Tuesday, April 6, 2021
It's Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Repudiation of Biblical Christianity in One Senator and Reverend’s Easter Tweet
If you look at America at the midpoint of the 20th century, it would have been defined in its media ecology by the so-called legacy media. Those would have been the big three television networks, the big newspapers of America's largest cities, and the influential news weeklies that included Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and most importantly, Time Magazine. Just about twice a year, exactly twice a year, those news magazines and other legacy media decided that there had to be a story on religion, and it was not coincidentally timed for Easter and Christmas. Whether because of some sense of consumer interest or editorial interest, about twice a year, these news magazines would issue cover stories that ask big questions. Does God really exist? What difference does it make that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? What is the meaning of Christianity? What is the status of Christianity or religion in an increasingly secularized world?
While those legacy news magazines are now largely gone or at least, most of their influence is gone, but the issue still remains that about twice a year, the media, now so variously distributed in many forms including social media, often asked the same kind of questions, but they give those questions less significant, less serious attention, but it is very interesting that even as Christians around the world, we're celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, news media were giving attention to these issues in ways that might not have been expected.
One of the catalysts for that media discussion was a new United States Senator Raphael Warnock. The Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, now Senator Warnock of the state of Georgia is also, of course, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. That's the historic church that was, at one time, pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. and also by his father who was known as Daddy King, but Raphael Warnock represents what can only be described as a rather radical representation of what's called the social gospel, and when it came to Easter, it came down to a tweet for Reverend Warnock. The Reverend Doctor said this, "The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others, we are able to save ourselves."
Now, just to cut to the chase, the social gospel emerged in the last part of the 19th century and in the early decades of the 20th century as a replacement for the classical gospel of Jesus Christ, which points to the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the gospel is the good news of our salvation from the just penalty for our sin, the gift of everlasting life, the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith as we come to Him as repentant believers and our sin imputed to Him. The social gospel emerged in a time when there were many who were losing confidence in biblical Christianity, and they were arguing for some kind of continuing transformational power by means of Christianity, and what they pointed to was a redefinition of the gospel about social action. This was really the origins, at least in the Protestant side of the equation, of much of the discussion that is now focused on the concept of social justice.
The idea was that the existence of the church and the good news of the gospel came down to the promise of a better ordered society. The gospel was reformulated in terms of alleviating poverty, relief from oppression, cultural improvement, any number of issues. The most important thing to realize when you think of the category of social gospel is that it was far more social than gospel. There can be no doubt that many of the concerns that caught the attention of the social gospel movement, concerns about poverty and the sad state of many families and children, were quite legitimate concerns. Some of these concerns came out of pastoral ministry especially in the midst of the teeming masses of a newly urbanizing America and for that matter, cities like London, Manchester, and Birmingham as well where you had such evils as child labor and, of course, you had many kinds of practices that all right-minded Christians should condemn as sin, but the redefinition of the gospel was the issue here.
What you see in the continuation of that movement today is the manifestation in the form of Senator Warnock, and again, the Reverend Dr. Senator Raphael Warnock. His tweet has since been deleted, but the point is that he offered it on Easter Sunday, and it caught a great deal of attention. We need to look at the words again. The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not through a commitment to helping others, we are able to save ourselves. Interestingly, much if not most of the pushback against Senator Warnock's tweet came in response to the second phrase rather than the first phrase. The second phrase was that we are able to save ourselves through a commitment to helping others whether we are Christian or not, but let's look at the first phrase, first of all, because this is where the theology gets off track: "The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Now, what in the world could that mean?
Well, the word transcendent means that it goes beyond, so we're being told here that the meaning of Easter goes beyond the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In context, it is clear that Senator Warnock was saying that the meaning and the power of the impact of Easter and the Easter message go far beyond the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and thus go far beyond Christianity. The senator apparently was saying, Easter offers a message of power and empowerment and hope even to those who are not Christians, even to those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead.
So, as Christians look at that and analyze it, that first phrase is a repudiation of the gospel. The gospel actually points to the resurrection and to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ as the decisive events of salvation history, without which, there is no hope. Without the resurrection, the Apostle Paul says, and we saw this as we consider these issues on Good Friday just last week, the Apostle Paul says, "If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our sins are still upon us. We are still dead in our sins and trespasses."
Just to put the matter as clearly as I know, for Christians, there is no reality that is more transcendent than the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is indeed the ground of our hope and the ground of our confidence and our salvation. The meaning of the first phrase of the tweet became more clear with the second phrase. Again, "Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others, we are able to save ourselves." Just remember this. You know this already. The gospel is not about how we save ourselves. The gospel is about how we relinquish any hope or ambition of saving ourselves. The gospel is not that we do our best to save ourselves, and Jesus comes in to do what only He can do to accomplish our salvation. No, indeed, we are hold that there is nothing that we contribute in any sense. There is nothing at all that we contribute to our salvation. We can no more save ourselves than we could create ourselves.
So, working backwards in this phrase, Christianity makes very clear that salvation is by grace through faith. It is entirely God's work, and there is no ground for human boasting or human confidence or human contribution at all. Then, that phrase, whether you are Christian or not, well, that really becomes the hinge. That's the crux of the matter, isn't it? Because if you're talking about the meaning of Easter, the meaning of the resurrection that is supposed to be beyond Christianity and applicable whether you are Christians or not, that comes down explicitly to the final evidence of a false gospel. That's what we're looking at here, a false gospel. This is not Christianity, period.
The Senator did take down the tweet, but he didn't repudiate the message. There's no reason to believe that that tweet was not actually a distillation of his theology, and there's plenty of evidence of that in his preaching and in his public positions on any number of issues. He represents a model of liberation theology and an application of the social gospel, but here, you have the repudiation of biblical Christianity. Again, it's really interesting to see that he took the tweet down, but he's offered no theological clarification.
A Crisis of Doubt: Understanding Doubt in Relation to the Person of Jesus Christ and Faithful Christian Living
But while we're looking at this, I want to consider the fact it is not just in the precincts of the social gospel or liberation theology where we detect a hesitancy concerning biblical Christianity. That hesitancy, a certain melancholy mood, also seems to appear in some circles that would identify as evangelical.
A lot of attention was directed over the Easter weekend to an article that ran at Christianity Today by A. J. Swoboda and Nijay Gupta. The headline, "Jesus was the God-Man, Not the God-Superman." The subhead, "His moments of doubt and temptation attest that we can follow Him through our own." Through our own what? Well, the subhead clearly means through our own doubt and temptation. The authors of the article begin with these words. "In many children's Bibles, the Son of God swoops in like Superman to save the day. In these clearly mythological depictions of Christ, Jesus never fails to say and do the right thing. He handily vanquishes His enemies while essentially sidestepping the realities of real, enfleshed humanity."
Very, very interesting. Now, here's where we need to note, that the Christian orthodox formulation concerning the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture is that He was truly God and truly man. One person, two natures. The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. There in Hebrews 4, those last words, "yet without sin," extremely important. We're also given in the four gospels the historical accounts concerning Jesus. This is also divine revelation. It comes to us as historical accounts, completely true and trustworthy. In the midst of those gospel accounts, we find the truth of the temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was not an artificial temptation, and yet again, the writer of the Book of Hebrews tells us that he was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
Now, the problem is, and it's implicit in the central claim of this article, the problem is this confusion. Jesus was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. The problem is that we are not tempted ever without sin. It is true that temptation and sin, the actual action of center, not the same thing, but it is true that centers are trapped in the reality that our temptations are often more than temptations. That's the point of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says, "You have heard it said. You shall not commit adultery," but he goes on to say, "If you have lusted after a woman in your heart, you have already committed adultery." He made similar statements concerning murder, for example.
We can err theologically by speaking unbiblically about the deity of Christ. We can also err by speaking unbiblically about the humanity of Christ. It is very important that however we speak about Christ deity and his humanity that we use biblical terms in a biblically appropriate way. Of central importance when speaking of the humanity of Christ, the genuine human nature that He assumed in the incarnation is making very clear that He knew no sin. He committed no sin. One of the interesting problems with this article as it begins is speaking about the children's Bibles that are described as mythological depictions of Christ, and the message is that Jesus "never fails to say and do the right thing." Now, let me just point out. The actual Bible makes clear the very same thing. Jesus never failed to say and to do the right thing. That is not some kind of fictional account, a story about Jesus and what's packaged as a children's Bible. That's in the text of the gospels in the New Testament.
Now, the authors make very clear that when they speak of the temptations of Jesus, they affirm that he did not sin, but they go on to say that He did experience doubt, and they make a couple of very interesting statements. They make reference to the fact that in the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was in the desert and was tempted by the devil, "There, he has to wrestle with the devil's words, 'If you are the Son of God." That's Matthew 4:3. The authors then write, "These words place seeds of doubt in Jesus's head. One wonders if they played like a tape in his mind at points where he suffered or experienced loss because of his ministry."
Well, actually, I don't wonder that. I don't think we are given biblical permission to wonder about that, and there actually is no statement in Scripture in which we are told that the devil's statement placed seeds of doubt in Jesus's mind. The main point of the article is that it is possible to be faithful and yet doubt, but the authors are not careful to define the kind of doubt that they believe is faithful. Instead, it appears to be another form of the evangelical embrace, a rather new contemporary evangelical embrace of doubt as a continuing mode of faithfulness, and that, I believe is not biblical. Perhaps, it is the secular context that helps to explain this, but we're also looking at a crisis of faith and a crisis of doubt that goes all the way back, of course, to the times of the Bible, but in recent Western history, this became particularly a problem.
Once again, we have to go back to the 19th century. This is with the social gospel. That is where widespread doubt became to pervade the intellectual elites of society on both sides of the Atlantic. Doubt became not only an occasional experience. Doubt became an ongoing way of life, and it was in response to theological doubts that much of what's now called theological liberalism came as response. Now, as a Christian theologian, I want to say that doubt is real, and here's what we need to understand, that there are two forms of doubt. There's a doubt that is trusting in God, and there's a doubt that does not trust in God.
The doubt that trusts in God is a doubt that operates this way. I know this is what the Bible says. I do not fully understand it. I know that one day, I will understand it. I know that God is truthful, and he is always faithful to His word. I know that this is true because God has revealed it to be true. My response to this sense of doubt is twofold. It is, number one, to trust God in his goodness, and secondly, it is to dive into Scripture to try to find out more of what God tells us in his word so that that doubt will be over overcome and erased. That can be a faithful doubt, and in that sense, that kind of doubt can lead the believer into an ever stronger discipleship, an ever stronger and greater confidence in Christian truth. That's the kind of doubt that says, "I really do trust God. I need to know more about this. I'm going to turn to Scripture. I'm going to turn to faithful conversation with believing Christians to help to overcome this doubt with greater conviction."
The second kind of doubt takes also two forms. The first form is just a mood and ongoing commitment to doubt, doubt as definitive of the normal Christian life. That is just not biblical. Indeed, it is contrary to Scripture. The second aspect of this is where we increasingly retreat from making theological or doctrinal claims because after all, we do not want to appear to be overconfident. I can remember as a seminary student, reading liberal theologians who said that one of the primary errors or sins of contemporary Christianity was a triumphalistic assertion of the truth. I had to think about that. Is this indeed wrong? Is it a sin? But then, think of the hymns that we sing. Think more importantly about the text of Scripture. Think about the declarations in Scripture of biblical truth. Think about the declaration of salvation that has come in Christ Jesus. Think about what was communicated by the angelic host to those shepherds. It was not you can deal with your doubt. It was, instead, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.
Think of the definition of the preacher in the New Testament. One of the images of the preacher is of the herald, the messenger of God. Not think about it and say, "That's an interesting question," but instead, to declare: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, will not perish, but have everlasting life. This is the historic Christian response to the exhortation of Easter. He is risen. The faithful response throughout the centuries, "He is risen indeed!" Not, "He has risen, I think."
It is as if many modern evangelicals have entered into some kind of permanent subjunctive mood. If you know the English language, a subjunctive mood is a verb usage in which you are basically saying, "If it were true, it would be a good thing." It's basically operating from a position of weakness when it comes to living the Christian life, and it also comes to the fact that it doesn't just acknowledge rightful questions that Christians should ask, legitimate question. It doesn't drive us into the confidence that should come to us by the fellowship of the saints and most importantly, the study of God's word and the preaching of that word. It instead insinuates that maybe all we can say these days in light of an increasingly hostile and secular age, is there really is something to this Christianity. Though I'm not going to be so triumphalistic as to state that you are to believe this too.
One of the texts in Scripture that has been most helpful to me in my Christian life is the gospel of Mark 9:24, where a man responded to Jesus by saying, "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief." That's a way of saying, "Lord, I do believe. Help me to strengthen my faith. Help me to stand even with greater conviction. Help me to stand even in greater trust in what God has done for me in you." By the way, not too long ago, I preached a sermon in chapel at Southern Seminary in Boyce College entitled, "The Last Temptation of the Christian." It's based upon that very text, Mark 9:24. We'll put the link up to that message with today's edition of The Briefing in the event it might be helpful.
You Just Can’t Keep Up with the Moral Revolution, Even if Your Church Decides to Compromise Biblical Convictions In Order to Try
Finally, as we're thinking about where we stand these days, it's also interesting to look at a recent article at USA Today. It's by Andrew J. Yawn. The headline, "A Georgia Church, kicked out of the SBC for allowing gay members, wants to make sure 'everybody's welcome.'" Just a couple of quick things about this article. We talked about the news event some weeks ago. It dates back to February when the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention removed four churches from fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention. Two of them because the churches had taken actions affirming LGBTQ identities, behaviors, and relationships. This church at stake here, Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia was one of those two churches, but of course, they're being celebrated now in the national media. We're told that two weeks after being kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention, "Towne View Baptist Church celebrated its 32nd anniversary by formally accepting members the SBC said they should have turned away." Seven new members, which according to this USA Today report included a man and his gay partner and another new member who was transgender.
Jim Conrad, the pastor of the church said, "Essentially, the SBC has decided that because we welcomed these folks into our family, that we're no longer welcome in their family, and we're okay with that. What we decided is that when we say everybody's welcome, that means everybody." Well, I know what he's saying. I know what he wants people reading USA Today to think, but I'll just state that he's not being honest when he says that. He actually doesn't mean everybody, or at least, as of right now, he probably doesn't mean everybody. I don't think he means Buddhists and atheists. He's not saying that his church is accepting, say, atheist as members, but if you're going to defy Scripture in your definition of membership, then maybe it's just a matter of time until you decide to alter the theological definition as well.
That gets to another point. When you're talking about theology and biblical morality, they're really part of a whole, so if you're going to defy the clear teachings of Scripture, that's what's important here, not defying the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC has taken the right stance. It has stood on biblical authority, and it's taken the action that it had to do even back in February, but the point is when people say everybody, they really don't mean everybody, or at least, they don't mean everybody yet, but it's also interesting to note that this church is now being celebrated in the national media, and of course, the Southern Baptist Convention is basically described as being hopelessly out-of-date for standing on the historic Christian biblical tradition and the teachings of Scripture concerning marriage, sexuality, gender. You go down the list.
It's also very interesting to note that later in the article, USA Today says, "The SBC, the Southern Baptist Convention, faces criticism for not allowing women to be ordained as ministers." Now, by the way, that's not news. That's not a recent development. That doesn't go back just, say, to February. The action of the SBC in February goes back to the SBC's historical commitment. Let me put it this way. There never has been a time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention that it held any other convictions than these. Never, not one minute in one century ever.
When it comes to the criticism we're told the SBC faces for "not allowing women to be ordained as ministers," the big point here is that the SBC has basically, in terms of who churches have called these pastors, made that abundantly clear always forever with extremely few exceptions. The SBC took action to define the issue and a resolution in 1984, but then by reformulating, restating, updating the confession of faith that establishes the core convictions of the entire convention in the year 2000. If you're doing the math, that's 21 years ago. Not exactly headline news.
The point I want to make in looking at this article is that this is a church that pretty much thinks it's up-to-date right now with where it's supposed to stand and especially in the evaluation of USA Today, but here's what you need to note. Standing where they are today, even inclusive of LGBTQ+, is not going to be sufficient to stand where the world thinks you need to stand as the moral revolution presses forward.
Even those who decide that they're going to compromise biblical convictions to be up-to-date will find that they are out of date faster than they might imagine. By the way, Southern Baptist churches really do believe that everyone is welcome, but what we mean by that is that everyone is welcome to come and hear the preaching of the word of God.
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.