Friday, February 4, 2022
It's Friday, February 4, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Liberal God of Post-Christian Culture: No Wrath, No Judgment, No Worries
Through the prophet, Malachi, the Lord declared to his people, "I do not change, therefore you are not destroyed."
It was a word of God to his people to say, if I did change, then you would be destroyed because I would be displeased with you to the extent that I would violate my own covenant and have nothing more to do with you. The only reason why you continue as my covenant people is because even as you change in the fleetness of your heart and in the superficiality of your worship, I do not change. Now, theologians refer to this as the immutability of God. Now that goes back to the Greek language. What it means is God can't change. He doesn't change. And he tells us that that's a part of his perfection. It's a part of the infinity of his perfection that he cannot change.
And thus, God doesn't grow. He's never lesser. He's never more. He doesn't mature. He doesn't increase in wisdom. His immutability is a part of his perfection to the extent that even as we see in ourselves change all the time, there is no change in God. And this word is not just to Israel. It is also to the new covenant people, the church. The only reason why we remain and will ever steadfastly remain God's people is not because we hold to him, but because he holds us and he does not change. So let's be really clear. The immutability of God is one of the most precious truths that God has given to us in scripture. It is one of the most foundational issues of our comfort. God doesn't change. His promises are true. His word is eternal. It is unchanging as well as sharper than any two edged sword.
There's another principle Christians need to understand here. And that is that God sovereignly has the right to define himself. The only way we know him is because he made us in his image and he communicated himself to us. He revealed himself to us. And you say, "Why are we talking about that right now?" Well, number one, it's always good for Christians to remember the very ground of our theology, which is the doctrine of God, as God has revealed himself to us, to his everlasting glory and to our spiritual comfort. But I'm talking about it today because of The Economist. The Economist is of course, one of the most influential periodicals in the world and every year it comes out with a special volume entitled, "The Year Ahead."
And so looking at the year ahead in 2022, oddly enough, The Economist decided to get theological or at least slightly theological. The headline of the article in this report looking at the year ahead was, "Nearer My God To Me." The subhead is this, "Why God is Becoming More Liberal." Now wait just a minute. That sounds very interesting. How would God become more liberal? Now, don't worry. God is not becoming liberal. He's also not becoming conservative. He is God. He is perfect. And he is unchanging. He's not becoming anything. The idea of God becoming is actually one of the heresies of the 20th century in what is rightly known as process theology. It was using basically the model of change in the world and saying that must be true of God. But of course, Christians understand the biblical distinction at the very beginning of the Bible, the distinction between the Creator and the creation. The creation changes, the Creator does not.
But theology often does change. And the way people talk about God sometimes does change. Unfortunately at times, orthodox doctrine is cast overboard for some newfangled doctrine, some theological innovation. What does it mean when we are told that God is becoming more liberal? The article comes by the authorship of Catherine Nixey, who is identified as the Britain correspondent for The Economist. And she gets right to the issue when she says, "Smiting used to be so simple. God smote, and the people trembled, and they sometimes died. He smoked the rebellious Israelites, tens of thousands died. The firstborn Egyptians, they all died. And the Philistines, they got hemorrhoids. The Sodomites suffered a particularly striking smiting. In Genesis, the men of Sodom are wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. So God rained brimstone and fire upon Sodom." Here's the point that Catherine Nixey is making, in so many people's minds there is no such God who would smite anyone.
The God of justice, the God who had punished sinners has simply disappeared in view of a new God who is quite a bit more tolerant, a lot more inclusive, a lot less judgmental. Speaking specifically, by the way, she talks about moral change. And here again, we talk about how moral revolutions happen. She talks about the fact that in the Christian dominated centuries, sodomy entered the popular language and it entered English law books. And she writes homosexual acts remained a crime in England until 1967. But then she gets right to the point when she says that few in Britain today, "celebrate a smighty Almighty." Now that's a clever way to put it. In other words, fewer people in Britain actually believe in the God of the Bible and especially the fact that God judges sinners and will punish sin. And that means punishing sinners.
She cites the Archbishop of Canterbury as putting it recently that God is love. Now, by the way, he didn't come up with that. It would take a certain kind of journalistic ignorance to believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury saying, "God is love," has come up with a new doctrine. That is actually what's revealed in Scripture. That Scripture also reveals God's love to be completely consistent with his justice and his righteousness. And his love can never actually even be understood apart from the threat of his wrath. The moral change is very clear in the background here. The change on the issues of the LGBTQ revolution in particular, and in this case, the correspondent for The Economist tells us that just last year Methodist there in Britain voted, "after prayerful consideration," to allow same-sex marriage. She then tells us that in September, the Church of Wales voted to allow blessings for same sex relationships. And then she tells us that this year, 2022, is the year in which the Church of England will consider similar questions.
Now, no one watching the Church of England is expecting a resolutely, unhesitatingly orthodox response to this question. Nixey cites a recent statement coming from some Anglicans and it states that, "Together we stand against homophobia." She says that in contrast to the book of Leviticus—I'll just state it the way she does here—but then she gets to the point, "The evidence is clear. God is becoming more liberal." Now, in one sense, this is the big story of liberal theology. It's not, God is becoming more liberal, but much theology has become more liberal. Liberal theology, even going back to say that late 18th or early 19th centuries, trying to present God as a God without wrath.
Just as an historical theologian, I have to tell you that in the United States, the first major doctrine to reveal this kind of doctrinal accommodation and compromise was the doctrine of hell. The doctrine of everlasting punishment. Even going back before the colonial era, there were those who were trying to repudiate hell as a concept and on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century, you had liberal theologians saying that the church must outgrow a belief in hell, in everlasting torment. It was simply the presentation of a God in whom there was no rightful belief. This was a God beneath our theological standards. But then again, of course, this is completely unhinged from the understanding of the inerrancy and infallibility of the word of God. It all goes as a package.
By the way, speaking of this all going as a package, if you no longer believe in hell, you no longer believe in everlasting conscious torment, and by the way, that all needs to be put into the picture. If you no longer believe in those biblical truths, then you are free to reformulate the person and the work of Christ. Then Christ has not come to die on the cross as our substitutionary savior, and then was raised from the dead. In order that through faith in him, we might escape the pains of hell. Instead, you can reformulate the person of work of Christ and to which he is God's son, in some sense, who has come to earth, in some sense, to convince us, in some sense, that God loves us. That is the basic thrust of liberal theology.
Now Nixey recognizes the problem with her thesis. She says, "In theory, this should not be possible." That means God becoming more liberal. She writes that, "God, as well as being love is supposed to be eternal the same yesterday, today, forever." And then she goes on to say, "And yet, as critics have noted for centuries, he manifestly is not." She's saying here that over time, theology matches the spirit of the age. That's basically what she's saying. It's political, it's moral, it's cultural. Eventually the theology matches the culture. More liberal society demands a more liberal theology. It will worship only a more liberal God. By the way, you can reach the point of course, in a liberal society in which you worship no God at all. But the point is this, she has it backwards. She understands how theology works, but what we need to understand, first of all, is who God is and God does not change. His word does not change. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of God endures forever. And God does not change.
But the interesting thing about Nixey's article is that she's trying to explain why you have so many of these churches, that had once been clearly committed to biblical truth. They had once made very clear that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman. But you have churches that are simply caving to the LGBTQ revolution. They're accommodating to the culture. And she says that there is more of this probably to come. She says, "It is possible that a deity who once stated 'You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination,' may in 2022, be used to justify same sex blessings in the Church of England. And traditionalists," she warns, "should brace themselves for even more change." Well, of course that's the case. If you believe in a God who doesn't change, the God revealed in Scripture. And if you believe in God's right to reveal himself on his own terms. If you believe the scriptural presentation of God and that he doesn't change, then you understand why liberal theology, believing that God does change, has nowhere to go but more and more change.
Now I'm bringing this consideration to a close, at least for now. I simply want to say that this is a very telling article appearing in The Economist of all places. By the way, The Economist is usually very well sourced in terms of research. So I thought I want to find out from The Economist, what research was behind this. It basically is the research from a correspondent. There's no great body of statistical or evaluative research behind this, even about what's going on in the churches in Britain. But it is an impression, a reported impression, and in this case, the reporter has got some real facts onto which she can affix this story. Now, I don't think she's wrong about the future of liberal churches and liberal theology. I think she's absolutely right. It's going to be perpetual change. And that's exactly the agenda that they have embraced.
But the important thing for us to recognize is that where she at least makes reference, this is where we have to absolutely immovably begin. And that is with the existence and self-revelation of the one, true God.
What is the Difference Between ‘Natural Rights’ and ‘Human Rights?’ — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But next, my intention, I want to give a little more time to questions from the Mailbox. And I appreciate all the thoughtful questions sent by listeners. And remember, you can send them through the website. You can email us at mailatalbertmohler.com. But I appreciate the question that has come in from Tyler asking about natural rights versus human rights. He says that, "Both sides in the culture war appeal to rights when making their arguments." He goes on to say, "Many people really can't explain where these rights come from. Do women have the right to abort their babies? Do homosexuals have the right to marry?" He says, "As Christians, we do not affirm these practices as rights, but as sin. So what's the difference between natural rights and human rights? How do we explain these differences to our neighbors?"
Now Tyler, one of the most interesting and informative turns in the modern age was the suggestion that human beings could construct rights or affirm rights that had no basis in creation and thus no rootage in the Creator. They're not granted by, well, even as you see the declaration, nature and nature's God, that's a reference to natural rights. Instead, there was a great shift in liberal societies to what are known as positive rights. Positive rights, or the positive law, means man-made, human-constructed law, human-constructed rights. And the argument of the positivist was that there is no God, or God cannot be legally and constitutionally significant, and God does not get to determine these rights. And we're not going to limit these rights to what God, for instance, specifically the God of the Bible, would grant. But rather we are going to understand human rights as a part of our cultural negotiation.
And so even as you look to say, 1948, 1949, the United Nations declaration on human rights, the suggestion is that these rights simply exist because nations, enlightened nations, progressive nations, the United Nations recognize them. But of course, if these are humanly constructed or even just say by some kind of developmental thinking, humanly discovered rights, then human beings can discover new rights. One of the most important intellectuals of our time is Mary Ann Glendon who teaches at Harvard. And she very prophetically pointed years ago to the rise of what she called, rights talk. It becomes the political mechanism to claim, "I must have my way because I have this right."
Now, sometimes it's legitimate. Sometimes it's illegitimate. A right, say of freedom of religion or freedom of religious expression. Well, we would say that's a genuine right. A right to marry someone of the same sex. We would say, that's no right at all. So on what basis do we make that distinction? We make that distinction because Christians cannot believe only in positive rights. As a matter of fact, we have to push back on biblical truth, according to the Christian worldview, against a regime of positive rights, because that puts the rights in the hands of the regime. Instead, we have to understand exactly what is acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence. And that is natural rights. Now the very phrase, natural rights, is an expression of the hope that was at least used by many, even in the medieval world, like Thomas Aquinas, Catholic theologian, to say, "You can see these rights, these moral principles, these enduring moral truths revealed in nature."
Now, are they there or not? Well, this is where Catholics and Protestants have had a substantial disagreement. We both believe that all of God's attributes, all of his moral law, all of these actual natural rights are revealed in nature. But Protestants would turn to the entirety of Paul's message in Romans 1, telling us that yes, God has revealed himself, even his invisible attributes, which should be clearly seen in nature. We believe that human sinfulness means that human beings will corrupt the knowledge of God--that's exactly what you have in Romans 1--will exchange the knowledge of God for an idolatry. Will accept the truth for a lie. All that is just revealed there in Romans 1. That goes back, by the way, to the fact you have a Catholic-Protestant argument on effect of the fall. Catholics emphasized the effect of the fall on the will, but not so much the intellect. Protestants say that the corrosive corruptive effects of the fall were so catastrophic as to effect the intellect, as well as the heart. That by the way, is the total depravity found in the Reformation formula.
Tyler, I want to thank you for your question, you're asking a really important question. And especially when you say, "How can we explain these differences to our neighbors?" Well, I'm going to put it this way. If the government has the power, if the culture has the power to discover new rights or to create new rights, that it has the same power to take them away. Now, that's what we see right now in the collision between the LGBTQ revolution and religious liberty. You're having a very open argument right now, in which many people on the left, for that matter, just look at the Equality Act, which is so pushed by the democratic party, now passed twice by a democratic majority in the house of representatives. It would basically nullify religious liberty. Now we believe that religious liberty, as our founders believed, is a natural right. That is to say, it's given by a supernatural creator in the very act of creating the world. Thus, it's not natural in its origins. It's natural in its visibility. It's supernatural in its origins.
But what we see right now in the year 2022 in the United States is that there are many, many people, especially among those very powerful in government, particularly in one party, you're looking at the predominant view of academia and those in the cultural creative community who are saying, "You know religious liberty is just too expensive given what we see as a more important right." That's the right for a man to marry a man, a woman to marry a woman, or for that matter, a boy to declare himself to be a girl, vice versa. Now, the point is this, these newly constructed rights are not just as maybe advertised additions to natural rights. They're substitutes for them. Eventually a society is going to worship, one system of rights is going to order its laws according to one set of rights or the other. But the other thing we have to see is that if the government can give rights, if it can invent rights, it can uninvent them. It can take them away.
We talked yesterday about the totalitarian temptation. If government can give these rights, it can say, "Okay, you may have that right under these conditions." You may be given these rights and someone else may not. It is a very troubling development. Tyler, you asked such a deep question. It's bigger than we can comprehensively answer, but I'll simply say that without natural rights with a supernatural author, so-called human rights will not long exist. When you simply ask the question, "Why should a human being be recognized as a having human rights?"
If the answer is some form of human government, eventually we're doomed.
What is the Difference Between Socialism, Marxism, Communism, and Totalitarianism? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
I appreciated the question from Deidra. It's about words, and words are important. She says, "You discuss communism to totalitarianism, socialism and Marxism." She says, "I'm trying to understand what these are and the differences." Well, I'm going to answer, but I'm going to take them in a slightly different order. I'm going to begin with socialism.
Socialism, as we know it today, goes back at least about two or 300 years. It goes back for instance, to utopian communities on both sides of the Atlantic. The idea is that private property should be destroyed in order that human happiness could be increased. All things should be considered private property and that includes not only the products, but the means of production. And there should be a destruction of any presumed right to private property.
Now, in one sense, that might appear to be a pretty attractive option. If everyone would then have equal stuff and everyone would have needs met, and everyone would be happy. Well, what a wonderful world it would be. The problem is that the scripture makes very clear that being made in God's image means that we are property creating and we are property owning beings. Now we can abuse that. But the reality is that if you tell people they cannot own the product of their labor, you're actually violating very deeply embedded principles in God's revelation and in nature. You're also dissolving the incentive for people to work. And that's one of the reasons why socialism has to come with some form of coercion. And that's why socialist regimes in the 20th century have been overwhelmingly Marxist and have inclined towards communism.
You ask about Marxism. Marxism is tracked back to Karl Marx in 19th century, who in particular had argued for a communist form of government, a communist form of society. It was a form of totalitarianism. He understood in Hegelian terms, that is in philosophical terms, that history was merely materialism. That is to say atoms and molecules stuff are all that exist. Human beings are just stuff. There is no God, there is no transcendent. Meaning there is no eschatological promise. We're going to have to achieve a complete theological revolution. And so he replaced the doctrine of sin with the idea of political repression, of the proletary, of the workers. Rather than salvation, he called for a revolution. Rather than the church, he established the communist party. Rather than the kingdom of Christ that will come, he promised a new communist utopia. All this was to be brought about on basically socialist terms. But unlike the socialism of so many socialists, this was declared right up front to come under the necessary control of the communist party.
So I mentioned Marxism, and that leads to communism. And that was a word that Marx used, particularly a communist revolution, a communist party, especially in the famous works or infamous works he co-authored with Friedrich Engels. But you ask about communism. Communism is the most logical extension of Marxism into life and into politics. And of course you had the communist revolutions. Marx, by the way, thought they would come in the most highly industrialized countries where the workers would revolt. They didn't, by the way, we'll have to track the reasons for that another time. But the fact is instead communism has generally erupted in the least industrial developed countries. A sense of economic desperation. So it appeared in Russia and then it appeared, of course, also in China, communism does come with an eschatology promising that the communist party and its revolutionary aims would one day disappear because of the emergence of a utopian perfect communist society.
But by the time that the 20th century was at about its halfway point, even the communist were admitting that the communist utopia seemed never to arrive. Indeed rather than to deliver on human promises, it delivered human misery, it delivered repression, it delivered poverty, it delivered famine and starvation.
The last word you mentioned there is totalitarianism and Deidra, I spent a lot of time talking about that on The Briefing yesterday. It's the idea that the state has to have, the government must have control over the totality of the entire society. And so I'll refer you back to The Briefing yesterday.
Good questions. We use these words. I tried to define them as we're talking about them, but from time to time, we have to step back and say, lets remind ourselves, what do these words mean?
Should We Make A Big Deal About Changes in Language, Especially About Theological Terms? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But finally, I go to a question from Nathan, who's a missionary in Romania. He says he originally had a conversation with a well-known author in theologian who says that language changes all the time and we should not make a big deal about the change in language over time. We shouldn't make too much of a change in language.
Well I'm going to press back hard against that, Nathan, because in theology language is the basic tool. Words are the basic tools. You get the tools wrong, everything else is going to be wrong. And when it comes to the most important theological terms we use, the most important of those terms have been revealed by God himself. And so just thinking about how God describes himself, just think of the modern demands that are coming from some, say, radical feminist saying, "You must not refer to God any longer as He, you should not use the term Father." Well, the first impediment to that, the first corrective to that is that God revealed himself as Father. He named himself Father. We have no right to change his name.
But Nathan, we do have to acknowledge that some language does change over time. Just consider the word gay. A short three letter word in English and it doesn't mean now what it would've almost universally meant, say, in the early 20th century or the 19th century. It's even in some Christian hymns about being gay. Trust me, that does not mean what it would mean as communicated in 21st century America. But even as I thought about the word gay, Nathan, you include that in your message. You're right. That's an indication of how words change. But here's where or Christians have press back and say, there is a severe limitation on how much change in language we can accept. So one of the reasons why I say the first issue is going to scripture. There are terms in scripture that are revealed that we can't do without. For instance, we were talking about liberal theology earlier, the word wrath, the word wrath is not an expendable word. It's a word that is revealed in Scripture over and over and over again.
Nathan, perhaps a principle we should keep in mind is that of course language is going to change, but we need to track to make certain that we never abandon biblically grounded language. We never violate a principle of language revealed in scripture. And we seek always to use the very best language regardless of what the culture tells us as to whether they like it or not. We use the very best, most precise language to describe not only God, but the things of God. We are entirely dependent upon revelation and revelation ties us to language.
So many good questions. We're going to spend even more time in weeks ahead on these Friday segments dealing with questions from the Mailbox because your questions are so good, so relevant, and so deserving of our consideration.
So we'll turn to that next Friday.
In the meantime, 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 informational on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.