Friday, August 25, 2023

It’s Friday, August 25, 2023. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Vladimir Putin Sends a Clear Message: Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (Apparently) Killed in Plane Crash — There is No Surprise Here

Some of you remember Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and that’s certainly true in moral terms, even as it’s a physical principle or law. In physics, you know how it works, you push one way and eventually there’s a force moving in the opposite direction. You look at a rocket, the flame, the thrust is going down, the rocket goes up. That’s just how it works. But in moral terms, it works in very similar ways, particularly when you see the effect of sin. And even as you’re looking at something like organized crime, you have a very old script that’s been written already, which just shows that when this action happens, the subsequent actions are extremely predictable.

This is especially true when you look at the code of organized crime or you look at the way that dictators act. That’s why when the news came on Wednesday that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former head of the Wagner mercenary group in Russia, who had led an abortive coup, that’s what it was called even by the Russian government, an abortive coup against Russian autocrat President Vladimir Putin. The fact that in a matter of a very cold calculation of days, his plane fell from the sky, well, as an accident, that was just a moral form of Newton’s Third Law of totalitarian dictators at work. Just like watching what happens after one hit in organized crime followed by another hit. Just when this thing happens and any informed person knows that the next thing is going to happen. As soon as Yevgeny Prigozhin failed in his coup against the czar, that is Russian president Vladimir Putin, his days were absolutely numbered.

It’s also clear that he was likely to go out in what would be at least presented as an accident. In order to orchestrate an accident on this scale, it had to be a big accident. In this case, it was a jet that fell from the sky with seven passengers and three crew, one of whom just happened to be the man that led the abortive coup against Vladimir Putin. It was just a coincidence the plane crash was just an accident. But here’s something else to notice about how criminal organizations act. They don’t want to act in such a way that there can be a direct attribution of action or actor in such a way that there could be a police action and a crime, but they also want to send a very clear message. The lack of a coincidence makes that message very, very clear. The timing in this, very, very clear. The nature of this accident, everyone gets the message. You go against the czar, you end up in a fireball falling from the heavens.

In the immediate hours after the plane crash was announced, it was said first that Yevgeny Prigozhin’s name was on the manifest. That is, he was listed among the passengers. And then the Russian government official spokesperson came out and said, “No, he was on the plane and he’s dead.” Now the interesting thing there is that there was no opportunity for an investigation. There’s no body anyone’s pointing to. Again, it’s a way of sending a signal, a pretty crude signal, but a signal all the same. It’s also interesting to note that a senior, and in this case, very, very senior Russian General, was also sidelined and is likely also to disappear. And he had been very close to Prigozhin and it was at least reported that he was involved in the abortive coup.

So there are likely to be a number of accidents. Again, just a coincidence, but they send a very clear message. Everyone on the inside knows there is no coincidence here. On the inside, and for that matter informed persons on the outside, understanding the code. Remember the Mafia word that became very famous in the 1970s, “omertà”: a certain kind of moral code held by those involved in organized crime. Organized crime at the state level, that is the government level, operates in a very similar way. Vladimir Putin undoubtedly is responsible for this. Undoubtedly he will take no personal responsibility for it at all. Undoubtedly he wants the signal sent that it was a very personal message and it was a very personal action and it was inevitable once Prigozhin dared to go against Putin.

Now, Christians understanding this, just remember that there’s going to be a moral code that shows up everywhere because God made us as moral creatures. A moral structure shows up everywhere, even in organized crime, even in a drug cartel, even when you have criminals who have to trust one another to do untrustworthy things, they have to both sanction and limit violence and they have to put it in some kind of code that can at least restrain most of their fellow criminals, most of the time. When someone steps out of line, he gets whacked. Once that happens, the question is, do you have a succession of hits, of killings, of murders or of actions? There is a moral code. It’s going to show up everywhere. It’s going to show up in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was atheistic, it was communist, it denied any form of objective morality and then turned right around and said, “No, there is an objective reality, an objective good, and it is the Communist Party and the wellbeing of the Communist Party and its rule.”

It denied any form of objective morality, any kind of transcendent truth. And then it turned right around and said, “No, there is one very clear objective moral truth, and that is one must live absolutely in devotion to the furtherance and the good and the security of the Soviet state and of the Communist Party and of its aims and according to its ideology.” Moral structure shows up everywhere. It shows up in prisons, it shows up among convicted felons, even violent felons, but it also shows up in some other places that are interesting to watch. It shows up on playgrounds. It shows up on playing fields. It shows up in Boy Scout troops or at least anachronistically you can say, it showed up in Boy Scout troops back when the Boy Scouts were made up of boys and were willing to say so. This moral structure shows up in the most left wing of all groups.

As you look at those who are gathered together to further efforts to argue that there is no objective morality, they have to operate on the basis of the fact that to go against their argument is objectively wrong. They may try to undercut that argument with some kind of ideological consistency, but one of the great examples of that attempt from the 20th century was Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher who wanted to argue that there is no objective right and wrong, and then infamously signed a manifesto picking sides in the Algerian issue. And by the way, that was a very clear moral issue in some ways, a very unclear issue in others. But nonetheless, he made a statement very much in consistency with the European left in which he said, “This side is right and that side is wrong.” But you know what? He was supposedly famous for believing there is no right and there is no wrong, but that moral structure is going to show up everywhere.

It’s going to show up in the house of God, it’s going to show up on death row, it’s going to show up in organized crime, it’s going to show up on the playground. It’s going to show up everywhere, not because of what we do, but because by God’s creation of who we are.

Yevgeny Prigozhin violated the moral structure of totalitarianism and autocratic rule, violated the Russian form of omertà and the cult of personality and power around Vladimir Putin. You can’t do that and survive. Until, of course, you do it and survive, in which case you become Putin’s successor. That’s also the way this moral system works.

Part II

Who Is Your Favorite Church Leader From the Reformation or the Puritan Era? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, we’re going to turn to questions. I always respect and really appreciate the questions sent by so many, we can only get to a few of them, and I appreciate the fact that we get questions from kids, we get questions from older listeners, we get questions that raise deep ethical issues and some that are a little more personal, but with a bit of an angle that should be of interest.

For example, James wrote me and said, “Who is your favorite church leader from the Reformation or Puritan era? Why?” I can actually answer that pretty quickly. I tell people, look, if I could have just written my own course living in the 16th century, I would’ve studied with Calvin and lived with Luther. That is to say, I would’ve studied under John Calvin, whose thought is so, so important to the structures of my own theology. But at the same time, I would’ve wanted to live with Luther and to be a part of his household and to watch him with his students and to experience his joy of life and to learn from his courage. Also, sometimes just to step back into awe at his bombastic nature. It all would’ve been of a piece.

So if I have to choose one of them, James, I’m going to go with Luther. I’m just going to say, I do have a favorite church leader from the Reformation and not the most influential in say, the way I structure my own thought or believe my own thought to be structured theologically. I’d say that would be Calvin, but you can’t have Calvin without Luther and just in historical terms. And Luther was, as the British would say, a man in full. He was there, when Luther was happy, he was very happy, when he was sad, he was very sad. But Luther had a great joy. He had a happy family life. He had a wonderful relationship of deep love and a lifetime partnership with his wife. And of course she was a former nun, even as Luther was a former friar, often described as a former monk.

They had a lifelong love that became a great model of Christian marriage, actually had a great deal of impact on subsequent Protestant history and our understanding of marriage. They had children, they had the highs and the lows of family life. It’s the highs that are most remembered. Luther’s love for his children, his joy in children, really, really sweet. As a schoolboy he had been a famous chorister and he probably got into his own share of trouble. You can hardly believe that Luther would’ve avoided his share of trouble in his younger years. But it was the Pope. It was the Pope who called him a wild boar, Exsurge Domine, “‘Rise up, O Lord,’ said the papal bull excommunicating Luther, ‘A wild boar has invaded your vineyard.'” Luther was that wild boar and I think as soon as he heard it, he owned it.

Part III

Why Do We Have an Original Sin Nature Because of Adam? Why Does God Allow Satan to Do Evil? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Young Listeners of The Briefing

Next, I really appreciate it. A wonderful question coming from a Christian dad. Really talking about a conversation he’d had with a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, and it was the kids 13 and 11 who asked the questions. And so this faithful Christian father that just wrote to say, “Can you help us think these things through?” Okay, here’s question number one. And again, as is almost always the case, coming from children and young people, these are very smart questions. Question number one, “Why do we have a sin nature because of Adam? We didn’t commit the original sin.”

Well, sometimes you’ll hear Christians explain that the Adamic root of sin is because Adam sinned and because Adam sinned, we all sin. That’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible actually teaches that in Adam, we sinned. That when Adam sinned, we sinned in him. Now, you may say, “That sounds strange.” A 13-year-old and an 11-year-old may say, “How can that happen?” Well, it is because of what theologically we call the federal headship of Adam, that’s made very clear. It’s a federal headship, which means we are in him, not just represented by him. We are, in that sense, in him. And by the way, in him in this case just reminds us of the fact that the biblical doctrine of creation is absolutely necessary for the entire storyline of the gospel. We are all genetically also in Adam in that sense. In other words, the genetic code for all human beings who would follow, it’s effectively in Adam.

But this isn’t primarily an issue of genes and any kind of biological transfer. This is that federal headship, which is to say, in Adam we sinned. And so, to a Christian dad I would say, “God bless you for dealing with this kind of question, and there’s no way to wrap it up in such a way that a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old would say, ‘Oh, that made perfect sense, I should have seen it all along.'” But let’s be honest, a 30-year-old or a 70-year-old isn’t able to say, “Oh, that’s perfectly obvious. I would’ve seen it all along.” We’re dependent upon biblical truth here. We’re dependent upon the scriptural revelation and it’s specific text and scripture that help us to understand this and make it definitive and reveal God’s truth to us. It’s important that we know ourselves to have sinned in Adam, but remember that the gospel is about two federal heads.

The first is Adam in whom we sinned. For the redeemed the second federal head is Christ, who is our head. And in this case, he is the one who secured our salvation and we are saved in him. We are saved in Him the same way that we sinned in Adam. So this is just a really important parallelism for Christians to remember, and it’s a good thing to talk with children about. It’s a good thing to point to the power of the gospel. The gospel is the only power of God unto salvation, and that power of God explains how those who sinned in Adam may be saved in Christ. But this dad said his 13 and 11-year-olds, they also had another question, and I’m going to go ahead and deal with this question.

They ask, “Why does God allow Satan to do evil things?” Well, let me make the question worse, dad, let’s speak to your 13-year-old daughter and your 11-year-old son. Why does God let you do bad things? Why wouldn’t God just say, “I’m not going to put up with any bad things. I’m not going to allow any bad behavior,” whether it’s Satan or a 13-year-old or an 11-year-old or all of us, every single human being. The answer to this is actually one that is very clear in Scripture and it makes perfect sense in the gospel, and it is this, it is to God’s greater glory that He redeems us from our sin, that in Christ He is victorious over sin, showing His grace and His mercy. It is to His greater glory than if sin never happened and His work of redemption never been needed, never been, in a sense, necessary. And so it is to God’s greater glory that He is known.

I mentioned John Calvin earlier. It was John Calvin who, I think, at least in my thinking in my life, made it more clear in Scripture than anyone else. I can still remember it being very young when I was just reading and I came to understand that what Calvin was saying is, “Look, it was God’s own glorious purpose that He would be known to His human creatures, not only as creator, but also as redeemer.” And the Scripture is clear. His glory as redeemer is actually a greater glory than His glory as Creator.

That’s why the victory over sin achieved by the Father through the Son, is to the greater glory than had sin never happened. And so I would simply say to a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old, God has allowed, permitted is the right biblical word, theological word, that God has permitted sin to happen in order that His victory over sin would point to His grace and mercy, which otherwise His creatures would never know. Had we never sinned, we would not know our desperate need of grace and mercy and we would not see God’s infinite and gracious provision of this mercy for us in Christ.

Part IV

Are There Any Commands about Baptism in the Old Testament? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, Hannah writes in another good question asking about baptism in the Old Testament, wondering, “Is there any baptismal instruction in the Old Testament?” And she points to John 1:25 and the question about baptism addressed to John the Baptist. And so what’s really interesting is John is introduced to us, that is John the Baptist in Scripture. In terms of his public ministry, he is identified as baptizing even as he was preaching in the wilderness. So, where did the idea of baptism come from? Let’s just say the word baptism’s a Greek word. So if you’re looking in the Hebrew Old Testament, you’re not going to find it in that sense. But let me tell you what you do find in the Old Testament. It’s pointers to what in the New Testament will clearly become known to the church as baptism. And it’s in what in the liturgical traditions they call illustrations or washings.

Just look at the Old Testament, look at the book of Leviticus for example, and just see how many washings are required. Washings of a lamb that’s going to be sacrificed, washings of all of the instruments in the tabernacle and other washings, including the washings of persons for all kinds of reasons. Ritual baths, one of the most interesting archeological signs that you have found a Jewish residence from the era of the Old Testament, archeologists will say, is that somewhere around there is a place for lustrations or for ritual baths, they sometimes call them.

And so by the time you get to John the Baptist, both in the Old Testament and in the period between the two testaments, the Jewish people are pretty familiar with the idea of washings having a spiritual significance. By the time John’s ministry is introduced, no one has to really explain what baptizing is. Of course, for the Christian Church, the Christian understanding of the ordinance of baptism is explicit in the New Testament as something that is both a continuation and innovation in terms of the view between the Old Testament and the New, the better way to put it is promise and fulfillment. Hannah, thanks for your question.

Part V

How Would You Answer Someone Who Says That the New Covenant Overrules the Noahic Covenant’s Approval of the Death Penalty? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Yesterday we talked about the nurse in Great Britain who had killed all those babies and was given a life sentence. Clearly the Scriptural structure would point to the death penalty for that kind of premeditated murder. And there’s no question it was premeditated, no question it was murder. I didn’t deal with it yesterday simply because of the sake of time, but I just mention it today because of a question sent in by a listener who asked, “How would you answer someone that says the new covenant overrules the Noahic covenant’s approval of the death penalty?”

This question’s pointing to what we call the Noahic covenant, that is the covenant that God made with Noah. It’s in Genesis 9, and that’s where the death penalty’s made very clear, “If a man takes a human life by his own hand, by man’s hand shall his life also be shed, for God created the human being in His image.” So it’s very clear, Imago Dei, image of God. Death penalty for premeditated murder and all the rest. And then Old Testament is very clear about the very high threshold for evidence that’s required for finding someone guilty of murder and then applying the death penalty. But this is an interesting question. How do we answer someone that says the new covenant, that is the new covenant in Christ, overrules the Noahic covenant’s approval of the death penalty?

Well, I would have to say that if we didn’t have certain texts in Scripture, maybe that would be a pressing question that theologians would struggle with. But if anyone’s struggling with this, it’s because they’re just not reading the Bible. Because even as Genesis 9 is abundantly clear, Romans 13 is just as clear. And Romans 13 is very much part of the new covenant. And Romans 13 is addressed to Christians, to the Christian Church in Rome. And the Apostle Paul makes very clear by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the government does not hold the power of the sword in vain, and that is an indisputable affirmation of the death penalty.

And the Apostle Paul says when the government, when the state, when the ruler rightly applies the power of the sword, that ruler’s actually doing God’s will in accordance with God’s law, even if he is godless and denies the very power of God, insofar as he follows the law, he is actually bearing witness to the law of God. He does not bear the power of the sword or bear the sword in vain. Romans 13 is just as clear as Genesis chapter nine and Romans 13 is in the new covenant. By no means can it be argued the new covenant somehow, the word here in the question is overrules, the Noahic covenant.

Part VI

What are the Most Important Traits in a Man We Should Look for as We Seek to Hire a New Pastor? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I appreciated a question from a listener named Judy, “Our church is about to embark on the search for a new pastor. What are the most important traits or strengths that we should look for?” That really is an important question. I wish more search committees or committees seeking pastors thought about that more carefully. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a good list if Scripture did not provide us plenty of information in terms of God’s own word on what we should look for in a pastor. There’s more to it than these two passages, but Titus 2, 1 Timothy 3 are just really, really clear.

I won’t take time to read through those passages, but you’ll notice they’re divided into really three things. Number one, the ability to teach. And so the preaching of the Word of God, the ability of a preacher rightly to divide the Word of God, to preach the Bible, to deliver the exposition of God’s Word, that is primary. The second thing is his moral character, and that turns out to be really important. There are moral qualifications for anyone who would serve as a preacher of the Word of God, as a pastor, as an elder, presbyteros, as a leader in the church. Again, it’s a list, it’s not just one point. It’s a list in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 2. The third dimension is public reputation. Turns out that’s really important too, that the public reputation, and that doesn’t mean we really care what the fallen world thinks of his ability as a preacher. That’s not the point. It’s whether in the community he is a person of good repute.

Now, remember the Bible’s very clear that that doesn’t mean the community likes you, it’s simply means that, as you find in the Apostle Peter’s exhortation, even when the world criticizes you, it accidentally praises God and it’s criticism of you. For instance, being the husband of one wife, refusing to give into sexual sin. The world might condemn you for that, but in so doing it actually praises you. But those three dimensions are really important. The fulfillment of the office and the ability to teach and preach, the moral integrity and beyond that, the public reputation. And of course, Paul’s also just incredibly clear to someone like Timothy about doctrinal conviction, which is also made very, very clear. So I’m going to pray that you and the others with whom you are working will be led by the Holy Spirit on the authority of God’s word, to just the right man to serve as the next pastor of your church, the next preacher. That’s just really, really important.

Part VII

Who is Your Favorite Downton Abbey Character? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, for today, a question that isn’t of deep theological importance, but it is just fun. Micah, 14 years old, by the way, he says that he and his family dropped his brother off at Boyce College for his first semester just recently. Well, that’s fantastic, Micah. The only thing that would make me happier is if you follow your brother and come on to Boyce College, I’d be very proud to meet you. Anyway, Micah says that when he was here dropping off his brother in college, that he didn’t get to ask a question he wanted to ask, and that is, “Who is my favorite character on Downton Abbey?”

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m an Anglophile, so I was drawn to Downton Abbey in that sense, because I love things British, and it was kind of quintessentially British. And Julian Fellowes who produced the program, he went to incredible lengths to recreate even in terms of the labels on things and what would’ve been where, what flowers would’ve been here, what furniture would’ve been in the room, just to recreate the era. I enjoyed that very much. There are some serious moral issues, especially in the background, the coming of war, the advent of the modern age in so many ways, including a new morality.

I’ll tell you the downside of Downton Abbey is that it really turned into a soap opera. And so it was just a soap opera with really good accents and really good costumes and a phenomenal house. But nonetheless, Micah, you ask a good question. I have to admit, my favorite character to watch was the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and that would be the actress, Dame Maggie Smith. And the problem is she’s a character actor, and the problem is not that she’s a character actor, but she’s so good at it that she dominates every scene she shows up in. One of the challenges for Downton Abbey was allowing the Dowager Countess, as she would say, to be in a scene without completely taking it over. She’s just so good as a character actor, and by the way, she’s won a trifecta of the biggest awards in acting. And she’s just fun to watch. And what an interesting character.

Those who look at literature and drama will say it’s a type, the fascinating old woman in a context like this, of very strong opinions and kind of the representation of an era already passed. And of course, she does it with a wink and with incredible comedic ability and acting and timing, which makes her fun to watch. But her character is not entirely admirable, which is probably also a part of why she was important to a soap opera.

Just a hint of the questions we received. I wish we could have gotten to more. We’ll get to more next time, Lord willing.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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