Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth
R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Multnomah Books, 2008, 160 pp.,
Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He is also a popular columnist and commentator and has a daily syndicated radio program. Many cherished assumptions of our culture are in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ. This series of essays helps Christians respond to the crucial moral questions of our day.
1 Christian Faith and Politics
"Love of neighbor--grounded in our love for God--requires us to work for good in the City of Man, even as we set as our first priority the preaching of the gospel--the only means of bringing citizens of the City of Man into citizenship in the City of God." (3)
"From generation to generation, Christians often swing between two extremes, either ignoring the City of Man or considering it to be our main concern." (4)
"Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of politics as our main priority." (4)
2 Christian Morality and Public Law
"In other eras of Christian history…most people would have understood morality and law to be one and the same thing…. Throughout most of Christian history and the history o Western nations, law and morality were understood as being on parallel tracks, indispensable to each other. Public laws were simply the codification of a moral worldview." (7)
Secularism suggests…that the culture ought to be established on purely secular terms without any reference at all to a theistic reality or…accountability." (8)
Secularism hasn't been well accepted in America except by the cultural and intellectual elite for whom it is necessary to advance their own norms and values system. (8)
3. Christian Morality and Public Law
"There is no genuinely secular state, no secular argument, and no secular motivation, even among those who consider themselves secular. There is no neutrality. On questions as ultimate as the existence or nonexistence of God, or the binding or nonbinding character of His dictates and commands, or the objectivity or subjectivity of morality, or the absoluteness or nonabsoluteness of truth, there are no mediating positions. There is no neutrality. In so far as the law deals with what is most important, it must deal with ultimate issues like these."
America is not in danger of being divided over parking policies or the tax code but the institution of marriage, normative sexuality, and whether the human embryo deserves protection as life. (18)
4. Christian Morality and Public Law: Five Theses
"First, a liberal democracy must allow all participants in the debate to speak and argue from whatever worldviews or convictions they possess." (23) "This is a principle that lies at the very heart of a deliberative democracy." (24)
"Second, citizens…should declare the convictional basis for their arguments." "I try to find some way to make clear that I am speaking as a convictional Christian…" Be honest about the basis for the argument and its motivation. (24)
"Third, a liberal democracy must accept limits on secular discourse even as it religious discourse even as it recognizes limits on religious discourse." "Most importantly, secular discourse does not have the right to eliminate Christian discourse." (24-25)
"Fourth, a liberal democracy must acknowledge the commingling of religious and secular arguments, … motivations,… and outcomes." (25)
"Fifth, a liberal democracy must acknowledge and respect the rights of all citizens, including its self-consciously religious citizens." (25)
"A Christian's motivation for entering the public square and advocating public policy is love of neighbor. Our concern in political, moral, social, and cultural engagement is not to impose Christianity…. Rather, our concern is love for our neighbor…believing that health and welfare and happiness and commonweal are dependent on society's being ordered in such a way that the Creator's intentions for human relationships are honored and upheld--and that will inevitably require restrictions on human conduct." (26)
5. The Culture of Offendedness
"The risk of being offended is simply part of what it means to live in a diverse culture that honors and celebrates free speech. A right to free speech means a right to offend; otherwise the right would need no protection." (30)
""Now, 'the right never to be offended' is not only accepted as legitimate, but is actually promoted by the media, by government, and by activist groups." (31)
"All that is necessary for a claim to be taken seriously is for the claim to be offered." (32)
"Does not [social] cohesion depend rather on enduring what we don't like, and doing so in an adult way?" "And is it not a measure of the strength of a person's religion that they tolerate the unpleasant conversation of others/ Isn't playing the offendedness card going to result in an enfeebling of the culture, the development of oversensitive and precious members of the 'caring society'? Whatever happened to toleration?" (32-33, quoting Professor Paul Helm, Salisbury Review, Summer, 2006)
"The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd." "People have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. It is no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with…. The defense of free speech begins at the point where people say something you can't stand. If you can't defend their right to say it, then you don't believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it doesn't get up your nose." (34, quoting Salman Rushdie)
6. A Growing Cloud of Confusion - The Supreme Court on Religion
"The First Amendment famously includes two different clauses concerning religion. The positive clause assures that citizens are guaranteed the free exercise of religion. The second…reads: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' That's all. How did the Court transform itself into the source of such confusion?"
"The First Amendment was adopted precisely to ensure that the federal government would not interfere with the established churches then in existence in several areas." (40)
"Much of the confusion would be avoided if the justices interpreted the Constitution in terms of its original understanding."
9. Needed: An Exit Strategy from Public Schools
"The public schools are prime battlegrounds for cultural conflict." (65)
"Generations of progressivist educators, driven by the assumption that they--not parents--know what is best for America's children, have been busy shaping textbooks, curricula, and school policies." (69)
"In many metropolitan school districts, the schools have truly become engines for the indoctrination of the young." (71)
"I am convinced that the time has come for Christians to develop an exit strategy from the public schools." (72)
11. Are We Raising a Nation of Wimps? - A Coddled Generation Cannot Cope
"Today's parents are now spending a great deal of their time doing little more than protecting their children from life." "Our kids are growing up to be pampered wimps who are incapable of assuming adult responsibility and have no idea how to handle the routine challenges of life." (82)
"Today's parents have turned into hyperprotectors." (82)
"Kids have to excel at everything, even if parents have to actually do the work or negotiate an assisted success." "Although error and experimentation are the true mothers of success, parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation." (83)
"Smothered by parental attention and decision making during childhood and adolescence, these young people arrive on college campuses without the ability to make their own decision, live with their choices, learn from their experiences, and grapple with the issues of adult life." (84)
"Even in prekindergarten programs, parents now show up with a list of special demands, insisting that their child must be treated with special care. Inevitably, this is often transformed into diagnoses of learning disabilities that will require special instructional accommodations." (84)
Cell phones are partly to blame. "Even in college…students are typically in contact with their parents several times a day, reporting every flicker of experience…. When parents play along with this dependency, they 'infantilize' their children, 'keeping them in a permanent state of dependency.' Life is lived in an endless present tense, with no need to frame long-term decisions, make plans, or engage in sustained interpersonal conversations." (86)
"Many see life as a competitive game, and they are determined to do whatever it takes to get their children on top…." One college student said, "I wish my parents had some hobby other than me." (86)
12. Hard America, Soft America
"Americans are torn between two poles of cultural energy--between hardness and softness as the texture of the society." (90)
Most youngsters live in Soft America, i.e. little competition and accountability. However adults who work for a living in a competitive economy are in Hard America. "Soft America coddles: our schools, seeking to instill self-esteem, ban tag and dodgeball, and promote just about anyone who shows up. Hard America plays for keeps: the private sector fires people when profits fall, and the military trains under live fire." (91)
"Soft America offers inadequate preparation for life, adulthood, and national destiny." (91)
While the successful launching of Sputnik gave rise to a demand for more ambitious education, it didn't last long. The 1970s allowed a loosening of standards, the marginalization of classical disciplines, social promotion and grade inflation. (92-93)
Will America move toward a harder or softer direction? Will we choose coddling or competition, therapy or truth, self-esteem or genuine achievement? "Do Americans still have sufficient moral resolve to face the threat of world terrorism and the hard political, economic, and moral decisions of the present age?" (94)
13. The Post-Truth Era - Welcome to the Age of Dishonesty
"We live in a post-truth era." It's an ethical twilight zone. "It allows us to dissemble without considering ourselves dishonest." "We simply 'devise alternative approaches to morality.'" (96)
"We no longer tell lies. Instead we 'misspeak.' We 'exaggerate.' We 'exercise poor judgment.'" "The term 'deceive' gives way to the more playful 'spin.'" (97)
"Without honesty, there can be no confidence in legal contracts, no shared confidence in social arrangements, and no authority for the rule of law." (98)
"Eroded communities foster dishonesty. Dishonesty contributes to the further erosion of communities. As communal bonds wither, unfettered self--interest is unleashed." (99)
The academic world is the source of much confusion about honesty. "Postmodern philosophers routinely dismiss objective truth and assert that all truth is simply social construction and invention. Authorities in power simply invent truth in order to buttress their authority…. Following this logic, lying becomes a means of liberation." (102)
16. God and the Tsunami
"On December 26, 2004, families were washed away, children were ripped from their parents' arms, and suffering beyond description settled upon the earth. Why?" (122) "How do Christians explain this kind of suffering?" (123)
One philosopher said, "We are a thin film of thought confined to a narrow band around an undistinguished planet orbiting a pretty average star." (In other words, it was just a cosmic occurrence.)
"Jesus clearly warned His disciples that famines and earthquakes, along with wars and other ominous phenomena, would be the 'birth pangs' of coming tribulation and judgment (Matthew 24:7-8)."
"But a faithful Christian response will affirm the true character and power of God--His omnipotence and His benevolence. God is in control of the entire universe, and there is not even a single atom outside Hi sovereignty. At the same time, God's goodness and love are beyond question. The Bible leaves no room for equivocation on either truth. We must speak were the Bible speaks and be silent where Scripture is silent." "Finally Christians must respond to a crisis like this by weeping with those who weep, praying with fervent faithfulness, offering concrete assistance in Christ's name, and most importantly, by bearing bold witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ--the only way to bring life out of death." (127)
"Unless God reveals the purpose of His acts and the working of His will among us, we would do well to affirm His sovereignty and goodness, while holding back from placing blame on human agents for disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. At the same time, the Bible is clear that sin is the fundamental explanation for these awful disasters. Not sin that is immediately traceable to one individual or another, or even to a specific culture, but the sin that is so clearly indicted in the biblical account of the Fall." (134)
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