The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, January 13, 2023

It is Friday, January 13th, 2023.

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

Part I

Governments Have Consequences, Especially Totalitarian Regimes: Just Consider China and its Current COVID Crisis

We often repeat the truth that elections have consequences, but even more fundamentally, governments have consequences. The form of government has consequences. And as you’re thinking about this, recognize that a government is a representation of a worldview. Some worldview produces that government. Keep that in mind when we consider what’s going on right now in China or what, at least, we know of what’s going on in China, what we think is going on in China.

That itself points to the perplexity. We actually don’t know what is going on in China because China, under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party, is a dictatorship of the party. It is an autocracy. One leader. And that one leader as the chairman of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has just received an unprecedented third term. They are rewriting autocracy as they go along.

But as we’re thinking about China right now, the big headline has to do not with the economy and not with defense and military issues, those are important enough, but rather with COVID-19. Now, let’s just remind ourselves that even as America and the rest of the world considers ourselves to be in a certain place as we think about the pandemic, COVID-19, we recognize that China began in a different place. And of course the virus began in China. That’s a big story too.

But China decided, under the control of the Communist Party, to come up with the most repressive system. They had a Zero COVID policy. And for that, they brought about draconian policies that had to do with the surveillance of an entire people, the shutdown of an entire economy, and of course, with what amounts to a police state being employed over against the liberties of the people.

And the stated goal of the Chinese Communist Party, according to its great leader, Xi Jinping, was to prevent China from being victimized by COVID-19, as were many other nations. Now, let’s just point to the political and propaganda fact that China kept pointing to the United States and to other democracies as exhibit A, B, C, D and go on of how COVID-19 should not be handled. China was not only draconian, it was arrogant in claiming it’s Zero COVID policy. And of course, as an autocracy led by an autocrat, it was also secretive about exactly how it intended to carry about this surveillance system and all the rest. But it’s also interesting to note that even as China bears a good deal of the blame for how COVID got out of hand in the first place. Well, COVID has come. It’s come to China at last, and it has come in the main because the very same autocracy, the very same dictatorship, basically just reversed course a 180 degree turn.

They went from Zero COVID to a completely open society when it comes to the pandemic. And here’s what we need to note, the autocracy, the dictatorship, basically under the leadership of the Communist Party just decided, let’s just give in to COVID-19, let’s let the people bear the brunt. And there are evidences that crematoria and other facilities in China, not to mention hospitals, are being stressed to the breaking point.

Oh, and by the way, China, in terms of its dependence upon its own technology, rejected the kind of vaccines and treatments that you see in the United States. And so the virus is actually not only spreading, the great danger to the rest of us is that it will mutate at the same time.

There is no doubt that the vaccines and in particular vaccine mandates have been controversial in the United States and elsewhere. But the point is that in the West there can at least be an open conversation and it is a political decision. Under the Communist party’s dictatorship, it is a dictator decision and thus China finds itself in a very difficult position. Or we might state more personally the Chinese people find themselves now in an extremely vulnerable position.

But those observing China from the West, well, we’re also in an interesting position because no one actually knows what’s going on. I mention this just to underline that worldviews have consequences, worldviews produce governments, and when the worldview produces a dictatorship or an autocracy, well, it’s a lot more than liberty that is crushed. So, is basic intelligence and information. We don’t know much.

A team of reporters from the Wall Street Journal puts it this way: “For most of the past two years, foreign officials and business executives grappled with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s unflinching insistence on a zero tolerance approach to COVID-19. Now they are struggling to make sense of Beijing’s decision to scrap those pandemic controls virtually without warning.” The Wall Street Journal refers to this as a policy whiplash.

Now, in a worldview perspective, one of the interesting issues here is that we really do expect a government to tell us something. We expect the government to have an interest in something. And at least in the West, we expect the government to have as its interest the wellbeing of citizens. But that doesn’t appear to be the priority in China at all. And as a matter of fact, according to the materialist, atheistic worldview of the Chinese Communist Party, it doesn’t have to be at the center of consideration at all.

Instead, you have the party as the end of all things. The good of the party as the greatest good imaginable. And you have a Marxist ideology that promises that given enough time, the party will bring a utopia. But it’s anything but a utopia in China.

But China is at this point something like a black box. A black box represents an intellectual not knowing zone. You speak about a black box as an explanation for the fact there’s certain things you just can’t understand, there’s certain things you just can’t know. China in this case, is something of an intentional ideological black box.

As the Wall Street Journal says: “For decades, scholars, diplomats, and business executives have sought clues on the communist party’s inner workings by pouring over government documents, state media reports, and imagery of officials’ public appearances.”

Now there’s a bit of hilarity in the midst of all of this. Back when I was in high school, I had access to looking at the official Soviet encyclopedia. Now there was no internet, so you had to have an actual physical copy in order to see this. But I was able to see two different editions or at least pages from two different editions of the Soviet encyclopedia.

And I was shown photographs, the same photograph except not quite the same photograph. In the first photograph taken in the early 1950s, there were about six people in the photograph. They were all members of the Presidium. They were the central Soviet leadership. But in the next edition showing the same photograph, there were only five individuals. One had been cut out. By the way, it was pretty clumsy back then. There was no photo imaging software as exists now. And so even as there were five men in the photograph, there were 12 hands. Go figure.

But if nothing else, this just shows the difference between a relatively open and an absolutely closed society. If you have to cut people out of photographs and yet you can’t cut out their hands, they become non persons. What that told you is that between those two editions of the Soviet encyclopedia, someone fell out of political favor. They didn’t just cease to exist. Certainly they could not cease to exist retroactively.

But that’s just pointing to the problem with the dictatorship in its control of information as well as its control of people and movement. We are told in this article in the Wall Street Journal that under Xi Jinping, the reposition of this kind of autocratic rule means that China is actually now less understood than it was, say, a decade ago. The Chinese Communist Party zealously controls all information, and as we know, they are active agents in disinformation.

And so I’m going to close this by pointing to the closing paragraph of this article in the Wall Street Journal: “Chinese officials have accused foreign media and analysts of misunderstanding their country. One official is cited here who said, ‘I would advise the international investors to find out what’s really going on in China and what’s the real intention of our government by themselves.'”

But of course that’s just a form of intentional dishonesty because the one thing we don’t know about China is what’s really going on and the one reason is because the Chinese Communist Party is in such absolute political and information control. But we do know this, and this is something also that was very telling just in recent days and we come back to a photograph, satellite photographs of crematoria and other facilities in China show an unusual and frightening level of activity.

It turns out that the Chinese Communist Party may not want to talk about this, but in this case, a satellite in the sky has offered documentary evidence. Beyond that, we just don’t know. And the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want us to know.

Once again, worldviews have consequences. Sometimes those consequences are nothing less than life and death.

Part II

Why Does God Seek Glory for Himself? Does That Make Him a Narcissist? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But now we turn to questions. Again, I’m thankful for the intelligent and serious questions sent in by listeners to the briefing. We’re going to begin today with a theological question from Ruth.

Ruth writes in, saying: “In our culture, if a person does something to get glory, he’s considered a narcissist. I understand,” she writes, “that God is worthy of all honor and praise, and it is my objective to live in such a way that in all things he might have the preeminence.” And she cites here, of course, Colossians 1:18.

“But,” she says. “I can’t quite wrap my head around why he does things to get glory. Perhaps the answer is he is God and beyond my understanding, I would appreciate your input in the matter.”

Well, Ruth, it’s a very serious question and it’s a question that comes to all of us because yes, if any of us as mere human beings sought glory for ourselves, we would be narcissist, we would be glory robbers. The Bible’s very clear about that, and this does represent something of a doctrinal puzzle for seriously minded Christians. If it is wrong for me to seek glory, why is it right for God to seek glory?

Now, you answer your own question here, you answer it rightly. It’s because we are human beings and it’s not just, by the way, that we’re sinful human beings, that compounds the problem, the first issue is that we are finite human beings. We are the creature rather than the creator. But God is God and God is worthy of all glory. But how exactly does that work? Well, you ask at one point if the problem is a limitation on human reason and the answer to that is profoundly yes. We just need to acknowledge that. You say you can’t get your head around it. Well, the fact is no theologian, no skilled scholar of the church can get his or her head around it. The fact is it just doesn’t work because we are mere human beings.

One theological principle that was articulated in the past is that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite. Now, there’s a lot more to Christian theology than that, but the fact is it’s true. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. But it is interesting that in scripture we’re not only told that God is the greatest of all and that he is rightly deserving of all glory, that he rightly demands and should receive preeminence, but we’re also told some analogies. We are given some pictures, some logical sequences in order that we can at least try to understand what’s going on here.

Now, for example, in Hebrews chapter six, we are told this, and I quote, beginning at verse 13: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself saying, surely I will bless you and multiply you. And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves and in all their disputes and oath is final for confirmation. So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

Now, the key issue I’m pointing to in that text in Hebrews 6 is the fact that when God made an oath, he made an oath in his own name since there is no name higher than his. He was in effect confirming the promise that he had made to and through Abraham. Verse 16 sets the theological logic so we can understand it, where the writer of the book of Hebrews, by the Holy Spirit, writes: “For people swear by something greater than themselves and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, and the oath was in his own name.”

Why was that in his own name? If we swear by our own name, we’re basically not saying anything according to the logic of this passage. But when we swear by a greater, well, that’s when we swear an oath that is, in the words of the writer of Hebrews, convincing. But when God swears an oath, that is to say in the earlier translations, he vowed a vow, then he can vow it only in his own name because there is no greater name. So, the same principle applies to his glory. God, simply by being God, will display and will exalt in his own glory where we should exalt in his glory because he is infinitely greater than we, he cannot exalt in anyone else. He cannot glory in anyone else. He cannot allow anyone else to receive the glory because there is none as great as he. So he would be untrue to himself.

Now, how God can do that and be morally perfect is beyond our imagination because we cannot be in that position and be anything other than just narcissistically self-glorifying because we are finite and we are sinners, but he is infinite and he is God.

And so you basically answered your own question, Ruth. But it’s a good question and it’s a biblical logic, I think, that’s healthy for us just to rehearse, to remind ourselves of from time to time. And that passage from Hebrews 6 is one of those anchor passages that helps me to understand why God is God and I am not, and why there is none greater than He such that even when he makes an oath, he makes an oath in his own name.

Part III

What is God’s Glory? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

By the way, just related to this, I was asked a question this week that I answered in public, and it’s a good question. It’s the kind of question that more Christians should ask, and that is what exactly is the glory of God? Now, we could go through some word studies and we could look at any number of texts, but I simply want to say to you that as I teach systematic theology and biblical doctrine, I have to define the terms I’m using.

So, as I define the glory of God, I define it this way: It is the internal reality and the external manifestation of the greatness of God in his infinite perfections, all of those infinite perfections. So, God’s glory is in one sense the reality and the making visible of the Godness of God, just revealing who he is.

As I say, there are two parts. It is the inward reality and the external manifestation. So, in the internal reality, God is never more glorious. God’s not becoming more Godly. God is simply God. He is by definition and by self-revelation infinite in all of His perfections. God is not growing more Godly. He is simply who he is. He is self-existent. That’s a part of his perfections. But there is an external manifestation, and that’s why we speak of God being more glorified of our responsibility to glorify God.

We’re not adding to himself, we are not adding to his reality. We’re adding to the external manifestation. And by the way, the biblical theology found in the old and in the New Testament has to do with the nation’s bringing their glory and their tribute to God. So it’s not just individuals, it is the entire human civilization. And it has to do with the fact that God’s external manifestation of his glory is that which we should seek.

That’s why we worship as we worship. That’s why we praise as we praise. We are not adding to His reality, that’s beyond our power, but we are adding to the visibility and to the perception of his glory.

Part IV

Should Expectant Christian Parents Opt In or Out of Prenatal Genetic Testing? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

A very different question comes next. A husband writing in and this is just wonderful news. Congratulations to this husband and wife who by God’s promise are about to become father and mother. In this case, the father, the husband, writes: “We just recently found out that we were pregnant with our first child after over a year of trying. We’re very thankful and excited. However, one of the questions the doctors have asked is regarding prenatal genetic testing.”

He says, “It seems that there is no risk involved to such tests, and my wife and I are both firmly pro-life, not worried that such tests would sway us in any way that in that regard. However,” He says. “Despite all the research into how Christians should approach this, answers lean both ways. And we’re still on the fence about whether or not a Christian should opt in or out of such testing.”

Well, I think this is one of those questions in which there is not a categorical yes or no by the biblical worldview. And so I’ll put it this way, what would be some principles we would think about? Well, the first one is the one you affirm implicitly, and that is the fact that this unborn baby is made in the image of God and is to be welcomed and celebrated and his or her life defended from the moment of fertilization on.

And so the question is not whether or not this baby is acceptable to you. And you acknowledge that very, very clearly. I appreciate that. But then you say there’s no risk. Well, I am not in a position to judge medical risk. I wouldn’t dare do that, but there is moral risk.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s a categorical wrong in this because there can also be the moral risk of not doing it, at least under some circumstances. So, let’s talk about it for a moment. The moral risk of doing it is this: The medical profession has a certain set of best practices. And so if there were to be found or identified some form of, say, genetic abnormality, you would be under a lot of pressure from the medical establishment to take some kind of action.

And if it’s a serious enough genetic issue, there would be a certain amount of pressure to abort the baby. There’s just no question about that. But on the other hand, there is also a bit of moral risk that we just have to acknowledge honestly. If there is a risk that there might be some kind of medical intervention. Now, since you’re talking about genetic testing, that lessens the likelihood there’s some form of medical intervention. But it doesn’t remove it all together.

And the second thing is that it could help to prepare parents for how to deal with a certain kind of challenge that would come with a child and certain forms of genetic diagnosis. But I have to intervene here and say something else. And that is that I know several people who are now adults who as they were prenatal, that is to say as they were in their mother’s womb, were the subjects of testing that indicated some kind of genetic abnormality in which there was a recommendation to the parents to abort.

Thanks be to God they did not. And in at least most of these cases, it turns out that the diagnosis was wrong. Now, we celebrate that. Did some kind of miraculous intervention take place? We don’t know. But the fact is that even as the scientists will claim there is enormous predictability with this genetic testing, the fact is I’m not a medical doctor, but I know that none of this testing is 100% accurate.

But that raises the issue, which is always of concern to Christians, or ought to be, which is the morality of knowledge. It’s not just, “Can I know this?” But, “What will I do with that knowledge?” And, “How will I handle that knowledge?”

Now, this husband and his wife have clearly thought through this issue, and I simply got to say there is not, again, an absolute right or an absolute wrong to this. But there would be an absolute right and an absolute wrong to certain actions that at least others might suggest on the basis of whatever might come by such a diagnostic investigation.

I want to thank you for your question, and I also want to say that here is something I know for absolute certain, and that is we should all be thrilled for you and for your wife, and we pray for you and your wife and this baby a wonderful, wonderful, happy life together.

Part V

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism on the Trinity and Other Doctrines — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

The next comes as a question from a man who identifies himself as an evangelical Presbyterian, and I want to thank you for this question. And he’s responding to something I said in response to a question about the doctrine of the Trinity and about Roman Catholics and Protestants. And I made this statement, and I’ll just quote myself here because he did: “There is no Catholic doctrine of the Trinity as compared to an evangelical doctrine of the Trinity.”

He says, “This seems to be contradictory to the common doctrine statement you made in the previous sentence.” So, in the previous statement I had said that there are deep theological differences between evangelicals or Protestants and Roman Catholics. So he says, “How do you make sense of this?”

Well, I’ll make sense of it simply by saying this: The best way to understand what’s at stake here is to rewind church history a bit to the 16th century and to look to figures, most importantly I’ll just mention Martin Luther and John Calvin, and look at their disagreements with Roman Catholicism. John Calvin in particular went to length to say, “I don’t disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of Christ in terms of defining Christ in the ancient creeds.”

And furthermore, neither Calvin nor Luther disagreed with the Roman Catholic church on something as basic as the doctrine of the Trinity. But where they disagreed, they disagreed to the point of leaving, of schism, of division. And that came most importantly for Luther over two doctrines. And the first of those doctrines was the doctrine of justification. But tied to that was the doctrine of scriptural authority, because he came to the conclusion that he could only understand, and I side wholeheartedly with Luther on this, that he could only understand the gospel if the source of revelation was Scripture and the authority of revelation was Scripture alone, the famous sola: sola scriptura.

And based upon that scriptural revelation, he came to a clear understanding of the biblical basis of justification by faith. But that’s not enough. It’s also a sola, justification by faith alone. And on those two solas, on more, but on those two solas, there’s a radical disagreement between historical Protestantism, especially confessional Protestantism, evangelical theology, and Roman Catholicism on the other hand.

If you were to ask what two doctrines are the main issue of debate, it would be what we might define as the material and the formal principles of the reformation, which would be the authority of scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. You put those two things together and it explains why Luther and Calvin and their heirs are not in the Roman Catholic Church and why there is not just a misunderstanding. It’s not just a misunderstanding.

Actually, the division is based upon an understanding, and that was made clear on the Protestant side by the declarations made by the Reformers and by their heirs. But in particular, if we just had Calvin and we just had Luther, we’d have plenty of understanding as to why The Reformation took place.

But we also have, in the proof of say, the Council of Trent, the decrees of the Council of Trent, which was the Catholic answer to the Reformation, we also have a very clear indication that the Catholic Church understood The Reformers. It was not a misunderstanding. And they countered the reformation with what, no pun intended, was called and is today a counter reformation. So in that sense, it’s really important to understand that there are deep, and I think unresolvable, doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics, and I’m decidedly Protestant.

But at the same time, there are areas of doctrinal overlap and agreement. I mentioned last week a Venn Diagram. Those are two circles that intersect, and you might have a greater shared area or a lesser shared area. And I’ll just say that the historic doctrines of Christology in the doctrine of the Trinity, they are very important shared areas. But the areas that are distinct are equally important and actually more important to explaining why there are Protestants and why there are Roman Catholics.

And if you want to stress the issue and it’s good and healthy that we think in these terms, actually, when you even look at the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, there is still a difference between Catholics and Protestants over the doctrinal authority for either coming to the right understanding of those doctrines or holding to and enforcing the right understanding of those doctrines. So, the differences don’t go away, but it’s just important to understand, and this is particularly important, I think, in this post-Christian age, that we respond to secularists by making very clear that there is no Protestant doctrine of the Trinity, there is an historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and by the way, it is one of those necessary doctrines constitutive to being a church.

Now, there are other issues also constitutive, and those are the disagreements between Protestants and Roman Catholics. And yet time has run out for this consideration. It’s an ongoing issue that we should talk about also in the future. And I guess intellectually there’s another thing. It is as important to be honest and accurate in speaking about our agreements as our disagreements, because at the very least, we need to honor the truth. That’s a good place to start.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for the Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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