The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

Part

The Briefing

Friday, December 1, 2023

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Transcript

It's Friday, December 1, 2023.

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

Part

The Persistence of the Imago Dei: New Study on Gen Z Spirituality Reveals Deep Longing for God, Even in an Increasingly Secular Culture

What happens when you ask about Generation Z and spiritual beliefs?

Well, it turns out you get a lot of confusion, but it's also something very important for us to understand. We are looking at a big generation coming along, Generation Z. This means young Americans, young adults in so many ways, and Adele M. Banks of Religion News Service Reports "a majority of young Americans from a variety of faiths and no faith say they have experienced a sacred moment." And the source for that is a study undertaken by Spring Tide Research Institute and it's known as the "State of Religion in Young People 2023: Exploring the Sacred."

Now, there truly is a lot here we need to think about for a few moments, but let me just cut to the bottom line, and the bottom line is that Christianity and spirituality are not the same thing. Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on the one hand and spiritual experiences and some brush with the sacred, those are very different things. What we need to note here is that what is indicated in this research is a massive shift in American culture, particularly among younger Americans that is away from any traditional biblical Christianity towards something else, or, in one sense, as might be predictable, just about anything else. But the bottom line in all of this is the resolute spiritual hunger that is very clear in all human beings, and Christians understand this because we're made in God's image. It is because we are religious beings and that's not necessarily a compliment.

It is simply a matter of the fact that we are made in God's image. We know we are made. We are creatures, we know instinctively that there is a creator, and, furthermore, the Imago Dei in us, the image of God in us, means that we are worshiping creatures. Every single human being, no matter how secular that human being may declare himself or herself to be, every single human being is worshiping something. The Religious News story here referencing this report says that it "pushes back on the notion that Gen Z exhibits a simple disinterest in matters of the divine or the spiritual." Some 55% we are told of more than 4,500 people ages 13 to 25 who were surveyed told to the researchers that they have discovered what Spring Tide called, and this is a quote of a quote, "experiences that evoked a sense of wonder, awe, gratitude, deep truth, and or interconnectedness in your life."

Now, there's something deeply important here. There's a lot more in this research, but the most important thing we need to recognize here is once again that we are going to worship something. Every single human being is going to worship someone. In this sense, to be human is to be religious. We are not only homo sapiens, the being who thinks, we are homos religious, which is to say the creature who worships, the creature who just is religious. Now, that religious impulse, that hunger, that knowledge of the fact that we are a creature and thus there is a creator that's actually expanded into far deeper knowledge. In Romans chapter one, the apostle Paul tells us that there are certain truths that cannot not be known, that every single human being actually knows truths. Now, in our sinfulness, we may deny those truths, we may declare ourselves blind to those truths, but there are certain things we cannot not know.

Paul, in Romans 1, says that God has clearly revealed himself in nature, in the things that are seen. So there is no one who has excuse. And by the way, that natural revelation, that general revelation is not only outside of us in nature. Looking at a sunset, looking at the stars, looking at a baby's face, none of those things are explicable in simply materialist terms. It is going to bring awe or wonder in any honest heart, but it's not just what is outside of us, it is also what is inside of us. Natural revelation or general revelation is also evident when we close our eyes just in our own consciousness. For one thing, and I've discussed this before, all you have to do is watch a toddler to know that, that toddler knows that toddler's being seen when there's no human being in the room. That's why they do something wrong, they hide themselves. It's just like Adam and Eve hiding themselves in the garden after they sinned.

So we look at this study and it tells us that even Generation Z is very spiritual, but the report tells us that requires a rather broad definition of spirituality. And that's really what we have as a culture right now. We live in the midst of a culture with, let's just put it this way, a very broad definition of spirituality. To use the language of this report, it would include experiences "that evoked a sense of wonder, awe, gratitude, deep truth, and or interconnectedness in your life." Now, there's just a lot of spiritual blather in this report. I don't have a more technical term quite frankly to use for it. It's just a lot of nonsense. But nonetheless, we hear such things as this, "The prevalence and the overlap of the sacred non-traditional spaces," it becomes a big issue as "increasingly young people say they've never crossed the thresholds of houses of worship."

And someone behind the report said, "Certainly, we might expect young people to tell us, yes, I've experienced the sacred when I attended a religious service or in prayer, and they do. But they also told us I experienced the sacred in nature. I experienced the sacred when I got to college. I experienced the sacred in a virtual connection." Now, this is presented as news and no doubt Religion News Service has reported this as a news story, and it is a news story. But one of the things we need to note is that this isn't particularly new. One of the oldest temptations is to confuse the creature and the creator, to confuse the creation and the creator. That's not new. All you have to do is look at all the idols that were carved in ancient times and you look at those evidences of paganism and you recognize that what we worship if we're not worshiping the one true and living God is just about anything or almost everything.

Even more recently, just in terms of American history, looking at this definition of religiosity, I mean, quite frankly, this is exactly what was going on in the Transcendentalist Movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Just think of Ralph Waldo Emerson, just think of Boston, the Transcendentalist Movement, it was all about this kind of stuff. This really isn't new. In this sense, Generation Z is pretty much like previous generations. At the same time, there is a distinction and the distinction has to do with the fact that at least the Transcendentalists were pretty aware of biblical Christianity and they knew what they were rejecting. When it comes to many of these young adults, as the article says, they actually have never entered a house of worship, they really don't know much about biblical Christianity. They didn't have those formative experiences, and so they're secular and even pagan in a way that is different than the generations that have come before.

One person behind the report gave some advice as the article, again by Adele Banks, says, "Clergy might want to redefine what they consider sacredness." This person said, "If we're looking for the sacred, maybe for young people, it does mean going together to have these experiences in these places and beginning to open wide the world as a potentially sacred place through these personal, relational, and extraordinary moments." And again, we ask the question, how should Christians look at this? And the first thing we need to say is that it just is testimony to the Imago Dei. It is testimony to the fact that the human creature will worship something, someone. But it's also a reminder to us that a lot of this is just recurring. It's over and over and over again as we saw with the Transcendentalists. One other thing we simply need to note, and this is just really, really important, and that is that there is no particular gain for biblical Christianity by someone's supposed brush with the sacred.

It is interesting that religious researchers note that this impulse shows up in what they call a desire or hunger for an experience of the sacred, these kinds of religious moments. And, of course, they're moments that are defined in ways that fit the vocabulary of Generation Z as considered in this report. But it is really, really important that Christians recognize that salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their heart that God has raised him from the dead. It requires knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it requires faith in Christ. A brush with the sacred is simply not enough. That's just evidence of what it means for us to be religious beings. And I just want to warn Christians from seeing any particular encouragement in a redefinition of so-called religious activities to things that Generation Z finds popular.

If nothing else, and particularly for Christians, if no one else, we have to keep our minds centered in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The last thing Christians should be encouraged by much less be bought off by is some conversation about the sacred that is not a conversation about Christ.

Part

Did God Change at the Incarnation? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, we're going to turn to questions. Let's just take a really deep one right off, and that's a question sent in by Mark. "We affirm the doctrine of God's immutability that he does not change. However, at the incarnation, the Lord Jesus took on human flesh and will be forever embodied. How do we square these two truths? Did God change at the incarnation?" Great question, Mark. This isn't a question that Christians should dismiss. This was a question that became of obsession in the early church and actually became one of the issues concerning Christ, and how we are to understand Christ is revealed in scripture how we are to understand the fact that God is immutable and yet God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and the Son took on human flesh.

This is where the church had to develop a Trinitarian theology. It had to keep its story straight. It had to keep its category straight. It had to think through these things and it did so over a course of time, and I think we can see the guidance of God, we can see the activity of the Holy Spirit even in guiding the church by the scripture into the truth of knowing how to articulate what we know as the Doctrine of the Trinity. The most important thing we can keep in mind here is the numbers one, two, and three. Let's just keep our minds on some very simple math and let's just understand how this was revealed in holy scripture and is worked out in the church's Doctrine of the Trinity and the person work of Christ. The first number is one. There is one God and only one God. He is God and there is no other. He has revealed himself to us as the creator of the world, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He has revealed himself to Abraham. He revealed himself to Moses. He has revealed himself in the prophets. He reveals himself in scripture. He reveals himself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as was preached by the apostles. He revealed himself. God has spoken to us in these latter days in his Son, who is his exact image. Now, let's step back for a moment. The number one, how many Gods are there? One. There is one and only one God. The next number is two. But let's skip over it for a moment and go to three. When you look at the number three, that invokes the very word we use to describe our Christian biblical understanding of God, and that is one God in three. God in three persons says the famous hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy, Blessed Trinity.

So one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There's only one God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Those two truths are asserted together, they are clearly revealed in scripture, and they are not contradictory. One God in three persons. So I said the numbers we need to keep in mind are one and two and three. So one God, three persons, the middle number is two. When we speak of Jesus Christ, we must speak in biblical revelation of two natures, one God, three persons, Jesus Christ, the Son in two natures, his divine nature and his human nature. They are both absolutely real. And when you look at the divine nature of Christ and the human nature of Christ, he truly took on our human nature. He assumed human flesh. And you look at that, you recognize that there's no violation of the Doctrine of the Trinity there. There is no violation of the immutability of God because in his divine nature, Jesus is immutable.

And it's difficult for us to talk about this, but the number is just absolutely important. One, two, three, one God, Jesus Christ, two natures, one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There's a lot more to be said about this, but we square these true truths by knowing that, in his divine nature, Jesus did not change. And he is sharing that nature with the Father and what is true of the Father is true of the Son in terms of the Doctrine of Immutability. As a matter of fact, that Doctrine of Immutability is absolutely essential to our biblical theology, but so is the human nature of Christ. And in his human nature, Jesus not only assumed human flesh, he was born a baby. And so when you talk about change in the human flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ, he increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Mark, the Christian Church really has learned in this sense how to walk and chew gum at the same time, how to say that God is one and yet God reveals himself in three persons. The second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed in terms of two natures, his divine nature and his human nature. And without going into more credal detail, that was a tremendous achievement for the understanding of the Christian Church, and I believe is the revelation of the true God in three persons, Christ in two natures, found very clearly in scripture.

Part

Why Did God Create Ticks? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 9-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Next, I'm going to shift to a question, and this one is sent by a father on behalf of a nine-year-old daughter. And in this case, the daughter is asking a question that came up when the father and the daughter were on a father-daughter retreat, enjoying some quality time. The father writes, "We enjoyed the beauty of nature as well as endured some of the less pleasant wildlife to include ticks."

So at this point, the daughter asks a question, "Number one, why did God create ticks?" And, I love number two, "Can we ask Dr. Mohler that question?" The father says, "So here it is." Well, dad, thanks for sending it. Carissa, thanks for asking it. And I can tell you that this is a question that I consider to be one of great urgency because I have experienced it personally. Now, we just have to admit there are some really, really rather horrifying creatures out there. Some of them are merely irritating. Some of them are genuinely threatening. Some of them are just absolutely gross. I mean, there are organisms that are worms that will simply chew into flesh. There are ticks that will suck your blood. When you think about all the things that human beings can invent, the creator actually seems to have created and designed more of these things than we can imagine in nature itself.

Look at some of these fish in the very bottom depths of the ocean that are simply known to us in rare occurrences, but they seem to be mostly a mouth with threatening teeth. It makes us at least glad we can't swim that deeply in the water. But I'm with Carissa on this one. I think that the ticks are a particularly troubling issue because, I mean, it's just grotesque to think of a creature that latches upon another in order to suck its blood. That is a deeply evil creature. Now, one of the things we need to say is that I was speaking a little tongue in cheek there. The tick is not exactly an evil creature. It's doing what the creator designed it to do. The tick does not dislike you, the tick just wants your blood. That's all. But I understand what Carissa's asking here. Why did God create ticks? Because somehow in ways that we might understand but might understand only when we are in heaven, Carissa, the tick reflects the glory of God.

Now, one of the ways that God glorifies himself is by telling us the truth and maybe the tick is telling us something, the truth about ourselves and about our sinfulness, about how nature even reflects, as it's sometimes said, "in tooth and in claw the reality of sin working its way out after the fall in the world." There are animals that want to eat us or as in the case of the tick that merely wants to suck our blood. Somehow that might even seem more threatening to some people. Carissa, God created everything that is. He created cats and dogs and cows and giraffes and mountains and seas and all the rest for his glory. He created us for his glory and he made human beings the only creature who can actually understand that we're made in God's image and can know him.

And that means we can't help asking the questions you ask like, why did God create ticks? The answer is, because it was the right thing to do, to bring him greatest glory, and also to remind us of the fact that this world is not our final home. It can't be. Not so long as there are ticks and worms and tigers and you go down the list. Carissa, this makes us yearn for the new creation and for the Kingdom of Christ that is coming, and I can anticipate your next question, will there be ticks in the Kingdom of Christ? I don't know the answer to that question, Carissa, but I can tell you, if there are ticks in the kingdom of Christ, they're going to feed themselves on something other than our blood.

Part

Is It Appropriate for Christians to Wear Cross Jewelry? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Now, we're going to move to a question from someone older, a 17-year-old young man, and in this case the mom's writing in, saying, "My son is a 17-year-old young man who loves Jesus. As we are getting into the Christmas season, he has told me he'd like to have a cross necklace to proclaim his love for the Lord. I've always been opposed to cross necklaces," she writes, "because they are to me a torture device used for Jesus. I understand the arguments for and against. My son wanted to know what you thought on this issue." And she goes on to say, of course, "I'm super proud of my son for wanting to tell others about his faith." She goes on asking about the appropriateness of wearing a cross around the neck. There is a Protestant aversion to this. It's historic. It's a very puritan aversion, and as someone who's very Protestant and frankly pretty puritan, I do understand the concern.

But I want to draw a distinction here, and let me just say very quickly, I don't think it's wrong to wear cross jewelry. Let me just say that real quickly before someone thinks that I'm going to say you can't. I'm not going to say that. I am going to say that there's a distinction between two presentations of the cross, and this is very, very important. And that's the distinction between a Protestant simple cross and a crucifix. Those are two very, very different things. So the Roman Catholic mass is based upon the crucifixion being reenacted even right down to the body and blood of Christ in the mass. The Protestants rejected that, and I think rightly so, and part of what the Protestants rejected is the presentation of Christ on the cross in a crucifix as if that is a present reality or even a reenacted reality because theologically we don't believe that it is so. He died once for all for our sins.

And, of course, he was raised on the third day by the power of God. He is not now on the cross. He will never return to the cross. So I'll simply say that this is a matter of judgment and to some degree it's a matter of taste. You can say it has deep theological meaning, but I think we have to be very careful that it doesn't have the deep theological meaning that would be implied by a crucifix. A simple cross is something that I do not believe is at all improper for Christians, and I don't think it should be a matter of conscience, it shouldn't be a matter of theological conviction, so long as it is clearly a cross that Jesus is not now on. I'm going to intentionally leave my preposition at the end of that sentence in order to make the point clear. I think we really do need to understand the distinction between a simple cross, sometimes referred to as a Latin cross, and a crucifix.

One is I think biblically improper. The other is I think just a matter of judgment, sometimes even a matter of taste. And as much as I am fully Protestant and pretty puritan on many issues, I am not about to judge another evangelical Gospel loving Christian for wearing a cross, especially when it is intended as a testimony to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The next question comes in about preaching. A listener writes in saying, "I was recently discussing with a friend if a church should primarily practice expository preaching or take a more topical preaching approach. My friend argued that Jesus preached topically so we should too. Does Jesus's preaching ministry contradict an expository preaching model?" No. I don't think it does, and I don't think it's actually right for us to compare the teaching of Jesus with the preaching that is the assignment of the local church as the body of Christ.

For one thing, Christ was there physically present with those to whom he was speaking, and thus you had Jesus speaking himself. That's very different than preaching Christ and preaching the scripture in the context of the local church. And so I'm deeply committed to expository preaching. As a matter of fact, I would like for expository preaching to become such the norm that you don't have to use both words and preaching simply means exposition. Now, that doesn't mean that there is never a place for topical preaching, but that topical preaching, it better be expository preaching, which is to say there are times when a preacher needs to address a particular issue or a topic. It might be because of something that is happening in the world. It might be because right now there are many Christians asking, how do we understand Israel? How do we understand this? How do we share the Gospel with someone?

There are all kinds of questions and all kinds of topics that might be rightly addressed in a timely fashion by the pastor, but it should come by the exposition of a passage of scripture, not just a weaving of a bunch of passages together. We need to preach the text of scripture and I do think that is best done by undertaking actually preaching the books of the Bible. Because I believe that the shape of scripture is not irrelevant in the revelation of scripture. And I think, for example, that taking a text in, say, the book of Ephesians out of context is something that's very dangerous. That's not to say you can't ever preach a text from Ephesians, about preaching the whole book. That's not what I'm saying. I am saying that the building of understanding in a congregation over time through preaching is certainly assisted by beginning in verse one and continuing through the entire book. And I think that's what I would certainly commend. It's what I seek to do.

Now, sometimes I arrive in a church, I'm preaching one time, and by that definition it might be a topical sermon, but in every single case it is going to be a serious significant exposition of the word of God. And I might not be there the week before, I might not be there the week after, but if I were the pastor of the church there the week before and the week after, then that's what I would be doing. And on Sunday morning at our church, I just concluded a verse by verse exposition of the Book of Colossians, and the reality is that I will turn very soon to beginning another series in which we'll follow through an entire book. I think that should be the norm, but sometimes topical questions arise, there's nothing wrong with preaching that sermon, but do it as an expository sermon.

Part

Does Jesus’s Preaching Ministry Contradict an Expository Preaching Model? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

The next question comes in about preaching. A listener writes in saying, "I was recently discussing with a friend if a church should primarily practice expository preaching or take a more topical preaching approach. My friend argued that Jesus preached topically so we should too. Does Jesus's preaching ministry contradict an expository preaching model?" No. I don't think it does, and I don't think it's actually right for us to compare the teaching of Jesus with the preaching that is the assignment of the local church as the body of Christ.

For one thing, Christ was there physically present with those to whom he was speaking, and thus you had Jesus speaking himself. That's very different than preaching Christ and preaching the scripture in the context of the local church. And so I'm deeply committed to expository preaching. As a matter of fact, I would like for expository preaching to become such the norm that you don't have to use both words and preaching simply means exposition. Now, that doesn't mean that there is never a place for topical preaching, but that topical preaching, it better be expository preaching, which is to say there are times when a preacher needs to address a particular issue or a topic. It might be because of something that is happening in the world. It might be because right now there are many Christians asking, how do we understand Israel? How do we understand this? How do we share the Gospel with someone?

There are all kinds of questions and all kinds of topics that might be rightly addressed in a timely fashion by the pastor, but it should come by the exposition of a passage of scripture, not just a weaving of a bunch of passages together. We need to preach the text of scripture and I do think that is best done by undertaking actually preaching the books of the Bible. Because I believe that the shape of scripture is not irrelevant in the revelation of scripture. And I think, for example, that taking a text in, say, the book of Ephesians out of context is something that's very dangerous. That's not to say you can't ever preach a text from Ephesians, about preaching the whole book. That's not what I'm saying. I am saying that the building of understanding in a congregation over time through preaching is certainly assisted by beginning in verse one and continuing through the entire book. And I think that's what I would certainly commend. It's what I seek to do.

Now, sometimes I arrive in a church, I'm preaching one time, and by that definition it might be a topical sermon, but in every single case it is going to be a serious significant exposition of the word of God. And I might not be there the week before, I might not be there the week after, but if I were the pastor of the church there the week before and the week after, then that's what I would be doing. And on Sunday morning at our church, I just concluded a verse by verse exposition of the Book of Colossians, and the reality is that I will turn very soon to beginning another series in which we'll follow through an entire book. I think that should be the norm, but sometimes topical questions arise, there's nothing wrong with preaching that sermon, but do it as an expository sermon.

Part

Should Women Serve in the Military? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, I just want to point out that sometimes I get questions that particularly grab my attention. Here's one that comes from a pleb, a first year cadet at the United States Military Academy. This is a young woman. "From my history class this semester, I'm writing a research paper on the dissolution of the Women's Army Corps in 1978 and the subsequent integration of women into the larger army." She writes about some of the controversy that was attended to that question at the time. She says, "As I was researching this topic, I noticed a recurring theme of what femininity is and what women's roles in society and the military ought to be, particularly," she says, "regarding the debate of whether women ought to be allowed to fight."

And she said, "I came to the academy firmly believing I can serve God through my service to my country as an army officer but," she says, "this topic made me think about biblical womanhood in a profession that has long been considered a man's role as protector." She goes on to ask a series of questions, but it all comes down to, how should a Christian understand this? I will simply say to this young person, number one, congratulations on being accepted at the United States Military Academy. That is a massive achievement. I honor you for it and I want to honor you for your desire to serve our country. And I pray God's blessings upon you, not only while you're in the academy, but as you serve in the United States military. And so if I'm asked the question, should women serve in the military, I'm going to answer, yes, there are all kinds of roles that are entirely appropriate for women in the military.

Now, that might also be a complication when it comes to being a wife and a mother, and there are all kinds of issues there. The priority, I believe, should be right, but I'm simply going to say that there is nothing biblical I think that would prevent women serving in a large number of categories in the modern armed services. And that includes being a cadet, by the way, at the United States Military Academy. But you also have to look at another question here, and this is where what's going on in Israel right now is I think an exercise in the truth that we ought to note very carefully. Many feminists and others in the United States say, "Well, look at women. They've been completely and historically integrated into the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, and Women Serve in National Service and in IDF Service, they're trained with weapons just as the men, and they're deployed just as the men."

False. That last part is false. And you can see that in evidence when you look at the military action undertaken by the IDF right now. And by the way, the old distinction between combat and non-combat roles is no longer as easily understood as it was at one time because it's not just infantry, calvary, and all the rest, when you're talking about especially modern technological warfare, there are actually positions that are involved in the exchange of hostilities that are not frontline ground-based, combat unit based in a way that is otherwise the case. And in the case of the IDF, you have men in those units and even the major Western media reporting the fact that women are not in those forward deployed units. So the claim that, for instance, the IDF is just absolutely gender-neutral, that's just absolutely untrue. At the same time, Israel understands that there are appropriate roles.

And by the way, that's not to say that we would agree with Israel in every case there. It's just to say that there's a lot of nonsense out there, and I can't give you an exact quick category list, but I'm very certain that there is a distinction and there needs to be a distinction that's honored and understood and, frankly, you might be in a better position to understand that from inside your experience there at West Point than I would be from the outside. This is also where I want to say this is where all of us as believers need the local church, the local body of believers, where we are members and deeply invested, and where we have a council of Brothers and Sisters in Christ. And the elders of the church, I think that is where you may need to turn just in order to have an ongoing conversation that will make very clear the best avenue of your faithfulness.

But again, I want to thank you for your letter and I want to thank you in anticipation for your service to our country. And once again, congratulations for being appointed at the United States Military Academy. All right, I'm honored by all these questions and by many more, and I hope you'll keep them coming.

 

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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