The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, October 8, 2021

It’s Friday, October 8, 2021.

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

Part I

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Heartbeat Act, Setting It On Sure Path To The Supreme Court

It was expected but it is still incredibly noteworthy that on Wednesday, a federal district court judge in Texas blocked the enforcement of the Texas ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. This is a big story. It’s been an unfolding story. And in one sense, it’s an extremely predictable story. What took place in that federal district court on Wednesday in Texas is exactly what we had expected to take place. We expected, at some point, pro-abortion forces to find a friendly U.S. district court judge who would deliver an injunction against the Texas legislation. But this then fast tracks, it ricochets the case into the appellate courts, and that’s where it needs to be.

It needs to get there, inevitably, it would arrive there. It needs to get there because the final decisions on these issues are not going to be made by U.S. federal district court judges, they are finally not going to be made by judges on the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. They’re going to be made by the Supreme Court of the United States, the big decisions. And right now, the big decision is probably not hanging on this Texas case, but rather on a case from Mississippi. And that’s going to be coming up before the court for oral arguments on December the 1st. The Texas case will get there and it’s going to be really interesting to see what the district court does as the Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals sitting in New Orleans, Louisiana, that’s where the Texas case is now headed, it’s going to be very interesting to see how fast that court acts, and then upon that decision, how fast the case gets to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Remember it’s already been there once. It was there in a preliminary fashion when pro-abortion forces tried to block the bill from ever going into force. The Supreme Court allowed the legislation to go into force. And so, we have at least a very good indication of the thinking of the court as this case will arrive there. But just thinking about this, let’s just understand that we are looking at one of the central dramas of American moral life now being played out in the courts, in the federal courts. Sadly, that is where so many of these issues now arrive. Question number one, why are so many of these issues being decided by federal courts? The answer to that is because there is no adequate political consensus nor is there adequate political courage in the United States Congress to legislate these matters.

And so, you’re not looking at a pattern of just a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years. You’re looking at several decades now, particularly going back to the late 1950s and then moving forward until the present day, so many of these issues are now being decided by courts. The second question is, is that legitimate or not? Well, in our constitutional system, this was not foreseen. It was not foreseen that the federal judiciary would be handling these kinds of cases, would be deciding these huge moral issues. That is not what the founders designed this court to do. Is it legitimate in that it carries the force of law? The answer to that would be yes. A third question is, what exactly is the difference between these district courts, the circuits, and the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court? How does a case actually get from one jurisdiction to another?

Well, that’s an interesting tale and it’s one that is, I’m going to guess, more interesting than even you think. Because as you think about the lower level of the federal district courts, you have the entire population of the United States, defined by geography by the way, as you’re looking at a map of the United States, you have districts and in every one of those federal districts, there is a district court, a federal district court. And so, one is probably not very far from you, within something like 100 miles of you in most parts of the United States and perhaps even much closer. The federal district courts have an army of judges, every one of them a United States federal judge. But so many of those decisions that are handled by the district courts are merely procedural matters or they are matters that terminate there. But the big questions almost never terminate there and that is because there is a system of appeal. If you don’t like the decision that you got at the district court, if you don’t like the ruling of the court, you can appeal it.

Well, if you lose your case, if you are not satisfied with the decision of a United States district court, where do you go? The answer is to one of the circuits, one of the United States courts of appeals, and every one of them is assigned to a certain circuit. In the case of Texas, Texas is assigned to the Fifth Circuit. The official name of the court is the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Why the Fifth Circuit? It is because that is the numerical distinction that is given to the circuit that covers Texas and much of the Southern United States there along the Gulf state border. But as you’re thinking about this, you ask, “Why is it called a circuit court? Why would the word circuit fit here?” Well, you go back to the founding of the United States. You go back to the original operation of the United States of America and its judicial system right after the revolution and then after the constitutional adoption, let’s just say 1788, 1789.

Why would it be called a circuit court? It is because the United States population at the time was divided into circuits and justices of the United States Supreme Court would literally, by horseback or in a carriage, go from court to court in a circuit, circuit riding just like the Revolutionary Era Methodist preachers. They weren’t just serving a court, they were serving an entire circuit. And as you’re looking at the geographical distribution, the formation of these circuits, it goes back to just how far a Supreme Court justice might be able to cover territory on horseback or in a carriage. We are still in the circuit system, at least in name. But as you’re thinking about this, you say, “Well, how exactly did that happen?” It goes back to the establishment of the judiciary through the Judiciary Act of 1789. But that set up all kinds of questions that had to be defined. The big bill came at the end of the 19th century, the Judiciary Act of 1891.

Basically, the circuits, in terms of Supreme Court justices, individually assigned to ride, or drive, or somehow be transported in those circuits, that basically came to an end with that Judiciary Act of 1891, sometimes known as the Evarts Bill. But interestingly, the total practice of Supreme Court justices traveling and ruling in the circuits didn’t end until 1912. That’s barely a century ago. That Judiciary Act of 1891 set up the appellate court system in the United States and, of course, the ultimate, final court of appeal is the Supreme Court of the United States. That’s why it’s called the Supreme Court. There is no court higher.

Part II

How Does A Case Get From The District Courts To The Supreme Court? The History Of The Circuit System And Establishment Of U.S. Judiciary

As you’re looking at this case from Texas, it landed in a U.S. district courtroom. And that’s where on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Pitman, who had been appointed to that role by President Barack Obama, granted the relief that was sought. That’s the legal term here, granted the action that was sought by the Biden administration and by the Attorney General of the United States Merrick Garland.

Now, just hold onto something here for a moment. As you think about worldview, you think about the issue of abortion, you think about elections and their consequences, remember that it was Barack Obama who nominated Merrick Garland to a seat on the United States Supreme Court. You know that story, but now you know how the effect of that nomination would’ve been radically different than what happened when that seat was eventually filled by Donald Trump instead. The attorney general celebrated the decision by this district court judge calling it, “A victory for women in Texas and for the rule of law.” And furthermore, the Biden administration continues and this is something else we need to note, continues to go back to reference abortion as a woman’s constitutional right. Now, notice by the way, the Biden administration’s walking on its own storyline here. It says that it has enthusiastically joined the LGBTQ revolution, it tries to prove that at every point.

But you’ll notice just how out of step they are with themselves some days, still referring to women of all things. But the big issue here is the reference to abortion, it’s constant as a constitutional right. Now, just remember, it’s not in the Constitution, it’s never been in the Constitution, the word doesn’t appear in the Constitution, the framers of the Constitution would have been appalled that the word would have been uttered. The Constitution wasn’t altered to put in a right to abortion. No, it was inserted there by a majority of judges, a 7-2 decision by the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. But the left sees the Constitution as an endlessly changing document that will always change in a liberal direction. What is inconceivable to the left is that if there is change, it would actually not be in a liberal direction, but back towards the founding intention which is behind the U.S. Constitution.

But nonetheless, this is a big story, it’s a huge story, and the Fifth Circuit is where this case will land very quickly. Texas authorities have indicated they will make an immediate appeal. Everyone was ready for this. What about the Fifth Circuit? Where is it? It’s not in Texas interestingly enough. And that’s a part of history, that’s because the population moved west. The Fifth Circuit is in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Fifth Circuit has 17 judges. In all likelihood, this case will first be considered by three of them in a three-judge appellate panel. Thus, the decision could be 3-0, it could be 2-1. In any event, that can set up what could be an appeal to the larger circuit, that would mean all 17 judges, most likely it’s just going to be fast-tracked again to the Supreme Court of the United States. And stay tuned, when it gets there, this will be a very big story. As it’s headed there, it’s going to be a big story day by day.

Part III

Building A Generation Who Think Deep Thoughts About the True God: The Significance of ‘In Christ Alone’ After 20 Years

But next, we’re going to shift to a theological consideration, a big theological issue which also amounts to an anniversary, a 20th anniversary, in this case, the 20th anniversary of a song, a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone.” It goes back to a conversation that took place 20 years ago and the conversation was between Stuart Townend, an English songwriter, and Keith Getty, a songwriter and composer. By the time they had this conversation, Townend had been working on the lyrics of a song that he wanted to bring to Christian worship. He asked Keith Getty what Getty thought. Getty began to rearrange the words. Originally, the song began with the words, “My hope is found in Christ alone”. Getty changed the beginning of the line to “In Christ alone.” And that set up one of the most influential songs in modern Christian history.

Bob Smietana reporting on the history of the song for Religion News Service tells us, “The song originally started with the line, ‘My hope is found in Christ alone.’ Getty suggested switching the verse around to start with ‘In Christ alone.’ After some hesitation, Townend did so and the song came to life. Getty had described Townend’s lyrics for the song as absolutely brilliant, capturing the story of Christian faith in a powerful and lovely way.” Keith Getty, who is in ministry along with his wife, Kristyn Getty, has referred to the song In Christ Alone as a rebel song. Now, that song is so deeply rooted in historic Christian biblical orthodoxy. Why would it be a rebellious song? Why a rebel song? Which because it is a rebellion against the superficiality and overly emotional content of so much that it was unpackaged as worship music. Getty spoke this way, “If we’re going to build a generation of people who think deep thoughts about God, who have rich prayer lives, and who are the culture-makers of the next generation, we need to be teaching them songs with theological depth.”

The song has been spectacularly popular. It often comes to the minds of so many Christians, and I am among them. It is a song that so richly testifies of the saving work of God for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. The words are metrical, the words are beautiful, the words are deeply doctrinal and theological. The tune is memorable. Brian Hehn, director of The Center for Congregational Song, which is part of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, points to something else. The song is in the human vocal range. Some songs aren’t, oddly enough, but this song is in the vocal range of most people, which means the congregation can sing it. And congregational singing has been central to Christianity from the Book of Acts all the way until the present day. It will be until Jesus comes. But behind this song is also a controversy and the controversy is not only interesting, it’s incredibly important.

Part IV

PCUSA Sought To Change Lyrics Of 'In Christ Alone' To Replace Biblical Language About the Wrath of God—But What Is at Stake Is Nothing Less Than The Gospel Of Jesus Christ

Go back to the year 2012 and 2013. The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., that’s the liberal Presbyterian Church headquartered, by the way, right here in Louisville, Kentucky, the liberal PCUSA was putting out a new hymnal. The Hymn Committee wanted to include in the hymnal the hymn In Christ Alone because it was so popular among so many Christians. But they wanted to make a change. They evidently expected the change to go through. But the change had to go past Getty and Townend, it had to get through the copyright process. Here’s what’s so important, the Presbyterian Hymn Committee wanted to change the words of In Christ Alone by pointing to the cross of Christ and then singing, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” They wanted to change the words to, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Now, that’s just about the same poetry but that is not the same theology.

The original hymn In Christ Alone, it’s still the hymn In Christ Alone, refers to those words “the wrath of God was satisfied.” Now, interesting, the mainstream conversation about this controversy, it became a controversy because the request to change the words was turned down flat. That hymn is not in that liberal Presbyterian hymnal because Getty and Townend wouldn’t agree to the change in the words. They wouldn’t agree to it because that would be a denial of the doctrine that is so deeply rooted in scripture, central to the gospel, central to Orthodox Christianity that the Presbyterians wanted to avoid. Theologically, there is a universe between the words “the wrath of God was satisfied”, that substitutionary atonement that sets up our understanding of what Christ accomplished on the cross in keeping with key substitutionary texts such as Romans 3:21 and following, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and following.

All of this, just pointing with richness to the fact that Jesus died in our place and He bore for us the righteous wrath of God poured out upon our sin. That is central to the gospel. That explains how it is that we are saved. It explains how we can be justified, how Adam’s sin and our sin is imputed to Christ and how Christ’s righteousness by faith is imputed to us. That is the gospel. Now, interestingly, there’s some who’ll say, “Well, that’s just one theory of the cross.” You know, as you think as Christians, as faithful Christians about the cross, there is more to it than that. Yes, the love of God was magnified on the cross and is magnified every time we testify of the cross. But it isn’t just the love of God magnified, Jesus didn’t die just so that we would see and send the love of God for us, He died in our place for our sins.

The effort of that committee was to avoid that biblical truth because it is wildly out of step with liberal theology and the harmonious tenor of our post-Christian age. By the way, speaking of the atonement, that is how we are made at one with God, how our sin is dealt with in the atonement of Christ, The Christian Century, which is kind of the flagship of liberal Protestantism in the United States, recently ran an article by Rita Nakashima Brock entitled An Epidemic of Moral Injury. The claim in this article is that the biblical understanding of substitutionary atonement is a form of moral injury upon human beings. We are injured morally by such a doctrine that would say that God demands a satisfaction for sin and that that satisfaction required the death of the Lord, Jesus Christ on the cross. This is the very essence of liberal theology updated for our age. We are told that that is now a form of moral injury.

The author writes “The current moment invites us to think theologically in a way that heals trauma and restores humanity to a life-affirming, this-worldly faith that supports earthly flourishing. For me, this way of thinking begins with understanding the compelling power of moral injury trauma.” Toward the end of the article, she summarizes, “Atonement theology constructs salvation as a moral injury cycle that ensnares people rather than freeing them from it. It stirs up fear and dread of eternal punishment, elicits guilt, shame, sorrow, and remorse for sinfulness, requires confession and repentance to receive forgiveness, and offers redemption through a crucified innocent victim whose murder sinners caused, a morally confusing substitution that requires gratitude for violence and relief for escaping punishment. Final redemption remains in suspension until after the ultimate deadline of death.”

Notice, she is rejecting biblical Christianity not because she misunderstands it, but precisely because she understands it and she will have nothing of it. Keep all that in mind the next time you are in Christian worship or even just the next time you think of the hymn In Christ Alone. Sing the words clearly. And given what you know is at stake, sing them all the more loudly.

Part V

Is Investing Gambling? How Should Christians Seek to Legislate In A Post-Christian Age? — Dr. Mohler Responds To Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

But next we’re going to turn to The Mailbox. Interesting question came in from Rohan. The question is this, “Is it okay for a Christian minister to invest in mutual funds and stocks? Is it a sign of the love of money?” I’m going to say the fast answer is yes. You may invest in such things. It is not a sin to be invested in such things. But let me also say that that’s not just true of a Christian ministers, true of Christians, but that raises some very interesting questions.

One of them is what exactly are you doing in investing? And of course, there are moral considerations in the form and structure of an investment or for that matter, the partnerships with which you might be involved or not or the kinds of businesses in which you might invest or not. But this is a straightforward question merely about mutual funds and stocks. But, you know Rohan, there’s another interesting question behind this that I get all the time which is, “Isn’t this gambling?” There’s a fast and very important Christian worldview answer to that. No, it shouldn’t be and that’s because the whole idea of equities, and that includes stocks and mutual funds, those kinds of investments, the whole idea is that you are actually purchasing something of inherent value. A lottery ticket has no inherent value. As you’re thinking about gambling, there’s no inherent value in the gambling act. But in investment, there should be inherent value.

The whole idea of investing is that you’re putting money into a corporation that is worth something, has assets by the way, has a business plan, has a business model, you’re investing in something of value. You own a part of that company now, a share, that’s why it’s called a share in that company, and you’re basically making the investment in the judgment that either this business is going to become less valuable going forward then you want to sell the stock, or more valuable, in which case, you want to hold the stock, or if you don’t own it, you might want to buy that stock. That is the point. Now, of course there is volatility. Markets go up and down and the stocks don’t go up and down evenly. Investments don’t perform evenly. If they performed evenly, then there would be no point to investing in A versus B or C versus H. Now, the reality is that there are a lot of decisions to be made here.

But just think of what Jesus told us in the Parable of the Talents. Now, you don’t build your entire theology on an illustration like this, but Jesus spoke directly of a very wealthy man who invested in his servants the responsibility to invest. And even as Jesus told that parable, it was the one who didn’t invest for the growth of the wealth who was judged. Now, the great principle there is about our understanding of how the kingdom works, an increase for the kingdom. But the point is, if Jesus did not want His followers to be invested in that way, He certainly wouldn’t have told the story that way, honoring the person who did invest, and bringing judgment upon the one who did not. It all comes down to the Christian mandate of stewardship, Rohan, and stewardship is never easy. But the requirement is that a steward be found faithful. No one expected faithfulness to be easy.

The next question comes from Travis and it’s a question about the extent to which Christians should seek to legislate morality in a world that is increasingly secular. Travis asked, “How should Christians wish for laws to be given the assumption that most likely, the country will remain predominantly secular?” Well, in a constitutional system of government, in a system of ordered liberty as we have in the United States, citizens have an inescapable responsibility to affect legislation even if that main effect comes by electing representatives who will actually do the legislation. Furthermore, we can contend for or against legislation in the public square. There’s no position of political neutrality here. So, that’s the first thing to say. The next question is well, if there is no neutrality, we want to do that which is positive for human flourishing which will help to aid human flourishing, demonstrating love of neighbor, we want to avoid legislation that will harm human flourishing.

So, we want to go for the positive, not for the negative. But then, how do you know what’s positive and negative? How do you know what’s right and wrong? Well, that comes down to the fact that as Christians, we have to think Christianly. Our understanding of what is right is going to come by God’s revelation and scripture. Our understanding of what is wrong is going to come by God’s revelation and Scripture. Now, on some pieces of legislation, there isn’t a clear text to scripture. You could to take some tax provisions, for example. You can make the argument that A is better or B is better. In reality, however, the entire system of taxation, the entire economy, is a great theological question that Christians are going to have to answer biblically. Now, when it comes to a lot of legislation like this, by the way, the question comes about the extent to which Christians should seek to legislate morality in an increasingly post-Christian age. The question doesn’t generally come up over tax policy, it comes up over abortion and the sanctity of human life.

It comes up over matters related to human sexuality and gender. It comes up to asking questions on the local level, predominantly about how the public schools are going to be organized. These are very important questions. And there is no way for Christians to get around the charge from an increasingly secular society that we’re trying to legislate our morality. What’s our response to that? Our response to that needs to be straightforwardly honest. You bet we are and to people on the other side, we need to ask, “What is it you think you are doing? You are trying to legislate your morality.” And then they might come back and say, “But yes, yours is a religious morality and religion is excluded from this consideration.” Well, religion’s never excluded from the consideration. We are not trying to legislate the fact that Baptists are right on baptism and Presbyterians are wrong. That’d be an interesting conversation.

We are seeking to legislate the fact that human life begins at conception and deserves our protection from the moment of conception until natural death. There’s no way around legislating morality when it comes to just that one example, the example of abortion. And as we know, this is not just a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of right and wrong because it is, first and foremost, a matter of life and death.

Great questions as always, and I’m very thankful for listeners who listen so thoughtfully and send their questions and points. I’m always glad to hear from you, and we’ll try to devote even more time on these Friday segments to The Mailbox.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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