The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, June 17, 2022

It’s Friday, June 17th, 2022.

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

Part I

Are There Varying Degrees of Rewards for Saints in Heaven? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Today, we’re going to spend the entire time with questions from the mailbox. I’m going to turn first to a question that came in asking about whether or not there are varying degrees of rewards for saints in heaven. And Daniel writing the question says that he knows the scripture points to the fact that Jesus said, “In my father’s house, there are many mansions,” from John 14. In Romans 2:6, we are told that God will repay everyone according to his works. Revelation, 22:12, “And behold, I come quickly and my reward is with me to give every man according as his work shall be.”

Well, I’m just going to say this. As you look at the scripture, we confront when it comes to heaven, something that staggers our imagination. Now, one of the reasons it staggers our imagination, it simply comes down to the word infinite. So you could consider the word eternal in the same light. Eternal is actually a biblical word. And as you think about eternal, here’s the problem. It is infinite. Now our brains do not understand the infinite. We have the category of it, but by the very same token, it’s just a category into which we put at least some things we can’t understand. Now there’s a theological formula that is at work here, and it goes back to the old Latin. I’ll use it in English. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. So that means that we’ll never be able to figure God out because after all he is infinite in his being and he is eternal. And so even as through the atonement, accomplished by the Lord, Jesus Christ, he gives to those who are in Christ, the gift of eternal life.

We know that means when there is no time, but we have no consciousness now of what it means for there to be no time. Because what we think of is time. One thing after another, the ticking of a clock, the turning of the calendar page, and yet eternity is not endless time. It is a realm beyond time. I just want to promise you. You don’t understand it. I don’t understand it. We will one day understand it when we see no longer through a glass darkly, but see him face to face. Now, the scripture says that we will in Christ receive all things. All of us in Christ will receive all things. Yet at the same time, we are told that there will be, in the mansions in heaven and in the crowns that we wear and there will be, in the perfect justice and judgment of Christ, there will be a giving of rewards to those who are particularly worthy of those awards.

And you look elsewhere in scripture where the apostle Paul seems to indicate very similar things. He speaks of this, even in his benediction, you might say, at the end of 2 Timothy, where he speaks of what he knows is being promised to him in Christ, even as he knows that his life on earth is coming to an end because of his witness to Christ. You consider other things and you recognize, okay, our minds can’t comprehend eternity in the first place and we can’t understand how we can receive all things in Christ and yet there be more than all things, but that’s just a part of the promise of Christ realized in the gospel. And so I’ll simply say an answer to this question. The reality is we are told in scripture that all who are in Christ will receive all things.

And we are told that there will be those who are particularly honored in Christ and will receive particular rewards. And so I’m not sure that my finite, frail human mind can hold those two truths in absolute understanding. Indeed, I’m certain that my mind can’t. I’m also certain, the Scripture teaches both things and that there is no contradiction in Scripture. And so one day, all of this will make perfect sense.

Part II

How Do Christians Uphold Christian Doctrines with an Intersex Child? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, I’m going to turn to a question from a young man, a teenager, his name is Noah, and he tells me he’s 14 years old. He’s been listening to The Briefing for two years. God bless you, Noah. That really encourages me. He says he has a question, “I was wondering if you could answer, how do Christians uphold Christian doctrines with an intersex child?” Well, that’s a huge question. It’s a very specific question. It’s a very informed question for a 14 year old to ask. First of all, what are we talking about here? The word intersex is a fairly recent word, but it’s a word that refers to a spectrum of physical and physiological phenomena. Now that’s the only way I know to put it. It has to do with the fact that human beings are normatively male or female. And that’s why for the vast, vast majority of human beings, as soon as the baby is born, whoever is holding the baby is able to say, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl.” Simple, fast observation, clarifying just about everything.

But, one of the realities we have to face is that in a fallen world, there are sometimes genetic abnormalities. Now these days, it is often considered a bit politically incorrect to speak about anything outside the norm. As a matter of fact, we often talk about the fact that what a lot of people are trying to do in the moral revolution is make the un-normal or abnormal and can never be normal, normative. But now let’s step back from moral behavior because we’re not talking here about moral behavior. We’re talking about a physical fact, a physiological reality, an anatomical reality. And we have to face the fact that in a fallen world, even as there are termites, and there are tumors, there are also genetic abnormalities. And so that means that in a very small percentage of human births, the baby is born with what is sometimes described as an ambiguous sex. That is to say, there might be part of this and part of that, or there might be very little of this and very little of that. But the point is, there is some question.

Now there can be an abnormality, even in the reproductive organs that is not rightly described as intersex, but is just some other form of abnormality. But there is this particular and frankly, extremely rare abnormality that means that the person who holds the baby for the very first time looks at the baby is not able to say, clearly, this is a boy, or this is a girl.

Now, one of the things we have to note is that as you think about biblical theology, and I’ll speak to you specifically Noah, as you think about the Bible. The Bible tells us that God’s perfect plan, as we see in the Garden of Eden, as we see with Adam and Eve, is for human beings to be either male or female, that’s just really clear. And the entire reproductive success and the obedience to the reproductive command that God gives us, depends upon men being men and women being women. But we also understand the inner fallen world, there are children who are born without the normal limbs. There are children who are born without normal eyes. There are children who are born in all kinds of ways that almost immediately invisibly and sometimes less visibly, indicate a genetic abnormality.

But what we shouldn’t do is one of two things, both of which are errors. First of all, it would be to blame that child or consider that child somehow less made in the image of God, or even somehow less welcome in the human community than any other child. That would be sin because this child, every single child is God’s gift. But the second error would be saying, “Okay, the birth of this child and our observation of this child means there really is no category of male or female or man, or woman or boy or girl.” That would be a similar, you might say an equal and opposite response.

But you ask a specific question and this is an impressive way you ask it, how do Christians uphold Christian doctrines with an intersex child? Well, the same way we would uphold any other doctrine with any other child. Here is what God’s word says. Every single one of us in our own way falls short of God’s expectation, even in creation of every one of us. Because Adam, when he was made was not made to die. There’s a sense in which then every single one of us has a genetic abnormality for one thing, compared with Adam and Eve, as they were originally made, we have a genetic encoding to die, which they did not have. That death is a result to the fall. The scripture makes that very clear. There are other results of the fall and that includes cancer, it includes viruses. Boy, we’ve been talking about viruses. It includes all kinds of physical phenomena. It also includes great white sharks that somehow go after human flesh.

It has to do with all kinds of things that will go bump in the night and some of them will hurt us. It has to do with the fact that when you are no longer 14, but you are my age, you look in the mirror and things aren’t getting better. And yes, sometimes it means that our care and concern as we are called to be faithful to Christ, is to welcome into the human community and yes, into our families and yes, into our churches, those who are going to struggle with one kind of genetic abnormality or another. It would be dishonesty to say, “This doesn’t matter.” It would be fundamental unfaithfulness to say, we do not celebrate this human being. We do not celebrate this one whom God has given us.

So I do think you’re asking a little bit more Noah, and I want to be faithful to that. When it comes to the challenge of intersex children, it often falls to Christian parents to do the very best they can possibly do to make the life of that child as normal as possible. That might require some surgery cosmetic or otherwise. It might require some very difficult decisions. Noah, I respect the way you ask the question. It will require Christian parents, I think often, to have to seek the counsel of other Christians who will pray with them and help to think with them about how rightly to raise this precious, infinitely worthy child, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Again, I want to thank this 14 year old for his question. I’m not sure I can handle too many 14 year olds asking questions like this.

Part III

Is It Discriminatory Towards Homosexual Couples If We Do Not Allow Them to Marry Like Heterosexual Couples? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Bethany writes, “How should a Christian answer the argument that homosexuals should be able to marry because if not, they’re being discriminated against? For instance, married people are awarded privileges, that unmarried people are not, such as tax breaks. How should Christians respond to this?” Great question, Bethany. And this is a question that’s often posed just this way to Christians. But let’s ask a question. First of all, historically, why is marriage as a union of a man and a woman recognized in virtually every civilization and given certain privileges and a certain kind of legal and cultural respect? Why does that happen? Well, there are two reasons right off. Number one, human civilization comes to an end if you do not have men and women coming together in the context of marriage.

Secondly, families are not healthy if you do not encourage and incentivize and recognize the unique burdens borne by parents, a husband and a wife, a father, and a mother raising their children together. If you do not privilege that, protect that, if you do not give that particular relationship, that is marriage is the union of a man and a woman parenthood, if you do not privilege and respect and build all kinds of supports around that relationship and those responsibilities, you’re basically absorbing a poison pill into the heart of your culture and civilization.

Now, as you think about tax breaks that go with the definition of marriage and are given by governments at whatever level, that’s a fairly recent issue because taxation, in this sense, in a modern sense is a fairly recent issue at the national level in the United States. Only about say a hundred years, interesting historical lesson to be learned there. But nonetheless, in the federal tax code, there’s been a recognition that even as there’s to be fairness in the tax system, society needs to incentivize and recognize those who are carrying and bearing certain kinds of responsibility. And it’s not so much that it’s just a man and a woman together as a married couple. That’s something society should value enough to recognize, even as you’re looking at the fact that in history, you are really looking at the beginning of this being one wage earner and someone else married to the wage earner. That’s a part of it. The other thing is marriage deserves that kind of support. Social and cultural support should be given to marriage for the sake of the entire civilization. Parenthood just adds another dimension.

But as you’re thinking about the claim about same sex marriage or what might be called gay marriage, it’s been called all kinds of things, a man and a man, a woman, and a woman married to each other. Now, the first thing you need to note is that civilization does not depend upon that union. The furtherance of civilization doesn’t depend upon that union. There is no organic, biological, there is no reproductive way a man and a man or a woman and a woman can fulfill this function. And the thing you need to recognize is that there have always been an assortment of communal arrangements. You don’t have to have 2015, the Obergefell decision, the legalization of same sex marriage to get there.

There have always been throughout human history, all kinds of interesting and sometimes necessary domestic context. That would include the extended family in which in a household you have not only mom and dad, you also have grandparents, various kin, as well as children, grandchildren, you go down the list. It also includes all kinds of circumstances in which people may live together, who actually aren’t related to one another either legally or sexually. But the issue is the tax code is going to recognize and incentivize a certain necessary level of investment. And that’s exactly what takes place in history, in the United States for example, in the marriage exemption or the marriage benefit that is given in the tax code.

Now, is that really what people were about when they were pressing for saying sex marriage. In a minor way, maybe. But that is by no means the major moral impetus behind same sex marriage. The major moral impetus was recognition. The demand for recognition. The demand for a certain understanding that would be granted, they believed, with the status of being legally married. Now I will just offer to you that that particular hope is one that can never be realized within the company of those who know what marriage is, because we understand that even as the government says that a man and a man can marry each other, we don’t believe that in biblical or theological terms, they actually are married at all.

We are living in a society that says, “No, they can marry each other,” but we even have to put it just that way. We’re living in a society that has created the legal fiction, that a man can be married to a man or a woman to a woman. So let’s just point out that the tax system, including the recognition in the tax system of marriage, that’s downstream from the bigger decisions and commitments made in culture. And the biggest decision of all, in one sense, is whether or not to privilege the family and the union of a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage, which is after all, not just a private, but a public commitment and whether or not the society decides, we’re going to start there and make sure that marriage is strong before we go anywhere else.

So, frankly, I think most of us will be unwilling to make a complete stand and put the integrity of the Christian church on the line for the sake of a tax break. It’s rather the recognition that the tax break is itself a recognition of what’s necessary if the human race is actually to continue much less to flourish.

Part IV

Should Married Couples Use Forms of Birth Control or Contraception? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

All right, big questions today. And one of them has to do with contraception and whether or not married couples may use. And that means a man and a woman let’s be clear, may use some form of birth control or contraception within their relationship.

So one young man writes, it’s a really intelligent way of asking the question. He says he’s a recent college graduate and he is headed towards marriage. He says he’s been thinking about, struggling over the idea of birth control within the context of marriage. He notes that the use of such contraception or birth control is now pretty widespread in our society and even in evangelical circles. He’s raising the issue of the Catholic church, at least officially forbids the use of contraception. Then he says, “While Protestants seem to have no solid stance in either direction, at least from what I’ve seen.” Later in the question, Austin raises this, “Most who I talk to about this think it’s insane not to use birth control, especially early on in marriage, as if having a child quickly would ruin the young marriage.” He says, “While I see their desire for autonomy in their young phase of life, I would still think they separate sex from contraception.”

How should Christians think about this? Let me just back up and say, I’ve written a lot about this. I’ve written book projects that include this. I’m going to have to summarize here, but there is a distinction between contraception and birth control. There is birth control that is not contraception. There is birth control that’s abortifacient, that actually involves something like an early abortion, that raises the moral stakes. But let’s just assume we’re talking about actual contraception. Contraception, meaning that there is an avoidance of the process of pregnancy and that means that classically there is a process by which the sperm and the egg are kept from one another. And so classically that would be what’s called a barrier method of birth control or contraception, but that’s not actually the norm these days. Actually, we’re far more likely to be talking about some other form of birth control, which by the way, might be a contraceptive and might even be called a contraceptive but actually by our Christian definition, wouldn’t function that way.

I’m simply going to step back and say that as Christians think about any form of anything that might prevent pregnancy and thus birth, we need to ask the question, where would the legitimacy of that decision comes from. Now you know it’s interesting that Austin says that it’s basically up to us to prove the point that it would be legitimate to use some form of birth control or contraception. I think Austin’s right about that. He doesn’t put it exactly that way, but that’s what he’s arguing. That’s also the argument that I would make. Christians have to turn the question. We have to turn the logic and the wisdom of the world on its head. We should not be asking, under what strange circumstance would we not try to prevent a birth? We need to be asking the question under what circumstances would it be justified to try to prevent a birth.

Now behind this is a giant theological issue, which is called the unity or the union of the goods. And that means that when God gives us a gift in creation, it comes as a whole. It’s related to other goods. And it is thus very, very suspect to try to remove this good that God has given us in creation from another good. The conjugal relationship, let’s just use that phrase between the husband and the wife, that’s a beautiful, good. And that good also comes with another good. It’s associated with also the gift of life in the womb. And that’s also to be celebrated. But you raise the Roman Catholic issue and Roman Catholics love it when you raise this issue. They don’t love it when you talk about it at great detail. They love it when we talk about the fact that they have a very consistent and coherent position on this, they don’t like us to talk about the fact that at least in the United States, if not elsewhere, the vast majority of Roman Catholics seem to be absolutely in rebellion against that very clear moral teaching.

Okay, I’m going to have to make this first. The Roman Catholic teaching is that each and every conjugal act must be equally open to the gift of children. And so the way they deal with something like birth control is by using a mechanism of scheduling the husband and the wife together in such a way that pregnancy becomes less likely. I’m simply going to say that might be natural in one sense, it’s not particularly natural for a marital relationship. Just looking at that, here’s what I want to say. I believe that every marital union should be fully open to the gift of children. So open that it is the use of any form of birth control that is suspect, not the lack of the use. The welcoming of children should be the default and this means that so far as Christians are concerned, there’s no such thing as a birth control failure.

Now here’s where I want to be very Protestant and say there, isn’t a really clear biblical teaching. I think there’s a clear biblical logic, but there’s not a commandment thou shalt or thou shalt not. There is also, we believe as Protestants and I’m very, very Protestant, there is no Bishop, there is no Cardinal, there is no Pope we can ask to define this for us. Many Roman Catholics say at least the traditionalist and conservative Roman Catholics, they say we have an absolutely consistent argument. I’m going to say, well, it kind of isn’t, it isn’t. But when it comes to, I think a biblical argument, I want to say that every marriage must be fully open to the gift of children. I would not marry a husband and a wife who do not, as a matter of principal, intend to have children. I won’t perform that marriage. Now, a husband and a wife may not be given children, or they may be given a lot of children or they may be given a few children, but it’s the use of any kind of technology, any drug, anything that might prevent pregnancy that’s actually suspect.

Not using contraception when it comes to a married couple is never suspect. There are some issues in which Christians need to understand that at least part of our responsibilities to lower moral risk. I think one of the ways Christians lower moral risk is in making very clear that every single marriage is fully open to the gift of children. Does that mean that a husband and wife can never use any form of birth control? I didn’t say that. So Austin, I am unable to give you a papal encyclical from Louisville, Kentucky. What I can say is that I encourage couples who are married or about to be married, to be eagerly, genuinely, honestly, looking forward to the gift of children, open and celebrative about the gift of children. And then when it comes to other goods and marriage, including the physical relationship, including times and seasons in marriage, including particular moments or seasons of challenge that may come particularly from outside the marriage, it may be that a married couple, fully faithful before God will make decisions related to particular times and seasons when they are more and less eager to have children.

But the entire birth control contraceptive mentality, Austin, I’m thankful you see through it and that you reject it. We are not called to be the masters of our reproductive fate. We are called to be faithful. That’s a very different thing. We’ve had huge questions today.

Part V

Should Secularism Be Considered a Religion Under the Constitution? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, one from Todd and he’s writing about secularism as is seen so often, for instance, in the agenda of the LGBTQ community, he says that this particular ideology, “has its own morality in worldview and could thus be compared with a religion.” He says, “should it be considered a religion under the First Amendment? This would put restrictions on it under the Establishment Clause with regard to schools, government, et cetera, which might be good, but it might also give it freedoms under the Free Exercise Clause.” Great question, Todd.

You know in one sense, but inadequately, the Supreme Court of the United States tried to answer that question maybe by accident all the way back in 1952. That’s 70 years ago. You say, why am I talking about something that happened at the Supreme Court 70 years ago? It’s because in 1952, in a case known as Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court of the United States, maybe accidentally declared secular humanism to be a religion. Well, I don’t think the right words actually accidentally. I just don’t think the court really knew what it was doing, but what it did was correct.

And in that 1952 Supreme Court decision, it declared that as it tried to define religion, secular humanism actually, well, it fit the definition of a religion and it was defined in a note in the Supreme Court decision as, “a religion that seeks to replace a worship of a transcendent or supernatural deity with the deification of man and humankind.” That’s really fascinating. It’s also by the way, absolutely true. The Supreme Court of the United States in 1952 was absolutely right. Secular humanism is a religion because it claims an ultimate allegiance and it seeks to comprehensively define the entire cosmos. By the way, I think the Supreme Court’s also right, that it replaces a worship of a transcendent God with a worship of humanity, the phrase here, and again, this is 1952, is man and humankind.

But Todd, as you’re asking the question is secular humanism religion, I’m going to say, yes, it fundamentally is. It needs to be recognized as such and by the way, it is established. That’s the problem. Even after 1952. Even after Zorach v. Clauson, the reality is that in so many of our institutions, including government sponsored institutions, secular humanism is increasingly, if dishonestly, that is to say not acknowledged. It’s increasingly becoming the established religion of the United States of America, but there’s one other issue and this is just the Christian theologian that has to answer this way. When you ask the question, is secular humanism or religion, I want to say, of course it is. It’s a comprehensive doctrine. It claims to explain a worldview. Every worldview is in its own way religious. Todd, I recognize, you know that by the very way you asked the question. We need to make very clear to everyone that there is no one whose worldview doesn’t have to deal with ultimate questions.

Right and wrong existence. What is life? How did life happen? No, that’s a comprehensive worldview. And every single comprehensive worldview has to at some point be religious. That doesn’t mean it’s right. We know that right up front, but it does mean that even if it says that it is a worldview opposed to religion, it does so, you can kind of figure out what’s coming next, religiously.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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