Monday, April 2, 2018
Monday, Apr. 2, 2018
Tags: Audio, Bible, Easter, NPR, Revelation, Theology, Women In Ministry
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday April, 2, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
On Good Friday, NPR report distorts definition of Easter, revealing extent of secularization
Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated Easter. The festival celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
Now, you would think that given the centrality of Christianity and of Christian truthlings to Western civilization itself. The most educated intellectuals, the elite, in the media in the west would at least understand what Christians are celebrating. Even if they do not themselves share those beliefs, but evidently that assumption would be mistaken.
So, just consider what happened on Good Friday at National Public Radio. NPR had to issue a correction to a news article and in the correction they said this, "An earlier version of this post, incorrectly described Easter as "The day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to Hell or Purgatory or anywhere at all, but rather arose into Heaven.""
Now just looking at that sentence, it's hard to imagine how one could achieve more theological distortion and confusion in a single sentence than what we find right here.
First of all, NPR's original report identified Easter as "the day celebrating the idea", notice the distancing there, "the idea that Jesus did not die and go to Hell or Purgatory or anywhere at all", that's theological gibberish.
Furthermore, it's just bad English and a run-on sentence like this, it's hard to see how this could pass the reporter and then the editor or producers at NPR. But then instead, supposedly saying, "What Easter is celebrating", NPR said in its original report, "That Easter celebrates the fact that Jesus died and arose into Heaven." Once again, if that confuses you, it's simply because you know what Christianity is and so throughout the centuries of Western civilization have most of the people who have inhabited that civilization.
But when you're talking about now, the most educated amongst us. Evidently the secularization of the age has reached the point that you can graduate from an elite school, an elite college or university, an elite journalism program, and get a job at one of the most marquee names in American journalism, and evidently neither you nor your editor needs to know anything about the reality of what Christians believe.
The NPR correction caught the attention of the Washington Post, reporter Callum Borchers wrote, "An NPR report of Good Friday described Easter inaccurately and in doing so, practically begged Christians to renew charges that the media is biased against them." Borchers when on to cite the correction and the correction of course includes the original, rather confusing error. An error so confusing, it's hard to imagine that anyone even creatively could have come up with it, but then he goes on to define what Easter is, what Christians do celebrate. He wrote, "Easter in fact is the day when Christians celebrate their belief in the earthly Resurrection of Jesus, many Christians believe that Jesus did go to Hell temporarily after being crucified on Good Friday. The Apostles Creed recited in many churches state that Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, he descended into Hell." Borchers then continued, "Christians do not believe that Jesus arose into Heaven, not right away anyway, but rather spent 40 days on earth appearing to his disciples and hundreds of others, before ascending into Heaven."
The Washington Post went on to report that NPR had quickly corrected its article describing Easter simply as, "The day Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection." The Post then says, "That NPR spokesman had declined to say how the erroneous description of Easter ever reached publication."
Now, looking at the original NPR story, at the correction and then the media conversation. I had to wonder if any in the mainstream media remembered that almost exactly five years ago, another major media outlet, in that case in 2013, the New York Times had to make a hauntingly similar correction.
Back in that year, 2013 also around Easter, the New York Times had to run this correction, "An earlier version of this article mischaracterize the Christian holiday of Easter, it is the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into Heaven."
Now, you simply have to wonder, how in the space of just five years, two of the biggest names of American journalism, the New York Times, and the National Public Radio, could make virtually the same mistake. Demonstrating virtually the same ignorance of the very doctrinal structure of Christianity.
Even down to one of the two great festivals of the Christian year, misunderstanding Easter and the resurrection of Christ utterly. But there was something else in that Callum Borchers’ article in The Washington Post that caught my attention.
In this case, the reporter, in order to clarify what it is that Christians truly, actually believe about the resurrection of Christ went to the Apostle's Creed. It's right there in The Washington Post article, the authority cited it's the Apostle's Creed, which is, as Borchers says, "Recited in many churches." He then went on to use the historic language of the Apostle's Creed in order to demonstrate and to explain what Christians truly believe.
The importance of that is that in this case, The Washington Post and it's reporter did exactly the right thing. Going to the most venerable of all Christian confessional statements. Going to the theological statements most historic to Christians around the world and using the language that Christians use and worship in order to accurately to describe what Christians believe about Jesus Christ.
Although the cultural conception of Christ may fascinate, only the biblical conception of Christ saves
But next, I turned to two very different examples. These are two major essays concerning the Resurrection of Christ and they appeared in two major American newspapers. One in The Wall Street Journal, the other in The New York Times. George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, he also holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. Wrote a major long form essay for The Wall Street Journal on Saturday entitled, The Easter Effect. In this essay, Weigel goes on to explain the centrality of the resurrection to historic Christianity, and he does so in a way that is respectful and very substantial, and what it offers in The Wall Street Journal is evidence to the fact that, that paper takes the resurrection truth claim of Christianity at least with enough respect to treat it with dignity and with an article written by someone who believes in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Weigel writes about how the resurrection changed the way the disciples of Christ read the Old Testament. How it changed the way Christians understand time and eternity and eschatology. How it stands at the center of the Christian faith as the defining victory of God over sin, of Christ over sin and death.
Weigel goes on to write about how belief in the resurrection of Christ, the centrality of the resurrection changed the way Christians worship. Then he concluded his article with this, "Perhaps, it was the Easter effect, the joy of people who had become convinced that they were witnesses to something inexplicable but nonetheless true. Something that gave a superabundance of meaning to life and the erase of fear of death. Something that had to be shared. Something with which to change the world."
Weigel was trying to explain the victory of Christianity in Western civilization, especially from the time of Emperor Constantine onward. But, I think he points to something even more fundamental, but in order to understand that, what needs to be added is that fact that for Christians. It's not just the resurrection of Christ from the dead, but his bodily resurrection from the dead, and the fact that we believe it is true. True not just in a powerful theological sense, not just as a meaningful event, but as an event in space, and time, and history.
Weigel indicates, he shares that belief. Now, similarly in order of magnitude The New York Times ran a long form essay by Jon Meacham, the former editor of Newsweek and writer for Time Magazine. The title of this article in The New York Times, "Jesus Died Only to Rise Again. Where Did the Concept of the Resurrection Come From?"
Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer and historian. He is the former editor of Newsweek, he has written often as an Episcopalian about theological issues, and now he writes about the resurrection.
He writes about historic Christian belief and the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. He writes about the rise of theological liberalism in the form of David Friedrich Strauss, whose book The Life of Jesus critically examined, goes back to the 19th century and is in one way a very fountainhead of liberal Christianity.
But then he concludes with these words, "No matter where one stands in terms of faith. Jesus, be he God or man or, in the view of the church both, was perhaps the most important figure who ever drew breath, and he will fascinate, enthrall and confound us to the end of time. And if believers have it right, even beyond." He concludes in final words, "In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.""
Now the interesting dimension of this article in The New York Times, is that Meacham concludes by trying to convince his readers that whether or not you believe that Jesus was truly God and truly man, you should believe that he is and will remain truly important.
But that's where Christians have to say that even if that cultural importance would be true. The issue is whether or not he really is truly God or truly man. Whether or not he truly did truly die for our sins and whether or not he was truly raised from the dead. That cultural conception of Christ in which he may or may not have been truly divine and truly human, he may or may not have been genuinely been raised from the dead. That cultural conception of Jesus may fasciate, that fascination isn't all that important. It is the biblical Christ who saves. The world may come to the inevitable conclusion on its own terms that Jesus fascinates, but it is the message of the church now and forever more that Jesus saves.
Can the Bible be meaningful, even if one doesn’t believe it to be true?
But next, I turn to another article that appeared on Good Friday. This one in The Washington Post, mostly about the Bible. The headline on the article by Christine Emba, "You Should Read the Bible". Once again this article begins by pointing to a correction in another of the biggest names in American journalism, The Wall Street Journal. Again it's about religion, it's about Christianity, in this case, it's about the Bible and it should have your attention.
Emba writes, "On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal was compelled to issue an amusing, if embarrassing correction, after misquoting Israel's Prime Minister the day before." The Post then cites the Journal, "An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated, "Benjamin Netanyahu, said Moses brought water from Iraq." Well, The Wall Street Journal had to go on to confess, "He said the water, was brought from a rock." Now Christians, who may even lack a thorough understanding of the Book of Numbers and of Numbers chapter 20, should immediately at least recognize that Moses brought water from not from a rock, not from Iraq."
The Israeli Prime Minister in his address reported in The Wall Street Journal was clearly referring back to Numbers chapter 20 and the incident in which Moses struck the rock with his staff bringing forth water. The reporter, lacking biblical background heard not a rock, but Iraq and reported it, and as Emba points out, no less than three staffers of The Wall Street Journal had to both see and approve the article in that form, before it was published.
But Emba's purpose in this article is not merely to point to this correction in this Wall Street Journal, and to what she describes is a very widespread religious illiteracy, but rather to make the argument, that even Secular Western Elites should read the Bible and not be so illiterate about the scriptures. She cited me in an essay on biblical illiteracy aghast in her worlds that more than 10% of Americans in one report identify Joan of Arc as Noah's wife.
I guess that honestly that aghast is a pretty good description of how I felt given that evidence. In the most interesting sentence in this article, she writes, "But when it comes to the Bible, it's not necessary to believe." Though she says, "there are benefits to faith too, to derive meaning from the text."
Here's the argument the Western Elites can find meaning int he text, whether or not they believe the Bible is the word of God, or whether or not they believe the Bible is even true. The Bible she says, "Is meaningful or can be meaningful, even if it turns out not to be true." Furthermore, she makes the intelligent argument, that you can't understand Western civilization, without understanding the Bible, a basic level of biblical literacy.
And she continued, Emba wrote, "In a broader sense, having widely understood cultural references and conversational touch stones can be deeply important when it comes to building a sense of community. In a nation with a comparatively short history and extremely diverse population", she writes, "they, provide shared context for discussion and common language of expression, even if one might disagree on their meaning."
She continued, "At the moment Americans seem to have few truly shared texts, and their numbers seems to shrink daily." In response to the Journal's gaff, "A few wags noted, tongues only partially in cheek, one must presume"
She says, "That most Americans would be more likely to recognize a Harry Potter reference, than a biblical one." Even she says, "Nonreligious reference points such as the Constitution are falling by the wayside."She goes on to say, "More than 1 in 3 Americans can't name a single right protected by the first amendment."
What I want us to note in a parallel between these stories is not just the necessity of correction, and the demonstration of a basic lack of religious and biblical literacy. It is rather that in the Meacham piece, we saw an argument that even if Jesus might not save, he continues to fascinate. Here we have the argument that even if the Bible is not the word of God it should still be the subject of curiosity, even if it isn't true. It can be meaningful.
But at this point, Christians need to remind ourselves that Hell will be densely populated with people who thought that Jesus was fascinating and that the Bible was meaningful.
Why abandoning a Scriptural understanding of ministry will inevitably lead to a very different rendering of God
But finally, I turn to a piece getting a lot of attention, this one also in The New York Times, this one on Sunday, it was by Nicholas Kristof, prominent opinion columnist in the paper. He wrote in an article entitled, "God and Her Female Clergy, "Every since Eve bit into an apple in the Garden of Eden, God has been rough on Women. Or more precisely" he says, "The men who wish to speak on behalf of God have routinely disparaged women, or discriminated against them." He goes on to give specific examples rooted first in the book of Deuteronomy but then continuing through the history of the church. He particularly criticizes the Apostle Paul for believing that women should not serve as pastors or hold a teaching office. Then he writes, "A revolution is unfolding across America and the world, and countless women, will be presiding this weekend over Easter and the Passover celebrations. In just a few decades" he says, "Women have come to dominate many seminaries and rabbinical schools and are increasingly taking over the pulpit to congregations across the country."
He cites the Reverend Serene Jones, the first woman president of New York's very liberal, Union Theological Seminary. Where we're told about 60% of the students are now female. Serene Jones, this first woman president of Union Theological Seminary said, "What we're seeing before our very eyes, is a dramatic shift; in my mind it's as big as the Protestant Reformation." She went on to say, "We're seeing a new day of understanding who God is, when the people who are representing God, making God present have female bodies that inevitably changes the way you think about how God is."
Now Kristof writes, "Dr. Jones argues, that over time women will come to dominate religious leadership and that this will powerfully reshape Americans understanding of God, from stern father, to more of a maternal healer and nurturer." Jones said, "It changes the way you think geopolitically about the greatest truth."
Now, the most important thing to recognize here, from a biblical perspective, is that there would be absolutely no reason for Nicholas Kristof or for others who think like him, to think differently at all, if the Bible is not the word of God. If it is not the revealed word of God, there would be no reason at all to take the church's judgment on any matter seriously if the church is not resting upon an authority greater than itself. Truer than itself.
This points that basic Protestant understanding that the authority in the scripture always stands at the center, and if the authority of scripture does not stand at the center, then the church is effectively de-centered.
The theological realities of Christian doctrine just become matters of constant theological renegotiation. Furthermore, given the spirit of the age, if the Bible is not the word of God, and if biblical authority does not rule in the church. Then there would be every reason to make the argument that the church's greatest imperative and responsibility in any age is to get with the program. To get on the right side of history. To join whatever movements and to follow the trajectory and tendencies of any moment and of any cultural second.
Now, of course that means that second by second, minute by minute, you go through the calendar, over time Christianity isn't a thing, it is many things. It isn't a faith, it is many faiths. It isn't a truth, it is many truths. Or to use the more common language now, we'll just abandon truth and say, the Christianity now does not have the same meaning that it had in the past. Kristof later writes this, "Likewise, with the majority of students in many seminaries and rabbinical schools now women and increasingly leading congregations, it may become less natural to think of God as he." Now that's very similar to what Serene Jones at Union Theological Seminary said, about the fact that "when a majority of pastors and preachers are women representing God, she says, with their female bodies. Well then, congregants are more likely to think of God not so much as a he at all, not so much as the stern father, revealed in scripture, but rather as the nurturing mother they may see before their very eyes."
But this gets to a host of theological issues the Evangelicals have to remember, one of them is that we do not believe in a representational priesthood, which would mean that the body of the preacher is so much the issue at all. What we do believe is that fidelity to scripture is the key issue, and that the Bible is or is not the very word of God, verbally inspired, inerrant and infallible, if it is then Christianity means now what it meant when God first gave us the scriptures and Christ established his church.
Furthermore, it means that Christianity will always be that and will always mean that. In the Christian church, wherever it is found standing on scripture, will be found teaching the same gospel.
Kristof writes always with insight, what's missing from this article is an acknowledgement that the very church's and denominations that are not being populated with women as pastors are the churches of denominations that are collapsing into numerical decline. They are virtually disappearing.
There of course now more women than ever before in those churches and the pulpits but they're also less people in the pews than ever before. But Kristof is onto something really, really important when he points out that a change in the ministry will lead to a change in theology. The only correction I would make is that it also works the other way around. The change in theology leads to a change in the understanding of ministry.
Abandoning a scriptural understanding of the ministry and instead reinventing the ministry in a new inclusive and supposedly nondiscriminatory way will lead to a very different rendering of God. Because even if the ministry is then decoupled from scripture, so also will be the entirety of the Christian faith. Every single doctrine, from top to bottom, from beginning to end.
The dividing line here and always is the true claim of Revelation, either God did or did not verbally inspire the scriptures if he did, then what we have is a binding revelation, if he didn't then frankly we have no idea who Christ is, what he did or why matter.
But then here in the conclusion, we come back to the point at the beginning. It comes down to whether or not the Bible is true or merely meaningful, but as this article makes very clear. If the Bible isn't true, then the Bible will mean whatever anyone might decide that it means.