The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, March 31, 2023

It’s Friday, March 31st, 2023.

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

Part I

A Momentous Act in American History: Former President Trump to Be First President or Former President Indicted on Criminal Charges – What Does This Mean?

Late yesterday, news came that an indictment had been handed down in Manhattan against the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump. This is an enormous story. This is a story of huge historical consequence. No previous American former president or sitting president has been indicted for any crime. Period. So in an historical perspective, this is a first and it is a momentous first. What does it mean?

Well, there are some huge questions that simply aren’t answered. The most important of the unanswered questions is, what is in the indictment. Now, because the indictment is sealed at this point, what we know is what is being reported in the mainstream media. But confirmation has come basically from the former president in the course of a statement that he made and also by people very close to the president and his legal team.

What was expressed as surprise is the fact that the indictment came through the grand jury when it came because many had assumed that Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, simply wasn’t going forward with the indictment, the criminal charges against the president. So we are not going to speak of what we do not know. We are not going to speculate, and I’m going to warn against speculation about what might be in that indictment. We don’t even know the number of charges that might be in the indictment. There will be a lot to say about those charges or that charge once we know what it is. But at this point, we just need to get a couple of issues straight because at this moment in history, what we need to do is make certain we understand even what we’re talking about. So what are we talking about? We’re talking about an indictment, and many Americans hear that term and don’t really know what it means.

It means a formal statement of criminal charges against an individual, but that kind of indictment has to come through a specific process. And when it comes to this particular indictment that is against a President of the United States, the indictment comes at the instigation of the district attorney. In this case, the jurisdiction is Manhattan. The prosecuting authority is the district attorney, the prosecutor of Manhattan. And the process whereby the indictment becomes an indictment is that with the cooperation of law enforcement, the Manhattan District Attorney puts together an investigative process to determine whether or not there are grounds that would justify an indictment of criminal charge. But he can’t hand down that criminal charge himself. He has to take the charges before what is known as a grand jury. That grand jury is made up of Manhattan citizens who are charged for a period of time, if they’re not a special grand jury seated.

In a normal process, the grand jury is made up of citizens of the jurisdiction, in this case, the Borough of Manhattan. And what those citizens are charged to do together is to decide whether or not the district attorney has brought a charge that is credible. Is there credible cause to go forward? Is there a credible basis for this charge being made?

Now in that sense, a grand jury is a protection for American citizens. It’s a body of citizens that exists in order to make certain that law enforcement and prosecutors don’t just get to level charges, hand down indictments at will, and you can understand where that would lead to widespread abuse. Now, the grand jury system doesn’t eliminate abuse, but it is intended as a formal process that limits the ability of law enforcement or prosecutors to act irresponsibly. In this context, a grand jury makes no determination about guilt or lack of guilt.

It makes a determination about the credibility of charges made by a prosecutorial authority. Once that credibility is determined by the grand jury, the grand jury votes to approve an indictment or indictments when it comes to specific counts. And then it is up to the prosecutor in cooperation with law enforcement to determine how there will be either an arrest or an arraignment on the charges. These are criminal charges and thus this goes through the normal process of arrest and booking and the process that would go on for just about any kind of crime.

But on the other hand, there’s not just any crime as a category, that’s not really an appropriate category. So it has to do with the judgment made by law enforcement officials, the judgment made by the prosecutorial officials, and the arguments made by the legal defense for the person being indicted.

But as I said earlier, there’s never been a president or a former president who has ever been the subject of a criminal indictment. So this is brand new territory in American history, and at least at this point what we need to say and we need to make very clear is that an indictment is basically an announcement that criminal charges have been filed, that those criminal charges are going through process and that a legal authority has justified the handing down of those legal charges. That doesn’t mean a conviction, it doesn’t mean guilt.

According to our constitutional system, it is the prosecutorial authority, in this case, the Manhattan District Attorney, who has to prove the case. He has to prove the case when the defendant, whoever that defendant might be, walks into the courtroom with the presumption of innocence. The default of the American court is that the defendant is innocent until the prosecutorial authority rightly and according to legal process, brings adequate argument and evidence to convince a jury of the defendant’s peers of guilt.

And unless the prosecutorial authority is successful in making that argument and presenting that evidence, the presumption is innocence. That is to say not guilty rather than guilty. Now the bottom line in all of this is that no American citizen will want to be indicted for criminal charges. It is an extremely important process in moral terms. An indictment is no small matter.

Now, is this political or is it not? And so one question that is consuming so much oxygen right now is whether or not this is just political. Is this just politics? Well, there is evidence that it might be that. Let me give you the evidence. First of all, it is political in some sense because you are talking about a former President of the United States. That means politician who also is a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Again, underlying the word politician. But remember that the district attorney in Manhattan is also a politician, not merely a legal authority, not merely someone deputized or assigned with prosecutorial authority. He himself is functioning as a politician in this situation and that is an elected position. So is it political? Well, at least at the foundational, at the factual level, of course it’s political, but that does not in itself mean that it is not valid and justified. All that is going to have to be hammered out in successive events.

But just remember this, the burden of proof, the burden of the evidence doesn’t fall upon the defendant, in this case, the person charged with the crime. It falls upon the prosecutor to prove not only to the grand jury, but eventually to a jury of the defendant’s peers, that these are credible charges proved beyond the standard of doubt as being valid to lead to a conviction.

That is a long way off. Right now you asked the question, is it fair game to question this indictment? The answer is yes, it is, particularly given the political context, but that doesn’t mean just on the basis of that fact that it is illegitimate. But we are talking about something that has never happened in history before, and that’s a very long time when it comes to American presidential history. And as we think about former American presidents, there are a good many we know could well have been charged with criminal counts, but were not.

My goal in this consideration on The Briefing is to draw attention to the fact that this is a major news story and right now in the United States, it’s hard to imagine a more significant news story. I also want to draw our attention to the candid fact that at this point it is a sealed indictment.

So we should not speak about what we actually do not know about. Just given the fact that many Americans forget if they ever knew how all of this works, I want to remind us that an indictment is an extremely serious act and it’s undertaken by a very serious process, but that does not mean that the defendant is guilty. And all of this now moves to the courtroom as well as to the court of public opinion. The courtroom is where this will all be hammered out in process. At least according to our constitution, that is how it is to proceed.

But in the court of public opinion, you can count on the fact that we are facing days and weeks and months of political and media circus. We’ll do our very best to follow this process with you and to keep ourselves ever aware of how Christians should at least think about the big issues at stake in this matter.

But for now, we’re simply going to have to say, this is the news as we know it right now, we know we will know more, but at this point, this is where our consideration should end.

Part II

Is There A Predictable, Historical Progression in the Modern Era That Leads to a Liberal Free Fall? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

At this point on today’s edition of The Briefing, it seems right to turn to questions. And so we’re going to do exactly that.

The first question comes from Nathaniel. It’s a very interesting question. He mentions that I had discussed about a liberal denomination going down a liberal path that it “did not start down its liberal free fall in 2023. A lot of barriers had to fall, a lot of doctrines had to be bent, a lot of Scriptures had to be denied.” He then goes on to say, “Is there a predictable historical progression in the modern era that leads to a liberal free fall, which doctrines are bent first that leads to more bending?”

Now, Nathaniel, that’s a fascinating question, and at least in the United States, it has an immediate answer and it might surprise you what it is, and it might surprise you when that liberalism came. It can be pretty easily argued in the history of American theology that the very first doctrine that became the Odeum theologicum, that is an odious doctrine, was the doctrine of hell. And it became so even before the United States of America existed, it became so among liberals, even in colonial America. There are a lot of reasons for that. And by the way, as you look at the history of the Enlightenment on the continent, the doctrine of hell also was a very early focus. But in the United States, this outright rejection of hell became something that was formative in terms of both the heresy that was articulated and the orthodox defense that came in response.

This even gets down to some of our denominational history in the United States because as you’re looking at groups that focused on hell as a problem, they simply weren’t willing to accept, that is the biblical doctrine of hell was just something they were not willing to accept. It carried cultural baggage and moral freight they were unwilling to accept. You had groups that developed eventually with names such as Unitarianism and Universalism that basically came from two very complimentary directions. That is, two liberal directions basically that came together and it came together officially what became known as the Unitarian Universalist Association. Still out there, by the way. But the Unitarians argued, by the way, they’re Unitarians because they deny the Trinity. And one of the things the Unitarians did at the same time, and this really helps I think to put this into context was, their denial of hell also had to do with a redefinition of God.

And the fact that what they took out in terms of the doctrine of God was not just the absolutely necessary orthodox biblical doctrine of the Trinity, but also they took out the notion of God’s righteousness and justice as requiring God’s punishment of sin. So Nathaniel, I mean by that, just to underline the fact that doctrines are not blocks as you know that can just be stacked on top of each other. They are a system that build up into a wall such that when you take a brick out, well other bricks also fall and they’re related to one another. And that’s exactly how it worked with the doctrine of hell.

By the time you get to the 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic, the rejection of hell is very much a hallmark of Protestant liberal theology, and it was so central and early in terms of the process of theological liberalism that there are many denominations that basically rejected hell and they have no idea where that rejection has come from other than the general liberal tendency to say, “You know, we’re going to subject this doctrine to modern standards of what we consider to be rational proof or rational necessity, and we’re going to look at what we will judge to be moral and immoral doctrines.”

And the doctrine of hell is judged to be an immoral doctrine. Why? Because it is decidedly not egalitarian. And why? Well, this kind of goes back to what I discussed on The Briefing in recent days with the transformation of ideas even of prisons and the penitentiaries. The idea is that no one is beyond moral rehabilitation. That became an idea held by many liberals and it had theological as well as social and legal consequences.

But, Nathaniel, also want to be honest and say that if you press back further earlier into the history of the church, you’re going to find that in the earliest centuries of the church, the biggest theological controversies had to do with the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrines concerning Christ. That is how to speak rightly of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and how to speak rightly of Christ who is after all, both human and divine, and the right way to put this is truly human and truly divine.

How to speak of him as one person in two natures. All of this became a matter of controversy and what we would now call theological liberalism had very early antecedents. So Nathaniel, thank you. On my website, you’ll find some articles I’ve written on the doctrine of hell in this kind of historical perspective, and I’ve also contributed to academic books. If you’re really interested, you might find those articles or materials interesting.

Part III

If Jesus is God, Why Does His Death Matter? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Secondly, I’m going to take a question from Desmond and he writes in with concern for a fellow church member who he says is experiencing a crisis of faith. These are the words most crucial quote, “This individual’s been grappling with various doubts and questions about their belief in Jesus, and they’ve come up with numerous reasons to question their faith. The most recent query that they raised was, if Jesus is God, why does His death matter? Of course he’s going to raise from the dead. He’s God.”

Desmond writes, “I am reaching out to you for your insight on this particular question.” Well, Desmond, I’m glad to hear from you. Let me just tell you, I think what we first need to recognize is that the statement of, “Jesus is God, why does His death matter? Of course he’s going to raise from the dead. He’s God.” This leads to something that is actually a misconstrual to the doctrine of the resurrection, and it’s very common. I’m really glad to have this opportunity because once I explain what I’m about to explain, I think many believers will say, “I’ve heard that kind of language and all of a sudden now I understand why it’s wrong.” This wrong language, by the way, has ended up in some contemporary Christian songs. It has ended up in some preachers’ sermons, it has ended up in a lot of Christian conversations.

Here’s the problem. Jesus did not raise Himself from the dead. Jesus did not merely raise or rise from the dead. The biblical formula is clear. The Father raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was raised. Jesus did not resurrect Himself. He was resurrected. It is the faithfulness of the Father recognizing the faithfulness of the Son in which it is the Father who raises the Son from the dead.

And so even as you’re looking at the way that this church member had expressed the question, it’s not a right construal of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. But then I have to circle back and ask, what exactly is this fellow church member asking in a moment of doubt, if he says, “If Jesus is God, why does His death matter? Of course He’s going to raise from the dead, He’s God.”

But this seems to imply that he recognizes that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead. But he’s asking if He’s God, why does His death matter? It is because just as the scripture says, “For God so love the world, He gave His only son that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”

He is our salvation because the Father has raised him from the dead. And in raising the son from the dead, as the New Testament makes clear, the Father said that he fully accepted the substitutionary atonement accomplished by the Son. It’s not just that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. It is that the substitutionary death of Jesus is accepted by the Father as full payment and penalty for the sins of all who would belong to Christ.

Just a couple of final thoughts here. There are many people who say, “I have these doubts, I have these questions,” and there’s no reason that Christians should run from these questions. We need to run to the questions, not away from them. But there are questions that are asked in honesty, and there’s some questions that are asked in a kind of cynicism. I have no way of knowing which this is, but as someone who knows this individual, my guess is that this letter writer has a pretty good idea whether or not this is honesty or cynicism.

But in conclusion, we need to pray for those who are weak and struggling in the faith. That’s a New Testament command. But we also need to recognize when someone’s actually walking outside of Christianity and walking with us no more in the sense of having identified as a Christian and now not identifying as a Christian.

I don’t know what is true in this particular case, but what I mean to say here in conclusion is that speaking about God’s truth, carelessly can come with real consequences. We can confuse people by the way we speak, as in the distinction between the right way, which is saying the Father raised the Son from the dead, and the wrong way saying that Jesus raised Himself from the dead. That is not the way the Bible reveals the truth to us.

Part IV

Can Virtue Be Taught? Are Humans Born with a Moral Compass and Virtue? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But next I’m going to shift to another question. Actually, it’s one question sent in by two listeners and I appreciate them both. One is named Addison, the other is named Micah, and both of them are questions about virtue. Addison mentions that at least part of the background here is the curriculum known as classical conversations. And the issue of concern in that curriculum right now is virtue.

And that itself I would argue is virtuous. They’re both asking just about the same thing, and that is whether or not virtue can be taught. The way Micah put it is this quote, he said, “A few weeks ago, you had answered a question from a boy named Hudson about the definition of virtue. For one of my school assignments, I was asked to get a Christian teacher’s opinion on whether virtue can be taught.”

So Micah, thanks for your question, Addison, thanks for your question. The answer is yes, virtue can be taught. As a matter of fact, much of the Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is about teaching virtue. Now, it’s not always with the use of the word virtue, but understanding that virtue is alignment with the righteousness of God as revealed both in scripture and in nature, and understanding that virtue is real.

It’s not just something we say use as a word to pay a compliment to something we like. There is real objective moral virtue, and there is genuine objective moral lack of virtue. Now, just to give evidence for the first part of this question, can virtue be taught? Let’s just consider the Old Testament. Consider the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy. Consider the fact that by the way, it was first given as is recorded in the Book of Exodus and in both contexts, but particularly in Deuteronomy, deutero-nomos, the second giving of the law, especially in Deuteronomy, it is made clear that one of the purposes of the Ten Commandments is to teach Israel virtue. And that is virtue that by the way is translated into theological virtue.

You might say orthodoxy, right worship, right understanding of God, warnings and commandments against speaking wrongly about God, the right focus of worship, virtuous worship, and also virtuous behavior, especially in the second tablet or the second table of the laws dealing mostly with direct human behavior.

And it’s hard to argue that the law is not intended there to teach. Also, you have the entirety of the Old Testament that also makes clear precisely that, that one of the functions of the law is to teach. And at least in part what the law is teaching is virtue. Just consider a text like Deuteronomy 6. Now in the New Testament, you also have virtue absolutely affirmed. And that virtue is sometimes expressed in passages, for example, that tell Christians to seek those things that are pure, those things that are true, those things that are right.

All of this requires teaching and training. And a part of that just underlines the centrality of biblical preaching in the New Testament as essential to Christian worship, even the central act of Christian worship in such a way that virtue is learned by the preaching of the word of God.

Now in the New Testament, there’s something that is very clear in the Old Testament in retrospect, but is even more clear in the New Testament in fulfillment. And what is that? It is the fact that the law teaches internally in a way that’s even greater than what we might call intellectual learning. That is to say there’s an internal work of the law and indeed of the word of God in us, in such a way that we are conformed to obedience in ways we don’t even recognize at the time.

And in the New Testament, this is exactly what is described about the power of biblical preaching to actually do work in us that we cannot do ourselves, we can’t accomplish by any other means, and which is even as it happens, somewhat invisible to the Christian who is experiencing that spiritual formation and that conformity to the image of Christ.

Now, by the way, that just points us to something else, which is that in the New Testament context, the most important virtue is indeed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to obey Him. That is ultimate virtue. But then Addison adds another aspect to this that I find really interesting, asking the question, “Must all virtue be taught or are humans born with a moral compass and virtue?”

Well, it’s hard to answer that encyclopedically, Addison, I can say this. It is clear that being made in God’s image comes with some positive moral content. That is to say that scripture holds us accountable for what we know inwardly as well as what we are taught outwardly. And this is a part of what the apostle Paul uses as his great argument that no one has any excuse an argument found classically in Romans 1.

The best way I think to answer this biblically is that especially in the New Testament, conscience is revealed as real structural and is a capacity that is included in what we would call the Imago Dei, what the Bible identifies as the image of God in which every single human being is made. But we’re also told that the conscience alone can dilute itself and the conscious unformed by scripture is woefully inadequate.

So just to summarize here, Addison, there is at least positive biblical evidence that there is enough virtue as a part of what it means to be made in the image of God. That is the conscience that we are condemned by it, but there isn’t enough that we can live lives of true righteousness by it either. We are made moral creatures with some moral knowledge, but we require the positive teaching of the word of God and the formative power of God’s commandments and the entirety of scripture in order to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Or to put it another way, in conclusion on this question, we understand that every newborn baby is a moral creature because that baby, he or she is made that way by the Creator, but we have to start teaching that baby right away because that is an unformed conscience.

Part V

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But finally, one more question that came in from the mother of a teenager.

She says that her teenage son is wondering why God doesn’t answer his prayer. He gets discouraged. He wants to be a Godly man and glorify God with his life. He has moments when he understands the gospel and others when he’s sad and says that he’s confused, he doesn’t see adequate fruit in his life. I know I don’t have much time in this question, but that might be a virtue in this case and to this sweet mom, I will simply say that if I could speak to your son, this is what I would say.

There is no prayer that is not answered by God, but it is answered in God’s own way on God’s own timetable. God is always faithful. He’s faithful and just in every way, and that includes in hearing our prayers. The other thing I want to say to your son is as a believer, you are in this battle for the rest of your life, and this battle is a part of God teaching you how to be the man of God you are called to be.

If you are absolutely satisfied with your spiritual life when you’re 15, you wouldn’t grow to see measurable change between 15 and 25 and 35 and 45. So let me just tell you, as an older Christian, and in this case a much older Christian, the fact is you are in this fight for the end of your life, but God uses it to make you the man of God He intends you to be.

Finally, I want to say that I’m just encouraged by a teenage young man who uses this kind of language and speaks even to his parents about matters of such deep spiritual concern and who wants to be as a young man, a godly man. I just want to say I find it incomprehensible that God does not answer that prayer by making him what he prays to be.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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