The Briefing 02-16-15

The Briefing 02-16-15

The Briefing


February 16, 2015

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


It’s Monday, February 16, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


1) Copenhagen attacks horrifyingly parallel Paris attack as European terrorism threat grows

Once again the weekend headlines were about terrorism and the headlines were horrifying.  As the New York Times reported yesterday,

“After killing a Danish film director in a Saturday afternoon attack on a Copenhagen cafe and then a Jewish night guard at a synagogue, the 22-year-old gunman responsible for Denmark’s worst burst of terrorism in decades unleashed a final fusillade outside a four-story apartment building before dawn on Sunday.”

These were two separate attacks. And in this case you had another young gunman, in this case 22 years old. A 22-year-old who had been born and raised in Denmark, raised in a family of Muslim immigrants, and even as he been considered a part of Danish society,  he turned on that society and he did so murderously.

According to reports, he went into this Caféas in Copenhagen the caféwas sponsoring a debate over free speech. That very debate had to do with free speech in the wake of the murderous attacks several weeks ago in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and now what Denmark is having to face and the face quite squarely is the fact that terrorism has arrived once again on Danish soil. It is interesting that the New York Times documents that the attacks in Copenhagen were again Denmark’s worst burst of terrorism in decades.

But, one of the things we need to keep in mind is that some of the issues we’re now discussing actually, in terms of the European threat of terrorism, began, as a matter fact, in Denmark.  As Malcolm Brabant of the BBC reported, it will be soon in just a matter of months ten years since Denmark was ground zero in the very first controversy over cartoons published of the prophet Mohammed. As Brabant reports,

“In September it will be 10 years since a Danish newspaper enflamed the Muslim world with the publication of twelve cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one of them with a bomb in his turban.”

As he then notes, this is from the BBC,

“The country has been perpetually vigilant since 2005 after its embassies in the Middle East were burned and Danish exports were threatened.”

The young man was eventually cornered by Danish police, and he was eventually killed in a shootout with Danish law enforcement officials.

But as the New York Times reports, even as the 22-year-old’s name is not yet fully confirmed, and, as they say,

“Basic biographical details were still unclear late Sunday, he appears to have shared some traits with at least two of the militants responsible for the Paris violence, notably a criminal record and an abrupt transition from street crime to Islamic militancy.”

There’s another parallel to the Paris attacks that seems to have attracted less explicit interest in the worldwide media. That has to do with the fact that, not only was this an attack on free speech, it was also an attack, very clearly an attack, upon Jews—an anti-Semitic attack made very clear by the fact that here you had a gunman who shot a night guard at a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen, a synagogue that was at the moment filled with people who were observing a Bat Mitzvah ceremony. It is interesting that as were having a worldwide resurgence, it seems, of the scourge of anti-Semitism, many in the media still refer to these attacks—such as the attack on a Jewish grocery store in Paris—as apparent anti-Semitism. It will lead you to wonder just how apparent something must be to lose the word apparent.

The newspaper that had been at the center, almost 10 years ago, of the controversy over the cartoons will publish today an editorial in which they say,

“Unfortunately, it is difficult to claim surprise at the attacks in Copenhagen.”Terrorism, said the paper was “not a question of if, but when.”

Some Danish authorities have already acknowledged this looks like something of a copycat action, a copycat terrorist attack based upon what it happen several weeks ago in Paris.  But what this also underscores is that there is no place that is totally safe from terrorism. There is no place, even Denmark that considers itself quite a peaceful nation, no place  that is safe, especially in the continent of Europe right now from the kind of homegrown Islamic insurgency as was seen in this attack.

There were several odd twist to the story at a Copenhagen. For one thing, there was a public debate over these cartoons.  Now, you would think that in the aftermath of what happened in Paris, that might be something the Danish authorities would not have welcomed, not in terms of the fact that not only was the caféthe site of this publicly announced debate, but the French ambassador was there along with a cartoonist already known for inflaming Muslim passions by drawing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. One would think that that might not be a place for the French ambassador would be, in terms of a public café, in terms of this kind of publicly announce debate. But he was and the attack happened.

The reason I raise this is because even as the days authority said that they had been on high alert, a high state of vigilance since 2005, it appeared that the high alert wasn’t high enough to have prevented the murderous attacks that took place not just in one place in Copenhagen, but in two on a single day.

But as if that report wasn’t frightening enough, last night news broke, again from the New York Times,

“A video released Sunday night by the Islamic State appeared to show the mass beheading of at least a dozen Egyptian Christians by fighters in a recently formed Libyan arm of the militant group.”

Two very ominous developments over the weekend, in terms of the group that calls itself the Islamic State.  As the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend in a Saturday, Sunday edition of that paper,

“Islamic State militants wearing Iraqi military uniforms and suicide vests attacked an Iraqi air base where U.S. military advisers are training Iraq’s security forces, the most direct attack,”says the paper, “on a base used by U.S. forces since the current conflict began.”

The second development, of course, was this video of a mass execution of Coptic Christians merely, it appears, for being Christians and for being Egyptian. And we also have the predictable response from Egypt’s government. As Egypt’s President SiSi reported that there will be Egyptian retaliation against the Islamic State.  But, what were looking at here is the fact that Europe seems, still, not to be willing to take in the full account the threat of terrorism that it faces. And were also looking at the fact that Arab nations that are also directly, if not even more directly, targeted by the Islamic State seem also, in so many cases, to be losing rather than gaining ground against the group.   Because that Wall Street Journal report indicated that the Islamic State was able to attack that base that is the home of US personnel, because it recently had taken a town that close to the base.

And furthermore, the headline story out of the New York Times about the mass execution of Christians by the Islamic State the broke last night tells us that it was undertaken by,

“a newly formed Libyan arm of the militant group.”

So, the Islamic State is not in retreat. That is abundantly clear. It is very much on the march. It is now capturing towns close to where the American military are actually present on the ground training Iraqi troops, and it is now spreading, in terms of nation by nation, with a newly formed Libyan arm of the group. But to underscore the increasing seriousness of this threat, the New York Times reports this morning quote,

“Identical in style and details to earlier execution videos released by the Islamic State, this one was the first the group has released depicting a killing outside of its core territory in Syria and Iraq. It appeared to show much closer communication and collaboration between the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and its far-flung satellite groups than Western officials previously believed.”

2) Fallout from President’s Prayer Breakfast remarks reveals divide in understanding of faiths

Meanwhile back in the United States there continues to be controversy over the address by President Obama at the national prayer breakfast just a matter of days ago. You’ll member the controversy over President Obama’s speech in which he drew parallels between Christian history and the modern Islamic threat.  But, as I said in my comments on The Briefing and in a major essay I published last week at Albert on the president at the prayer breakfast, the real problem with the president’s speech was not what he said about Christianity. There are problems there, but the main problem is what he didn’t say about Islam, indeed even mentioning Islam in any kind of negative light, as it were facing any current threat of Islam, which of course we are.

I also mentioned in my comments and in that article that not only President Obama, but  President Bush before him—that is, President George W. Bush—were both correct in stating that we are not at war with Islam. There’s a great, very important truth embedded in that. We are certainly not at war with Islam in terms of all the Muslims in the world and for that we should be very, very thankful. The vast majority Muslims in the world are not involved in a jihad against the United States or against Europe. But the fact is that the major threat, in terms of world terrorism, is coming from Muslims, coming from a large group of Muslims—not all the Muslims in the world, again let’s be very clear, but a sizable percentage of Muslims throughout the world who are committed to an understanding of Islam that leads them, eventually, into holy war, into an organized jihad.

And furthermore, many of the same authorities that are saying again and again, “we are not at war with Islam,” they’re also documenting the fact that European nations, and for that matter Canada and the United States, are seeing a sizable number of young Muslims leave these countries and join the jihad against their own homelands. There seems to be an unusual reticence simply to declare the obvious truth, and that is, that a sizable percentage of Muslims do hold to an understanding of Islam that does lead them to radicalization and to terroristic attacks upon Europeans, upon Americans, and as we have seen, even upon all Muslims.

But in a very interesting response to the controversy over the president’s comments, Professor Stephen Prothero, and by the way he is a professor at Boston University and the author of the book entitled God Is Not Onethe title tells you a great deal about his own worldview, Stephen Prothero, a very intelligent man, writes an article in the Thursday edition last week of USA Today that is entitled Folly of good versus bad faiths.  In that article he says this,

“I see two competing narratives at work here.”

He then writes,

“The conservative narrative is that there is one true religion, which is good and many false religions (which are bad). This is the view,” he says, “of evangelist Franklin Graham who responded to Obama’s remarks by writing that “Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness. …Mohammed, on the contrary, was a warrior and killed many innocent people.”

He then continues,

“The liberal narrative which [President] Obama apparently shares with popular religion writers Karen Armstrong in Houston Smith, is that all religions are basically good. They all teach compassion, but are twisted beyond recognition (in [President] Obama’s words) by ‘those who seek to hijack religions for their own murderous ends.’”

“This,”say Prothero, “is what the president was getting at when he said quote ‘there is a tendency, in us a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.’”

Now to give Professor Prothero his due, these are two competing narratives, two very different explanations of what’s at stake. But, he has reduced them here to almost cartoonish versions. For one thing, when we’re looking at these two worldviews, it’s not particularly helpful to label them conservative and liberal. But even as I give him his due that these words are sometimes almost impossible not to use, what he misses is the fact that historic Christianity, not just some variant you might call conservative, has held the fact that Jesus is the only Savior and that salvation comes only to those who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when he writes that the so-called liberal narrative apparently believes that all religions are basically good and can be perverted he has to deal with the fact that, in terms of the cultural left, there are a good many people who believe, not that all religions are good, but that all religions are bad. Just think of the so-called New Atheist such as Richard Dawkins and any number of others.

At this point biblical Christians have to think very carefully. We do not believe that there is no good found in adherents of other religions. We do not believe that there is no truth found in other religions. After all, we believe that even atheists are right on certain points and we share a good deal of knowledge. Now I also have to state that the fundamental nature that knowledge is still quite distinct—that is to say, the Christian worldview explains not just that 2+2 = 4, but that 2+2 = 4 because a sovereign Creator-God created a universe as the theater his glory in which he embedded the knowledge of himself in the regularity of the universe such that 2+2 = 4 and will always equal four, never three, never five, always four.  So,for Christians, believing Christians operating out of a Christian worldview, every proposition, if actually true, is, in some sense, at least a disguised theological statement.

Believing Christians do not argue that other religious worldviews are wrong at every point, we need to be very clear about that. For instance, we share a good many moral principles when it comes to other religious systems and those who hold to those systems. When it comes to the definition of marriage, we’re actually very close to where many Muslims would understand the issue of marriage being between a man and a woman, not between a man and a man or woman and a woman. The same would be true for any number of others who would define marriage the way we would define marriage, and would do so even in theological terms. So we do not argue that every other religious system is wrong at every point.

But what we do argue is that salvation is found only in Christ and not only in Christ in the general sense, but only in Christ, in terms of what the apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter 10, that one must confess with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in the heart that God has raised from the dead to be saved. As Paul says in that very same chapter, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. So, we do not believe that there is salvation in any of these other religions, but those who believe that should not be called conservative rather they should be called Christians—those who are continuing in the historic teachings of the Christian church going all the way back to the apostles, who received it from Christ himself.  Now back to Professor Prothero, he suggests that those two narratives he lays out are both unsatisfying. As he writes,

“As a historian of religion, I find neither of these narratives convincing.”

“The first,”he says, “is special pleading on behalf of one theological viewpoint, the second let’s the world religions often easily absolving believers of any responsibility to criticize and correct evildoers in their midst.”

Rejecting both of those narratives Professor Prothero says we should acknowledge that in every religion there is an element of good and in every religion there is an element of evil.

Christians looking at an argument like that need to understand that it comes from a prospective known as phenomenology. It offers what is called a phenomenological understanding of religious faith or of theology. Suggesting that you bracket any kind of supernatural significance—you bracket the question as to whether a theological claim is true or not—and simply say this is how it functions within that religion. This is how it functions within that belief system.

That’s where Christians can never be mere phenomenologist ,we have to be believers. We believe these things not just because they operate within a religious system,  but because we believe the claim to be true. We believe that it is true that Jesus is the only Savior. We believe that salvation is found only in his name. We obey the great commission, not because we’re merely interested in bringing illumination about a better way to others, or just to share our own religious perspective, but because we believe that eternity is hanging in the balance.

At the end of the day, Professor Prothero’s article reminds us of the limitations of a secular perspective on a theological issue. We can look at it from a secular perspective in order to gain some distance and say, “I can see the perspective, I can understand the argument,’ but we can never abandon the fact that we are theologically defined. We can never accept a merely phenomenological view of our own theological positions because, after all, they’re not just theological positions, they’re not just intellectual principles, they are, we believe, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the faith whereby we are saved, and the faith in Christ that is our responsibility to share with the entire world.

3) Scandal leading to Oregon governor’s resignation exposes moral priorities of America

Domestically, the other big news over the weekend was the resignation of the Governor of Oregon. He’s announced resignation.  He’ll leave office this week, and he will be succeeded by the state secretary of state. As Hannah Hoffman reports for USA Today,

“Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned office Friday amid allegations of criminal wrongdoing almost exactly one month after being sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term. Secretary Of State Kate Brown will replace him.”

His Resignation, according to press reports, is effective on Wednesday, and the State Secretary State will take office upon his resignation.

What’s really interesting about the downfall of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, is the fact that he was brought down because of his relationship with a woman who was not his wife, but, nonetheless a fiancéwith whom he had lived in the Governor’s mansion for a number of years, with the woman, Sylvia Hayes, even sometimes identifying herself as the states First Lady. But the Governor went down as Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum was launching a criminal investigation of the Governor’s fiancé, now, Sylvia Hayes and with the accusation that she had used her position inside the Governor’s house and inside the Governor’s office for own personal economic gain, trading off her influence with several Industries and organizations, including those involved in environmental and ecological issues for which the governor had become quite famous.

Calls for the Governor’s resignation, given charges of public corruption, began to grow in recent days with even the states leading newspaper, The Oregonian, that had endorsed him for reelection, calling for his resignation. Those calling for resignation eventually won out, and the governor made his announcement on Friday—interestingly, after twice signaling during the week he was going to resign, but then changing his mind, but making it official on Friday.

One of the interesting aspects of the downfall of Oregon’s Governor is how it seems to parallel some of the moral issues that arise in connection with the French Presidency. French President François Mitterrand, decades ago, more recent French Presidents Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande—the current inhabitant of the Presidential palace, have lived with women who were not their wives or have had public mistresses. That hasn’t been a big issue in France, not morally speaking, since France, in its secular morality, seems to think it’s above any kind of moral quibble over something like marriage when it comes to their President.

Most American States, at least thus far, it would seem, would not accept that same kind of moral example. But, in that sense, Oregon’s something of an outlier in American States and is going to be an outlier again because, as the national media made abundantly clear, the new Governor, as of Wednesday, will be the first bisexual Governor in American History.

Oregon has no Lieutenant Governor, so Kate Brown, who is the State Secretary Of State, will constitutionally succeed the resigned Governor. And in that sense, there’s a moral lesson here that we ought to note. Because, in that sense, the state of Oregon has actually gone beyond even France with the nation’s first bisexual Governor. And when it comes to eclipsing France on this kind of issue of sexual morality, well that really takes something, but evidently Oregon now bears that distinction.

One other final things to note: The moral issues surrounding the Governor and his personal life seem to have had very little impact, if at all, in terms of the controversy that brought down the Governor. What did bring down the Governor was a charge of financial impropriety in terms of the woman with whom he was sharing the Governor’s mansion.  That too tells us something about America. It’s often now more about money than any other moral question.  That too says something about us.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For more information on Boyce College just go to Remember last Saturday debuted the first in a new Installment in a new season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. For upcoming questions, we’d love to have Your question in your voice. Just call 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’ll meet you again tomorrow The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Copenhagen attacks horrifyingly parallel Paris attack as European terrorism threat grows

Terror Attacks by a Native Son Rock Denmark, New York Times (Andrew Higgins and Melissa Eddy)

Copenhagen shootings: Why Denmark was steeled for terror attack, BBC News (Malcolm Brabant)

Islamic State Video Shows Beheadings of Egyptian Christians in Libya, New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick and Rukmini Callimachi)

ISIS Attacks Iraqi Base Used by U.S. Trainers, Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes)

2) Fallout from President’s Prayer Breakfast remarks reveals divide in understanding of faiths

The President at the Prayer Breakfast,

Folly of good vs. bad religions, USA Today (Stephen Prothero)

3) Scandal leading to Oregon governor’s resignation exposes moral priorities of America

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber quits amid criminal probe, USA Today (Hannah Hoffman)

John Kitzhaber, Cylvia Hayes face mounting exposure to criminal charges as investigations expand, The Oregonian (Les Zaitz)

Meet Kate Brown, Politico (Jonathan Topaz)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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