Monday, May 14, 2018

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Briefing

May 14, 2018

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

It’s Monday, May 14, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Senior Anglican clerics call for Church of England to be stripped of its legal right to operate according to its convictions

We have been seeing, over and over again, that inevitable collision between religious liberty and the newly declared sexual liberties. One of the most interesting frontline controversies in that larger equation is the question of just how long Christians in the United States and elsewhere will be allowed in our churches and denominations to continue to operate by our convictions, without the power and the coercive energy of the State against us?

What makes this particularly urgent is a headline that comes from Great Britain, a headline telling us that two senior clerics in the Church of England are calling for their own church to be stripped of its legal exemptions from current sexual and gender-based non-discrimination law in the United Kingdom. Olivia Rudgard, reporting for The Telegraph in London tells us the Church of England should lose its exemption to discrimination laws.

The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral has said, David Ison, he is the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London said, “That the church should not retain its protections under the Equalities Act, which allow it to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, marital history, and gender.” Now just stopping there, thus far in the story, what we have is the senior leader in the Church of England calling for the external coercive power of law against his own church. And in particular, you have this cleric claiming that the church should have no right to discriminate.

In its own employment note, this would include priests on the basis of sexuality, marital history, and gender. That’s another way of saying, although The Telegraph did not report the story this way, that’s another way of saying that the church should be stripped of its legal authority to operate by its own theological convictions. Ison again, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral said, “We’ve got to come to terms with the reality of the world we’re in, and we’re not doing that. That is why we’re becoming disconnected from society.”

So here we have the Dean of one of most famous Anglican Cathedrals in the world, perhaps the most famous, arguing that the church has to get with the times, particularly when it comes to the moral and sexual revolutions. The argument is, to use the language of Dean Ison, “The church, in standing on its historic definition of marriage and its historic understanding of sexuality, as rooted in Biblical teachings, is becoming,” he says, “Disconnected from society.” Now you can understand why that might be a particular anxiety for the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

First of all, he is the Dean of a Cathedral in London, which is the very capitol of the United Kingdom, and the church he serves, the Church of England, is after all, the State Church in the Eurasian system of the United Kingdom, we talking about an established church. The Church of England in England. So what you have here is the open question of just how plausible it is that England could have a set of laws concerning marriage, and the Church of England be allowed to operate by a different set of laws. The argument being made by the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral is, that the state should its power by law to force the church into line with the sexual revolution.

There’s a huge background to this. We have seen England come to terms with the sexual revolution. We saw England change its laws to allow for same-sex marriage, and furthermore, England as a nation has adopted rather aggressive laws protecting what is considered to be the rights of sexual minorities, non-discrimination on sexual behavior, sexual relationships, and for that matter, marital status or gender identity. The Church of England, we have seen, along with the larger Anglican Communion, try to terms with the sexual revolution.

The Episcopal Church in the United States has openly, even enthusiastically, joined that revolution as far back as 2003. That church elected its first openly gay bishop. That led to a crisis within the Anglican Communion, with more conservative churches, especially in Africa and the so-called Global South, opposing this transformation of morality. While you had churches in the North, particularly in the United States and elsewhere, including now the Anglican Church in Scotland, moving in a far more liberal direction. Most observers believe that the Church of England can’t be far behind, even as the government in adopting legislation legalizing same-sex marriage did carve out the exception for the nation’s state church, but it was understood that that exception probably can’t last for long.

But what makes this story more important than others is that you have not just one, in this case the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but two senior Anglican clerics calling for the church to be stripped of its legal exemption from discrimination laws. The other major leader is Paul Bayes, who is the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool. Bishop Bayes said to Christian Today in the UK, “We want to ask the churches to answer the question, if we mean what we say about opposing homophobia? If we believe what we say about wanting to include everyone, if we believe that God made everyone as they are, then what does that imply for our public policies?”

But Bishop Bayes, at least says, that what he’s doing is calling for the church to stand tall about its convictions. But we need to note the convictions he’s talking about. When he talks about a conviction opposing homophobia, he’s really using that language to call for the church to abandon everything that it has taught on the basis of scripture, concerning marriage, and gender, and sex.

Similarly, when he says the church should boldly include everyone, asking whether or not the Church of England actually believes that, then what he’s talking about here is the inclusion of everyone regardless of their understanding or their practice of sexual orientation, gender, or sexuality.

And when he asks if the church really believes that God makes everyone as they are, that as they are is a very crucial question that involves the entire Christian Gospel, the Doctrine of Creation, the Doctrine of the Fallen Sin, the Doctrine of Redemption in Christ, and the Doctrine of God’s ultimate purpose in the Kingdom of Christ.

The most newsworthy aspect of this story is the fact that the calls for the church to lose its exemptions from discrimination law are coming from inside the church, from two major leaders. But what should catch the attention of evangelicals is understanding that the bishop in this case, is the Bishop of Liverpool. That dioceses was not established until the year 1880, something of a high water mark for Victorian Christianity in the nation. The first Bishop of Liverpool was the great J. C. Ryle, one of the most respected figures in the entire history of Evangelical Christianity.

Ryle was, as he defined himself, a defender of the old paths. A defender of the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and a defender of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible as the word of God. J. C. Ryle stood out even in his time, in the late decades of the 19th century in Britain for his defense of historic Biblical Christianity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his defense of the Holiness of God. Ryle’s book, entitled the Holiness of God, is one of the great classics of Evangelical Theology.

But even as J. C. Ryle was Bishop of Liverpool from 1880 to 1900, we need to recognize that we are only now living in 2018. We’re only 118 years separated from J. C. Ryle. That that 118 years represents a massive sea change in theology in the Church of England and in morality not only in the United Kingdom, but elsewhere in the world. Particularly in the advanced economies that would include both England, and much of Europe, and North America.

Bishops of the Church of England are charged with the responsibility to defend the sheep, to defend the church, and to defend the faith. But what we see here is a massive transformation of the Church of England, represented in the shift from J. C. Ryle to Bishop Paul Bayes. In the case of Ryle, you had the understanding of a faithful church that would witness to the culture. In the case of Bishop Bayes, you have the culture that has now called upon to force the church to get in line. But as the New Testament itself makes clear, it is the enemies of the faith inside the church who are far more dangerous than the enemies outside.

Part II

With secularism on the rise, Quakers consider dropping God because it makes some ‘feel uncomfortable’

But next, staying in the United Kingdom, we’re going to look at a very different group and that is the Quakers. Recently, the Quakers met and in their Guidance to Meetings, as it is called. That is, their policies, they are now considering dropping God from the entire picture. Simon Jenkins for The Guardian, tells us about another sign for the times when he writes, “The Quakers are clearly onto something. At their annual get together, they are reportedly thinking of dropping God from their Guidance to Meetings. The reason, said one of them, is because the term makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable.”

Atheists, according to a Birmingham University academic says the report, “Comprise a rising 14% of professed Quakers. While a full 43% feel, “Unable to profess a belief in God.” According to the report from Simon Jenkins, “They come to meetings for fellowship, that is Quaker meetings, rather than for higher guidance. The meeting, we are told, will also consider transgenderism, same-sex marriage, climate change, and social media. Religion, he summarizes, is a tiring business.”

Subsequent media reports make it unclear exactly what the Quakers in the United Kingdom decided. It may take some time for that news to come out. But what’s most important is the fact that Simon Jenkins, writing for The Guardian, thinks that it is the Quakers who might consider removing God from their Guidance to Meetings, who are probably on the right track. That’s the most interesting aspect of this. Simon Jenkins thinks that all should follow the examples of at least the Quaker argument he mentions, abandoning any claim of belief in God, and simply looking to the church as a social institution that can provide fellowship.

Jenkins says, “I’m not a Quaker or religious, but I’ve been to Quaker meetings, usually marriages or funerals, and found them deeply moving. The absence of ritual, the emphasis on silence and thought, the witness of friends, seems starkly modernness.” “Meeting houses,” he said, “Can be beautiful spaces. He speaks of one, which he says, “Is a place of the purest serenity miles from any road and with only birdsong to blend with inner reflection.” He continues, and I quote, “The Quaker’s lack of ceremony and liturgical clutter, gives them a point from which to view the no man’s land between faith and non-faith, that is the new religiosity.”

“A dwindling 40% of Britain’s,” he says, “Claim to believe in some form of God, while a third say they are Atheist.” But that leaves over a quarter in what he describes as a state of vaguely Agnostic spirituality. He concludes, “Likewise, while over half of Americans believe in the Biblical God, nearly all believe in a higher power or spiritual force.” What’s most important here is not the action or the proposed action we are told, that might or might not be adopted by the Quakers in the United Kingdom.

What’s important is the fact that Simon Jenkins believes this to be exactly the right trajectory for any kind of religious group in the modern world. He cites the increased secularization of the culture. The fact that a greater and greater percentage simulate every year of people in both Britain and the United States say that they believe in some kind of spirituality, but it doesn’t require any kind of theism. Specifically, it doesn’t require Christianity. Speaking of the fact that nearly all Americans and many in the United Kingdom believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force, even if they are Agnostics or even Atheist.

He goes on to say, “What these words mean is now the subject of intense debate. What are these spirits in which these people profess to believe, and how might they be appeased?” “It is clear,” he says, “That most people no longer see them as residing in a church. Yet many still turn to churches in emergencies or times of trouble, when the world seems otherwise inexplicable.” He mentions, “For example, the trauma Britain had experienced after the death of Princess Diana.”

He says, “As a Sociologist Grace Davie, put it in her book, Religion in Britain, the church is a sort of public utility, a fire station, or a pop-up accident and emergency unit.” Offering his own analysis, Simon Jenkins writes, “The boom is psychotherapy is no secret. As religion declines, so emerges a craving for therapy. The 12-Step movement of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous has much in common with Quakerism, notably the emphasis on non-authoritarian fellowship.”

“Beyond,” he writes, “Lie the wilder shores of mindfulness, meditation, happiness courses, and holistic spirituality. All this,” he says, “Suggests that the purely physical aspects of our being do not always meet the needs of a fully-rounded person.” He also mentions that a recent report in the British Journal of General Practice, that refers to medicine, indicates that in Britain doctors, “Are increasingly being used as a new clergy people who are not ill, but seeking something to give meaning and purpose to life.”

Now there, you see the therapeutic, not only in the form of psychotherapy or pop psychology, but also in the form of the therapeutic offerings that come from modern medicine. With the doctors, we are told, now replacing ministers as those to whom secular people turn, not so much just when they’re ill, but when they’re seeking some kind of affirmation or grounding.

One of the most interesting aspects of this report is the fact that we are told that the Quakers might consider removing God from their Guidance to Meetings, because the use of the word God, “Makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable.” Now the use of the word uncomfortable there is illustrative of the fact that just about everything these days is spoken of in intensely personal and often emotive, and purely experiential terms. The thing to note here is that we’re not being told there is so much an argument against the existence of God, as the fact that just mentioning God makes some people, in particular here some Quakers, uncomfortable. The word uncomfortable is explicitly used.

It’s certainly not an accident that this debate, or a debate about a debate, is taking place within Quakerism. It emerged in the 17th century in the United Kingdom as the Religious Society of Friends. Of course, in a less religious age, there’s perhaps less reason for the Society of Friends to be the Religious Society of Friends. From the very beginning, Quakerism, especially as espoused by George Fox and others, looked to the Inner Light in contrast with orthodox Biblical Christianity.

It turned away from codified doctrines and from the historic Christian faith as the deposited truth, and instead turned to the individual, and to an Inner Light, or the God found within every single individual, as a way of grounding religious authority. Not in the church, not in a creed, not in a confession, not in scripture, but in the Inner Life.

In that sense, we’re not talking about a theological revolution that we would date, from say 1900, when Bishop Ryle concluded his service as the Bishop of Liverpool until 2018, we’re going back to the 17th century, recognizing that even in the 1600’s there were those who were already extremely modern, you might say, in their theological outlook. Shifting from a faith that was objectively true to a faith that was internally and personally defined, the Inner Light as Quakers often referred to it.

It’s also very interesting to understand that Quakerism in Great Britain emerged out of some groups that were self-consciously Arian, that is holding to one of the most ancient of all Christian heresies. The group is held generally to no ordained clergy, but even as it has looked to the Inner Light, rather than to an externally defined faith, it’s also important to recognize that Quakerism has become very diverse, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has worldwide, something like 360,000 adherents, but they’ve broken into many different groups and subgroups.

A minority of Quakers have organized into what they call Evangelical Quakers that hold to a much more orthodox Christian theology, and they would often identify with Christian evangelicals. But it’s also true that Quakerism from the beginning in turning to the primacy of this Inner Light, it has always been susceptible to this kind of very modern pressure. We are told that as many as 30 to 40% of all Quakers in the United Kingdom are not even theists. They don’t believe in any kind of personal god. You’ll note that introductory paragraph in this news report that tells us of that Birmingham University study, that indicates that a full 43% of those Quakers in Britain, felt unable to profess a belief in God.

So that’s very interesting, of course. But far more interesting is the fact that a Secular Age applauds this kind of conversation in a religious organization. The Secular Age is extremely happy for churches, or for religious organizations, to move in more explicitly secular direction. Of course, any kind of debate along these lines becomes rather irrelevant, once the fact that you have something like 43% of those identified as Quakers, who are unable even to profess a belief in God. You might say that this kind of religion is exactly the kind of religion the secular people believe that religious people should have.

And the reason, of course, is because secularists understand that this kind of religion offers no kind of challenge to secularism, whatsoever. It’s basically secularism with nice buildings and a quaint liturgy. That’s of course, the grand deal offered by the Modern Age. You can keep your buildings, you can keep your priests, you can keep your pipe organs, you can keep your liturgy, you can keep a little bit of meaning, you can keep a vague spirituality. Just abandon everything that is true and doctrinal. Abandon the substance of the Christian faith and the historic truth claims of Christianity, but keep acting as if you still believe something, because something is all you can believe in.

Part III

How does a secular society create meaning in the face of death?

Meanwhile, next back in the United States, yesterday’s edition of The New York Times included an opinion piece by Allison McQueen, entitled How to Be a Profit of Doom. That raises an interesting question. Once you have abandoned a Biblical understanding of apocalypse and divine judgment, once you have abandoned the Bible understanding of time and eternity, past, and present, and future, then what’s left? What exactly is a secular understanding of doom? Well, as McQueen makes very clear, for much of the last half of the 20th century, and she argues perhaps right now that main secular understanding of doom should be nuclear apocalypse.

She writes about Hans J. Morgenthau, who was a German Jewish emigrate, who was a Professor at the University of Chicago, who in 1961, wrote a very influential article entitled, Death in the Nuclear Age. It was published in the Influential Journal Commentary. But McQueen goes on to pick up on Morgenthau’s argument. “Human societies,” he wrote, “Have tried to transcend to death. For much of history, we denied the reality of death through faith in the immortality of the body or the soul.”

“But then,” McQueen writes, “In a Secular Age, this strategy is no longer available.” So she’s summarizing Morgenthau as saying, that now in a Secular Age, the strategy of believing in any kind of life after death isn’t workable, so we have to come up with some other strategy for trying to create meaning in the face of death. He says, “There are only two real alternatives. One is to master death by choosing to end our lives in some kind of great cause. The other way would be seeing our investment in the future as through our children, and our grandchildren, and their children.”

But Morgenthau writes that over against the reality and threat of a nuclear apocalypse, both meaning and any kind of grand mission, and children, and progeny would be wiped out. So there would be no hope. There would be nothing left. But the most important issue here from worldview analysis, is understanding that every intelligent human being has to know that there is some great crisis coming. History is headed in some direction, and that direction must include some kind of apocalypse.

These days, I would add to McQueen’s argument by saying that many people are concerned more about environmentalism, and some kind of ecological catastrophic than they are in worrying about nuclear weaponry. McQueen thinks that we ought to give more attention to the nuclear threat, and the likelihood of what she sees as a nuclear apocalypse.

But the most important issue from world view analysis, is understanding that as everyone anticipates, history will have an end, and that end is likely to be catastrophic or apocalyptic. The question is, the only question is, “How far in the future is that day? And, how exactly will it come about?” Morgenthau believed that in a Secular Age, theistic answers to that question were simply unavailable. But that didn’t mean we should note, that apocalyptic concern went away. It just got transformed into a secular apocalypse. So as it was then, it is so also now.

Part IV

In the age of digital media, do we really have more friends?

But finally, The New York Times had yesterday in the Future Tense column, an article by Teddy Wayne, entitled Are My Friends Really My Friends? The question is, “In the age of digital media, do we have more friends? We are certainly connected to many people who we identify as friends, but are they really friends?” The bottom line in the article is answering the question that many of the people in the digital world we identify as friends really aren’t friends. But I was fascinated to see the citation of research by Robin Dunbar.

He’s a Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford and he says, “That when it comes to human beings, most of us have an average of about 150 casual friends. These are the people who might come to a wedding or a funeral. Within that are different levels of intimacy. About 50 of those 150 to 200, make the next cut to be buddies. About 15 are good friends. About five are confidants, within the inner circle. But the innermost circle includes only about 1.5 people for most individuals.”

Leaving marriage out of the equation, it’s not mentioned so let’s assume that’s a separate issue, this means that outside of marriage, most adults have only about a friend and a half. My guess is, that’s a bit overly pessimistic, but I was interested to see that the average person can only keep track of about 500 acquaintances, and can only match about 1,500 faces to names. That’s with help.

This article raises all kinds of questions about friendship, but it seems to emphasize, that in the Digital Age, we really don’t have more friends than we did before the advent of this new technology. I think Dunbar’s number when it comes to close friends maybe overly pessimistic, but that’s a matter you might want to take up in conversation with your friend and a half.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Has God called you to ministry? Are you considering a call to ministry? I hope you’ll join me tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. Eastern time for a special Ask Anything Live broadcast. It’s going to be focused on just those questions. You can join us tomorrow night, May 15, at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Facebook Live and YouTube.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing and tomorrow night for Ask Anything Live.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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