Friday, October 27, 2023

It is Friday, October 27, 2023.

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

Part I

How Often Do You Think About Rome? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

We’ve been giving so much attention to headline stories. There’s so many good questions. Today, we’re just going to turn to the questions. Listeners to The Briefing are going to set the agenda today.

And the first issue that comes up is Rome. Seth asked the question, “The background of this is the fact that there have been major news reports about the fact that many men in the United States say that they think about Rome fairly often. And major news outlets, such as the Washington Post, have offered their articles, their arguments.” Seth then asked the question, “Given your extensive knowledge of the Roman Empire in history, my question is, how often do you think about Rome?” I appreciate the question, Seth. The answer is I end up thinking about Rome a lot.

Now, I don’t know how to give a quantification or a percentage here, but I think one of the reasons I keep thinking about Rome is because it’s still an inescapable fact. Now, I think the article in the Washington Post and others is pointing to the fact that men are looking for that which interests us and draws us, the military story, the historic significance, the Caesars, the emperors, the legions, the wars, the armies. Well, Rome is just an issue of fascination. That’s why so many movies are made about it, but it’s also a matter of just the fact that it’s unavoidable because, look, the Roman Empire continues to live on in so many ways, in the categories we use, in the history that we experience in our imagination. I think for Christians, it’s of course even deeper than that because so much of the New Testament deals with the context of the Roman Empire, and Rome becomes, even in the Scripture, a great symbol of the city of man, in particular, the aggressiveness, and in some cases, the idolatry, which can be common to the city of man.

And of course, Rome was a persecutor state, persecutor empire, against Christians. On the other hand, after the Constantinian Revolution, the Roman Empire, having adopted Christianity basically as its official religion, and that was also theologically, let’s just say, problematic, but as you look at it, you recognize that is a civilizational line that runs from ancient antiquity, both Greece and Rome, now into the development of what later was called Western civilization. And that was so shaped also by Christianity. And it also is the civilizational context in which the United States of America emerged, and we’re still very much a part of that civilization.

And so yes, Seth, I think of Rome pretty often. There’s something else that I think really underlines why so many of us who want to think seriously about the world around us, why we keep coming back to Rome. And that is not because of Rome’s glories. It is because of the fact that Rome fell. Indeed, I think it is the fall of Rome, which is as much an obsession for most of us, or at least a haunting memory, as the rise of Rome and Rome in its zenith as an imperial power, because you were looking at the greatest empire the world had ever seen, and yet, it fell apart relatively quickly. This has been a fascination to people. It’s been a fascination, of course, even to people who were experiencing it at the time.

The most, I think, important reflection of that fascination is found in the early church father, Augustine, who wrote his great book, The City of God, precisely as it was understood that Rome was in decline and might well fall. And then you look at, say, the 18th century, in the English-speaking world. You look at the British Empire, then nearing its apex, and then you look at the rise of the United States, and you think of the period right after the revolution that produced the United States of America. And you have a figure like Edward Gibbon, who is writing in Britain about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

By the way, a little footnote here. When you go to Washington DC, what do you see? You see a lot of Greco-Roman architecture. When you see so many of the statues of the American founders, they’re dressed like what or dressed like whom? They are dressed like Romans, in classical robes. Guess what? They didn’t walk around the colonies dressed in classical robes. That was an idealization of what was seen as a classical Roman mode of political leadership.

So Seth, I appreciate you asking the question how often I think about Rome. I probably think about Rome more than I recognize myself. It’s one of the great background facts of world history that’s kind of just always there. But when you asked me today how often I think about Rome, I’m thinking about Rome mostly because you asked the question, which meant you were thinking about it, too. So, thanks for raising the question.

Part II

Where is the Balance Between Allowing For Free Speech and Preventing Mental Harm to the Children in Our Communities When It Comes to Halloween Decorations? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, a very interesting question. It’s kind of an urgent question. Erica writes in the context of living as a neighbor on a military base, the United States military, and points to what she describes as troubling Halloween decorations, including body parts, skeletons, pretty grotesque stuff; I’m not going to mention in detail. She says, quote, “We live on a military installation. Our neighborhood is full of people who have seen or experienced suffering.” She then asks, “Where’s the balance between allowing for free speech and preventing mental harm to the children and our communities when it comes to Halloween decorations?”

Erica, I’m going to answer more than you asked there because it’s part of a larger context that I think is just incredibly timely, and I hope this consideration is helpful. One of the most surprising developments in American cultural history over the past, say, 20 to 30 years is that Halloween has now become one of the top three commercial holidays in the United States of America. By top three commercial, we mean in terms of spending, people buying costumes, people buying candy, buying decorations, and boy, are they buying decorations. That has become an entire industry. And of course, the commercial aspect just points to the fact that there’s some fascination that is going on here.

Now, as you look at the human history, you understand that civilizations are always marked by celebrations, by festivals, by holidays, but you often have things that are celebrated in these particular observances that are not particularly admirable. That comes up into moral consideration even in the New Testament. But let’s face it, Halloween these days is relatively disconnected, if not totally disconnected, from All Hallows Eve. It has become a macabre, very dark celebration, which includes severed body parts, dead bodies, and often things that are even more grotesque, and, frankly, kind of sadistic and perverse than that. And of course, a fallen world combines elements of fallenness. That’s always interesting. So in other words, if you mess this up, you also mess that up. If you mess that up, you mess something else up, which is why you have violence and perversity and death and, yes, sexuality and the pagan and the occult and all of this mixed together.

Well, it is a perfect witch’s stew. It really is a mess. And as you’re looking at this, you raised one question, Erica. What about free speech versus preventing mental harm to children? I think that’s something you should be able to talk with your neighbors about. I’m not saying that’s going to be easy, but, you know, you’re raising such a basic issue. What about children? What about those, you’re on a military installation, who in the line of duty have had to see things they wish they could un-see? It’d be very interesting to raise that as a topic of conversation. In terms of the law, in terms of rules and regulations, my guess is that door is wide open and is not going to close again.

You’re looking at a commercial aspect as well, but the most important thing I think you raise here, Erica, is the fact that our holidays do describe us. They do define us, and this is a very sad and, I think, a very troubling holiday. This only become sadder and more troubling over time. And just about this time every year, I have parents who are asking, is it wrong to take our child trick or treating? Well, I mean, I think in certain contexts, so far as it’s, say, a neighborhood, or you have churches that have fall festivals and children can go from place to place, it’s not the candy that’s a problem. It’s the paganism that’s the problem. It’s the occult that’s the problem. It’s the violent that’s the problem. It’s the macabre and the grotesque that are the problems.

And I think these days, and just about every American neighborhood, unfortunately, some of those elements are very, very clear. Here in Louisville, one older neighborhood has become a tourist attraction and frankly, so many of the displays are openly vile. I had a pastor elsewhere who just sent me a photograph saying, “Look, the same thing is happening in this town.” It’s happening all over the place, and I think most of us understand exactly what we’re dealing with. On the one hand, very few of those people are outright honest, say, pagan worshipers. The problem is, more than they know, that is exactly what they are, and even more than they may intend, that is exactly what they’re celebrating.

Another very kind mom wrote in asking a very related question, just saying, “How can I help my children to understand the distinction between, say, a party we might host and a celebration that we might observe in our home, and even looking at friendly people in the neighborhood and what they’re doing, versus a lot of this perverse and grotesque pagan fascination?” And I will just often say, so many of the wonderful kind and bright people who send in these questions, a tribute to listeners of The Briefing is that many of you almost answer them as you ask them.

How can I make that distinction with my children? Well, my guess is that’s exactly what you’re faithfully going to do. You’re going to make this distinction for your children, and it just makes me very thankful that Christian parents are there to do just that for their children. And by the way, Christian parents should never, ever apologize for shielding their children’s eyes from seeing things they should not see nor their ears from hearing things they should not hear.

I had several young men write in about this as well as moms and young women, and they were often asking, “Where’s the limit? If I can press a boundary, where would that boundary be? Where would I hit the wall?” And again, I come back to an obsession upon the pagan, the grotesque, the perverse, and frankly, the sexualized. I think you put all that together, it’s a pretty dangerous mix, and I think there are clearly pretty close limitations on what Christians can do here. I don’t think this is as hard as the culture might claim that it is.

I also want to say, and I think here, all you have to say is make reference to J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, or look at some of the monster literature of, say, the 19th century. That was not all, in any sense, perverse or, in any sense, pagan or, in any sense, sexualized. In one sense, you also have a similar kind of reference in places in Scripture. The Scripture does not deny there is this element to human experience. It doesn’t deny it. It excludes our fascination with it. But at the same time, I think you look at something like The Lord of the Rings and understand there’s a very important story there about the battle between good and evil, but frankly, it is only a healthy story if it is written explicitly within the context of the Christian worldview and biblical truth.

Part III

Why Does God Test People If He is Omniscient and Sovereign? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 10-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

All right, big theological question came in from a homeschooling mom. She’s homeschooling mom to four kids. God bless you, Mom. And 10-year-old son asked a question, and by the way, aren’t you encouraged by having children who ask such intelligent questions? This 10-year-old boy asked the question during morning devotional time, “Why does God test people if He is omniscient and sovereign and knows what they will do?”

Owen, I just want to tell you, great question, and we just have to start with this working backwards. God is omniscient and sovereign, so whatever He does is based in the truth that He knows all things past, present and future, even our unformed thoughts, and He knows what we will do, and by the way, is perfectly righteous and just and good. So why does He test us? It is not because He is waiting to find out how we will respond, but rather we need to go through the experience of whatever test the Lord puts in our way in order that it would be clarification in our lives.

We do not know these things until we experience them. We do not know our own hearts until our hearts are tested. And that’s a good thing for Christians to know. God brings tests into our lives not because He doesn’t know how this is going to work out, and certainly not because he’s not in control of the entire universe, but because out of His love for us and how He works in our lives, He puts these tests in our lives because there is something we need to learn by enduring such a test.

Part IV

If Jesus Defeated Death, Why Do People Still Die? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 7-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

So Owen was 10, Daniel is seven. Daniel asked the question, “If Jesus defeated death, then why do people still die today?” Daniel’s dad sent in this question, and I really appreciate it, and the context in which this young boy asked this question has to do with the missionary martyrs, some of the missionary martyrs of the 20th century, those who were bold for the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ, and paid for that boldness with their lives. And thus Daniel asked if Jesus defeated death, then why do people still die today?

Fantastic question, Daniel, and the Bible does give us the answer. Jesus defeated death, but that total defeat of death is not fully revealed yet until Jesus comes in glory and establishes His kingdom. Until then, we die. It is appointed under man once to die and after that the judgment. So Jesus has defeated death. And the most important thing for us, Daniel, is knowing that that means that those who come to faith and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of sins, we are given the gift of everlasting life.

It doesn’t mean that we will never die if we die before Jesus comes, but it does mean that death is not the final reality that we live. And Christ, even as He was the firstborn from the dead, that is to say, He was resurrected from the dead. Just as He was raised, so shall we be raised. That’s the promise of the gospel. I think it’s just incredible that a seven-year-old would ask this question, and I just want to give you the assurance and the promise, Daniel, that those who come to faith in Jesus are safe and those who die in Christ are just awaiting the day of resurrection when the Lord shall come and claim His own.

Part V

Why Do We Pray When God Already Has a Plan? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 7-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Okay, we’re going to turn to another question. I just can’t help it. I’ve got to turn to another question from Owen, but this is a different Owen in a different state, and this Owen is seven. His question’s very similar to the first Owen’s question. He asked, “Why do we pray when God already has a plan?” And the answer to that, Owen, the most important answer is because God commands that we pray. That’s the most important thing we can say. We can’t always know exactly why God commands us to do anything because only God knows in the truest sense why He does what He does. But the Bible makes very clear that God is glorified. He receives glory when we pray to Him. He wants His creatures to pray to Him.

As Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer, we get to pray to God as our father. And here’s the sweetest thing I can say to you, Owen. Just as your father enjoys every moment of conversation with you, and just as your parents prize every moment of conversation with you, our heavenly Father prizes those moments of conversation that we bring to Him in prayer.

Owen, you’re exactly right. God already has a plan. The issue is that in prayer, we come to terms with that plan, we come to know that plan, and we come to that knowledge knowing that God wills good for us for those who are in Christ. So as I said to the 10-year-old Owen in one state, I say to the seven-year-old Owen in another. We pray, in this case, because God has told us to pray and because through that prayer, God does in our hearts what we desperately need. God doesn’t learn anything from our prayers. We learn endless things.

Part VI

What Position Within Ethical Theory Should Christians Hold? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 17-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

But next I want to take a question that’s a really deep question, big question, interesting question in this case, not from a seven-year-old, but from a 17-year-old named Sam, and I just have to say, as a word of encouragement to all Christian parents, just look at the questions coming from these young people and understand this is exactly what you hope and pray for.

In this case, Sam, who is 17, and thanks for listening to The Briefing, Sam, he is asking about ethical theory as he is taking a course. And he says, “I’ve learned about consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. I have to write an ethical position paper.” He says, “I believe that virtue theory based on God and His attributes rather than humans is the best ethical theory for Christians. Which do you think is the best for Christians? Would you explain why?” Wow. If that sounds very academic, it is, but it’s really relevant.

So Sam’s pointing to the fact that there are different views as to how you should construct an ethical system. And yes, one of them is consequentialism, and that’s the argument that an act is moral or immoral based upon the consequences that follow. And that’s actually a very dangerous way to look at morality because that means that no act is inherently right or wrong. It’s just a matter of the consequences that flow. I don’t believe the biblical worldview allows for that. We are responsible for consequences, but we cannot say that a moral act is understood to be right or wrong only in terms of its consequences. And indeed, the only way that makes sense is in terms of known consequences. Frankly, sometimes we don’t even know the consequences, but we don’t obey, for example, the 10 Commandments simply because of the consequences that may follow. We follow the 10 Commandments and obey them because God ordered us to do so. He commanded us.

Our creator has given us this law, and that gets to the second of the positions the Sam mentions, which is deontology, and ontology means it’s real. Deontological in this case means these are based in clear moral principles of right and wrong. This is a lot closer, I think, to the biblical worldview. I’m going to come back to it in a moment. I’m going to say deontology has got a lot going for it. The problem is, of course, you got to make sure it is the right rules. In other words, anyone could come up with a set of rules, or claimed moral truths. The question is, well, which ones are actually right? So I’ll come back to that in just a moment.

Then he mentions virtue ethics. Virtue ethics are very attractive and certainly, the Christian worldview in terms of ethics, the way we should live, it’s got a lot to do with virtue ethics. In other words, there are virtues that are to be manifested in our moral behavior. Goodness, righteousness, justice, truth, peacefulness. All these things, we understand the development of those virtues is an ethical responsibility, and this is deeply revealed in the scripture, even in terms of the fruit of the spirit.

You could say that that’s kind of the heart of a virtue ethic, but the problem for the Christian is saying, “Well, where do those virtues come from and how do I ethically understand those virtues?” And so, I’m going to complexify things here for just a moment, Sam, and say, I hold to a form of command ethics. That is to say, I think the most important moral principle found in Scripture is that we are the creature commanded by the creator, and the most important moral issue is the creature must obey the commands of the creator, and we know that the creator is not only the one who made heaven and earth, but He is also the righteous one, the holy one, the merciful one, the only one who is true, and thus we obey the command ethics, the commandments of the one true and living God, not just because he’s God, that would be quite sufficient, but because we also know He is good. He is worthy of our worship, He is worthy of our obedience.

Now, the reason I want to use that category of command ethics is because it does take responsibility for the consequences, but the moral authority is not in the consequences. It is in the command. It is deontological in the sense it’s objectively true, which is to say we’re not saying this is relatively true. We’re saying this is absolutely true, but it’s not true because human ingenuity has determined it, but rather that the creator has commanded it, and it does produce virtue, and that’s essential to the biblical worldview. We’re not only to obey these things. We are to become the person that the creator has commanded us to be in terms of virtue and moral attributes. Hope this makes sense, Sam. Good luck on the paper. I just have to tell you, it excites me to know that you are out there working on this paper.

Part VII

As a Follower of Christ, Am I Morally Complicit If I Allow a Secular Sex Education Presentation in My Classroom and Stay Silent as My Students are Exposed to This Material? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Coming from the other side of the educational equation, Renee writes from Canada, and she writes as an elementary school teacher in Canada, she says her elementary school is hosting a sex education session for all students, grades kindergarten to five, and I’m not going to mention the presenter’s name, but this is really problematic. Trust me on this, and this teacher writes, quote, “Parents have the option for their kids to opt out, but I’m feeling incredibly uncomfortable being there as a teacher. Am I morally complicit as a follower of Christ to be there and listen to the presentation and stay silent as my students are exposed to this material? Should I stay home that day? At what point do I leave my profession?” I just want to say God bless you because you are, in some ways, on the leading edge of where many Christians are going to be in very short order, having to decide working from the end of your questions, at what point do I leave my profession and at what point do I say I can’t be in this room?

At what point do I simply have to say, “I can’t be complicit in this”? Well, I think the Christian wisdom comes down to understanding, number one, we can never facilitate evil. We can never facilitate evil. I’m not suggesting that you are facilitating evil. You didn’t invite this presenter. You didn’t put on this program. You didn’t create the rules. And so, I think you’re actually innocent of having facilitated this evil, but you use the most important moral term that applies here, I think, even in asking the question, Renee, and that’s the word complicity, because complicity doesn’t require that you facilitate or orchestrate or create this opportunity for that which is evil, but that by your very presence or your acquiescence, your professional authority, even your silence at some point. So the question is, are you complicit in this? And this is where I don’t believe that from here in the United States speaking to a teacher in Canada or even speaking to someone elsewhere in the United States or for that matter across the street, I don’t know that I’m in a position to say I know where that line is.

I think I’m in a position to say, we all know that line exists, and this is where I’m just so thankful that you raised this issue right out loud, and I appreciate the candor with which you raised it, and I just am very thankful for the moral and spiritual sensitivity that you’re demonstrating in the way you ask this question. This is where I am deeply committed to the local church, to the body of Christ, and saying, I think this is where Christians increasingly need to go to the body of Christ. You need to go to the congregation. You need to go to the elders. You need to go to Christian friends in the church where you are in covenant together in the gospel, and simply say, “Okay, I really need to ask this question. Where does my responsibility end? Where does my complicity begin? Am I helping to facilitate this? When do I leave this profession?”

Hard questions, Renee. So thankful that you’re bold and courageous enough to ask the question out loud. Let me just tell you, you are not the first to have to ask this question, and I think we all know you will not be the last.

I think this is particularly difficult for many, for instance, teachers who are working with children because of the love for these children and the fact that you don’t want to just abandon the classroom, and I think it’s easier for us to understand this. If you look at the clarity of a situation such as, say, Nazi Germany, and that’s such an extreme situation, I think we just naturally kind of think about this. At some point, those who were in those classrooms in Nazi Germany crossed a boundary from just being there to complicity with the regime in terms of what ended up even being genocidal. At some point, it was not complicity. At some just one step later, it was complicity and led to only deeper complicity.

I, again, have to come back to the fact that I think we need the wisdom of the believing church, the wisdom of the body of Christ to help understand these things together. Because I just want to say, I think as individual Christians, sometimes we can see that line and we know we can’t cross that line. I think there are other times in which we need to say to fellow believers, “I need you to help me to know where that line is,” and maybe in advance we need to kind of say, “Based upon Christian principles, this is a line we will not cross.”

I just want to say to Christians, regardless of where you live and what your profession might be, I think you have to know in advance that if you do not know in advance where that line is, you’re far more likely to cross it when you shouldn’t, and to find out too late that you missed that line when you should have seen it.

So many great questions sent in by so many listeners to The Briefing. I’m humbled by the trust that is demonstrated in sending so many of these questions, and I can only hope for more time in which to deal with such worthy questions coming from such interested and convictional listeners.

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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