The Briefing

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The Briefing

Friday, October 1, 2021

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It's Friday, October 1st, 2021.

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

Part

Pronoun Police Come for God— But God Reveals Himself as Father, and He Likes His Name

The language we use about God reflects who we believe that God really is, and how He is to be referenced and how we are to speak of Him. That is to say that our language about God is just about as important as any issue we might consider.

But Religion News Service recently ran a very interesting article that tells us that the pronoun police are now actually coming for God. The headline in this RNS story is this, "Why our preferred pronoun for God should be 'they.'" It's written by Mark Silk, a Jewish writer for Religion News Service. He argues that even as we have these transformations taking place in language and the increasing use of "they" as a non-gender specific but nonetheless, usually singular pronoun, that since we are becoming accustomed to that, he argues we ought to extend it, not only to human beings routinely. That is, not just to those who demand it, but basically to everyone, that's the argument now, but we should extend it to God as well.

We've been talking about the war over pronouns and the pronoun police coming for us. We've talked about the fact that there are demands that we use these pronouns, that we refer to people by their preferred pronoun. We ask people their preferred pronoun. We see some people now indicating that they have joined the moral revolution by listing on their business card or on their website or even just their contact information their preferred pronouns. And as Christians, we understand that to be something of an unraveling of the entirety of creation. But nonetheless, here's where this argument heads. It has to head here.

Among religious folk, and I'm using that term in just that way, religious folk, eventually, the question is going to be, "What is the appropriate religious language?" Even, "What is the appropriate language to be used of God?" Mark Silk writes that the use of this kind of non-gender specific pronoun, such as "they," referring to human beings, should now be extended to God. Silk writes, "In contrast to human beings, it has long been accepted that God is not gendered, at least within the main Abrahamic theological tradition. A phrase such as 'God the Father' should be treated as a metaphor, and for those concerned about the embedded misogyny of the tradition, to say nothing of post-binary folks, a deeply problematic one." So let's just note the new moral norm is it's wrong to refer to people according to the gender binary, and we're now to extend that to God because we are told that it is deeply problematic, invoking patriarchal oppression of the past to refer to God as Father.

Now, there's a very interesting background to this controversy. It takes us all the way back to the latter decades of the 20th century when the effort then, and this tells us how the LGBTQ movement has developed, the argument back then, just say back in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, was that people should use inclusive language when it comes to worship. They should use both male and female imagery, male and female names, male and female pronouns when it comes to God. Evangelical Christians understood at the time that that amounts to heresy, that that is a denial of the God of the Bible, the self-revealing God who names himself in holy Scripture. And so, evangelicals did not move in that direction, but liberal Protestants did. So much so that in the latter decades of the 20th century, they came out with inclusive language Bibles and inclusive language lectionaries, that is guides to liturgical worship, and the use of non-gendered metaphors for God, such as source or river or rock. You began to hear these incursions of neopaganism in liberal Protestant worship and in many liberal denominations.

But evangelicals understood we can't go there because that is a denial of the God who revealed himself in Scripture, the one true and living God. It is a denial of God to refuse to use his name, the name that he's revealed to us. And remember that according to Scripture, we don't name God at all. God has the sovereign right to name Himself. Moses didn't say, "I tell you what, Lord, this is what I'm going to call you when I go to the people you've told me to lead in the Exodus from Pharaoh in Egypt." No, he said, "Who shall I say has sent me? What is your name?" God names himself.

But before we go any further in this article, we need to understand that Mark Silk has already said that he considers the use of some kind of reference to God, such as God the Father is "a deeply problematic one," and that has to do with embedded misogyny, he says, "in the tradition," and that means even in the Bible, let's be clear, but it also means that left out are those post-binary folks that he references in the article. He says, "As a result, we've been faced liturgically as well as theologically with the imperative of gender-neutral language, which means being obliged to repeat the word 'God', where a gendered pronoun would normally be used and to have recourse to the unattractive neologism," that means newly created word, "'Godself' lest, God forbid, we find ourselves saying himself."

Now again, evangelicals may say, "We're really outside this picture. We are outside, but we need to look in this window because this particular argument is really crucial to our understanding of right theology, right doctrine, right worship. And that had better be what we consider to be our consuming passion and mission."

So let's look at this. First of all, by the way, we need not to leave the fact that Mark Silk says that the phrase "God the Father" should be treated as a metaphor. Now, a metaphor, as you know, is a comparison structure so you should say that this is like that. You're not saying that this is that. You're saying that this is like that. But when it comes to the use of the language in Scripture that God is Father, that is not merely metaphorical language. It's not just looking for a comparison to say, "If you want to understand what God is like, he is like a father." No, it doesn't say he's like a father. It doesn't say that he loves us as a father. He says that he loves us as our father. It says that he is father.

Now, in theological terms, just as a matter of a footnote here, that means that all language we recognize is analogical, but nonetheless that just means it conveys to us this meaning in an objective form that we can understand. That's the whole point of revelation. If God didn't speak to us in a way we could understand, there would be no communication from God to us, which is this very point in revelation. But here's the issue, God has the right to reveal himself in the way that he chooses. You'll notice I said "He."

Now, Mark Silk says that this inclusive language agenda, and again, that really came in with the demands of feminism and other kinds of the politically correct encroachments, say, especially the 1970s, '80s and '90s, he said that this has resulted in a worship clumsiness, a clumsiness in language and theology. Of course, it does because if you say that you cannot refer to God as father, or even that you can't really just alternate between saying God is father and God is mother.... And by the way, Scripture never, ever, ever says God is mother, and there are reasons for that I'm going to get to in just a moment.

But the argument made by Mark Silk is that even if you are using that kind of language, that's binary. You've got to get beyond the binary if you're going to be with it these days. Thus, you're going to have to refer to people, to human beings as being neither he or she, which means neither her nor him, neither his nor hers. And so in worship, he says we're now reduced to saying things like "God," "Godself," "God spoke to Godself," and "God said," and you'll notice the ridiculousness of that. And by the way, that is one of the signs of the false theology that's at work here.

Anything that sounds this awkward and weird tells us that something's gone really, really wrong. Something's fundamentally broken. And make no mistake, this argument is going off the rails. Mark Silk goes on to say "they," "theirs," "them," and "themself," or maybe "themselves" solves the problem. As in "Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise them all creatures here below," et cetera.

Furthermore, speaking of the Hebrew language, he points to one of the most common words referencing God in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, Elohim, saying it's a plural form "used with reference to both the Hebrew God and any other god or gods as distinct from the singular form of the Hebrew God's actual name." That would be Jehovah that is not spoken by the Jewish people, translated into English as Lord. That's the Tetragrammaton and that's often referred to in the English letters, J-H-W-H. I Am that I Am.

The point is when you hear the Queen of England speaking and using a pronoun, you may notice what is called the plural of majesty. That is to say that the Queen of England doesn't say, "I don't like that tea." She says, and this is odd to our ears, "We do not like that tea." Famously, Queen Victoria was caricatured to saying often, "We are not amused." Well you say, "What does that mean? Why does she use a plural pronoun? She's just one person, the Queen of England," and the answer is that's traditional monarchial language, the language of kings and queens. It is we, which is the plural of majesty.

And that just points to the fact that there are references to this plural of majesty that doesn't mean that there are numerous gods, because it is really clear that if there's one message that becomes transparent in the Old Testament, it is found in a text like Deuteronomy 6:4 where the Lord says, "Hear, O Israel. The Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength." The Lord your God, the Lord is one. But nonetheless, this one God reveals Himself with specific names.

During that inclusive language debate which people were saying, "Call God mother and father. Balance 'he' and 'she,'" a linguistic scholar by the name of Roland Frye actually wrote a very important article entitled "The God who Likes His Name." He gets to name himself. If we think the Bible is just human literature, then we can rewrite it. But if you believe the Bible is the word of God, then you can't rewrite it. We have to receive it as God's gift, and God has the sovereign right to name himself. The language we use in worship thus becomes the very expression of our basic theology, and it's how we communicate the God in whom we believe.

Now, going back to the medieval period, and you're saying, "Here we are on a Friday on The Briefing, and we're back to the medieval period." Yes, we're going back to the 12th century. We're going back to a monk by the name of Bernard of Clairvaux. Well, you say, "It isn't that often that a Protestant evangelical theologian talks about a monk from the 12th century." Well, we're talking about this one. And by the way, Bernard of Clairvaux, here's a little footnote for you. One of the most important Protestant theologians of Protestant history and that would be John Calvin, the reformer of Geneva, in his great and massively influential theology known as the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the theologian most often cited in the Institutes of the Christian Religion is Augustine, you hear Augustine mentioned many times on The Briefing, but second is Bernard of Clairvaux.

In the 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a hymn and you know this hymn, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." And in that beautiful hymn testifying to the atonement accomplished by the Lord, Jesus Christ, one verse of that hymn translated, by the way, by Paul Gerhardt who was a German Pietist, the language of that verse comes down to this. It's a very, very sweet verse and you have probably sung it, but you might not have thought about what you were singing. In that hymn, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," one of the verses says this, "What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend?" What language should I borrow? In other words, what's the right language we should use? The answer to that question is use the language of Scripture. Never hesitate to use the language of Scripture. Use the names of God by which God named himself, and in Scripture, God names himself as Father.

It is true in the Old Testament, both in examples of texts where God names himself as Father and is worshiped and testified to as Father. It is also demonstrated in His fatherly love and in the fact that God is understood in terms that are entirely consistent with being known as and worshiped as Father. In the New Testament, one of the most important things we come to understand as revealed by the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Father's son, is that we are actually told that, first and foremost, we are to refer to God as Father, even in the model prayer that He gave us known as The Lord's Prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name."

In other words, Jesus answers the question, "What language shall I borrow" by saying, "I'm going to give you sovereignly, authoritatively, eternally the language you use. When you pray to God, pray, 'Our Father who is in heaven.'" Now that's the definitive answer. The question's right, what language shall we borrow, but the right answer is and will always be the language by which God has revealed himself in Scripture. And from that, we must never deviate. And about that, we must never apologize.

By the way, Mark Silk in making this argument and he's making the argument basically from the Old Testament, writing as a Jewish writer, he says that if you're okay with changing the language from "thou art" in the King James Version going back to 1611 to "you are" is no big deal. So referring to God by the pronoun "they" or "themself" is also no big deal, but it is a big deal. The difference between "thou art" and "you are" is basically nothing, other than just an updating of the language by common usage. The change of the language from "he" and "himself" to "they" and "theyself," which is itself, not only a neologism but an insanity, well, that is not merely a shift in updating language. That is a complete shift in meaning, and it is intentional.

Mark Silk suggests a translation of Exodus 15:2 as follows, "The Lord is my strength and my song, they have become my salvation. They are my God, and I will praise them, my father's God, and I will exalt them." I think already you recognize that that is not just a shift in language. That is a massive irreversible tragic shift in theology, but shift from which basically there is no rescue or return. But in any event, just keep in mind, we've talked about this in recent days, the pronoun police are coming for you. They're coming fast. And now we know they're coming for your worship as well.

Part

Is a Morality of Harm the Only Morality that Matters? — Dr. Mohler Opens The Mailbox and Responds to Letters from Listeners

Okay, now we're going to turn to the Mailbox, and I find this fascinating. I appreciate the fact that so many listeners write. You can write me at just mail@albertmohler.com. You can hit the mail button at the website. There are various ways to get ahold of me, but in any event, really interesting stuff here.

David writes asking me about the morality of harm. He asked the question, "I have a co-worker and friend who's very secular minded and bases his morality almost entirely upon the premise that if an action does not harm others, it is morally permissible. How would you counter this type of argument? Thanks." Well, thanks for the question, David. What this refers to is a morality of harm. Now, by the way, Christians understand that that is not absolutely the wrong place to start, because one of the first things we tell people is don't hurt someone. One of the first things we tell children is you don't hurt someone else. You avoid harming someone else. And furthermore, when you think about most moral acts conducted by humans, they can be categorized as those acts that do cause a harm to someone else or one that might not. But the problem with the morality of harm is that it doesn't get us as far as we need to go. For one thing, we're not very good at defining harm.

So let's just consider the fact that one of the most convoluted arguments of recent years has had to do with the morality of harm is related to the institution of marriage. And so, people say, "If it does not harm you, you have no right to say that this should be illegal. If it doesn't deny you, a man and a woman, the right to be married, then you should not deny a man getting married to another man, a woman getting married to another woman." The argument is there is no harm to you as a heterosexual and a heterosexual marriage by legalizing same-sex marriage. But the argument is it is a harm. And by the way, we're going to talk about this. It's claimed that it is a dignitary harm to those in the LGBTQ community if you don't give them the equal access to the institution of marriage, so it's an argument about harm. The argument is not allowing a man and a man to marry, not allowing a woman and a woman to marry. That's a harm.

Justice Anthony Kennedy used that dignitary harm theory, the fact that you're harming someone's dignity, when he said that one of the reasons for same-sex marriage.... And remember, he wrote the majority opinion legalizing same-sex marriage. He said one of the reasons is that the children of same-sex unions--now I realize that's an interesting statement in itself, but nonetheless just follow--that the children of same-sex unions have their own family dignity harmed by not allowing same-sex marriage. So you say, "How does that work?" Well, clearly, if you have a law that says you can't punch your neighbor in the face, that's based upon a morality of harm and it makes perfect sense. But when it comes down to something like same-sex marriage, how exactly does that work? Well, you have the argument made by many that if it doesn't cause a directly traceable harm, then the law should not speak to the issue.

But let's just think about marriage for a moment. One of the arguments that Christians should have used and did use in the midst of the controversy over the legalization of same-sex marriage, and by the way, that should not be over and we still need to make these arguments, is the fact that society depends upon the reproductive capacity and the social cohesion, the unique context for the successful raising of children that is only brought about by the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman and the social recognition that goes with marriage.

And so, the argument that Christian should be making is we too believe in a morality of harm. We just believe that the only way to really know how to acknowledge a morality of harm is to look to God himself as the Creator who made us in his image and gave us the structures of creation and also spoke to us in his word. And so, if we're left to our own devices about what does or does not harm us, or what does or does not harm another, we are going to look with very, very limited eyes and we're going to get a lot of those equations of harm wrong.

Furthermore, as you think about human society, you come to understand that it takes a broader context than just an individual or just even, say, a few individuals in order to determine a morality of harm. So you might say if there is an absolutely vacant road out in the middle of the California desert and there is no risk that someone's going to confront another automobile, why shouldn't someone be able to drive at 130 miles an hour if there is no risk of harming someone else? Well, for one thing, we have laws in this country that are basically designed to prevent you from harming yourself.

But the law related to the speed limit there is actually part of a far larger structure that says if we're going to have common roads, we're going to have to have common rules. And even where there's no one watching, we're going to have to expect that those common rules will be followed because it's not just a potential harm of one car that might cross the road. It's the potential harm to the fact that if people really become accustomed to being a law unto themselves, then the entire structure of the kind of trust and order that is required for common roads breaks down, evaporates, and that's a harm to everyone.

So David, you have clearly asked a good question. You've raised a huge issue. And the answer to your secular co-worker is good luck with that trying to figure out the morality of harm because you're not smart enough. I'm not smart enough. Together, we're not smart enough to come up with a comprehensive morality as if all that has to be determined is a harm to some specific individual at any specific time. And that means another way to answer it is that the morality of harm is not the wrong place maybe to start thinking about answering moral questions. It's just not enough. A morality of harm won't get us nearly as far as we have to go.

Part

Is the Term ‘Common Grace’ Theologically Wrong? — Dr. Mohler Opens The Mailbox and Responds to Letters from Listeners

Another letter came from Jeffrey contesting my use of the theological phrase, "common grace." He says, "It's not right to use the word, 'grace.' It's a precious word," he says. Using the popular definition of unmerited favor. He cites Ephesians 2. He says that it is wrong to suggest that God "has favor on those whom he ultimately damns." He says that's to attack the unchanging nature of God. And he says, "In an attempt to offer a solution along with the observation, may I suggest replacing the term 'common grace' with God's kindness to all men?" Well, that's an interesting question, Jeffrey. It's an interesting argument. I'll simply say, of course, I did not come up with the phrase, common grace, but I do use it and I will continue to use it because it's rather necessary to a Christian conversation.

But here's where we need to understand that the word, grace, in terms of unmerited favor is understood in Christianity in two different senses. The first of them is common grace, which is to say, and you'll see this in historic creeds and catechisms and confessions of the church, you'll see this in the Scripture where Jesus says it rains on the just and the unjust, where the Orthodox Christian theological tradition takes us back to the fact that it is grace to any one of us is given the gift of life. That means that, in some sense, the very fact that we exist, that is also by God's unmerited favor.

And not only that, in the lives of virtually all people, there are good experiences and good things and good gifts. That means even in a pagan family, even in a pagan community where there's no knowledge of the one true and living God, there is still the unmerited favor of the joy of marriage, and the joy of children, and the joy of work, and the joy of play. And so, there is rain and there is food, there's the enjoyment of a meal. That is unmerited. And that means it is, in that sense, grace.

But the orthodox, that is to say the faithful biblical Christian understanding throughout the centuries has been, that the bigger issue is saving grace. That's the unmerited favor of God's forgiveness, the unmerited favor of redemption, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, all the infinitely good and eternal gifts that God gives to His own, to those who are in Christ, in our salvation, and that's saving grace. And that's why when you hear the church talk about saving grace and common grace, it's an affirmation of the fact that it is all by God's unmerited favor. Common grace, commonly to everyone, everywhere. Saving grace, to those who are amongst the elect, who belong to Christ, have come to him by faith, are united to him eternally. The saved and the unsaved, the redeemed and the unredeemed, the regenerate and the unregenerate enjoy some of the same pleasures, some of the same goods, enjoy a meal in the same way. Except for Christians, of course, there's more. There is thankfulness, for we know the meaning of these things. We know the source of these good gifts. That comes ultimately by saving grace.

And Jeffrey, I understand your concern here about linguistic precision, but when you say that you would replace "common grace" with God's kindness to all men, that kindness in creation is still unmerited favor, which takes us back to the very challenge you raise. That's why in the faithful Christian tradition, there's the understanding of common grace and saving grace, common grace and special grace, and we need to keep those things in mind. It is a language. Without which, we really can't think well or rightly about these things.

Part

How Do You Read So Much News Without Getting Discouraged? — Dr. Mohler Opens The Mailbox and Responds to Letters from Listeners

Those are two really huge questions, but finally, I wanted to get to a question that came from Grant basically about whether or not we can be confronted with too much news. He cites John Sommerville's book, How the News Makes Us Dumb. And he asked a very pointed question, "I wonder if you wrestle with being yet another voice putting out content in a content-saturated world. Do you ever wonder why I am doing this?" He goes on to say, "So many current events are so frustrating to hear about much less dissect for a listening audience. What is the real value of being informed anyway?" Now, he's very clear and I appreciate this. He says, "Thank you for your ongoing work. I do look forward to hearing from you each morning." Well, thank you, Grant. I really appreciate that last sentence.

I'll tell you guess I sometimes wonder about this, but I don't wonder about whether it's important to whether it needs to be done. A part of what I try to do on The Briefing is not just to add another voice, but to try to use my voice to cut through to the most important issues and just to encourage Christians to think christianly. And by the way, if people listen to The Briefing and are not discouraged, we have a problem. People ask me, "How can you talk about all these things? How can you confront all these new stories? How can you look at all of these events and consider all these arguments without being depressed?" It is because Jesus Christ is Lord.

And yes, you cite John Sommerville's book, How the News Makes Us Dumb. Much of the news media basically exists to make us dumb and to make us angry and to make us excited and to make us depressed. I don't want to do any of those things. I hope on The Briefing, we together make each other think. And then you say, "Where's the 'we,'" and I say, "Well, the 'we' is right here. In this segment of The Briefing, the 'we' is right here in the Mailbox." That makes me very grateful, not only for listeners, but for listeners who write.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing as we go into the weekend.

Today is October the 1st, 2021. I wanted to tell you about a very exciting new venture. I am serving as the editor of WORLD Opinions. It's a new dimension of WORLD Magazine and all the WORLD Universe of products and services. And it is explicitly about a place where informed Christian thinking will be translated into commentary and analysis of the most pressing issues of the day. Into the Battle of Ideas is the article with which I began this project. I'm joined by an incredible team of writers. Andrew Walker is the managing editor. I'm serving as the editor of WORLD Opinions. You can find it by going to wng.org/opinions. That's wng.org/opinions.

Thanks for listening again.

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 on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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