The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 15, 2022

It’s Thursday, September 15, 2022.

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

Part I

Nonsense of the Quintessential Sort: MSNBC Host Argues ‘Jesus Never Once Talked About Abortion’ — And That the Pro-Life Position is Heresy

Sometimes, just a few seconds of some kind of media coverage gets a great deal of attention. It goes as they say viral on social media, and people are talking about it even if there’s not a general understanding of exactly what’s going on. But there is a general sense this is absolute nonsense. The most recent quintessential example comes from MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. In a conversation about abortion, Scarborough spoke of the fact that he was, by his own definition, a Baptist, is a backslidden Baptist. He says, however, “But I still know the Bible.” Now, I’ll just say, when I hear someone say that, I brace myself for what’s going to follow. In this case, you better brace yourself pretty securely. Because Joe Scarborough went on to say, “Jesus never once talked about abortion, never once, and it was happening back in ancient times. It was happening during His time. Never once did He mention it.”

He went on to talk about those in particular, Republicans, in particular, pro-lifers, and they are by his own words, “people who are perverting the gospel of Jesus Christ down to one issue,” he said, “it’s heresy.” And then he dared people, he said, “If you don’t believe me, if that makes you angry, why don’t you do something that you haven’t done in a long time? Open the Bible, open the New Testament, read the red letters, you won’t see it,” meaning abortion, “there.” Now, from time to time, as I say, you come across something like this and I described it as quintessential nonsense, which is to say this is the kind of nonsense that actually represents something that of an achievement. This is trophy-worthy nonsense. If nonsense were an Olympic sport, Joe Scarborough just won the gold medal.

It’s a statement about abortion and it’s an intentional statement. You can see the moral seriousness in Joe Scarborough’s eyes when he makes this statement. He thinks he has really landed a punch against pro-lifers and those who would say that abortion is an issue of this ultimacy and of this urgency. By the end of this brief statement, Joe Scarborough has accused those who make the abortion issue first and central of the American politics of heresy.

But make no mistake, he’s talking in theological terms here. He identifies himself as a backslidden Baptist but he says he knows his Bible and he knows that Jesus never once talked about abortion. The implication, well, it’s not just an implication, it’s the very point he’s making, is that Jesus didn’t explicitly talk about abortion, therefore, we should not be talking about abortion as an issue of this significance.

But remember, the big issue here is Joe Scarborough’s statement that Jesus never once talked about abortion. He says, “I still know the Bible. Jesus didn’t talk about abortion, never once.” He went on to say, “Never once did He mention it.” Now, what is the point he is trying to make? Clearly, Jesus didn’t care about the unborn. Jesus was not concerned about abortion. Abortion is a modern Christian preoccupation and his proof positive is that you can’t point to averse using his own phrase, in red letters, in which Jesus addressed abortion. Now, is that true or false? Well, here’s a big issue, and that big issue is the proper interpretation of Scripture, and this is something to which faithful Christians have given a lot of attention over 2,000 years. And before Christians were giving this kind of attention to the Scriptures, Jewish rabbis were giving this kind of attention.

In other words, when you’re talking about the Bible as the Word of God, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the big question is, how do we know that we are reading it legitimately? Well, one of the things you need to know is that a principle of biblical hermeneutics is that you can’t possibly make a statement such as the Apostle Paul, or the Prophet Isaiah, or Jesus never explicitly, in words revealed in scripture, address this issue. Therefore, we have no idea what he and thus God’s people are to think about the issue. That’s profound nonsense. But it’s usually a special kind of nonsense. It’s usually the kind of nonsense that accompanies a very dangerous argument. And clearly, in this case, Joe Scarborough’s argument is that we need to get over a preoccupation with abortion.

But let’s look at that phrase where he talks about Jesus never once having talked about abortion. Now, is that true or false? Well, in a sense, it’s true. If you look at your concordance, if you do a word study and the New Testament, you look at the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you’ll find lots of words directly attributed to Jesus. It’s called the ipsissima verba, that is the very words of Jesus. Now, every single word of Scripture’s inspired, every word of Scripture is fully inspired, the words of Jesus recorded in Scripture are inspired, but so is every other word in Scripture. But we understand the point, if Jesus talked about this in an explicit way, we’d want to pay some very close attention to what Jesus said. Because after all, this is Jesus teaching His disciples, and like the disciples, we want to be taught by Jesus.

But as you’re looking at this, you recognize that Jesus, if you had all four of the gospels together, didn’t address an incredible number of issues that certainly were confronted by the disciples and by the church in the first century or by Christians throughout the ages. People will sometimes say, “Well, Jesus didn’t say a word about same sex marriage.” No, of course, He didn’t. But He did make very clear, in light of challenges to the integrity of marriage, that God’s purpose in creation, Jesus said from the beginning is that a man would leave his father and mother and would cling to his wife and they would become one flesh. Jesus said that He knows exactly what marriage is. Of course, He is Himself not only the Word, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God in human flesh, He is the one through whom the worlds were made. And thus, as you’re thinking about marriage, you recognize that the very author of marriage was here speaking about marriage and the Father’s intention in marriage.

But where’s abortion? Well, like many other issues, abortion is not explicitly discussed in any four of the gospels. It was not one of the issues that arose in terms of the cultural conversation. It is not recorded as a matter of conversation between Jesus and the disciples nor is it recorded that Jesus addressed this in His teaching. But that is not the point. The point is this, what about the entire context of the New Testament? Let’s just think about this. For one thing, when you’re talking about Jesus, you’re talking about Jesus who is God in human flesh, conceived within the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, which is to say when the Angel Gabriel showed up and spoke to Mary about the divine mission that the Father had intended for her and the mission she received as an act of obedience was that in her, the Christ was soon to be conceived such that she would give birth and of course that she and Joseph would call the name of the baby, Jesus.

The point is, Jesus is here revealed in Scripture as God incarnate from the moment of His conception, when He was conceived in the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. But then you also know this. Just remember that when Mary who was expecting Jesus went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was, you’ll recall, expecting John, John who was a few months older in gestation, when Jesus appeared with Mary, in Mary’s womb, in the presence of Elizabeth, John leaped within Elizabeth womb. And John is not just described as the fetus who responded with some kind of spasm in the womb, no, this is John, later known as John the Baptist, who acknowledged the presence of the unborn Christ within Mary and he did so leaping for joy in the womb. Now, if you believe that, you believe Scripture, if you don’t believe that, you’re denying Scripture.

If you do understand that, it is insanity to go on national television and tell people that Jesus never said anything about abortion, therefore, we are making far too much of a deal about it. We’re also told in scripture that it was the Angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, informing her of this divine mission. And she knew she was pregnant, that is to say she knew that Jesus had been conceived inside of her long before she had any physical impression of pregnancy and went at a very early stage. Mary, carrying the conceived Jesus within her, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, that’s the time that John leaped in her womb, Elizabeth referred to Mary even then as “the mother of my Lord.” That tells you a very great deal of the fact that from the very moment of conception, the scripture recognizes the humanity, even the personhood of the unborn child, even the unformed child.

There are two other big issues related to the comments made by Joe Scarborough that deserve our attention. For one thing, he explicitly mentions the red letters. Now, that raises a very interesting issue that I try to mention from time to time on The Briefing. And it’s just important for us to recognize that one of the principles of biblical interpretation is that Jesus himself recognized every word of the scripture as divinely inspired in carrying God’s own authority. And it’s Jesus who I think would be the first to insist that the words of Jesus, as recorded in Scripture, inherently and infallibly, are not to be considered of a higher authority than the words that are revealed by God in every single text, in every single chapter of Scripture. That’s a big problem.

But it’s a problem that is sometimes actually amplified in popular piety by the fact that a matter of about a century ago, printers developed the convention, at least in the English-speaking world, at least for a period of time, of publishing so-called red-letter editions. And they would sometimes say, “the words of Jesus printed in red.” Now, there are two problems with that. One of them is a rather minor problem, the other is a massive problem. The less significant problem is this. There are no quotation marks in Ancient Greek. There are no quotation marks in the Greek New Testament. Which is to say, you take a text such as John 3. There is no question that most of that passage known so well to us is Jesus speaking directly to Nicodemus. But at some point in John 3, it is John inspired by the Holy Spirit explaining what Jesus said. And because there are no closing quotation marks, we don’t know exactly where Jesus stopped speaking and John started explaining.

Here’s the comfort to you, it doesn’t matter. Every single word is equally inspired. But there is a bigger problem here, and that bigger problem is that, once again, it suggests that all we really need for the Christian life are the red letters. The suggestion is you can leave all the other words aside. Take the red letters, leave the black letters. I want to tell you where that came from. It came in large part from fairly liberal, culturally Protestant preachers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries who were arguing that the essence of the Christian life is following the example of Jesus. And that’s a long tradition by the way in Christian piety, but it simply is not a comprehensive understanding of Christian discipleship. Jesus said about those who are His disciples, they are those who obey His words. And He also made very clear, obey all of Scripture, and the Apostle Paul and others, make that point emphatically.

And so, Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, I’m going to give you a certain say, the quotations of Chairman Jesus and you just pay attention to those quotations.” No, He gave us Scripture. God intentionally gave us the entire canon of Scripture, Old and New Testament, 66 books. And all of it is to be received, every single word of it, as God’s Word. But there is another problem, and this comes at the end of the comments made by Joe Scarborough. He said, “It’s heresy.” Now, if it’s heresy, we need to pay attention to it. One of the strongest words in the entire history of Christianity is the word heresy. Now, actually, the more common use of the word was heretic. It was an individual who was ruled by the church to be so far outside the faith as to be separated from the church, as a heretic, as a false teacher, as someone who held to untruth and rejected the truth.

Technically, in the history of Christianity, heresy however is not a word that was attributed to every strange idea or even every unbiblical suggestion. No, specifically, heresy has been reserved for a doctrinal statement that explicitly denies Christianity, that repudiates the faith, that makes biblical Christianity impossible or incompatible. So, just to tell you how this works, if someone comes up to you and says, “I believe that Jesus is coming back in February,” well, that may be true or false. But if false, it actually never was a heresy because it doesn’t deny a truth central and essential to Christianity. But if someone comes up to you and says, “I don’t think Jesus is coming again,” well, that person is actually a heretic, denying one of the most important biblical teachings about Jesus that is absolutely necessary to the gospel and to the right reading of Scripture. Someone says, “I don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity,” that person is a heretic.

All that to say that there’s a perfect massive confusion in Joe Scarborough’s comments, but it’s the kind of confusion that demands our attention. Scarborough, by the way, served in the United States House of Representatives as a Republican representing the first district of the State of Florida between 1995 and 2001. During most of that time, he earned a 95% approval rating by the American Conservative Union. He was known for conservative votes including a vote to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998.

He was well identified as a Republican and as a rising star in the Republican Party. He has since repudiated the Republican Party and asked for conservative ideas. Evidently, Joe Scarborough got over them.

Part II

‘Being Trans Is A Medical Condition’ — But Wait, There’s More.

But next, we’re going to shift gears entirely. An absolutely interesting article with some urgency to it appeared in The New York Times by Jennifer Finney Boylan. And Jennifer Finney Boylan’s identified as professor of English at Barnard College at Columbia University, a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The next sentence, “Her next book, Mad Honey, co-authored with Jodi Picoult, is scheduled to be published in October.” The point is, The New York Times says, “Her next book.” Jennifer Finney Boylan is identified as transgender and writes often from the transgender experience in the pages of The New York Times. It’s The New York Times that entirely, celebratory of the transgender agenda thus refers to Jennifer Finney Boylan and then “her next book.”

And so, as you look at that, you need to recognize that even as Jennifer Finney Boylan writes here, the point is, this is going to be an argument for transgender ideology. And Boylan writes, “Many years ago at a wedding reception, a transgender woman showed me a scan of the human brain. One section, the bed nucleus of one particular part of the brain, in fact, was highlighted.” She said, “You see? It’s not my fault.” Now, the big thing here is that this particular transgender person was trying to argue that the transgender identity was rooted in something that is just biological, and for that matter, biological in such a way that it can show up on a brain scan. Now, let me stop for a moment. The Christian worldview would accept that there might be some biological causation for any number of activities or patterns in the brain. That doesn’t mean that they become normative or natural. It doesn’t mean that they’re not contrary scripture. It doesn’t mean that they’re God’s plan for us.

There are any number of malfunctions in the human body, including in the human brain, that are not to be understood as normative. It takes us back to the scripture. And by the way, I use the word normative. The great reformer of the 16th century, Martin Luther, was famous for saying that it is the Bible that must norm our thinking, our thinking does not norm the scriptures. But Boylan’s really onto something here. The argument is being made that transgenderism is just a medical condition. It’s recognized as a medical condition, the argument is made here, and it’s recognized by the scientific community in such a way that it becomes an act of manifest ignorance and backwardness to deny that it’s basically a medical issue that should be treated by medical practitioners.

But the point is that the state of Florida and at least some other states, by some count nine states, according to Boylan, “bar trans people from using Medicaid to help pay for gender-affirming care.” There’s so much loaded into that, the phrase gender-affirming care. You would think gender-affirming would mean affirming that someone was born male or female. But in an Orwellian sense, as we see so often with language these days like the Respect for Marriage Act, this is actually a refutation of creation order. But nonetheless, the big argument here is, look, trust the doctors, trust the science. And what you have here is an argument by a transgender columnist about the transgender condition, and the argument is this is just a medical issue.

But then, predictably, and that’s what makes this article so important, there’s a swerve in the argument. It’s medical. The insistence is it’s essentially medical. You better come to terms of the fact it’s medical. Except for the fact, well, maybe in some sense it’s not. In the article, Boylan makes the medical case for a good many paragraphs and again condemning leaders, political leaders in Florida, for denying a legitimate medical treatment in terms of taxpayer money. But then Boylan speaks about what the author refers to here as, “My own transition, which required at least three months of psychological counseling before the prescribing of hormones and a minimum number of months on hormones before approval for surgery. At the time, the protocol also required that a candidate for surgery live in the,” let me just say to listeners, this is a very telling phrase, “target gender for a year without going back to make sure he or she knew what she was getting into.”

Boylan then goes on to say, “Look, it’s a medical issue. It’s just absolutely backward, inexcusable that in the state of Florida and about eight other states, it’s not recognized as a purely medical issue.” But then, all of a sudden the article swerves and Boylan writes, “Being trans is many things. But one thing, it is not as a hula hoop, it’s a medical condition requiring dependable and affordable treatment. But it is not only a medical condition, it’s about rejecting the binary. But it is not only about that either.” So, it was about the medicine, it’s about the physiology, it’s about biology, it’s about brain scans, I don’t know, all of a sudden, it’s about ideology. It is about denying the gender binary, down with the man, down with the gender binary. But Boylan goes on to say, “It’s not just that either.”

Boylan then write this, “In the end, the one thing our diverse community might share is a desire for the right to be able to make our own decisions about our bodies and to get the care we need.” Now, I want us to note just in worldview analysis, that’s a complex sentence. The first statement is the demand that we, according to this article, would be able “to make our own decisions about our own bodies.” Now, that’s very much a modern statement, as a matter of fact, the idea that we are autonomous cells and we own our bodies, we can do with our bodies what we want. But here’s the point. All these hormones and all this surgery isn’t something that can be done without modern medicine. So, it turns out it’s not just what we can do with our bodies, and that’s why the sentence ends “and to get the care we need.”

But you’ll notice it’s not just the care in terms of say treating an infectious disease or something, this is an entire process of reversing creation order. And in many cases, and it’s even contrary here to the Hippocratic oath, the ancient moral code of medicine, it means eliminating something which is functioning naturally. And that, for instance, removing a healthy organ in this sense is something that by definition is just wrong. And furthermore, it is trying to thwart a normal biological process such as even the reproductive process because of one’s demand to be a totally autonomous self, except as we say, a totally autonomous self that needs an entire team of pharmacologists, doctors, surgeons and all the rest.

Sometimes, people will ask, “Why do you come back to this issue so often?” And I answer, “What I’m trying to do is help Christians deal with the cultural conversation that’s being thrown at us.” We didn’t originate this article in The New York Times, we didn’t originate this argument, we didn’t originate this political movement, but it is now largely reigning supreme in places where the progressive mindset is not checked. Now, one of the arguments I want to make, and you hear it again on The Briefing, is that the transgender movement, the T in LGBTQ whatever follows, the T has become something of a breaking point for people, something of a reality insistence for people, something they just can’t get over. And they increasingly are beginning to see the T in such a way that get parents rise up and saying, “I demand the right that my children not be exposed to this.”

And it just goes down a whole list of things. There are a number of Americans who I think want to think themselves progressive, but even they can’t come to terms with an over six-foot tall swimmer in a male body standing up as a champion on a supposedly female collegiate swim team, and not only that, in the championship space.

Part III

Reality Trumps Political Theory: Sweden—That Bastion of Liberal Social Experiment—Shifts Right Amidst Rising Crime Rates

But I’m ending today just with the suggestion that reality does sometimes just insist upon attention. And one of the places where this has most recently happened is the nation of Sweden, the Scandinavian nation, that in so many ways during the last half of the 20th century was considered the great beacon, as a welfare state, the great beacon of liberal European values and liberal European culture. As a matter of fact, after World War II, the citizens of Sweden basically made something of a social compact. They would accept unprecedented levels of taxation so long as they would receive a lot of government services.

It was a relatively small country, it still is relative to a country like the United States, and it was a very, very important social experiment. But it’s an experiment that’s now gone bad. And one of the ways that you can see the change in Sweden is the fact that Sweden has now, in the most recent elections, elected a very good number of very conservative, indeed they’re identified as political rightist candidates. The headline in the article by Dominic Green in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal is, “Europe’s Rightward Trend Has Reached Sweden.” Now, the reason I’m going to talk about it here today is because it’s just a reminder to us that facts are very difficult to overcome, that reality has a way of impinging in our lives, that biblical worldview privileges reality. And that includes reality as in biological reality, as in male and female, man, woman, boy, girl.

But it also comes down to something else. One of the most urgent needs of human beings is to dwell in safety. One of the deepest urges of a human society is to achieve a certain level of safety. And as Dominic Green writes in The Wall Street Journal, that this unexpected and unprecedented shift to the right in the Swedish election is entirely traceable to concern among the Swedish people of rising crime rates. And by rising crime rates, I mean crime rates like nothing they have ever seen before. And it’s because of massive changes, including some brought by immigration. They’re in Sweden. Sweden had the myth of assimilation, believing that it could receive immigrants and the immigrants would assimilate into Swedish society. It hasn’t turned out that way.

As is predictable in so many other cases, Sweden ended up with a group that would not and did not assimilate into the culture, and the crime rate has skyrocketed. And the election results indicate, at least the frustration and concern, perhaps even the fear of many people in Sweden, that the situation is slipping out of control. As Dominic Green writes, “Not long ago, Sweden was so notoriously safe that it might even have been a bit dull. Today,” he writes, “it is exceptional in all the wrong ways. Between 2013 and 2017, Sweden had Europe’s highest number of reported rapes per capita. In 2021, according to Sweden’s National Council for Crime Prevention, Sweden had the second highest number of deadly shootings per capita among 22 European nations and had done so for the preceding four years.”

Now, there’s much more in terms of this report. But the worldview analysis comes down to this. People may hear a political idea or a political argument and say, “Okay, that’s a liberal argument. That’s a conservative argument. That’s a Republican idea. That’s a democratic idea. That’s a good idea, that’s a bad idea.” But the bottom line is, if the crime rate is going up, and is staying up, and is up in unprecedented ways and you can understand why, then the politicians would get up and say, “Don’t believe the crime rates, trust us,” well, they tend to get tossed out of office. That’s what’s happened in Sweden. But it also comes down to the fact that truth, even the truth of crime statistics and the truth of that kind of experience, eventually overrules any number of theories. I’m going to argue that’s what’s true about the transgender movement. Reality simply trumps the theory.

And also when it comes to something like political arguments, if the crime rates are going up, and by the way, think of American cities, especially very liberal cities where the crime rate is going way up even as the people are flirting with the idea of defunding the police, or not prosecuting criminals, or letting people out of prison early and ending the so-called carceral state, it just comes back to the fact if people in their homes don’t feel safe, eventually, they’re going to make that clear with their vote. Reality does have a way of working its way out.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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