The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, February 24, 2023

It’s Friday, February 24th, 2023.

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

Part I

Power to Parents: States Weigh Allowing Use of Education Vouchers for School Choice

Something big is happening at the state level across the United States. The most recent state is the state of Iowa. What’s going on? Well, the state government is giving enormous power to parents in order to choose the educational context appropriate for their children. And in this case, when it comes to choose, it’s not inventing a new right, it’s because it’s very clear that in the United States, thanks be to God, parents have the right to choose how their children will be educated.

But having the right often is a rather empty thing if there’s not the money to fulfill the choices made by parents when you have tax money confiscated from American families and channeled into government run public schools. If that’s the only way the money can run, then Christian parents or any kind of parent who’s concerned about the education of children and does not choose the public schools, they are put at an economic disadvantage.

Two states are breaking out of that pattern and other states are almost sure to follow. I want to mention Arizona and Iowa. Arizona and Iowa both put together legislation which signed into law means this. Parents and families in those states will have the opportunity to make their own decisions about where their children will be educated. It could be the public schools. It could be a private school, it could be a Christian school. It could be a form of homeschooling, such as a consortium. It could be any number of things.

But in Arizona, something like $8,000 travels with every one of those children. In the state of Iowa, something just less than $8,000 per student will travel with each one of those students. Now, that’s a game changer. Now, there are similar forms of legislation already in effect in states such as Indiana and some other states around the country.

But here’s where we need to understand that there is a huge impediment to what I think for most of us would appear to be rather common sense legislation. When you’re talking about money being confiscated from Americans, they should not be told that the only possible use of some of the funds confiscated from them is the public schools when it comes to their children. And as you’re looking at this, you recognize that there could be in cultural terms, few achievements with greater effect in our society than breaking the monopoly of the government schools on the education of children.

Let’s just state that. Christians understand, Christian parents in particular, why the education of children and the choice of how a child is going to be educated, our children, this is such an important issue and parents should have the support of the community in making that decision.

Now, I hope regardless of the state of your residents and your state may have such a provision already, I hope you’re hearing this and saying, “Well, that sounds like a very good idea.” Here’s where I want to give you two issues of background that may be complicating factors. Issue of background number one: Historic Protestants in the United States have often opposed this kind of voucher or similar tax supported issue simply because you had historic Protestants in this country committed to the idea of the common school.

Now, I’m just going to state to you the historical reality. You had Protestants in this country, Protestant denominations and churches. The vast majority of Protestant citizens in this country insisting upon the common schools on the government schools because the society was so cohesive and so unquestionably shaped by a Christian understanding of things, a Christian understanding of reality, a Christian understanding of morality, a Christian understanding of the nation and its identity.

Now, we’re in a very different environment. Now, you have major cultural authority saying that parents shouldn’t even be involved or informed when their children identify as transgender. So as you’re looking at this, you recognize we’re in a different world. But here’s the problem. There are a lot of Protestant denominations and that includes inside at least many evangelical circles where there is a residual commitment in the name of some kind of justice to the public schools, to the government schools, not just in terms of their existence, but their existence as a monopoly.

And the argument is often made now in terms of equity. And so you have all citizens equally able to send their children to the public schools. But this is where I want to encourage Christian parents to understand that our responsibility, your responsibility is not to the nation at large when you’re thinking about this immediate question, it is to your children. It is to your conscience.

It is to your convictions. We’re in a situation right now. We are at least in many cases, and I’m simply going to say it that carefully, at least in many if not most cases, these government schools present a clear and present danger to those convictions. And even to your parental authority. And you know it. The second thing I want to mention is that there are legal impediments in many states, indeed, at least historically in a majority of states, and we need to name where that has come from.

That legal impediment is often a constitutional amendment in the state constitution, and it is often known as a Blaine amendment. After United States Senator James Blaine, who during the years of the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant sought to have the U.S. Constitution amended with the similar kind of language. That language prevents any taxpayer money going to religiously identified schools.

And directly or indirectly at least in the interpretation of many of the states. A majority of the states adopted those amendments. Interestingly, the federal government didn’t, partly because the effort to amend the U.S. constitution is a bit more complex and difficult than the case in at least some of the states. I just want to name something we need to say out loud. This was driven not so much by an intense interest in the constitutional character of the United States government, it was driven by a pervasive undeniable anti-Catholicism.

Because if you go back to the 19th century, if you’re talking about organized alternatives to the government schools, the primary organized alternatives were found especially in newly urbanizing America, among Roman Catholic immigrants, Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, German Catholics. Even in a city right now such as Louisville, some of the oldest of the independent schools are German and Irish Catholic schools. Even very prominent, very competitive boys high schools that still have those German and Irish Catholic traditions and that same identity.

The Blaine amendments were efforts not just to say, “We’re going to keep government money and government controlled schools,” but it was just undeniably driven by anti-Catholic animus. As you look at this, you recognize that such things have consequences. Now, a lot of evangelical parents in states who rightly think they ought to be able to use at least some of their taxpayer money in order to support the education of their children by their choice. You have this blocked in many cases because a century ago you had American evangelical Protestants on the wrong side of the issue driven by the wrong kind of impulse.

Now, some of these voucher systems are actually ways of trying to get around those Blaine amendments because quite frankly, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get them out of the constitution because here’s another of the great sad ironies of history. It is not now the Protestants who want those amendments to be put in place. It is not now the Catholics who want those amendments to be put in place, it is the liberal secularists who want those amendments to be kept in place because it is they who won as a result of these policies.

And make no mistake, they know it.

Part II

What About the ‘He Gets Us’ Campaign? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But now we’re going to go ahead and turn to questions. I appreciate all the questions sent by very intelligent and very discerning listeners. I had a lot of questions come in the aftermath of the Super Bowl. Now, one of the things we talked about in the context of the Super Bowl was liberal opposition to the fact that during the Super Bowl there was a series of advertisements run along the theme, He Gets Us.

And this was an advertising campaign put together by a group of very wealthy Christians in order to try to inject a bit of Christian testimony and a bit of Christian evangelism of some sort into the context of the Super Bowl, which is after all the biggest spectacle in the annual calendar of the United States.

We’re talking about something like 100 million people watching the Super Bowl. And so this was an opportunity to reach something like 200 million eyes just in terms of getting a message out before the American people. Now, last week on The Briefing I discussed the fact that the liberal secular animus against this campaign is something that revealed the fact that even a campaign, frankly as indirect as this in terms of Christian witness, it brought forth some of the most remarkable statements of moral outrage coming from the left. And I wanted to defend it as it was criticized from the left.

But I also had a good number of listeners write in and say, “Well, what about the campaign itself? Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing? We’re talking about spending an awful lot of money, reportedly $20 million in that initial effort and it’s showing up elsewhere. These ads are showing up elsewhere in terms of television viewership, and we’re told it is going to be expanding into the expenditure of many million more dollars. And the question is this a good thing or a bad thing? What about the message?

Well, when it comes to the message, let’s just say that the most important word to use about it is indirect. There were references to Jesus Christ in such a way that you knew who he was in the theme of the advertisements, He Gets Us. And just using contemporary English, that means that Christ understands us and implied in that is that Christ identifies with us. And so there was a lot of imagery about human problems, social ills and moral issues, but the main point was that Christ gets us, that Jesus gets us.

Now, there was no particular reference to the gospel in terms of the plan of salvation. And so I’ll simply say that what you could safely understand from this ad is that there’s something good to be said about Jesus, but there is no way that someone would become a Christian in biblical terms by looking at what was conveyed through these advertisements because there was not enough biblical information shared. There was no presentation of the gospel itself.

And so you would call this something like an indirect form of evangelism or what during the 20th century would’ve been called proto-evangelism or pre-evangelism. Is that a good idea or not? Now, frankly, I would say there are some questions we ask about some of the individual additions or the commercials or the advertisements themselves, including one that made reference to capital punishment because that certainly raises an issue that I’ll just say was rather awkwardly dealt with in terms of that particular approach.

But the bigger issue is the indirect evangelism or the proto or pre-evangelism. What does that amount to? Well, I’ll just say that in my Christian experience, and I do not mean to be censorious here, I’m just being honest, in my Christian experience, pre-evangelism has often gotten us nowhere and it’s not gotten us much closer to actual evangelism.

You can say that when you’re running a public relations campaign for Christianity, well, this is not the worst way to do it. I’m sure there are worse. And when you look at this, it might have some positive effect. I not only do not doubt that, I have to hope it’s so, but I just have to say from my experience and my theological evaluation proto-evangelism, it just can’t be a major approach. It has to be, instead, evangelism, actually telling people about Jesus, identifying Jesus as the savior who died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for their sin, dying in their place, being raised by the Father on the third day, such that by his crucifixion and his resurrection and his sinless life and his substitutionary death on our behalf having been resurrected by the Father, salvation comes to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so that’s evangelism. And the fact is that there is just not much of a good track record in the 20th century or the 21st or any other century to my knowledge of proto-evangelism or pre-evangelism getting us very far unless there’s an awful lot of actual evangelism coming very fast on its heels. Something else we just need to recognize, and again, I don’t say this to be contentious, I do say this to be honest and hopefully analytical in thinking about this with you, one of the things we have to ask is how in certain formats or using certain media and technologies, what can and cannot be effectively conveyed?

Now, one of the things we learned in the 20th century is that there are persons who may listen to a radio program, a radio sermon, and no doubt be saved by hearing that message and responding to it in faith. I think of one of the men who had the greatest impact on my life in evangelism, Dr. D James Kennedy, he became senior pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the father of the program known as Evangelism explosion, which trained so many American evangelicals in personal evangelism. He came to faith in Christ, hearing a Philadelphia preacher on the radio. He was convicted of his sin. He heard the presentation of the gospel. He seized upon Christ and later became one of the most influential pastors in the United States.

So radio is a means by which persons can and did come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I hope still do. But it takes the gospel preaching for anyone to respond to the gospel and be saved. It took that Philadelphia preacher’s very clear presentation of the gospel for Jim Kennedy to hear it and hearing to believe it and believing to be saved.

And by the way, the outline that that Philadelphia pastor Donald Gray Barnhouse used in that sermon that was heard by Jim Kennedy, that’s the very outline of what became evangelism explosion right down to the questions that Dr. Barnhouse had asked.

Later in the 20th century, you learned something else. Persons can come to faith in Christ by the preaching of the gospel on television. There’s simply no doubt about that. You had the Billy Graham Crusades that were televised. You had many preachers who are televised. You have many evangelical preachers with very clear presentations of the gospel televised right now. And even though television may be anachronism, let’s just say they are present and available to you in video. And by constant streaming just about 24/7, which is a great thing.

A lot of biblical truth infused into hearts and minds. An awful lot of gospel presented to people. And the gospel is presented clearly enough and substantially enough that sinners may hear and hearing believe and believing be saved. Of course there are other technologies that can be used as well. But here’s the point. When we talk about persons actually coming to faith in Christ, it actually takes the clear presentation of the gospel itself.

They have to be told about their sin and all must be told about Christ and his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead and the power of the gospel under salvation to those who believe.

So I just want to respond to about, oh, at least a dozen people who wrote in some rather urgently about this that there are questions about how you might spend Christian money. And that’s a question that Christians are going to have to answer, and that means individual Christians as well. But when it comes to public relations, campaigns for Christianity, it’s not so much that I’m for or against them, it’s just that I haven’t seen much actual effect from them.

Part III

Are Gender-neutral Hymns A Subversion of God and His Word? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next we turn to a question from James and he referred to our conversation on The Briefing about the Church of England delving into gender-neutral or at least gender revised language about God in Christian worship.

I was very clear in my condemnation and criticism of that, and especially as you see tampering with biblical language. As we talked about on The Briefing, the most basic principle is God gets to name himself, and he did and he named himself as Father.

But James writes in saying this, that even as he was thinking about this issue, “It occurred to me that another area where God was subverted is in the hymn sung in liberal churches,” about eight years ago he says at an increasingly liberal ELCA, that’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That’s liberal Lutherans.

He says in that church he once attended and since left nearly six years ago, he says, again, “The worship leaders with the pastor’s approval decided to discard the old hymn book and place new hymn books in the pews. The difference, the hymns in the new hymn book were written in gender-neutral language. Although hymns,” he says, “are not scripture per se, nor are they perfect in every way, but they do speak of holy writ of God and of God himself. Would you agree,” he asked, “that these rewritten hymns are also by design a subversion of God and his word.”

By the way, this man goes on to say that he is now in a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching Baptist church. And I want to say God bless you and God bless you for your question. And by the way, you are absolutely right and I want to say you’re so right, you are actually right in chronology. It was changes in hymns that actually came before some of the proposed revisions in scriptural translations and in official liturgies.

And there are some fascinating twists and tales in that story. There are some that are really good. There are some that are really bad. So for one thing, you had the fact that changing hymn books is now turned out to be a highly ideological issue. And so liberal denomination by liberal denomination, well, let’s just state the fact they had to get rid of the old hymns because the old hymns were filled with much scripture and that scripture named God the way God named himself.

And if you’re going to change the language about God, and as I say as a theologian, that means you are now changing the God to whom you’re making reference. You’re now making reference to a different God. Well, you got to change the language. And so the hymn books were a very early battle. Now, I want to tell you about something else. So the losses are all these Protestant denominations that predictably rewrote their hymnals in order to include so-called gender inclusive language.

But in many cases, by the way, there were two other aspects. One of them was the actual biblical language about God is simply taken out and the language that’s put in is often not biblical at all. And I’ll just say in bottom line terms, it is often blatantly pagan. It’s just bringing in something like Canaanite idolatry into a mainline Protestant hymn book. There I said it. But something else happened and that was that some people said no, that is to say most of the hymn writers in terms of the old hymns, by definition they’re dead and most of them are now in the public domain, and so they don’t have a say.

But it is really interesting to note certain people did have a say. Stuart Townend and Keith Getty refused to let the PCUSA, that is the Presbyterian Church USA rewrite their hymn known as in Christ alone in such a way as to take out that kind of masculine language and put in more gender inclusive language. And so at least we can say there’s one hymn that was prevented from being in that hymnal precisely because the composers of the hymn said they’re not going to let it be malformed in that way just to get it included in one more hymnal.

Now since then, I have heard that there are other hymnals who have made some of those changes without permission from the composers of the hymn, from the writers of the hymn in this case. And so there are big issues for us to confront here, but this letter writer is onto something big, and that is what the Christian Church has recognized are too millennia. As we worship, that is our faith.

In other words, we show who we are by our worship. We show what we believe by our worship. As we sing, so we believe, but also here’s where we need to take even further note, as we sing, so are we teaching others, including our children, so we better sing the right words. We better say the right words over and over again and sing them and we better sing only the right words and none of the wrong words.

Part IV

Can You Give Hope For Those Of Us in Despair Over the Issues of Our Culture? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I get questions like the one that came from Joe fairly often.

He says, “I listened to The Briefing.” And by the way, thanks Joe, but he says “Sometimes the result of that is that he feels depressed and he’s just depressed about what we can do about these issues.” And I’ll just go on to say, he says, “We often talk about these things,” because as he acknowledges, “We basically have to talk about it. I appreciate,” he says, “you address reality.” And then he says, “Yet it is bleak.”

Well, here’s what I want to offer you, Joe and to all others, and I wish I could find a way to say this virtually every single day about every single issue, but here’s the bottom line, refutation of depression in this case, all of these things are true and all these problems are at least as big as we seek to describe them. And all these challenges are just as daunting as they appear to Christians and in particular to Christian churches, preachers to Christian parents and all the rest.

You say, “Well, where’s the hope?” Well, here’s the hope. In spite of all of that transcendent over all of that most conclusively in the beginning, in the middle, and the end of all these considerations, Jesus Christ is Lord. So that’s what gives Christians confidence in the middle of all of this because basically that’s the very kind of reality you find in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

In other words, the children of Israel found themselves in such horrifying situations, and yet they had hope because they knew God. And even in the New Testament, it’s extremely clear that Jesus is telling his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart,” said Christ, “I have overcome the world.”

And so you look at this and you recognize a part of our Christian responsibility is to take responsibility for understanding the world around us, not just so that we achieve understanding, but that so in raising our children, in conducting our lives, in gathering together as churches, we can actually be faithful in thinking through these things and knowing how as Christians, we should live in the midst of them.

But at the end of the day, there is no hope. So Joe, I want to tell you, here’s the bad news. There is no hope. If the hope is us or if the hope is government, or if the hope is some therapy, or even if the hope is some kind of, say, just religious institution. Because if so, we’re doomed. But the good news is that Jesus Christ is Lord and he has overcome the world. And at the end of the day, all things will be made well, not because of our success and faithfulness, but because of the omnipotence and sovereignty and faithfulness of Christ.

But Joe, I want to go on from there and just say there’s something else, and that is we need to learn to see what God shows us in this life as vestiges of hope and signs of promise. So let me just say, the existence of every single gospel congregation is such a sign. The existence of every single faithful Christian school is a sign. The existence of every Christian marriage and every Christian home with every Christian family rightly ordered by the word of God, with children raised in the nurtured admonition of the Lord, Christian churches showing the joy of Christ and the power of the gospel, those are clear and present signs of the promise of Christ.

So one of the things we need to recognize is that we will never derive much hope from the headlines. We will understand the contours of what’s required of our faithfulness, but our hope is found in Christ. And Christ gives us vestiges and promises of that hope everywhere that Christians look and see an intact marriage, a functioning family, faithful parents, loving children, a gospel church. All those things are to give us promise.

I don’t think at the end of the day the headlines are ever going to give us much that offers hope.

Part V

What About the Crusades? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But next, I want to end with a question from Abigail, and she identifies as a freshman business student and the university is no longer Christian. I appreciate Abigail, your insight in putting it just that way a university is no longer Christian.

She says she’s taking a required general education class about identity and society. “Right now we’re looking at the Crusades. The class,” she says, “seems very pro-Muslim when it comes to the Crusades presenting them as innocent victims of the Christians.” And she says, “Since you’re a Christian and love history, would you please give your understanding of the Crusades? Were they just? Were they wrong?”

Thanks for listening, Abigail. Thanks for asking the question. And as you ask, were they just? Were they wrong? The answer is categorically yes. They were just and they were wrong because in the mixture of war, in the context of the Crusades, well, good things happened. Righteous things happened. Just things happened and unjust things happened as well. But here’s something we just need to get straight. It was the Muslim intention of conquest that led to the Crusades in the first place.

It was a Christian response to the Muslim impulse of conquest. And by the way, there is no end to that Muslim impulse of conquest. According to the teachings of the Quran, the Muslims intended to go from sea to sea wherever there is a shore. And that would’ve included of course Europe. And the first stage was there in the holy land itself, which was then predominantly Christian in terms of the people who were on the ground there and what is often called the Holy Land.

And so as you look at this, you recognize that if you’re going to take the pro-Muslim side here, you have to say that basically you think Muslim conquest of the entire world is a righteous thing. Now, I will note that here is an irony, it’s often liberal, secular American professors who seem to make such an argument, but the one thing you wouldn’t find anywhere if there had been a Muslim conquest is a liberal American college professor. They wouldn’t exist.

Being a Christian is understanding that when you look at the complex questions of history, there’s a brokenness there because of sin, that means there’s no absolute righteousness. And even in a war that is itself righteous, such as the allied effort against Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, the fact is that there were atrocities on both sides. But it is unfair to say that there were by any means equal atrocities, or that there was not one side that was nearly indescribably more evil than the other.

And in a fallen world, sometimes you have to use horrible force in order to achieve the protection of humanity. We are in a fallen world, and so no historical question should ever be answered by a Christian with, “Oh, that was absolutely righteous because wherever you find humans, you don’t find anyone who’s absolutely righteous. On the other hand, the moral relativism that says, “No, both sides are about the same,” I’ll simply say, “No sane person can actually make that argument.”

And I will state without hesitation that the point I’m making there applies to western histories of the Crusades as well. We shouldn’t celebrate them, but we certainly shouldn’t say that the Muslim side was right and that the Crusades never should have happened in the first place. There was going to be a militant confrontation between Christianity and Islam, and it’s not because of the imperialistic ambitions of Christianity, but because of the crusading mandate of Islam. That’s just a fact.

Theology has consequences.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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