Friday, Apr. 6, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, April 6, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A tension that will not last: LGBT policies lead to a theological identity crisis at some Christian colleges
The pressures of our contemporary moral revolution will require every single individual, every church, that is congregation, every denomination, every Christian school to declare itself on the issues of the most urgent controversy. The leading edge of that controversy at present are the issues related to the LGBTQ revolution, but it will not end there. On questions as diverse as abortion and Biblical authority, human sexuality, and marriage, it's going to be required that every single Christian, every church, every institution, define itself and define itself clearly.
The world is watching, and that was made clear in a recent report at National Public Radio. Tom Gjelten reports, and I quote, "Conservative Christian colleges, once relatively insulated from the culture war, and increasingly entangled in the same battles over LGBT rights and related social issues. Students and faculty," he writes, "at many religious institutions are asked to accept a 'faith statement,'" that's put in quotation marks, "outlining the schools views on such matters as evangelical doctrine, scriptural interpretation, and human sexuality." He goes on to say, "Those statements often include a rejection of homosexual activity and a definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman," but in the concluding sentence of the paragraph, he writes, "Changing attitudes on sexual ethics and civil rights, however, are making it difficult for some schools, even conservative ones, to ensure broad compliance with their strict positions."
Tom Gjelten's report at NPR as fair and accurate, and his description is apt. There are many schools that find themselves at present somewhere caught in a tension. That's actually a word that is used by one school administrator cited in the story. The story looks at institutions ranging across the evangelical spectrum, but one of the institutions cited is Calvin College in Michigan. Describing the predicament, Mary Hulst, identified as senior chaplain at Calvin College, said, "You've got these two values. We love our LGBT people. We love our church of Jesus Christ. We love scripture. So those of us who do this work are right in the middle of that space. We are living in the tension."
Well, as we look at this, as the story unfolds, we come to understand something of that tension defined at Calvin College. Gjelten reports, "Calvin College is affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, which holds that 'homosexual practice,' this is in quotation marks, 'is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in scripture.'" Then Gjelten tells us, "Hulst leads Bible study groups with her LGBT students and discusses with them the passages that refer to same-sex relationships."
One of the students at Calvin, who has identified himself as LGBT, said, "Those are the clobber passages. They're used to clobber queer kids back into being straight." Gjelten goes on to tell us that the student, Sam Koster, "Was troubled by those Bible verses at first but eventually became comfortable with a devout Christian identity and joined the Gay Christian Network." The young man said, "When I realized that my faith wasn't necessarily about the Christian Reformed Church, and it wasn't even necessarily about the Bible but about my relationship with God and that God is all-encompassing and loving, I felt very free." The young man in the report went on to cite the chaplain, Mary Hulst, as being helpful in his journey, but Gjelten tells us, "Hulst herself is still torn between her love for her LGBT students and her own understanding that the Bible does not really allow them to act on their sexual orientation."
The chaplain said, and I quote, "It's a place where you need to be wise. I told them I want to honor scripture, but I also honor my LGBT brothers and sisters." Gjelten then summarizes, "It doesn't always work out. Someone from the LGBT community will say, 'If you will not honor the choices I make with my life, if I choose a partner and get married, then you're not actually honoring me.' I can understand that," the chaplain said, grimacing. "I can see how they might come to that conclusion."
As Biblically-informed Christians seeking to understand the tension described in this article, we need to understand that it is a particularly modern tension, and we also need to understand that it is a tension that is going to create a pastoral crisis, which will also represent a theological identity crisis, because in the outflow of this article what becomes clear is that there are some schools and some Christian leaders within those schools that are trying to find a way through the tension that this chaplain describes, and the tension is then further described by the fact that Calvin College, as a Christian Reformed Church institution, is bound to the statement of faith of that denomination, which clearly says that homosexual behavior is incompatible with scripture and also clearly defines marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman.
Part of the problem is what's found in this article in the language of personal affirmation. That's something we need to watch very carefully, and from a worldview analysis perspective, it's urgently important. What we have demanded of us as churches or Christian institutions these days, even as congregations, what's being demanded is that we dignify persons by declaring the fact that we affirm them in their sexual identity and in their sexual behavior. Honoring the person, as this article by Tom Gjelten makes clear in a report at National Public Radio, honoring them in this contemporary, secular context that has made its way into this conversation, means dignifying them and normalizing their behavior and their sexual orientation and honoring them in a way that, as this report says, clearly leads to a certain kind of tension.
Now, I'm going to predict that that tension will not last. It's not endurable for long, and here's where I think we as Christians need to understand that what we owe to every single human being we will ever meet is to affirm their dignity, but our honoring of that dignity, our affirmation of that dignity, has to be on the very same Biblical terms and on the very same Biblical authority that that dignity is itself grounded. That human dignity is grounded not in the affirmation of the self, no matter who we are, but rather in the fact that God has made us in his image, and the very God who made us in his image and revealed the fact that we are singularly, as human beings, made in his image, is the God who has also told us that that human dignity is tied to a paradigm of human sexuality that is also clearly revealed in scripture and to an understanding of the self that isn't in scripture so much affirmed as it is corrected, but that's not enough, is it?
The Christian worldview reminds us that the self is not so much affirmed as it is the sinner who is redeemed. The difficulty represented in this article is the difficulty of even using the terminology that is demanded of the Christian church as the affirmation of the self, regardless of who that self is, but it is also a wake-up call for us all that what is being demanded is exactly what this young man has indicated in the article, but we should also note that in his own testimony, as revealed in this piece, this report at National Public Radio, the young man's own testimony is that his current ability to affirm homosexuality as his identity came after he says that he realized that his faith wasn't necessarily about his church or about the beliefs of his church or even, "Even necessarily about the Bible," but instead, as he said, it was about his relationship with God and that God, he says, and I'm quoting him again, "Is all encompassing and loving."
Well, the simplest verse in all of scripture is that God is love, but the God who is love is infinite in all of his perfections, not only in love. He is infinite in his justice. He's infinite in his righteousness. He's infinite in his mercy. He's infinite in his truth, and that means we cannot abstract his love from his other attributes as revealed in scripture, or we are actually creating a God other than the one true and living God revealed in the Bible, so that's the great warning.
In this article, and an article that accurately describes the tension into which many Christian institutions and congregations find themselves, it is an article that also serves as a wake-up call to the kind of tension that will not last. The kind of stress that is represented in this article is one that we cannot expect any institution, congregation, or denomination can long endure. Perhaps the most important bottom line of this analysis is that once we enter into the language and into the mentality of self-affirmation, there is no way out, and there is no way to escape from that tension.
Is there a theological dimension to Catholic colleges’ success on the basketball court?
Next, as we're thinking about the fact that there is a theological dimension to all of life, rightly understood, I want to turn to a recent article that appeared in the sports section of the New York Times. The headline in the article, Hallowed Be Thy Teams. The question asked in the article by Marc Tracy is this, "Why is there such an inordinate number of Roman Catholic institutions that are represented in the most elite echelon of NCAA men's basketball? It turns out that year after year, season after season, there is a disproportionate representation of Catholic schools in the Final Four, and often, as this case in Villanova University, this year's NCAA men's basketball champion."
As Marc Tracy reports, "Long before a 98-year-old nun became the biggest star of the 2018 NCAA men's basketball tournament, Immaculata, a small Catholic college outside Philadelphia, won the first three de facto national women's basketball championships. "The Mighty Macs'," says Tracy, "titles in the early 1970s, Bill Russell's breakout success at University of San Francisco in the 1950s, and the presence of Villanova and Loyola-Chicago at the Final Four, are just three data points among many that prove an undeniable fact. In college basketball, Catholic schools have long punched well above their weight. The reasons," says Tracy, "stretch back a century, and some would argue to the New Testament itself."
Julie E. Byrne, a professor of religion at Hofstra University, who studies American Catholicism, said, and I quote, "It's a real thing." Tracy them summarizes, "As the Final Four coincides with Easter weekend, the phenomenon is as real as ever." Half of the number one seeds in the tournament were Catholic teams as were eight of the 64 teams that made the bracket. "Loyola," the reporter goes on to tell us, "is named for Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and has Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt as its chaplain and unofficial scout. Villanova is associated with the Augustinian order, and both of them made the Final Four."
Tracy goes on to tell us that, The history of basketball excellence at Catholic institutions stretches back as long as the tournament itself." He says that, "In the early decades, Holy Cross, La Salle, San Francisco, and Loyola racked up titles. Marquette's golden age was in the late 1960s and '70s. The 1985 Final Four included three Catholic schools, St. John's, Georgetown, and Villanova, and Gonzaga had an extraordinary run of 20 consecutive tournament bursts including last year's championship game." There's more to the story from the sports angle, as Tracy tells us. For one thing, of all those Catholic schools mentioned, only two of them, Boston College and Notre Dame, are actually in powerful athletic conferences. The rest are in far less prominent conferences, but they still regularly make their way to the NCAA Championship to the final bracket of 64 teams and very often all the way to the Final Four, if not to the championship.
Tracy asked whether there could be any theological explanation for this pattern. He says that finding a theological reason would be tempting, but he goes on to offer this, "There is more than just something in the holy water. Several characteristics of Catholicism in America, both sociological and spiritual, have helped determine this affinity. The Catholic Church's decision not to abandon the urban poor in America in the second half of the 20th century, when so many other institutions did, was particularly significant."
Now, thinking of the sociological reasons, there's a lot for us to think about here. For instance, basketball in the United States, certainly in terms of its early years, was a predominately urban experience. Furthermore, it was an urban experience that required far less financial investment and institutional structure than other major athletic events. Other sports, such as football, required huge teams, stadiums, and lots of expense, but a young man could learn to play basketball in the streets and then transfer that into the Catholic youth leagues, which often played against such institutions that were more Protestant, as historically the YMCA, and then those Catholic youth leagues would be able to identify promising prospects who would go on to play for these Catholic colleges, and to no surprise, would use those skills that they had learned in the urban context in the service of these Catholic schools.
Tracy explains, "There is nothing in Catholic dogma that specifically elucidates the virtues of basketball, yet several scholars pointed to elements of American Catholicism that help persuade schools to embrace sports. Jesuit philosophy," he offers, "embedded," he says, "at so many top basketball schools, such as Gonzaga, Xavier, Creighton, and Georgetown, extends to all aspects of life. It preaches cura personalis, or care for the person, in not only the intellectual and spiritual sense, but the physical one too. Catholicism in America," he says, "taught that all aspects of life could be sacred," and the professor, that is Professor Byrne, went on to say, "It's not that sports were particularly holy, but you could see it as a holy thing to do. It could have the potential to give glory to God." She cited the Jesuit phrase, ad majorem Dei gloriam, "For the greater glory of God."
The article by Tracy also points to a sociological phenomenon related to race. James T. Fisher, the American studies professor at Fordham said, "As more and more ethnic Catholics moved out of cities but parishes and schools stayed put, black kids were admitted regardless of religious affiliation, beginning in the 1960s." The professor went on to say, "Then the church turned a demographic fact into theological virtue by embracing urban advocacy and racial justice." All of that is really interesting. The sociology has to play a major factor here, but I think it's to the credit of the New York Times that the reporter actually asked whether or not there could be a theological dimension to this as well. It's also interesting that after asking that question, he turns to that Jesuit statement of, "All things to the greater glory of God, ad majorem Dei gloriam,” and that points to something that is really interesting.
Of course, every evangelical Protestant would affirm that same phrase emphatically. We are to live all things and in all ways, at all times, under the glory of God. That is to be the very definition of our lives as Christ-redeemed people. That's the very purpose of creation, for the glory of God alone, [Latin 00:16:37], but when that Jesuit expression is translated into tangible, everyday life, it represents a certain worldliness that is characteristic of Catholicism, far less characteristic of evangelical Protestantism. A part of this is rooted in the sacramental and priestly theology of the Roman Catholic church. To put the matter as simply as possible, that sacramental theology can make more theologically significant than Protestants would allow some of those events of everyday life, if they are in service to the church or for that matter merely in the service of one's favorite Catholic school.
You add to that a priestly authority, including the authority to forgive sins? Well, that's not a theological dimension that is present in this New York Times article, but I would argue it can't be merely lurking in the background. That priestly sacramental theology is a part of this picture, but there's something else that seemed to be missing from this news article, and that is the fact that in Catholicism, you have such a very strong ethnic and often national identity. You have an identity with those Catholic institutions that evangelical colleges, universities, and other institutions can observe only with a certain kind of envy.
It's an envy that fits only the Catholic context, a Catholic context that includes not only priests and sacraments, not only Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics and German Catholics and others known for their mutual identity, but which also relates to the fact that when you are dealing with Catholicism, you have nuns and religious orders and parochial schools and an entire universe of Catholic institutional structures that Protestants simply do not have and never had. Another way of putting this in a way that does not appear in the article is that Protestantism undoubtedly has influenced American culture, but Catholicism is itself a culture, a culture distinctive to Catholicism, and evidently, a culture that is distinctively positive and powerful when it comes to showing up in the NCAA men's basketball championship.
Evolution can’t explain babies’ unique ability to learn
Finally, I want to turn to a couple of stories about children and parents and grandchildren and ... wait for it. Evolution. First, an article that appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, this week. The article's by Alex Beard. It's headline, How Babies Learn and Why Robots Can't Compete. The article's interesting in and of itself. It turns out that Alex Beard and his wife decided to undertake a massive research project on their own newborn child, installing 11 fish-eye cameras and 14 microphones in the baby's room in order to record every single word, every motion, every event in the life of this child, trying to figure out why children have a distinctive ability to learn, and by the way, he affirms that distinctive ability, telling us that the human infant, unlike even the most powerful robots and representations of artificial intelligence, is born programmed to learn and is learning even in the womb, and outside the womb, that infant begins to learn aggressively and at an accelerating pace.
The point that is being made in the article and in the headline is that there is no reason to believe that robots or artificial intelligence can ever match the learning aptitude of the human being, precisely of the human infant. I said that evolution is in this story, and of course it is because Beard explains, "We have evolved to be a species of teachers and learners." By the way, he also points to the fact that the greatest determinate of inequality in society is the parents of the child. "The birth lottery," he says, "is the most important lottery of all." One of the aspects he points to is something that is now well-documented in the research, and that is the fact that the intelligence, at least the operational, academic intelligence, of a child as a learner in school has a very great deal to do with how many words are addressed by an adult to that child during the earliest years of life.
One of the documented facts in this research, reported in the Guardian, is that educators are now discovering that certain children who have parents who speak to them pervasively are showing up at school in kindergarten and the first grade with as many as 30 million more words than other children have ever heard addressed to them. 30 million words as a gap. "That's a gap," he goes on to say, "which in all likelihood can simply not be overcome." The reason I wanted to point to that particular paragraph is because Alex Beard, in noticing the fact that the human infant is born to learn and is even learning in the womb, has to attribute that to evolution. "We have evolved," he says, "to be a species of teachers and learners."
Now, one of the things we try to point out is the fact that the naturalistic, materialistic worldview of modern secularism has no other explanation for any reality, especially a human reality, than evolution, but how absolutely sterile, not to say nonsensical, is the suggestion that this incredible learning ability of the human infant, even inside the womb, is simply the artifact of the mechanism of natural selection, as represented by evolution. In case you were looking for whether evolution would show up elsewhere, of course it does, and this perhaps in the most ridiculous of all places.
A higher form of nonsense: Why grandparents are not the gift of evolution, but the gift of God’s perfect plan
In the Easter weekend addition of the Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik wrote an article entitled “Grandparents: The Storytellers Who Bind Us.” Gopnik writes about the fact that grandparents are the grand narrators to grandchildren, that one of the facts that seems to match human societies all over the world is that grandchildren learn much of the narrative of their lives from grandparents, and it is a necessary step in passing down the knowledge of the family, the narrative of the family's background, the stories that bind the family together, being handed down specifically not just from grandparents to parents to grandchildren but directly from grandparents to grandchildren.
Gopnik says that new research undertaken by Michael Gurven and his colleagues suggest, "That grandparents really may be designed to pass on the great stories to their grandchildren." She goes on to say, "Perhaps some anthropologists speculate grandparents evolved to provide another source of food and care for those helpless children, but at the same time, these evolved grandparents may have not only served to be an additional source of food and of nurture for these children but also of narratives, of stories." Now, addressing this story, I want to use a phrase that became popular in the second half of the 20th century. This is not only nonsense, this is a higher form of nonsense, a higher nonsense.
In the first place, just consider how dependent this article is on evolution even to explain the function of grandparents with their grandchildren, but then pause for a moment to recognize this nonsense and ask yourself the question, "How would you ever have grandchildren if the grandparents had not already existed, and not only existed but had not successfully reproduced, specifically reproducing those beings who would otherwise be known as the parents of the grandchildren?" Here those operating from a Biblical worldview simply have to look at this nonsense and understand the grandparents exist because God gave to human beings the order to reproduce, and if that reproduction is successful, there will be parents and later grandparents and great-grandparents. That's not the gift of evolution. That's the gift of God's perfect plan. We might say that anyone operating with a basic level of sanity should recognize this kind of article as nonsense, but it takes the Christian worldview based in scripture to understand it as even higher nonsense.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to Twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Destin, Florida, and I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.