The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, March 14, 2022

It’s Monday, March 14th, 2022.

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

Part I

The Moral Revelations of War: Truth, Facts, and Reality Become Increasingly Evident — And Hard to Deny

This certainly isn’t what Vladimir Putin expected, not when he amassed something like 200,000 Russian troops on Ukraine border, not when he sent his army into Ukraine in order to crush it quickly and change the regime. This is certainly not what Vladimir Putin expected, but this is what he’s got. And we are now looking at the third week of the first big land war between two European nations since World War II. And this is one of those occurrences on the world stage that simply demands our attention because even as you try to step back and get a bit of perspective, that perspective only underlines how incredibly important this story is. We’re going to be looking in coming days at the fact that Vladimir Putin has been unexpectedly against his intentions, spectacularly successful in one thing.

And that is in pulling the west together. In pulling opposition into a consensus and consolidation. But beyond that, we’ve got to look at the reverberations of this Russian invasion throughout the world. Not only on the border of Russia and Ukraine, not only in Ukraine, not only in Europe, not only as you think of the United States and Russia on the global stage, but the entire world. Japan is taking notice and indicating that its government may well change its defense posture. You see this in places so far beyond Ukraine. What you come to understand is that this war is now a wake-up call and all around the world nations are realizing, the holiday from history of the last several decades is over and it is over spectacularly. It is over with disappointment. It is over with horrible effects there on the ground. But Vladimir Putin who thought he could merely invade Ukraine and then take it over, has discovered as Russia has discovered over and over and over again, that invading and being invaded rarely turns out as the invader intends.

Now over the course of the next several days on The Briefing, we’re going to be looking at dimensions of how war clarifies. War is one of those very rare human experiences that seems to clarify issues far beyond the scene of war. And we’re going to be seeing how this particular event in world history has crystallized reality and led people to see what they had otherwise been denying, or at least not seeing for a matter of decades and more. We’re going to be looking at how this war has punctured certain expectations and how it has revealed the inadequacy of so many ways of trying to look at the world, which after all we understand is Christian responsibility. We talk about a Christian worldview, understanding that everyone operates from his or her own worldview. That worldview matters. But over time, you just have to discover whether or not that worldview actually comports with the real world.

The worldview of inevitable progress, world peace and global harmony has come crashing to an end. On the killing fields of Ukraine, we’re going to be looking at that. We’re going to be looking at several other dimensions, but one of the things we need to look at are some misunderstandings. One of the mistakes in terms of how we think, and this is just a human mistake. By the way, as you think of intellectual mistakes in Christian worldview terms, we have to go back to the fact that it’s the fall that we trace as the origin of all of these intellectual mistakes. It is simply the effect of sin. Otherwise, we would see clearly, we would think clearly, we would analyze rightly. In so far as we make intellectual mistakes, they are basically rooted in the more foundational issue of sin.

But here’s where we as Christians also have to admit we are entirely dependent upon Scripture. We are also very dependent upon Christian thinking as undertaken by Christians throughout the ages, particularly in the context of the Christian church. Jesus did not send his disciples out in the world as free agents, nor are we to be free minds. We are to seek the mind of Christ, informed by Scripture within the context of Christ’s bride, the church.

Part II

It’s Like the Soviet Union Ended and the Mafia Took Control: The Moral Dimensions of the Russian 'Oligarchs’

As we will see, one of the issues, one of the realities that is immediately crystallized by war is that good and evil are not abstractions. They’re real. We have to make moral judgements that are not just a matter of mood or emotion or preference or aesthetics, they’re matters of fact.

And we also have to understand that in the clash of worldviews that is quite visible in the context of war, even vocabulary is something we have to think about a bit. Now, just take the word oligarch because we have discussed on The Briefing, the fact that one of the strategies of the Western nations to try to dissuade Vladimir Putin from continuing this war is to put pressure on him from within Russia, by Western nations putting excruciating pressure upon his political and economic allies, the Russian oligarchs.

Now, as we discuss this, many people, including a number of conservative Christians that simply raise the issue, aren’t these people just businessmen? Aren’t they simply business people? Why would it be fair to target them? Why would it be fair to try to make them choose between Vladimir Putin and their $600,000 yachts? But in order to understand the oligarchs, I’m just going to ask you to enter into a thought experiment with me. A thought experiment in which you are not trying to compare the Russian oligarchs with say, John D. Rockefeller or looking at Andrew Carnegie or say Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. I would invite you in understanding the nature of the Russian oligarchs to think about Vito Corleone, The Godfather in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic 1972 picture, The Godfather. Which by the way, will be observing its 50th anniversary this year. Which is to say the Russian oligarchs are basically analogous to organize crime and to what is called a Cosa Nostra or the mafia in terms of something that might be more immediately understandable to Americans.

This is where the language can sometimes lead us astray because the word oligarch often is interpreted in English merely to mean the rule of a few. And one might think maybe those few are deserving. But here’s where we need to recognize that throughout much of human history, the oligarchy has been made up. Not so much of aristocrats, but thieves. This became particularly true with the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the early 1990s. Just remember, the ideology of the Soviet Union was communism. And according to communism, the state, which is the government owns just about everything, including national assets and the control of the mechanisms, the engines of production, which is to say the factories were state owned. The land for the most part was state owned, apartments, furniture, radio sets, all state owned.

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, when everything broke up, it wasn’t just redistributed back to something of a previous era like an aristocracy instead. It was simply grabbed by crime bosses. That is exactly what took place, there is no other moral way to describe it. It was as if the communist era ended and the mafia moved in and took control. But in this case, it was a Russian mafia. Now, Christians understand that every single economic system is going to be distorted by sin. But this also reminds us, that our effort should be to construct and to arrange an economic system that minimizes sin rather than concentrating sin. Now throughout the history, say of capitalism and Western enterprise, this has been an ongoing discussion, which is why right now you see headline stories on the business pages of major newspapers asking for instance, if Amazon should be broken up? As in the trust busting that took place in the early part of the 20th century, when monopolies or near monopolies, like the standard oil corporation were broken up into subsidiary corporations.

But the process in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union was exactly the opposite. It was putting all of these assets, if not under the ownership of a very limited number of crooked and corrupt cronies, at least putting the control of those assets and those lands and those natural resources and those networks, all under the control of those who after all would owe their allegiance to the strong man who would be power, regardless of who that might be. And by no accident that strong man became Vladimir Putin. And equally by no accident, Vladimir Putin actually owes his continued seat in power to those oligarchs. And in a perverse reciprocity, they basically owe their fortunes to Vladimir Putin. It is a vice that holds them together in a mutual commitment to corruption. Remember, Vladimir Putin is basically one of them. He was a KGB agent.

Since then, he has served only as a government official and as the president or prime minister of Russia. And somehow, nonetheless, it is believed that he has a personal fortune of $100 billion. That’s $100 billion. You don’t get that fortune with a salary of $144,000 per year, which is what is officially reported as Vladimir Putin’s presidential salary. As we conclude this, again, think organized crime, not big business. And also look at the fact that so many in the media have been reporting on the frantic nature of so many of these oligarchs to try to hold onto their possessions often held by false companies under false names. But nonetheless, one of the interesting things is that their possessions stand out simply because of their scale. We’re talking about yachts and homes and mansions and cars and assets that are worth untold billions of dollars. And no one seems to know who owns them, but there are often Russians who seem to take them out on a cruise.

All of that of course is just a very convenient coincidence. Oh, and remember the advice that was given by one gangster to another, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. And don’t forget that other one, leave the gun, take the cannoli.

Part III

Is There Anything For Which We Would Die? Christian Realism and the Defense of Things Worth Dying For

But next, we shift to a deeper moral issue and that is, would you be willing to die for anything or for anyone? When you think about war and you think about the deep moral realities of war, when you’re talking about matters of life and death, that turns out not to be so much a hypothetical question as on the ground right now, a very real question. And one of the big stunning realizations on the world scene is that there are many Ukrainians who have been unwilling to surrender and have actually at risk of their lives and for some of them at cost of their lives, they have sought to defend their nation.

Why would they do that? Well before we take one particular look at just a single dimension of this question, let’s just step back for a moment and recognize that this is a question that points to what it means as human beings to live in a collective, to have a collective identity. We are not merely lone persons. We are not singular individuals left in the world with no one else of our concern, no one else to receive our care. And as you think about the most important of those relationships, we go back. The Bible takes us right back in the doctrine of creation to marriage and the family. But after that, there is community. And even after that, there is nation. Just consider God’s covenant with the nation of Israel and understand Israel’s responsibility as called to defend itself, as called to honor God, not only as individuals who happen to be in one place at one time, but as a nation, that is a distinct people.

Now the claim of Russia is that a basic Slovak identity, common to Russia and Ukraine means that Ukraine should not be a separate nation. It should be one nation and understand that so many of the wars throughout human history have been fought over that kind of question. But Ukraine does have a different culture. There is even a different language, Ukrainian. There is a common identity in terms of a larger understanding in the same way that the United States and Europe share a common culture and a common tradition, but it is very clear that the United States of America is a separate country. So many of the wars fought in the 20th century, been fought particularly over these issues, as were the wars of the 19th century. But this raises the question, if that is an identity, would you die for it? There is no question that throughout our own national history, this has been a huge issue beginning the war of independence.

But beyond that, also understanding the responsibility even before the War of Independence, when you had people living in North America who were called nonetheless to defend crown and country. By the time you get to the American experiment, no crown, but still very much a country. And the question is, what do we understand to be a Christian responsibility, a national responsibility, a patriotic responsibility, for that matter, a neighborhood responsibility or a responsibility to defend our own family? Should that mean that we have to fight to defend them? Christians understand that the answer to the question is there anything for which we might be called to die, to risk our lives. The answer has to be yes, because the Bible makes clear that we are called to a responsibility, a protection and care that in a fallen world might require risking lives. Including our own, just in terms of the context of war.

Now, remember the 20th century, there were some in the name of Christianity who said, we should never fight under any circumstance. This is the tradition of pacifism. And of course it preceded the 20th century, but it came to fore in the two world wars. It came to the light with many people who said, I simply don’t believe the United States should have anything to do with those wars. But of course, especially in the case of World War II, America was attacked and eventually war was declared on the United States, by Japan. And then just a matter of hours and days later by Nazi Germany. We were in the war, whether we intended to be, or not. Now, as we look throughout American history, are we glad that our armed forces defended American liberty and American lives in World War I and World War II? I think the answer has to be yes, but remember it was the understanding of Christian realism.

That was a biblical realism that understood the very real threats to human life and human dignity is represented. For example, by Nazi Germany, that would require defense, even if that meant taking up arms. Even if that meant putting on a uniform, marching in battle, coming under the orders of a commanding officer and fulfilling the responsibility of the Christian soldier. There are obviously a lot of complex questions related to this. And the Christian Church has had to think through those over the course of the centuries, but Matthew Hennessey writing just over the weekend for the Wall Street Journal, reports something that should at least have our attention. It turns out that in the United States right now, that worldview divide over this question is also a partisan divide. Hennessey writes, “A liberal is someone too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel. That old joke,” he writes, “rushed to mind as I read the results this week of a Quinnipiac University survey indicating that, well, it isn’t really a joke. There are more sunshine patriots in our midst than anyone realized.”

Now, sunshine patriot refers to a poetic way of describing some who is unwilling to fight for country. Only a patriot in the sunshine, not with approaching clouds. The pollster for the Quinnipiac University poll ask, “What would you do if you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, stay in fight or leave the country?” Hennessey then writes, “Shockingly, more than half of Democrats, 52% said they would cut and run if the US Homeland were invaded.” He goes on to say, “We aren’t talking about women and children, or even some cadre of pacifist and conscientious objectors. This is most Democrats saying they’d rather leave America than defend it.”

He also adds, “Only a pathetic 40% said they would stick around.” Republicans did better. As Hennessey writes, more than two thirds, 68% said they would stand their ground. He says, “This could be reflection of the partisan skew in the nation’s distribution of small arms. But one in four Republicans said, they’d flee. Not exactly that don’t tread on me spirit, I was expecting.” So in other words, Matthew Hennessey is saying, he’s disappointed that so many Americans indicated, they would simply surrender. They would cut and run. They would abandon their nation rather than fight, but he goes on to say, it is not evenly distributed between the two parties. An actual majority of Democrats said that they would surrender, that they wouldn’t fight. Whereas, the vast majority of Republicans at least said that they would fight. This is where it gets really interesting because as Hennessey points out, this question is asked when there is a very low threat level here in the United States.

It’s not as if this is immediately for Americans, Democrat or Republican, a matter of life and death. As Hennessey points out, the respondents Republican and Democrat could simply have lied. The Democrats might have lied and said, oh, we’d fight for our country even if they knew inside that they wouldn’t. But under circumstances of a free response, they just offered. No, we wouldn’t fight, we would surrender. Hennessey points out by the way, that a willingness to fight and defend liberty, freedom and the United States by Americans was strong even through the most controversial war in American history, the Vietnam War. As he writes, “Less than 2% of those who were eligible for the draft opted to evade it, either by going underground or immigrating.” He goes on to say, “Some of them certainly have posed the war, but they didn’t abandon their responsibility. But now we’re being told in advance by a lot of Americans that there is no fight in them whatsoever.”

Now, as the Christian looking at this, my concern is greater than patriotism. It doesn’t exclude. But it comes down to asking this, if one would not fight for one’s country, for whom would one fight, if anyone at all? What about our own neighborhood? What about our own city? What about our own extended family? What about our own household? Is this a sign of a general sense of surrender in the defense of anything, anytime, anywhere for any reason? If so, we are in big, big trouble. In any event, this poll says we are already in big, big trouble. We just better not find out by some kind of invasion of the United States. Hennessey puts the point in a very clear way when he says, “Imagine Vladimir Putin has sent his shock troops to level your hometown, to occupy your high school and drop a missile on the hospital where you were born. If you won’t fight for heart and home, what would you fight for?”

As I said in the beginning of The Briefing today, war is one of those immensely clarifying events in world history. And we’ve talked today about just a couple of those issues that have been incredibly clarified just in the last few days.

Part IV

A Life Devoted to the Cause for Life: Pediatrician Donald Pinkel, Who Revolutionized the Treatment of Childhood Leukemia

But finally, for today, we need to end on a matter of life and death, but this one is important for the cause of life. And it has to do oddly, ironically enough, with an obituary, the news of a death. In this case, the death of a pediatrician. A doctor by the name of Dr. Donald Pinkel, who began in the 1960s to try to push back on leukemia, pediatric leukemia. Back when Dr. Pinkel began his pediatric practice seeking to help and to heal children, pediatric leukemia had a death toll of about 94 to 96%.

By the time his approach to treating leukemia had been developed over time, the death rate was not 96%, but 4%. Now just think about this, his treatment of leukemia, it was one that he started controversially against the opposition of so many in his own profession. His approach not only changed that death rate, it was in the context. And this is something I had not known. It was when, in the context that when he began his medical practice in the 1950s, leukemia was the number one killer of children in the United States, between the ages of three and 15, the number one killer. But he tamed that killer in the vast majority of cases. How? Well, back when he was beginning to try to push back on leukemia, medical doctors basically said, you need to choose between one of several different modes of treatment in order to preserve the basic health of the child in order that child might fight the leukemia.

Dr. Pinkel had a very different approach. His approach was that whatever they were doing at the present, clearly wasn’t working. Again, the death rate, 96%. He went on to say, let’s use them all at once. Now, almost immediately that meant that the children who were diagnosed with leukemia were facing an entire barrage of medical treatments that would come very, very close to killing them. The treatments would come horrifyingly close to killing them. But actually, as it turned out, it was an effective approach at killing the cancer. Changing that death rate from 96% to 4%, over against a medical establishment that claimed he was giving parents and children false hope. He was not deterred, he pressed forward. Over time, of course, this meant the new drugs were developed, new regimens of treatment were developed, but as the New York Times, obituary by Clay Risen that was published just over the weekend makes very clear, one single individual can make a massive difference in the world.

There are many adults today and many children living and not yet born who may well survive the diagnosis of leukemia, indeed overwhelmingly will survive by the medical innovations that came through this one man’s insistence even over against the medical consensus of his time. Consider this opening paragraph in Dr. Pinkel’s obituary, “Dr. Donald Pinkel, a pediatrician who starting in the early 1960s, developed an aggressive treatment for childhood leukemia that transformed the disease from a virtual death sentence to one that almost every patient survives died on Wednesday at his home in San Luis Obispo, California. He was 95.”

The Christian worldview underlines the importance of individuals, the importance of individuals such as Donald Pinkel and yes, the importance of individuals like Vladimir Putin and of the fact that over time we are remembered by what we have done, whether Putin or Pinkel. Vladimir Putin’s army has shelled hospitals, including a maternity hospital. Meanwhile, the research tower at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis is named for Dr. Donald Pinkel.

One way to think about the moral importance of a human life is to wonder just what might be named for us, a hospital or a war.

Thanks for the listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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