The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, November 24, 2020.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Biden Makes Crucial Appointments to His Cabinet: What Is the Worldview We See Reflected in These Choices?

We do know that worldview matters and we have seen that it matters in an election cycle looking at two different parties, two different presidential nominees, but it also matters when you look at the composition of senior staff. Most importantly, Senate-confirmed staff, and the most important among those, the members of the President’s Cabinet. Joe Biden has been quite busy indicating the people he intends to nominate to Cabinet-level positions.

One of the interesting things about this is that in a transition process, this turns out to be quite important, especially since the inauguration has been moved up from later in the Spring until January, that goes back to the Roosevelt administration. You have to have the Senate moving on these nominees so that some will be in place when the president actually takes the oath of office, so that the United States has a functioning government.

Now, what is the President’s Cabinet? Well, the word cabinet actually goes back to European antecedents, and the fact that in the British system, a Cabinet is a set of officers, of senior officers of the government. The implication of a Cabinet is that it deliberates serving either in Britain, a prime minister, or in the United States, serving a president. The most important of the appointive positions in the American government are actually in the executive branch, those Cabinet level positions, and the most important among those are the original constitutional department heads. And this would include the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State, but would also include the Secretary of the Treasury. And what is now known as the Secretary of Defense, originally known as the Secretary of War.

Now, one of the things Americans often do not keep in mind is the fact that when we elect a president, we elect the singular individual who will have the power to nominate persons to these high offices. They do require Senate confirmation, but only the president may make these nominations, or in this case, the one who is recognized as president elect. But what we’re also looking at is the fact that when these announcements are made, they tell us a very great deal about the worldview of the candidate as translated into those who will hold these senior Cabinet positions.

Yesterday, Joe Biden announced that he would name as United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. He was a deputy Secretary of State before, and he has long been associated with Joe Biden, going all the way back to Biden’s very long career in the United States Senate, and having responsibility when it comes to foreign relations. Antony Blinken as Secretary of State would be something of a reset to the Obama years, but with a Biden flavor. It was also yesterday that Biden announced that Jake Sullivan, also very long associated with him and with president Obama, would become his National Security Advisor.

Alejandro Mayorkas is going to head the department of Homeland Security, and Avril Haines is to serve as Director of National Intelligence. Linda Thomas Greenfield, who has had a very long career in the US foreign service is to be nominated to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. And that position will be once again, elevated by Biden to a Cabinet level position. It is not so articulated within the constitution at all, but it is nonetheless something that has happened in previous administrations that indicates that Joe Biden intends to make foreign affairs, or international relations and foreign policy very much a part of his presidential tenure, very much a part of his own personal branding of the American presidency.

No great surprise there, Joe Biden’s been giving those indications for a good many decades now. But also announced yesterday was an appointment to a special position invented by Joe Biden in his administration, and this is former Secretary of State, John Kerry, to be appointed to a Cabinet level position, which is known as the President’s Special Envoy for Climate. Lisa Friedman of the New York Times reports, “The appointment of Mr. Kerry to sit on the National Security Council as a Climate Envoy elevates the issue of climate change to the highest echelons of government, and marks it as an urgent national security threat.” Mr. Kerry said, “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat that it is.”

So we’re looking at a clash of worldviews here, a clash of worldviews between the Trump administration and what would be a Biden administration. We’re looking at that being fleshed out not only in campaign statements, and in prior political history, but also in the nominations that Joe Biden now says he intends to make. And of course, the way Joe Biden is making these announcements and structuring the White House, it could actually only be done by what might be described as the consummate insider. Joe Biden has been the insider in American politics, now for a number of decades.

Of course, he not only served about three decades in the Senate, he also served eight years as vice president to President Barack Obama. He understands how the government works. Government has been his life. He’s been an elected politician, virtually all of his adult life, but what is the worldview that we see reflected here? Well, for one thing, it is the worldview of internationalism. It is an outlook that is a reset, not only to the Obama years, but to a very long tradition in American foreign policy that basically describes America as being in a community of nations and sees the building up of that community of nations as if anything, a first priority.

Now this can be described by different words, including globalism, or cosmopolitanism, but in this case, it’s internationalism. The one thing we’re looking at here is that if anything, Joe Biden appears to be putting together an administrative approach that will be very, stereotypically, democratic, as in the democratic. And of course there’s no surprise there.

But it is good for Christians to understand the distinction between these two worldviews. When you’re looking at president Trump, you’re looking at someone who said that international community has actually distorted and misled America’s vision of itself and the world, that indeed it is that international community that has often surrendered national sovereignty, and national interest to the point that the international community has an outsized priority. And furthermore, that international community has values and ambitions and requirements of its own.

Now, we’re going to be looking more at this and weeks ahead, because we really are looking at a looming clash of worldviews here, but just looking at the personnel already mentioned, this is basically reestablishing, a reassembling, a very traditional Democratic administration. Now, in some ways it would also be a rather stereotypical Republican administration when it comes to foreign policy and even some defense policy because for the major part of American history, since the mid-point of the 20th century, especially looking at the Cold War and beyond, there really has been something of a bipartisan consensus on many issues of foreign policy. Donald Trump didn’t run just against the foreign policy, the Democratic Party, he ran against the foreign policy of the Republican Party.

It is also interesting to note that so many former Republicans or more liberal Republicans that rejected Donald Trump were associated with the national security, and foreign policy infrastructure of traditional Republican administrations. They were outraged by the fact that Donald Trump did not consider these international alliances as being of supreme importance. Donald Trump did redefine so many of these issues.

He withdrew America from the agreement with Iran, when it comes to nuclear weapons, he removed the United States on the World Health Organization. He declared that the United States would leave the Paris Accords on climate change. And he served notice to NATO and to other international organizations that they were going to have to invest a good deal more of their own national economies, and national defense.

And he did so in ways that not only violated international norms, but upset that balance, that somewhat precarious bipartisan balance between the two parties on foreign policy. What it looks like when you’re looking at the list of appointments from Joe Biden is, as we’ve said, a return, a reassembling of that kind of coalition once again. When it comes to Antony Blinken named to be Secretary of State again, you could have seen Antony Blinken a Secretary of State in an Obama administration. Similarly, when you look at Jake Sullivan to be National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan’s not only been involved in international affairs for years, but he actually at least is credited, or blamed depending upon one’s perspective for being largely the catalyst behind that agreement with Iran, that president Trump withdrew us from.

The contrast in administrations, which is the contrast of worldviews would be made very clear when comparing the current Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, with the one who is now being nominated by Joe Biden to be the next Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. And it’s going to be very interesting to see the nations that are pleased, and are displeased around the world with this kind of development. There are several very key relationships or power balances to watch. And perhaps the most important of them is the relationship between China and the United States in a once again, increasingly bipolar world.

As the day ended yesterday, the Biden transition team indicated that Biden intends to nominate former Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, or Treasury Secretary. And if so, she would become the first woman in American history to serve in that role. She would also become the first individual man, or woman to have headed the Treasury, the American Central Bank, which is the Federal Reserve Bank, and the White House Council of Economic Advisors. That’s quite a resume. Janet Yellen would be a continuation of Federal Reserve policy, or Central Bank policy going back for several administrations. But she did serve for four years as the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, by appointment of President Barack Obama. And she was closely identified with Obama’s financial policies.

She had served as a governor of the Federal Reserve in 1994 to 1997, and she was chairwoman at the White House Council of Economic Advisors in the late 1990s. But what’s crucial to understand here, and by the way, that would have been the administration of Bill Clinton, what’s crucial to understand is that she represents an approach to the economy that intends not to respond to an economic crisis with austerity, but rather to create room in the economy by the means of the freer movement of money.

The differences between the two parties on many of these issues is not disappearing, but it is less pressing or less diverse than it once was. But of course, no crisis lasts forever. That was true of the recession of 2008, 2009, is true the situation or the COVID-19 pandemic. And even as the new administration is likely to start in the context of that pandemic continuing, that’s almost certain. The reality is that those differences between the two parties, which as I said, aren’t just differences in matters of economics, but differences of worldview, they are likely to emerge with greater contrast in months and years ahead.

The current Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, is someone who was an outsider to this kind of role in economic policy until he was named as the Secretary of the Treasury. But it’s interesting that when you look at Janet Yellen, as when you’re looking at John Kerry, who was after all, also in the Senate for decades, and then was Secretary of State in the Obama administration after you had Hillary Clinton serving in that role.

When you’re looking at Janet Yellen, she’s a graduate of Brown university. She earned her PhD in economics from Yale. She’s professor emeritus at university of California at Berkeley. She is married to another economist, who’s a winner of the Nobel prize in economics, George Akerlof. And thus she is the ultimate insider. Again, a theme to watch in the nominations and announcements coming out of the Biden transition team.

Part II

General Services Administration Begins Formal Transition to Biden Administration: A Signal of America’s Continuing Responsibility to the Watching World

But the most important news about the transition that came yesterday was the announcement that came from the General Services Administration, and from the White House that the Trump administration is moving forward on authorizing the government to turn to transition.

As the Washington Post announced yesterday, just at the end of the business day, the General Service Administration has sent a letter to Joe Biden and his transition team indicating that she is ready to begin what the Washington Post described as, “The formal presidential transition.” Now, this will include formal budgeting for the transitional process. It will involve tens of thousands of square feet of office space in Washington, DC.

But more importantly, it sends a signal internationally about the process and continuity of America’s democratic experiment in self-government. It also will include security clearances, the transfer of information, access to ongoing information, and government reports. And beyond that access to technology, including computers and phones that will be security encrypted, and protected.

Part III

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Ends Special Pandemic Lending: A Rare Example of a ‘Temporary’ Government Program that Was (so far) Actually Temporary

But next, we don’t often talk about actions undertaken by the Treasury Secretary, but it turns out even as Janet Yellen, we are told is going to be nominated as the next Treasury Secretary, the current Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, made headlines of his own. And these are worthy of attention as well. You have headlines, and you have editorials who are criticizing the Secretary of the Treasury. Indeed, an editorial in the New York Times described it as “Mr. Mnuchin’s Inglorious Endgame.” What did he do? Well, he called a halt to a special economic program that was intended to support the financial markets in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. And of course, here’s what’s crucial to understand. The legislative intent made clear in the language of that legislation was that this would be temporary, but temporary never actually means temporary, in Washington, DC. Or when it does, it certainly is worthy of our attention.

Now, something else to notice here is that even as the Secretary of the Treasury announced that this particular program would be ending, and by the way, Congress can always reauthorize it. A new administration can do whatever it wishes with that new authorization, but this does bring to an end this program. You’re looking at the fact that the newspaper in the United States that is closest to the financial community would of course be The Wall Street Journal. What would The Wall Street Journal think? Well, The Wall Street Journal editorial board actually congratulated and recognized the Treasury Secretary for ending a program that was intended to support the financial markets, especially in the early crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The editors’ point to one of my favorite quotes from the economist, Milton Friedman, also a Nobel prize winner, as the editors say, “Milton Friedman used to say that nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” Now I’ll go on and say, it’s not just program, it’s also policy. Nothing is so permanent as what is declared as a temporary government policy.

When you look at the government, and you understand that once it intrudes into an area, it almost never retreats. Once it advances, almost never steps back. Once it begins to enter into regulation in an area, it almost never minimizes that regulation. One of the temptations for any government is to take a crisis as an excuse, or an opportunity, they might say, to involve the government more closely in the workings of a market economy, or for that matter to involve the government more urgently, or more directly in the financial markets. We understand there’s something here that is deeply tied to worldview.

This isn’t just a matter of economic or financial policy. It has to do with whether or not we think that the financial system, and the economic system are likely to be healthier when decisions are being made by hundreds of millions of people, or when those decisions are made by just a few people an elite, in an economic establishment, such as the Federal Reserve, or the United States Treasury, or you could look at the European union, or the European economic community. As you look at all this, you recognize that question really is fundamental. Do we trust the decision-making of the millions, or do we trust the decision-making of a very professional elite?

Now, when it comes to some matters of economics, let’s be clear, we need the economic elite. We need bankers, and we need economists to define certain issues, but when it comes to the actual working of the economy, well, here’s where Christians understand. And I think this is very important just by biblical affirmations of the integrity of property, and the integrity of work. It actually turns out the human dignity is tied to the fact that we get to make economic decisions. And the sum total of our economic decisions added together turns out to be a far greater intelligence than the sum total of any number of experts, even Nobel prize-winning experts, who would otherwise decide that they ought to run the economy.

And let’s face it, if you’re running the economy to a considerable extent, you’re running the world. But it’s also interesting that there’s something subtle in this article. And that is that the Federal Reserve Bank, the nation’s Central Bank controversial in its very essence, at least traditionally in American political history, the Central Bank would prefer that the Treasury carry on this policy. Now, why is that important? It’s important because we recognize that what’s really vital to our constitutional order is that the Executive branch, and the Legislative branch, and the Judicial branch, do their work. Empowering a body such as a Central Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank to establish this kind of policy, turns out to be rather incongruous with the constitutional system that our founders put into place.

That’s not to say that the Central Bank is unconstitutional, it is to say that it is not healthy to defer so many of these issues to an unelected body when we actually have an elected body known as Congress. And we have an elected chief executive known as the president. They should be are the main responsibility and they should establish these policies. And then they should have to face the voters in order to stand on what they have done.

Part IV

Do We Just Use 10% of Our Brains? There’s More Behind the Question Than You Might Think (But it Will Take More Than 10% of Your Brain to Listen to This Segment)

But in this unusual Thanksgiving week, as we come to the end of the program today, I want to turn to another article, this time in The Wall Street Journal, having to do now with the bank, but with our brain, and how much of our brain we actually use. Jo Craven McGinty writing in the numbers column tells us that even as many people have often said as if it’s somehow known to be quantified, and true that we use only 10% of our brains, well, we should use more than 10% of our brains to recognize that it’s not true, that we use only 10% of our brains.

As a matter of fact, looking at the history of that idea, McGinty points to the fact that it seems to have appeared in at least one forward to Dale Carnegie’s bestseller from 1936, entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People. Now, on the one hand, that can be marked as something in the beginning of the self-help movement in the United States, also the self-promotion movement in the United States. And it’s also tied to the very idea of American positive thinking, and economic advancement. But the point is, this wasn’t some kind of scientific figure, it was mentioned, and then it got picked up as if it were true.

It turns out that Hollywood has also been using the figure as McGinty writes, “In the 2014 thriller ‘Lucy,’ a scientist repeats the 10% claim while speculating about the promise of accessing a larger portion of the mind. The 2011 film ‘Limitless,’ about a struggling writer, pegs the fraction at a slightly more encouraging 20%. And the 1991 comedy ‘Defending Your Life,’ about a deceased man’s efforts to prove his worth in the afterlife, lowers it to a demoralizing 3% to 5%.” However, that isn’t backed up with any kind of empirical, or observable research science.

Daphna Shohamy, a neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute said, “It’s absurd. It’s as absurd as if I told you that you only use 10% of your body. Biology doesn’t work that way.” She went on to speak of evolution, but the point is the numbers just don’t add up. You don’t just use 10% of your brain. As a matter of fact, there is no 10% of your brain that could be quantified in such a way. The brain actually neurophysically doesn’t work that way.

But what’s behind this idea that we use only 10% of our mind? Well, for one thing, there are persons who have dramatic brain accidents who actually recover, even though the brain is very injured. Furthermore, we all have the sense that there must be some resource. There must be some capacity in us that has not yet been discovered. We must be capable of doing far more than we are we’re doing if we only found the secret to doing such, or if we just exerted ourselves enough, we could just activate 90% of a brain that is only used to a 10% level. Just imagine what we could do accomplish.

But as it turns out, that might be a company for the message to ourselves, but it’s not really rooted in reality. But it is really interesting that in this column citing modern science, John Cass, is quoted, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt university who studies the architecture of the brain. He tells us that in a five year old child, about 40% of the biological energy is used to maintain the brain.

Whereas in an adult, it’s about 20% of the energy. And the brain’s always working, even when we’re asleep, as this psychology professor said, “Even when someone is resting or sleeping, the brain continues to work.” Dr. Shohamy actually pointed to the underlying reason why this kind of idea became so popular. The professor said, “I think we find it plausible because we believe we have untapped potential.”

Now that raises an interesting question. Let’s just leave biology, psychiatry, psychology, neurology for a moment. Let’s think theology. Is it true that we do have untapped potential? Well, according to a biblical worldview, that’s almost always going to be true because it’s true that we are just never actually performing to the level that we know we are capable. Now that doesn’t mean that necessarily there is this untapped potential that is just there as if we could self-actualize it.

It is to say that we understand that we are always growing. We’re always learning. We’re always developing, and yes, there is always–you might just put it this way, though we’re not speaking neurologically–there’s always more of the brain that we can use. But by that we don’t mean quantifiable parts of the brain, we mean there’s always more we can learn. And the Christian worldview certainly affirms that and underlines it.

Yes, we should be learning all the time. We should be learning more of God’s word. We should be learning more of God’s truth. We should be learning how to live in this world faithfully. We should always be thinking, we should always be learning, but at the end of the day, we simply have to resist the idea that we can quantify all of this anyway. Whether it’s a supposed IQ score, or it’s an SAT score, some kind of aptitude score that doesn’t tell the entire story about us, it might actually tell very little of the story about us.

But when it comes to numbers, I’ll tell you a part of the human story in the modern age is we love them. The psychologist who was quoted earlier in the story, Dr. Shohamy, points out that at Columbia University, she asked freshmen who take a required course, if it is true that people only use 10% of their brains. The professor said, “It’s usually 50-50, or 30-70 who believe it.” But the professor said, “If they graduate from college, I want them to know we use our whole brain all the time.”

What I found most interesting was, once again, the numbers, 50-50, 30-70, who agree the fact that we only use 10% of our mind. Here’s maybe one of the most important things we can recognize from a biblical worldview about ourselves, whoever we are, made in God’s image, we can never be reduced to any kind of number, or percentage, count on that.

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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