Culture Friday - The temptation of rejectionism
WORLD Radio - Culture Friday - The temptation of rejectionism
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, December 18th, 2020.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
We have a special guest today on Culture Friday: Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.
He’s a respected theologian and public intellectual and I should add, a member of the board of directors of the organization that governs WORLD. Good morning to you.
ALBERT MOHLER, GUEST: Nick, it’s great to be with you. Thank you.
EICHER: Maybe you saw the funny piece in The Wall Street Journal saying Jill Biden, Ed.D., should stop calling herself Doctor Biden … until such time as she can set a broken leg or deliver a child. I laughed at that column because we have a style-guide rule here that unless you can do those things, despite your professional degree, we don’t provide the “doctor” courtesy title.
Dr. Olasky came up with the rule (he’s got a Ph.D.).
So as the pop song goes, can we call you Al?
MOHLER: Of course you can. Of course you may, I should say.
One of the issues here about that—obviously I believe in the Ph.D. I hold one. I believe that the word “doctor,” which after all in the history of Western civilization and, more importantly, the history of the Christian church means the teacher. I believe, frankly, that academically the Ph.D. is the more important degree than the MD. But nonetheless I think one of the journalistic tests is if the title is used, what does it imply? And so I fully understand the restriction to medical doctors, who are actually more properly called physicians. But, then again, to stand on that kind of linguistic principle is to be standing on a fairly small island.
EICHER: I do want to get serious and ask you about the controversy over the election. The Supreme Court turned away an 11th-hour challenge, the Electoral College moved ahead.
But what I want to ask you about was a march and rally in Washington a weekend ago called the Jericho March. You’re a theologian and I have several questions for you on the theology we heard, but I’ll begin with, what was your primary objection to it?
MOHLER: Well, my primary objection did become theological but that’s not how it started. In the beginning, my primary concern was what I call the temptation of rejectionism, which is simply to say the entire system is corrupt, there’s no way to fix it. By the way, that could be true at some point in some situations in history. But once you decide that, then you’re just opting out of the system. You’re opting out. If you really believe that, you’ll never go vote again. If you really believe that, you’ll never accept paper currency. If you really believe that, you know, you just can’t operate in the society.
And I think the only final analysis to be made here is that many people who said that actually don’t believe anything like it. And I actually think you shouldn’t say in public what you don’t actually believe.
EICHER: What I know about the march I know because of the reporting of journalist Rod Dreher and I presume you read what he wrote. He’s an opinion journalist and he made the point, which I’ll summarize, even at the risk of oversimplifying, but he seemed to be saying, yes, there’s likely evidence of voter fraud, just not enough to overturn the election result, that the issue that needs to be tackled here is to return to a single election day, resist mail-in voting to ensure a chain of custody to shore up greater faith in the integrity of our elections.
But don’t you think our default position as Christians ought to be to have faith in the legal system, the legal process because the alternative is so bad, which is to say basically mob rule, fighting in the streets?
MOHLER: Yeah, I think the word I would change is “trust.” I would just change it to “dependence,” in the sense that we don’t have any other system. And in our constitutional system of ordered liberty, it’s been conservatives that have been so insistent upon the rule of law. And we need to recognize that that does mean the rule of law. We don’t have anything beyond that. And I fervently believe that there were some real clear patterns of malfeasance in the 2020 election on November the 3rd. I believe they may have materially impacted the election. But there’s no way at this point—and Republicans learned this, by the way, in the year 1960. So this is not news to conservatives or to Republicans. And one of the things that Republicans learned in 1960 is that it is virtually impossible to un-count votes that have been counted. And so the only way to prevent malfeasance in an election is to prevent it before the votes are counted. That is to say make sure that illegitimate votes aren’t cast and once they’re counted, it’s very difficult to un-count them.
So, yes, I agree, by the way, with the fact that the further we get from in-person voting on voting day, on Election Day, the more malfeasance will enter. It’s not just may, but will enter into the process. Because at that point, voting becomes more of an abstraction. The more abstract, the more dangerous.
EICHER: May I return to the theological points, though. There was a lot in there, this sort of conflating of Christian faith with nationalism, just kind of a mish-mash of strange theology.
MOHLER: Well, that’s one way to put it. Another way to put it was there were some pretty evident heresy. And I say that word carefully as a Christian theologian. And you could say even the danger of what the Old Testament would identify as false prophecy.
So, let me put it this way: you had claims of absolutely authoritative, private revelation from God to people who stood up in front of the crowd there in Washington and before the American people watching, and said, “God told me that X or Y will or will not happen.” More than one said, “God told me that Joe Biden will not be inaugurated on January the 20th and Donald Trump will.”
Now, you just look at that and you go, you know, the Bible’s just exceedingly clear about the fact that we should not take the name of the Lord our God in vain and false prophets are not treated kindly, according to divine justice. And so those claims, though, of private revelation—that’s where the evangelical has to become immediately sensitized to the fact we have a huge problem here. I mean, after all, we stand on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. And there’s nothing, actually, more opposed to Sola Scripture than the claim of private, divine revelation.
EICHER: Switching gears. You and other Southern Baptist seminary presidents recently affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message and put out a statement saying that it is incompatible with critical race theory. But a prominent SBC Bible teacher and conference speaker, Beth Moore, challenged critics to please provide a concise definition of the term critical race theory. Could you do that, give a concise definition and say why it’s wrong?
MOHLER: The easiest thing to say is that critical race theory emerged out of the frustration on the part of some of what they saw as the failure of the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights movement was a reformationist movement that, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, was about cashing the check that had been written and the promissory note of the United States.
And the critical race theorists came along and, frankly, applied what can only be described as a modification of Marxism and its radical critique to the idea that, no, reformation won’t work. Progress of the reform in the nation won’t work. There has to be an understanding that white supremacy and the support of slavery and racism is actually written into the warp and woof of the entire Western civilizational project, but certainly the United States. And the only way to achieve any kind of racial equality is to destroy the entire system and create something new in its place.
That’s part of it. Because Christianity is not revolutionary in that sense. It is reformist. We have limited political goals as Christians bound by scripture. The Augustinian tradition just reminds us that in a fallen world we can do what is better than what is worse. We want laws that are better than laws that are worse. But we also understand that there is no position of moral innocence. And so you blow up one system and sinners put that system in place, they’re going to put the next system in place, too.
But the other problem is that it basically centers in identity politics, which I think is fundamentally at odds with the Gospel, contradictory—in our case, the Baptist Faith and Message—I’ll just say to classical Christianity. Identity politics says who you are as marked by an identity marker—could be race, ethnicity, physical appearance, it could be any number of other things.
Of course, the LGBTQ movement joined right in this in identity politics and it’s never ending. It’s just an infinite regression into insoluble conflict.
But the last thing is that critical race theory and the ideas behind it are about increasing antagonism between groups to bring about the energy for social transformation. Well, the last thing Christian people can sign onto is trying to increase antagonisms between groups. We’re supposed to be about the opposite. And, of course, the whole mentality is situated—it originates from a very secular, indeed capital S secular, as if to say a materialistic worldview.
So, the problem with anything—you could say communism, you could say democracy, or capitalism—the problem is that trying to define it concisely is going to be difficult because it’s just too big to be concise. But that’s an effort at being concise.
BROWN: Well, Dr. Mohler, this week—as you know—the United States took a huge step in bringing an end to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the new vaccine and another one on the way.
Christians have had a love/hate relationship with vaccines. I know people who have never had the flu nor the flu shot. They’ll argue they take care of their bodies, eat well, take their vitamin C, wear their masks and just aren’t planning to get the coronavirus vaccine. What does the Christian worldview have to say about that position?
MOHLER: Well, Myrna, it’s good to be with you as well. I’ve been working on this issue for about 30 years. I’ve written a lot, lectured a lot about it, trying to think as best I can about it. Christians have not been so mixed in assumptions about vaccines throughout just to say evangelical history.
You think about someone like Jonathan Edwards. The early evangelicals, even at the time of the the Great Awakening, the first Great Awakening, were very pro-inoculation—that’s the better word to use for what they had then—because they believed this is just a part of scientian based upon the knowledge of God the Creator. He made the world and reflects in that world his intentions and design and the intelligibility of the world is a part of his plan. And bringing health out of sickness, avoiding sickness and injury. That’s all a part of the Christian understanding of what is good and right. And so there’s been a real positive approach toward vaccines. And, by the way, the kind of divided thinking on this really did not come about until the last couple of decades in any intense way. So, for instance, when you had the development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines for Polio—and, again, Polio was such a present threat, such a deadly, horrifying threat that evangelical Christians in particular, but almost all Christians immediately saw that as fantastic good news. And then, of course, a succession of vaccines. But we’re in a situation now in which it is a contested issue. I wrote an article recently arguing that I believe it is legitimate for Christians to take the COVID-19 vaccine. I’m not saying that in a way that obligates every Christian. I’m not trying to bind everyone else’s conscience. I don’t think it’s one of those issues in which you can do that. But I’ll say right out front, I will take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to me and I’ll do it for what I believe are reasons of reason and commitment to the common good. But there are real big, moral, theological questions behind virtually every medical technology or innovation. And I try to deal with those at length on seven different topics in the article I released just in recent days.
EICHER: Albert Mohler is president of Southern Seminary and host of the popular podcast The Briefing. Dr. Mohler, Al, nice to talk with you. Thanks so much.
MOHLER: Well, Nick and Myrna, great to be with you.
BROWN: Thank you.
(Photo/Associated Press, Luis M. Alvarez) Supporters of President Donald Trump crowd Pennsylvania Avenue during a Saturday rally.
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