plot such a thing? How can such an event, how could such a murderous act, become even conceivable? This reveals the unavoidable issue of worldview. What worldview would make this kind of murderous attack plausible? Well that’s where the issue of worldview and Islam and the motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers are probably inextricable. But one of the most important moral achievements of this moment in American history and of this trial would be an adequate consideration, given to that question that simply must be answered, the question ‘why?’ It may well be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the only person alive who can answer that question. We should hope that in the course of these court proceedings the question is asked and answered.


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) Assassination of two NYPD officers tragic example of when society does not respect its protectors 

2 N.Y.P.D. Officers Killed In Brooklyn Ambush; Suspect Commits Suicide, New York Times (Benjamin Mueller and Al Baker)

In Brooklyn, the Lives of 2 Officers Are Recalled as Their Deaths Are Mourned, New York Times (Michael Wilson and Michael Schwirtz)

Another Silent Protest of Mayor de Blasio as Officer Liu Is Laid to Rest, New York Times (J. David Goodman and Kirk Semple)

2) Crash of AirAsia QZ8501 shows importance of the coming of the Prince of Peace

AirAsia QZ8501: Search efforts to find flight data recorders resume, BBC News

AirAsia Passengers Remembered With Prayer in Surabaya Churches, Wall Street Journal (Jake Maxwell Watts and Anita Rachman)

3) Newsweek article example of  secular society’s problem with the teaching of the Bible — Jesus

The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a Sin, Newsweek (Kurt Eichenwald)

Newsweek on the Bible — So Misrepresented It’s a Sin, (Albert Mohler)

4) Trial of marathon bomber reveals civil achievement of trial by jury

Marathon bombing trial to start today with jury selection, Boston Globe (Milton J. Valencia)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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