briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, October 9, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

China Cracks Down on Christian Education of Children: A Totalitarian Regime Must Control Everything

Headline news coming out of China indicates that that repressive government under the control of the Communist Party is taking further actions to crack down on Christianity and, for that matter, other religious groups as well, or at least some other religious groups. In particular, the center of the bullseye appears to be any form of orthodox Christianity and any vigorous form of Islam.

But the headline story that has been emerging in recent weeks has to do with the fact that China is now publicly warning churches not to seek to offer religious teaching to anyone younger than 18. As has been summarized in some press reports, this means that Sunday school would now be illegal by act of the state in China.

Erik Burklin of China Partner, a missionary organization, told Mission Network News that the law has now been more intensively enforced. He said, “Many churches have been notified by religious affairs bureau heads that you can no longer conduct Sunday school classes in your churches. They even put up signage in the entrance of some churches to indicate that.”

Farahnaz Ispahani reporting for The Diplomat tells us, “China’s hardline response to protests in Hong Kong this summer are part of a wider policy shift under President Xi Jinping that includes increasing persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese Communist Party and Xi appeared to have decided,” he says, “to consolidate power by reverting to a harder line on human rights than was witnessed in the years since China opened to the rest of the world under the era of Mao Zedong.”

This report continues, “Beijing’s repression of more than 13 million Muslims and its increased surveillance of Christians and Tibetan Buddhists is getting worse. China has not respected freedom of religion and belief since the 1949 Communist takeover. But just as the suppression of dissent in Hong Kong represents a turning away from the promise and practice of relative freedom over the past few years, mass arbitrary detention, torture, and prohibitions on Islam are appalling even by China’s standards.”

This article was written without respect to the Chinese Communist Party making Sunday school illegal, but it’s all part of a single picture. It is the fact that when you have a mono-party in a mono-state with absolute power and dictatorial control, it not only will respond with religious intolerance and oppression. It must. Why? Here’s the key worldview issue, and it’s something that’s missing from the worldwide press and its attention. The reason why this kind of atheist state, this kind of totalitarian regime must repress religion is that if you acknowledge there is any other reality to the Chinese Communist Party, you become an enemy of the people. And if you even dare to assert that there could be an authority higher than the Communist Party, then you are an especially dangerous enemy of the people.

We saw this play out in the sad and murderous history of the Soviet union and its infamous gulags, and we have seen it play out over and over again. Right now, the country that represents perhaps the most extreme form of this picture is North Korea under the Kim regime.

One authority in China told the Washington Examiner, “It has been a regulation in China for some time now,” speaking of the Sunday school prohibition or the religious teaching of anyone under age 18, “but Chinese authorities have renewed the vigor in which they cracked down on it since the release of the revised regulations on religious affairs.” This source went on to say, “Many Christian parents can face fines or other consequences for bringing their children to church or raising their children in faith at home. Likewise, teachers are not supposed to share their religious beliefs with children, and schools cannot use religious materials as textbooks.”

The United States government and the U.S. State Department in particular has been far more clear in recent months in identifying China and its Communist Party for their repression of religion in all forms, but particularly speaking up for the Muslims who are being repressed and not only that, who are suffering worse in new indoctrination camps, but also you see, the repression of any form of orthodox Christianity, or for that matter, any form of Christianity, anything that identifies as Christian, any system of thought that represents what would be a parallel authority or a rival authority to the Chinese Communist Party.

One of the things that Americans, especially younger Americans need to remember or re-remember is the fact that the central part of the word “totalitarian” is “total.” A totalitarian government seeks total control. It claims total ownership. It claims absolutely total allegiance. It represents the total authority. Any crack in the word “total” and you have a weakening of totalitarianism. And now, the current regime in China looks back on the last several decades and sees that the government in the past, the Chinese Communist Party, over the course of the last several decades had been far too lax in its religious repression and had allowed that very crack in a totalitarian reality that can no longer be accepted.

Part II

Children and Theology: Should the Faith Be Reinvented for Each Generation?

But next, we’re going to shift from the making of Sunday school illegal in China to uncharted territory when it comes to children and the faith of children in the United States. Two separate articles published in tandem in Religion News Service in recent days, both of them by Emily McFarlan Miller. The first of them has the headline, “Parenting After Faith Shift, Progressive Christians Look for New Resources.”

The article begins, “When reading Christian children’s books with his three children, Matthew Paul Turner found himself having to think on the fly.” In his own words, the father would do “‘a quick little change of the words’ when we are told he would run into a theology or idea he didn’t want to teach his children, either because he believed differently or because he believed his children were too young to need to grapple with it.”

The RNS report continues, “Turner, who identifies as a progressive Christian, isn’t the only Christian who has shifted from conservative to progressive views as an adult. For many,” tells Miller, “that means a faith that emphasizes love, social justice, and space for questions about the theological ideas they were raised to believe.” And we are told, “For those who are parents, it means wanting to raise their children with a different view of God and the Bible than the one they grew up with.” So what would be the problem? Well, as Miller tells us, “It’s that Christian children’s resources almost all skew conservative.”

Now, let’s just pause for a moment before we even dare go further in this article or much less look at the second article on the same theme. Why would it be that Christian children’s materials would “almost all skew conservative”? Well, the first reason might be that they are closely tied to the Scripture, which would skew conservative in this perspective when considering any matters theological. But it also has to do with the fact that you have the children’s resources directed towards children understanding God, and that will be through, in most cases, the telling of the stories of the Bible and the drawing of the lessons taught in Scripture.

But we are told if the problem is identified as the fact that children’s resources for Christians skew too conservative, the article tells us, “So Turner, who has authored a number of books for adults, started to toy with the idea of writing a children’s book.” In his words, “It was like, ‘Is it possible to write a book that really reflects love and hope and light that affirms the child’s personhood and speaks to how God has created this idea for our kids?'” Now, it’s not fair to take just one sentence and suggest that it represents a systematic theology, but this sentence does at least signal us of a theological problem. We’re not talking about the story of God creating the Earth. We’re told about the story of God creating the idea of the child’s personhood.

The article is really interesting. We are told that 11 different publishers turned down his book, but then he self-published it, and eventually, it became published by Convergent. That’s an imprint of Random House that tends to publish books that are identified on the so-called evangelical left. As an evangelical, I will say that most of the authors have left evangelicalism, but they are marketed to the evangelical left.

According to RNS, “The author said he believes he is writing these books ‘for the kid I was what I wished somebody had told me about God.'” So what exactly would that be? That’s not made abundantly clear, but what is made clear is the rejection of any form of conservative theology, the kind of theology represented in the vast majority of resources for children published by Christians. Once again, this article recites the data of how secular millennials are now becoming, and that’s presented as a real marketing challenge for Christian publishing.

But there’s something else reflected in this article, and that is the fact that many parents who identify with a liberal theology are looking for some kind of fellowship with other parents committed to the same theology and wanting to inculcate that same theology in their own children. The article then turns to tell us about a Facebook group that had been established by Cindy Wang Brandt entitled “Raising Children UnFundamentalist.” We are told that it now includes about 16,000 members “who are all asking similar questions about raising children in or after a faith shift.” Brandt said, “There is such a growing group of people who are going through this process of faith shifting as compared to in the past where generation after generation, you just kept the same faith, which is beautiful in a way, but we are here. This is our time, and these are the realities we have to grapple with.”

Now, I must stop here and interject again. We have to deal with the words we’re given in this article. And what’s really, really interesting, and for that matter, deeply troubling, is the fact that this individual who started this Facebook group arguing for the fellowship of like-minded parents who want to raise their children with a progressivist or liberal theology, she contrasts this with the previous pattern “where generation after generation, you just kept the same faith.”

Well, that is exactly the pattern that is set forth in Scripture. That’s not like the pattern. That is the pattern. You see this in the Old Testament in passages such as Deuteronomy 6 and Joshua 4. You see this repeatedly throughout the entire Old Testament, not only in the commands given to Israel and the instructions concerning how parents are to raise their children, but you also see it in the historical narratives of Israel, and you see it even in the ceremonies and the rituals of Israel. But you also see it in the New Testament. Just remember a verse like Jude 3, “Contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

But here’s a major worldview dividing line, and it’s a good time to look at it, to recognize it for what it is. Humanity in general, but more specifically those who identify as Christians, we have to decide whether or not it actually is most important to maintain that faith once for all delivered to the saints. You’re going to be divided into camp one or camp two, and once again, there’s not really much room for middle ground. Do you believe that the faith is the same generation by generation, that God’s truth is, as Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “Unchanged and unchanging,” or do you think that the only means of survival for Christianity is reinventing itself theologically generation by generation? Again, it’s going to be difficult in any consistent way to create some kind of middle ground there. There really isn’t any. You either believe in the faith once for all delivered to the saints or you believe in the faith updated for the teaching of your children while they are young and something that will change by the time they have children who are also young.

But there’s another worldview point that becomes apparent in this article. The report states, “Progressive Christians aren’t a monolith. People can be at different points along the faith shift, and many Brandt encounters pride themselves in an evolving faith that is always open to change.” The next statement, “That can make finding parenting resources difficult.” Well, of course it will. How could it otherwise? But for that matter, it makes it virtually impossible. That’s because if the operant word here is “evolving” and if different people are at different points along the path of what’s identified as the faith shift and if every generation’s going to need a new theology, then how in the world do you print or publish anything?

If you look at American society and if you look at liberal theology over the course of the last, say, century, the velocity has accelerated so much that it’s going to be virtually impossible to stay up with the leftward curve. To state the most obvious example, many of the people who were on the far, far left 20 years ago are now unquotable by the left because they believed that marriage was only the union of a man and a woman. That’s now so unacceptable that even if you are a heretic on other terms, you are simply useless to those who are on the left wing today.

This points to something else we should notice. When the article states that progressive Christians aren’t a monolith, it points out the fact that if you’re looking at orthodox Christianity, it is one system of truth. Again, the claim is handed down generation to generation, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But if Christianity can be something other than that one thing, then it can be any number of things. Once again, that makes it hard to publish materials for progressive parents representing a progressive theology in order to raise up progressive children.

Later in the article, it’s indicated that at least one source of some of these materials has to make changes even to the words of Scripture because after all, the Lord’s prayer is sexist and patriarchal beginning with “Our Father,” so instead, the words are then substituted as “Our loving God” rather than “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

But as I said, there’s a second article, and this one is also by Emily McFarlan Miller. This one has the headline, “Faith Like a Child, an Interview With a Childist Biblical Scholar.” Now, before we even turn to the article, let’s just consider that word “childist.” It’s not childish. It’s childist. That is to be basically a parallel with feminist. You turn from feminist theology to childist theology. As Miller reports, “Childist biblical scholar Julie Faith Parker does think adult readers have a lot to learn from the children in the Bible as well as the children around them.”

The article continues, “Parker, associate professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City, is one of the pioneering scholars in the field of childist biblical interpretation, ‘a term she helped introduce in biblical studies in the last decade.’ She defines it as ‘interpretation that places a child, children, youth, or concerns related to young people at the center, more analogous to feminist or womanist than to racist or sexist.’” On the progressive edge, you’ve got to be really careful which “ist” you want to identify with.

The article says that this childist biblical interpretation school “is a new field, and it’s really gaining steam quickly.” The development of this childist interpretation is dated to 2013. We’re told that work has been pouring off the presses since then. The article states, “Scholars are starting to look at children of the Bible the way feminist scholars have been looking at the women of the Bible. Before the 1970s, there were really almost no academic books on women in the Bible, and now, there are hundreds if not thousands.”

Now, let’s just state real clearly that feminist biblical interpretation is not mainly about identifying women in the Bible and drawing attention to them. It is based upon the claim that the Bible and Christianity, Judaism even before Christianity, is inherently patriarchal and oppressive of women, and feminist biblical scholarship has been an effort to try to revise the understanding of Scripture, sometimes even the text of Scripture, in order to meet the worldview expectations of contemporary ideological feminism, especially second wave feminism.

The more ideological foundations of this childist biblical interpretation is made clear later in the article. “Part of it is how we understand children. Every idea of who is a child is a construct of a particular culture and economic and cultural realities of a certain time and place. Our ideas of who a child is, our Western ideas from the post-Enlightenment age, are really very romantic. Children are sweet. They’re innocent. They’re carefree. That’s not necessarily true. So,” says Julie Faith Parker, “let’s strip away these ideas, and let’s take a look and see what the text brings forward. Let’s recognize our own biases and clear them out as much as we can to see what the text shows us about children.”

One point we need again to clarify here is that if you’re operating from a biblical worldview, you do not deny that the concept of, say, X or Y or A or B is at least partly socially constructed. We’re social animals so that just makes sense. We would have a somewhat different understanding of childhood from someone who lived, say, in medieval Germany, much less in even previous eras in a nation like China. But what’s not acknowledged here is the fact that there are continuities that create boundaries on just how socially constructed any view of childhood can be. Children are, here’s a shocking revelation, young. They’re younger than adults, and that’s a distinction that’s true across culture. Childhood is a biological fact as well as a socially constructed reality.

But one of the most difficult issues to imagine in this childist biblical interpretation is how, as a parallel with feminist interpretation, it’s supposed to present a need for children to be liberated by the means of this interpretation. Liberated from what? Or liberated from whom? Biblically-minded Christians would not be opposed in any way to increased attention to children in the Bible and a deeper understanding of children who are in the Bible, but when it comes to childist biblical interpretation as an ideological form of the interpretation of the Bible, there surely more to it than that. And it is at least instructive that this article followed in the same release of Religion News Service on the same day.

Part III

Massive Site of Child Sacrifice Excavated in Peru: The Horrible Refutation of Moral Relativism

But finally, as we’re thinking about children, the most important biblical teaching concerning children is the fact that they are God’s gift made in the image of God, that they are to be welcomed and protected, that they are to be loved, and that they are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Worldview matters. Worldview matters to children, sometimes, to their lives. Just consider the headline that recently ran in The Guardian of London. It’s from Peru, “Skeletons of 227 victims unearth at world’s largest child sacrifice site.” The subhead in the article, “Experts believe that children were sacrificed by the Chimú culture to appease the El Niño phenomenon.”

The article by Sam Jones goes on, “Archeologists excavating what is thought to be the world’s largest child sacrifice site have unearthed the skeletons of 227 young victims in the coastal desert of Northern Peru.”

The article goes on, “Experts believe the children, who were aged between four and 14, were sacrificed by the Chimú culture to placate the gods as rains and floods caused by the El Niño weather pattern battered the Peruvian coastline.” Chief archeologist Feren Castillo said, “This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found. There isn’t another like it anywhere else in the world.”

The archeological evidence is absolutely horrifying, “The children’s skeletons contained lesions on their breastbones, which were probably made by a ceremonial knife. Dislocated rib cages suggest whoever was performing the sacrifices may have been trying to extract the children’s hearts.” Further evidence included footprints that had survived rain and erosion, “The small footprints indicate the children were marched to their deaths from Chan Chan, a huge ancient adobe city a mile from the burial site.”

Another report about the very same finding indicated something not reported in The Guardian. The headline, “Six Sacrificed Noble Children Found in Peru.” Now, this tells us something with even greater specificity than the previous report. You might think it’s one thing to sacrifice children but another thing to sacrifice your own children, but that’s the meaning of this report. And so this represents a horrible picture made even more horrible, if that’s imaginable.

But in a worldview analysis, we need to recognize that in almost every culture, there has been a reason why when human sacrifice has taken place, it has often come down to the sacrifice of children. I mentioned the fact that even though we would accept that there are some cultural construction to the idea of childhood in every society, the reality is that in every society, children are understood to represent new life, not to have had the opportunity to have done many of the wrongs, to have committed many of the sins of those who are older. There is a claim and a presumption of some kind of innocence. And that is why in so many cultures, whether in ancient Canaan or in this era in Peru, this kind of child sacrifice was taking place the way it took place.

So that brings us back to the fact that theology is often a matter of life and death. One of the points that God made to Israel is, “I want your children to obey. I do not want their deaths.” Israel was to stand out morally from the other peoples of Canaan and the ancient Near East because it, first of all, stood apart theologically.

This also, as a very final thought, points to the impossibility of the worldview of moral relativism. Is anyone going to look at this report and say, “Well, that would be wrong here. That would be wrong now, but it’s imperialistic and wrong to say that such child sacrifice would be wrong for everyone everywhere in all times”? I don’t think you’re going to see that argument made because moral relativism fails, especially on headline news like this.

But you will notice there are many people that when it comes to sex or marriage or gender or just about anything else, they’re going to argue for the fundamental reality of moral relativism. This article, though pointing to so many things Christians need to think about, points to the fact that moral relativism just doesn’t work. It can’t work.

You either believe that child sacrifice is right or it is wrong everywhere, in every time, under every condition. If you do believe that it’s always wrong, as you should, then you’re going to have to explain why, and that why can’t be answered by mere human beings. It can only be established by a holy, righteous, and eternal God.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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