The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, January 6, 2023

It’s Friday, January 6, 2023.

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

Part I

‘Teens Who Grow Up Checking Social Media Become Hyper Sensitive to Their Peers’: New Study Shows Social Media Use Changes Brain in Teens

Sometimes a scientific study comes out, an academic study is released, and you say, “I think I knew that already, but it’s helpful to have this documented.” Many parents might be interested in a study reported in The New York Times with the headline, New Study Links Use of Social Media to Changes in the Brains of Teenagers. Well, the article’s pretty clear. It looks at research undertaken by neuroscientists at the University of North Carolina, and these particular scientists use successive brain scans of middle schoolers between the ages of 12 and 15.

And by the way, The Times says, as if you didn’t know this, quote, a period of especially rapid brain development. And then we’re told, quote, the researchers found that children who habitually checked their social media feeds at around age 12 showed a distinct trajectory with their sensitivity to social rewards from peers heightening over time. Teenagers with less engagement in social media followed the opposite path with declining interest in social rewards, end quote.

Now, if anything, this is true not only for middle schoolers, but for everyone who uses social media. It creates a great distortion field, and we know that. At least adults had better know that. But one of the things we need to recognize is that the brain, the human brain, does change. And by the way, here’s something that you’re not going to see in this kind of article, you’re not going to see in peer reviewed scientific research, but you’re going to find it in the Bible. The Bible makes very clear that our brains, our intelligence, our thinking, all of this actually does progress through stages.

The Apostle Paul said when he was a child, he thought as a child, but now he’s a man. We’re even told that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. So one of the aspects of the humility of Christ taking on human form and being born as a baby is that he also experienced these developmental stages. Jesus was not an adult in a manger. He was a baby. That points to the infinite love that brought Jesus Christ not only to the cross, but also to the manger itself.

This article is also important for Christians, as we think in a biblical worldview, in the category of social rewards, and this is something we all need to think about pretty carefully. Now, this is not new. Social rewards are as old as human society, which is to say it goes back to Adam and Eve, but in particular it goes back to Adam and Eve and all of those who have followed them after the fall. We are social creatures. God made us that way.

Now, other animals are social. You might think about this for just a moment. As you look at other animals, you often see very social behavior. As you look at a lioness with her cubs, as you look at birds in a flock, as you look at ants in an anthill, you’re looking at social behavior, but you’re not looking at self-conscious social behavior. There aren’t any lion sociologists. So far as we know, there aren’t any ant psychiatrists. Not to say they might not need one.

But we, as conscious beings made in God’s image, a part of being made in God’s image means that we not only think, but we think about thinking. We’re not only social, but we can think about being social. We can think about the rewards of social behavior. We can think about the penalties and the downsides of being social creatures. Social rewards as a category, by the way, means that as social creatures, we are pretty sensitive to what others think of us and to the rewards that are offered us. Sometimes, well, just a like on social media, and we can become very dependent upon that, and the Christian worldview should warn us against that kind of dependency.

The Christian worldview would warn us against anti-social behavior. We’re made to God’s glory to be social. But we also have to understand that in a fallen world, our society is often going to offer rewards that are not on the basis of what should be rewarded. And I think we need to recognize two particular vulnerabilities, one old and one, well, very new. The old and pressing vulnerability is adolescence. During that critical period of life, when by the way, a young person is not only developing physically but also intellectually, this is also a biblical reality, which is why you see so much attention in scripture directed towards leading young people at particularly this stage of life. When by the way, one of the hallmarks of adolescence is not only that we think, but that we can think about thinking. And this leads to introspection. It leads to all kinds of things, including what virtually every generation of parents is worried about, and that’s peer pressure. Because even as a five-year-old’s a social creature, well, that socialization has its limits.

But when you become 12, 13, 14, 15, when you enter into that world, it’s hyper-socialized, and that raises all kinds of dangers. And part of what parents need to do is to protect adolescents from that hyper-socialization. Just about every generation has been concerned about something like peer pressure because that hyper-socialization at that early stage of life often offers social rewards for all the wrong things, not for the right things, and it can be exceedingly mean as well.

But the second development is new, and that’s social technology and social media, because the digital revolution has brought, along with what came in its wake, social media, all kinds of opportunities for hyper-socialization to go into hyper-drive and not only in public, in front of others, and for us to be able to monitor nearly 24/7 what at least do we think others are thinking about us. Now, Christian parents, Christian church leaders and those who care about youth need to understand this is a particular problem for young people. This article is about the danger of social media in the brains of teenagers. And by the way, we’re told exactly how these experiments have been undertaken.

The use of brain scans is interesting here because the brain scans are not subjective. They’re largely objective, at least the scan portion of it is. And so the scientists are able to actually see changes that take place in the brain during this period. Here you have one insight. One of the researchers said, quote, teens who grow up checking social media more often are becoming hypersensitive to feedback from their peers, end quote. Let me just state emphatically, if you didn’t know that before this study, I think we’re in big trouble. But it is interesting that this kind of study does make news. It did make a headline in The New York Times. It did rate something like a quarter of a print page in a daily edition.

So at least the editors of The New York Times looking at this said, “This might turn out to be a big story.” Another of the data points cited in the article is this, “Teens who are habitually checking their social media are showing these pretty dramatic changes in the way their brains are responding, which could potentially have long-term consequences well into adulthood, sort of setting the stage for brain development over time.”

Now that’s just another wake-up call, and it comes in the form of telling parents and others, “Look, it’s not just what’s happening right now in, say, the emotions or the heart of your young person. It’s what’s actually taking place in their brains.” Now, this is not to say that changes don’t take place in adult brains, but frankly, we all understand that during adolescence, the brain is physically changing, and that development, well, it’s going to have lifelong consequences, and so we should have very urgent concern about those consequences.

Another statistic from the study is interesting quote, nearly all American teenagers engaged through social media with 97% going online every day and 46% reporting, and remember this is self-reporting, that they are online almost constantly, that according to another study released by the Pew Research Center. It should also be of interest to us that some of the people involved in this research say, hey, you can’t really do much about this, but at least you know about it. One of the researchers said, “This is the new norm.” Well, if it is the new norm, and it well might be as you look at a generalization across our society, we’re in big trouble. But at least informed parents, Christian parents should look at this as a personal challenge, not just as a scientific study.

Part II

How Should Christians Think About IVF? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we turn to your questions with a lot of very urgent and interesting questions. Some of them have to do with in vitro fertilization or what are often referred to as test tube reproductive technologies. IVF has now become a symbol of the age, and just about everyone understands what those initials stand for. But as you’re looking at this, you recognize it does present a real challenge to Christians. And I discuss this in the context of The New York Times recently asking the question of when human life begins, when personhood begins.

And I suggested, based upon what I see as unassailable biblical evidence, that we should track back personhood and human existence to the moment of fertilization. But that then raises questions about modern reproductive technologies, and I appreciate very sensitive and committed listeners to the briefing openly asking those questions. One wrote in asking about how a Christian couple needs to think carefully through how to proceed with IVF or with this form of assisted human reproduction. And this writer says, quote, some couples proceed with multiple embryos at the outset to follow the doctor’s plan without thinking that every embryo is a life that has been created.

And the writer goes on to say that the doctor’s reasoning for creating multiple embryos…. And by the way, I’ll just assert very quickly that the main reason is to increase what is defined as the likelihood of the success of having at least one baby born. And because the process is expensive, doing multiple embryos at one time is more cost effective. This writer of this letter goes on to say that at least some doctors tell couples, quote, that it’s okay to create all these embryos and only transfer one because they say life begins at conception, not fertilization. Well, there’s a lot more in the question sent by that listener, but when we focus on two things.

Number one, what about the creation of all these embryos? What’s the Christian responsibility? And I’ll simply say, I’ve written about this. My first article on this was almost two decades ago, and I believe now even more fervently in what I wrote then. I think our Christian responsibility, based upon a biblical conception of the sanctity of human life, it means that if a Christian couple does undertake any form of assisted human reproduction, every single human embryo must eventually be transferred into the mother’s womb and given the opportunity of life. Otherwise, you’re treating that human embryo as just a thing. Theologically, this is referred to as objectification, and objectification is the very logic that leads to abortion itself.

Now, the other issue raised by this listener comes down to yes, what many doctors are arguing, and that is that conception and fertilization are two different events biologically and two different events morally. And here is where the Christian has to be very careful, I think. And this is a new argument in one sense because throughout most of human history, conception and fertilization were spoken of as basically the same thing. Later, you had doctors who have redefined conception as meaning the successful implantation of the fertilized egg within the uterine wall, and thus anything that prevents that successful implantation is considered as a contraceptive, something that prevents conception.

But again, I’ve written about this and talked about it extensively. The pro-life consensus is that that is a false analysis. That’s why when I speak of conception in a biblical sense, I go ahead and just speak of fertilization because we believe that conception actually happens when the egg is fertilized and that there’s not a moral distinction between a fertilized egg that is successfully embedded in the uterine wall and one that is not yet or never embedded in the uterine wall. Otherwise, you’re suggesting that personhood and human existence somehow begins between fertilization and conception. That turns out to be very dangerous.

Again, I’ve written about this, and I only mention that because written form is more extensive than spoken form like this, but the bottom line is that I believe that these assisted human reproductive technologies are inherently risky in moral terms, and that doesn’t mean they can’t be used. There are a lot of medical technologies that are inherently risky. Some are inherently wrong. But with this kind of assisted human reproduction, or IVF, the possibility of new life is a compelling possibility, but only if the technology is used with full respect for human dignity and the sanctity of human life. And I think in many cases, that is going to set a Christian couple’s moral and biblical convictions over against the medical advice of some of those who, by the way, at least in commercial operations, have a lot of profit to make from all of this.

It’s also true that especially in the biomedical universe, it’s impossible to avoid all moral risk. We’re living in a fallen world, and sometimes that moral risk is inherent whether you turn this way or that. Sometimes that moral risk is involved in saying yes to a procedure. Sometimes you have to admit moral risk is involved in saying no to a procedure, but the Christian principle should be this. We should take it as our responsibility to lower moral risk at any possible opportunity. And so that means that if a Christian couple does consider IVF or another form of assisted human reproduction, they have to take specific action to lower the moral risk. And that moral risk includes the fact that we would not allow a human embryo that is related to us to be destroyed in a laboratory.

Part III

Does Life Begin at Fertilization In Utero or at Fertilization Regardless of the Location? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Another listener to the briefing writes sensitively and intelligently about this question and he says, “My wife and I have been trying to conceive for nearly two years, and in addition to your prayers, we’d really appreciate your help with a moral question we’re now facing as we consider our options to grow our family.” And by the way, I certainly am praying for you. The question is this, do you feel life begins at fertilization in utero or at fertilization regardless of the location? And then he basically says, well, what are the consequences of believing that human personhood or life begins at fertilization when implantation doesn’t happen?

Now, here’s what we need to recognize. This isn’t a question unrelated to assisted reproductive technologies. This is related also to what happens when a fertilized egg, for whatever reason known or unknown to us, doesn’t successfully implant in the womb and is flushed out of the mother’s system. Here’s what we believe. That is still a human being. It’s still a human person. And under the sovereignty of God, God’s sovereign power and his determination to bring glory to himself will be accomplished within that human person. And it will be accomplished unconditionally, which is to say we recognize that when it comes to how many fertilized eggs are eventually flushed out of a woman’s system without her even knowing of the existence of such an egg, that doesn’t make such an egg.

Once fertilization takes place and God says, let there be life, it doesn’t make that life anything less of a life in the sovereign understanding of God. At least as best I can understand to the question that is presented by this technology, this means that even if there are embryos that are not successfully implanted in the womb, so long as they are transferred into the mother’s womb with that opportunity, it lowers the moral risk, and the fate of those embryos, as the fate of us all is, entirely in the hands of our gracious and loving Lord, period.

All this also helps to remind us that we need to pray for those couples in our midst and sometimes in our family and sometimes in our churches who are desperately praying for children. We need to pray that the Lord will give them the desire of their hearts, that God will give them life in the womb, and that God will give them babies in their arms. These are theological and moral issues faced by the Christian church, but they are very real experiences that are based in a deep yearning in the human heart that is not there by evolution or by accident, but is there by God’s plan.

But next, I appreciated a letter sent to me by a listener to The Briefing who is a retired professor in pediatrics at a major university.

He shares with me and I share with you that he had responded to a letter that appeared in a major authoritative medical journal that confused the issue of when life begins. He responded to the erroneous article in the medical journal by saying, “No scientific way exists to prove when intrauterine life begins. Thus, any chosen cutoff point will be arbitrary. If the choice is wrong and life exists before that point, some abortion procedures will take a life. The only choice which carries no risk is to assume life begins at conception.”

I’m very thankful for this medical doctor’s Christian witness on this issue, and he’s absolutely right. And again, that means that at this point, we’re talking about fertilization and conception as the beginning of human life. Drawing any point after that and arguing that that’s when human life or personhood begins is, as this medical professor says, arbitrary, and it will mean the termination, the unjust termination, of human lives.

Part IV

If Blood is Such an Important Part of Atonement in the Sacrificial System, Why is Flour Acceptable for Those Who Cannot Afford Turtledoves or a Lamb? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a Seven-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

As you know, I love questions from children, and this is a question from a seven-year-old girl named Nova, sent by one of Nova’s parents, and it comes down to this. The question is, as they’re studying the book of Leviticus, where is the blood if the sacrifice is actually flour, as in Leviticus, where under some circumstances we are told that in lieu of a turtledove or a lamb, someone who could not afford that sacrifice could bring a sacrifice of flour.

And this seven-year-old girl asked the question, where is the blood? Isn’t that important? Well, it is very important, and that’s an incredibly perceptive question. But it comes down to this, the blood that saves us was not from a turtledove, nor from a lamb, nor from any other animal whose blood was shed in the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament. It comes only by the blood of Christ, and that’s one of the most important themes and truths of biblical theology.

In the book of Hebrews, we come to understand that all of the sacrifices in the Old Testament did not atone for sin, but they held back the wrath of God. It is only the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ that is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. But Nova’s question is really sweet, and it just comes down to the fact that if indeed the blood of one of those animals could save us, then the flour would be inadequate. But neither the flour nor the ox nor the turtledove nor the lamb’s blood could actually save us. Only the blood of Jesus can, and that points to the death of Christ on the cross, our substitutionary savior. And it points to the fact that salvation is found in him and in his atonement only, and in his atonement objectively and sufficiently.

So to this seven-year-old girl and her sweet question, I would simply say, if you’re looking for the blood that stands in for the flour, well, look all the way to the fulfillment of the entire system of sacrifice in the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, because that is the blood that saves, and it’s the only blood that saves.

Part V

Why Do You Think People So Harshly Attack the Doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

And that leads to another very related question sent in by a listener. It says that he has observed several different types of media and numerous assaults on the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. He says, rightly, it is a very sad thing in my view, as it is clearly present in the Bible. I’m curious, he asked, why do you think this doctrine so central to the Christian faith is so under attack? Well, I’ll say, Tim, I think it comes down to the fact that we hate being told that we can contribute absolutely nothing to our salvation because, well, as you know, Jesus paid it all.

When we talk about penal substitutionary atonement, we mean penal, that is, it was because of our sins. He was paying the penalty for our sins on the cross. It was substitutionary in that he was there in our place, in our place, condemned he stood. And it’s atonement. We’re made right with God because God in his righteousness cannot accept sin or sinners, but in his mercy has provided the means of our salvation through the shed blood and the perfect sinless life in the absolute obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, even under death.

What do we contribute to our salvation? Absolutely nothing. That’s hard for human beings to hear. But Tim, I want to say there’s another theological reason that we need to take into account here, and that is that when we talk about the infinite absolute righteousness of God, and that’s what requires what we know as the substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, God requires it and he provides it in Christ.

But here is the thing, many people resist an understanding of God so clearly presented in Scripture that says that he objectively will not accept sin or sinners. There are people who want a much more, say, user-friendly understanding of God or an understanding of a more user-friendly God, A more tolerant God, a God who is not so, as one theologian wrote about 30 years ago, hyper-scrupulous about his own righteousness. But if the Bible presents anything about God, it is that he is, to his own glory, hyper-scrupulous about being himself.

Part VI

What Does the Bible Say about Education? Why Do We Put Such a Focus on High Academic Achievement in the Modern Age? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, a wonderful and sensitive question from a mom of five. And even as she is helping those children as they learn, she says that she has one child who struggles academically and has many God-given talents, on the other hand, that cannot be quantified by grades. And this is a sensitive question from a mom, and I won’t read the whole question, but it comes down to this. According to scripture, Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Now, wisdom requires the accumulation and knowledge of a certain amount of objective facts and certain patterns of intellectual activity. But the fact is the Bible doesn’t valorize academic achievement as much as it valorizes wisdom. And wisdom and academic achievement can be correlated, but they are not the same thing. To be human is to be a sinner, and to be a human sinner is to have a very different learning and intellectual profile. Every single one of us has an intellectual profile that is as individual as, well, a fingerprint. But that means that even as there are patterns, every one of us must seek, to the glory of God and in obedience to Scripture, to try to learn wisdom and to apply that wisdom in all of life.

And that means I say to this sweet mom, if you have five children, you’re going to have five different brains, with five different intelligences, with five different patterns of learning. And even as you are seeking to instill biblical truth in them, and even as you are seeking to build scripture up in their hearts, and even as you are training them to be wise, some will excel others in academic achievement. Some will excel others in moral understanding. Some of them will excel others when it comes to sanctification and even the presence and application of certain biblical Christian virtues.

The Bible is much more concerned with wisdom than it is with intelligence or a category like academic achievement. Now, I’m an academic. I’m president of a college and a seminary. I believe in academic achievement, but I also believe that some of the people in our churches and in our families who are most wise are not wise according to the wisdom of the world. Christian wisdom, we know, for all of us, is being wise according to the Word of God and according to God’s own wisdom.

I’m simply going to close today with a word of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 1:21, where we read, “For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Intelligence is good, and we all recognize that, but wisdom is better, and we had better recognize that. It’s helpful that the church have many intelligent people, believers within it. It’s far more important that the church itself, every one of us, be wise.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

And while we’re talking about being wise, I want to tell you about our D3 Winter Conference at Boyce College. It’s going to be held March 10th and 11th. It’s going to be hosted by our faculty. I’ll be a part of it. We’re going to center on doctrine, apologetics, and discipleship. I hope you’ll join me along with other trusted speakers as we discuss, with young people, life’s most important question, who is Jesus Christ? Our answer, as you know, must come from scripture, and it must be right not only for the sake of having right doctrine, but also for the sake of knowing Christ.

Visit to learn more and to register. Again, D3, that’s the number three, to learn more.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow 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’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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