The Briefing 05-04-15

The Briefing 05-04-15

The Briefing


May 4, 2015

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


It’s Monday, May 4, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Gunmen killed at anti-Islamic Texas art show raise question of international involvement

As morning broke on Monday it was clear that a new story that broke late Sunday night will require further information. As Reuters reported, two gunmen opened fire Sunday evening at an art exhibit in Garland, Texas – that’s near Dallas. The art exhibit had been organized by an anti-Islamic group and it featured caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. The gunmen were themselves shot dead at the scene by police officers. As Reuters reported, the shooting was an echo of past attacks or threats in other Western countries against art depicting the prophet Mohammed. It took place in the parking lot of the Curtis Colwell center there in Garland, located northeast of Dallas.

At this point it is not clear exactly what was taking place in this incident, though as a spokesperson for the police said,

“I have no idea who they are,”

Speaking of the dead gunmen,

“…other than that they’re dead and in the street,”

As a precaution, Dallas-area police were examining the suspect’s car for any explosives that might be in the vehicle. As I said, this is one of the stories that will require a great deal of further information. At this point police in Dallas and the law enforcement and national security officials elsewhere are aware of the fact that this may be a major story – then again it might not be. This might be a story with major international repercussions; then again it might be basically a local law enforcement story there in the area of Dallas. Time will tell.

2) Baltimore officers charged with Freddie Gray death, illustrating value of judicial system

In the meantime the headlines alone serve to remind us that a major story can interrupt virtually anywhere, anytime, without any kind of warning. Often we simply have to wait for more information to be available in order to put the story into context and to know just how big a story this might be.

Meanwhile, the nation knows the city of Baltimore is Ground Zero of a very big story and over the weekend it was announced that six law enforcement officers will face charges in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray – the young man, an African-American young man, who died after being taken into custody by Baltimore police. The death of Freddie Gray led to widespread protests in the streets of Baltimore that turned violent, leading not only to the arrest of many protesters but to the torching and looting of several Baltimore area businesses and to the serious injury of the least about a half-dozen Baltimore police officers.

But as the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday morning, six police officers were charged on Friday in the death of Freddie Gray, as Baltimore’s top prosecutor acted with what the Post described as, ‘surprising swiftness’ in a case the paper described as one that ignited protests and rioting in Baltimore. As the Post also reported and I quote

“Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby publicly delivered her stunning, detailed narrative of extensive police misconduct in the latest of several cases nationwide that have fueled anger over heavy-handed law enforcement tactics in low-income communities.”

But the paper went on to say that her decision to file charges that brought joy and relief to low income West Baltimore and beyond at least temporarily, had also brought a great deal of criticism. According to the paper she described in her indictment how Freddie Gray,

“…allegedly was arrested illegally, treated callously by the officers, and suffered a severe spine injury in the back of a police van while his pleas for medical help were ignored.”

Mosby’s decision, coming in the very heat of this urban conflict, including rioting and protesting along with the defense of the officers offered by others, well the action of the state attorney itself drew a great deal of attention.

As the Baltimore Sun’s reporters Liz Bowie and Michael Dresser reported,

“The decision of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby to file charges of murder and false imprisonment against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray was both bold and novel, according to legal analysts — but some said they will be challenging to prove in court.”

The paper’s reporters cited Steven H. Levin, a former federal prosecutor, as saying, “she has overcharged.” He went on to say that the state’s attorney could lose credibility with the jury because she brought the charges so quickly,

“…making it more difficult to obtain a conviction on any of the charges,”

Meanwhile, other legal authorities disagreed with Levin, saying that it was impossible, as the paper reports, for them to judge the strength of the state attorney’s case without seeing the evidence. A. Dwight Pettit, a defense attorney, said the prosecutor “is going to have a rough road to travel,” but he says the charges are at least, and this was his word, reasonable. As he said,

“At least the public will be able to see that battled out in the courtroom. For the first time, it is not swept under the rug.”

That’s something of an incendiary comment by itself, but let’s look little closer at the situation. Here we have a state’s attorney who brought charges against six police officers and did so very, very quickly. Too quickly? Well, once again we simply have to say, time will tell.

One of the things we need to keep in mind here – whether the story is datelined Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, Maryland or anywhere else – is that we actually only have the legal system we have. The legal system that is in place in the United States is decidedly imperfect. On the other hand, even those who are currently arguing about the fallacies and frailties of America’s legal system, whether they are addressing local or state wide or more national issues, even they generally would not want to scrap the justice system altogether. Furthermore, the most responsible on any side of this kind of controversy understands that the only way to achieve justice – any kind of genuine justice, any approximation of justice – is actually to go through the legal system that we have.

Conservatives and liberals on these issues, not to mention those divided by ethnic identity, often find themselves looking at apparently the same facts with a completely different analysis of the moral and legal situations at stake. Even as there were many who were saying that we should trust the legal system in Ferguson, Missouri when the prosecutor there decided not to bring charges the same kind of logic should mean that we extend to the states attorney there in Baltimore, the understanding that even as she has filed charges in these cases she will have to prove them in court.

The checks and balances, the protection for anyone arrested for a crime in the United States in any jurisdiction, these are very important parts of our legal system. And an indictment does not lead in any way necessarily to a conviction. It could lead on the other hand to a plea bargain agreement – that’s what’s going to be very interesting to watch here. Many people looking at this in terms of the immediate aftermath of the handing down of these charges in Baltimore are pointing to the fact that it would probably take at least a year for these charges ever to reach the form of a trial in a courtroom. Furthermore, given our system of justice at several points between here and there something else could intervene. Whether that is the prosecutor at some point dropping the charges or, as might be the case, we can have a grand jury’s involvement, or we can have one or all of the officers charged in the case reach some form of plea agreement with the prosecution that would be acceptable to the courts. This is going to be a very interesting case.

But at this point what this prosecutor has done is unlike what has been done in other recent cases. As the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, there locally looking at the issue very closely, have both pointed out –  both of them very liberal newspapers –  that this is not a departure from recent patterns, but it also means that now, as the prosecutors has filed these charges, the issue now very clearly goes through a defined legal process.

Christians understand, operating out of a biblical worldview, that that defined process is itself, though very imperfect as anyone must admit, it is itself a testimony to the American understanding of human rights and human dignity – an understanding that is deeply rooted in the Christian worldview and in Western jurisprudence. What we have to do now is hope that peace will return to the streets of Baltimore. That’s a beginning, a very necessary beginning. That’s not the end of this process however, we do understand that what this case in Baltimore has revealed, in terms of a series of other events that didn’t just begin in Ferguson, Missouri, this nation faces a powder keg in so many of our urban areas. And that is something that isn’t going to be alleviated by one prosecutor bringing charges – or even by a court bringing convictions, or any other single legal issue.

This presents the country with a huge moral challenge, and a moral challenge that isn’t reducible to just the city of Baltimore and isn’t reducible just to issues that are the presenting question here of whether or not the police acted rightly in arresting Freddie Gray. What we’re looking at here is a much larger picture and it’s going to take some time for America to sort out these issues. But even as peace, we must pray, will return quickly to the streets of Baltimore, this is an issue that simply will not be swept clear of the nation’s agenda – nor should it be.

But we do know that the way to deal with this is through the defined legal and political process, even the reform of that process has to take place not in the streets but rather in the courtrooms and the legislatures of this nation. The alternative to working through the system in order to achieve the best approximation of justice and righteousness is nothing less than anarchy. And at times we’ve seen that anarchy breaking out on the streets of America, most recently in Baltimore. And anarchy is not just the enemy of order; it is the enemy of human dignity. That anarchy endangers everyone.

3) Journalist argues for a cultural Christianity without Christ as way of saving Christianity 

Speaking of the Washington Post, yesterday’s edition of the post included an article that should be listed amongst those that one has to see in order to believe. The headline of the article is, Taking Christ out of Christianity. And it didn’t appear in a theological Journal, it didn’t appear in a Christian magazine, again it appeared on the editorial pages of the Washington Post in its Sunday edition. The article is by Alana Massey and she writes,

“When I tell my socially progressive, atheist friends that ‘I’m culturally Christian,’ they’re momentarily concerned that I have a latent preoccupation with guns and the Pledge of Allegiance. Using the term with devout believers gets me instructions that I just need to read more sophisticated theology to come around. I’ve tried hard to accept my fully secular identity, and at other times I’ve tried to read myself into theistic belief, going all the way through divinity school as part of the effort. Still, I remain unable to will myself into any belief in God or gods — but also unable to abandon my relationship to the Episcopalian faith into which I was born and to the ancient stories from which it came.”

What Alana Massey is up to here is a very audacious argument. She’s arguing that she can remain culturally Christian while abandoning virtually the entirety of the Christian truth claim – beginning with the fact that she doesn’t even believe in God. She goes on to write,

“And though I am without a god, I am not alone.”

She points to the rise of the so-called Nones, that in n-o-n-e-s, that’s the fast-growing segment of the American population that when asked to identify themselves by religious affiliation they respond ‘none.’ Now as we recall, the pew data indicates that about one out of five Americans responding to the survey instruments now identifies himself or herself in this way, and that rises to about one out of three when it comes those aged 29 or younger. But the amazing thing here is what Alana Massey argues in the article.
She argues exactly as the headline in the article indicates, that what she wants and thinks she has achieved, is Christianity without Christ. Now we need to note, even before we look at her argument, that this has been tried before. In one sense this is the great experiment of liberal Protestantism beginning first in Germany in what became known as cultural Protestantism. And that was the belief held by many in the German elites in the mid-and late 19th century – well into the 20th century. But of course it quickly evaporated into absolute secularism. Alana Massey argues, not without evidence, that much of what calls itself formal or organized religion in the United States is increasingly non-doctrinal, non-theological, and has no reference to beliefs.

She writes about the large number of American Jews who identify themselves as secular and she writes about the incredible number of Roman Catholics who report, in terms of their own responses to surveys and polls, that they do not hold the crucial Catholic teaching in terms of doctrine or in terms of morality. But then she writes about liberal Protestantism and she says that in many ways liberal Protestants don’t fare much better. She cites Connor Wood, a PhD candidate in religious studies at Boston University who wrote,

“Liberal Protestant churches, which have famously lax requirements about praxis, belief, and personal investment, therefore often end up having a lot of half-committed believers in their pews,”

That statement is marked by a profound obviousness. What we have in liberal Protestantism is exactly what Alana Massey calls for – increasingly Christianity without Christ. Would there be any surprise therefore that these churches often end up, as Connor Wood said, having a lot of half committed believers in their pews? The question is, why would they be even half committed?

In another statement of the obvious Connor Wood said and I quote,

“The parishioners sitting next to them can sense that the social fabric of their church isn’t particularly robust, which deters them from investing further in the collective.”

That’s an example of academic jargon. What he’s saying is that those who are sitting in the pews of these mainline liberal denominations look to each other and recognize they don’t believe very much and on that basis they have a hard time making any kind of deep or robust commitment. But Alana Massey goes on to argue that we should take an example from the secularizing trend within Judaism and understand that even as she reports the majority of younger Jews in America indicate that they are culturally Jewish rather than theologically Jewish, Episcopalians and other Protestants should choose to move in the same direction. And furthermore she invites Roman Catholics and evangelicals to take a very similar kind of direction.

She cites Rabbi Miriam Jerris of the Society of Humanistic Judaism who said,

“These people are looking for communities and for memories from their background, but they want to do it in an intellectually consistent way.”

That means intellectually consistent, by her definition, with the fundamental worldview of secularism. Alana Massey argues that the rather infamous new atheists are simply too harsh, furthermore she castigates them for throwing out Christianity without understanding that they – according to her logic – can have Christianity without Christ. She cites as an authority Daniel Maguire, a theologian at Marquette University who is also a former Catholic priest, who in a book entitled “Christianity without God” claims that we can reclaim the Bible’s epic moral narrative, in her words, and leave behind its theistic elements – that is in other words, its belief in God.

Alana Massey is indeed bold in making her argument of Christianity without Christ and she’s bold in suggesting that this should be the future for American religion – if not of Christianity than of some other variety. She also says the evangelical leaders in what she calls the convergence movement have stated commitments to save places, she says, for theological discussion and effort in inclusivity – she’s apparently here referring to the so-called emerging church and it’s branded by some as convergence. But the example she cites is that of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa. She says,

“…that inclusivity is lived out every Sunday: The building hosts Protestant, Pentecostal and humanist services under one roof.”

Whether she intended to associate the convergence movement with Unitarianism – after all Unitarianism is an ancient Christian heresies – that’s unclear, but in any event she did. She concludes her article by writing,

“Believing Christians need not water down the fact that God is at the root of their commitments and traditions to accommodate nonbelievers. And nonbelievers need not make a point of telling their believing brethren that general goodwill or humanism is a better motivation for good works…Though families will quarrel over what they don’t have in common, they are meant to come together for what they do: an ancient story of a new family formed in a place most of us will never go and a call to peace in the world that none of us can ever entirely live up to. And that is worth keeping alive for its radical, enduring and miraculous love.”

Well what we have here is a perfect example applied to liberal Protestantism of what Malcom Muggeridge called the great liberal death wish – arguing that the way to save Christianity is by destroying it. It is almost as if Alana Massey is unaware of the fact that she is almost perfectly becoming a parable of what the novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote as the fictional holy Church of Christ without Christ.

Alana Massey’s article is striking for at least three reasons. First of all, that it appeared on the front page of the review section of Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post. The second striking factor is the audacity of her argument. Alana Massey is simply saying out loud what many people in a liberalizing direction are simply doing – trying to have Christianity without Christ. Most are just not nearly so bold in making argument. The third striking feature is specifically that she claims that she can continue her Christian identity without any belief in God, or any other Christian doctrine, while remaining formally attached to and faithfully within the Episcopal Church – claiming, as she says, her Episcopalian roots and tradition, going all the way back to her parents and beyond.

But the most striking thing of all, the key insight from this story, is the fact that here we have an argument that falls flat on its own face. Why in the world would anyone attribute any compelling power to stories that are untrue? As C.S. Lewis pointed out about half-century ago, if one actually reads the New Testament one cannot come to the conclusion that the stories about Jesus are merely stories about Jesus – they are direct truth claims made by Jesus and the apostles as recorded in Scripture. There is no way to rescue Christianity from Christ, there is no way to have Christianity without Christ, there is no way to come up with any compelling reason to be a Christian but for the fact that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, and that he accomplished all that is necessary for our salvation by his death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. There is no point at all to Christianity without Christ.

She cites Daniel Maguire as pointing to church buildings saying that they are poems in stone and glass. Well if they are that, they are nothing. It was none other than the apostle Paul himself, who in first Corinthians defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, made clear if you’re looking for meaning in this life only, in terms of the Christian truth claims, than we’re are of all people – to use his very words – most to be pitied.
The route of cultural Christianity leads not only to doctrinal disaster, it leads to denominational implosion and theological death. The ample evidence of that is all around us, mostly in the fact that the denominations that have been most keened to take the very advice that Alana Massey is now bringing, advice that liberal theologians have been offering for almost 200 years, it’s those denominations that have been imploding in terms of membership most disastrously. Cultural Christianity isn’t the way to save Christianity; it is the way to destroy it.

There is one final question as we come to the end of The Briefing today: why in the world did the editors of the Washington Post decide that this was an article that merited the front page of its opinion section yesterday in the Sunday edition? That is a question only the editors themselves can answer.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’m speaking to you from Pompano Beach, FL, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Gunmen killed at anti-Islamic Texas art show raise question of international involvement

Police shoot dead 2 gunmen at Texas exhibit of Prophet Mohammad cartoons, Reuters (Mike Stone and Lisa Maria Garza)

2) Baltimore officers charged with Freddie Gray death, illustrating value of judicial system

Six officers charged in death of Freddie Gray, Washington Post (Lori Aratani, Paul Duggan and Dan Morse)

Legal experts divided on charges against Freddie Gray officers, Baltimore Sun (Liz Bowie and Michael Dresser)

3) Journalist argues for a cultural Christianity without Christ as way of saving Christianity 

How to take Christ out of Christianity, Washington Post (Alana Massey)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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