Caesar, Coercion, and the Christian Conscience: A Dangerous Confusion

by Albert Mohler

pic2“Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage. The bills vary by state, as do the prospects for legislative passage, but the key issues remain constant. Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.

The cases are now piling up. A wedding photographer in New Mexico, cake bakers in Colorado and Oregon, and a florist in Washington State have all found themselves in this predicament. Each now faces the coercive power of the state. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that they must participate in providing services for same-sex weddings or go out of business.

The bills now being considered in several states are attempts to protect these citizens from government coercion. They take the form of remedial legislation — bills intended to fix a problem. And the problem is all too real, and so is the controversy over these bills.

Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage are relentless in their insistence that these bills would violate the civil rights of same-sex couples. They brilliantly employed arguments from the civil rights in their push for same-sex marriage, and they now employ similar arguments in their opposition to bills that would protect the consciences of those opposed to same-sex marriage. They claim that the rights of gays and lesbians and others in the LGBT community are equivalent to the rights rightly demanded by African Americans in the civil rights movement. Thus far, they have been stunningly successful in persuading courts to accept their argument.

That sets up the inevitable collision of law and values and Christian conviction. In each of the cases listed above, the key issue is not a willingness to serve same-sex couples, but the unwillingness to participate in a same-sex wedding. Christian automobile dealers can sell cars to persons of various sexual orientations and behaviors without violating conscience. The same is true for insurance agents and building contractors. But the cases of pressing concern have to do with forcing Christians to participate in same-sex weddings — and this is another matter altogether.

Photographers, makers of artistic wedding cakes, and florists are now told that they must participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, and this is a direct violation of their religiously-based conviction that they should lend no active support of a same-sex wedding. Based upon their biblical convictions, they do not believe that a same-sex wedding can be legitimate in any Christian perspective and that their active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful. They remember the words of the Apostle Paul when he indicted both those who commit sin and those “who give approval to those who practice them.” [Romans 1:32]

The advocates of same-sex marriage saw this coming, as did the opponents of this legal and moral revolution. Judges and legal scholars also knew the collision was coming. Judge Michael McConnell, formerly a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and now director of Stanford University’s Constitutional Law Center, suggested many years ago that the coming conflict would “feature a seemingly irreconcilable clash between those who believe that homosexual conduct is immoral and those who believe that it is a natural and morally unobjectionable manifestation of human sexuality.” Accordingly, he called for a spirit of tolerance and respect, much like what society expects of religious believers and atheists — what he called “civil toleration.”

But the advocates of same-sex marriage are not friendly to the idea of toleration. One prominent gay rights lawyer predicted just this kind of controversy almost a decade ago when she admitted that violations of conscience would be inevitable as same-sex marriage is legalized. Chai Feldblum, then a professor at the Yale Law School, also admitted that her acknowledgement of a violated conscience might be “cold comfort” to those whose consciences are violated.

But perhaps the strangest and most disappointing dimension of the current controversy is the entry of some Christians on the side of coercing the conscience. Writing in USA Today, Kirsten Powers accused Christians supporting such legislation of “essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.” She explicitly denied that florists and bakers and photographers are forced to “celebrate” a same-sex union when forced to provide their services for such a ceremony.

Well, my wife and I recently celebrated the wedding of our daughter. We not only celebrated it, we paid for it. And I can assure you that we were expecting our florist and cake baker and photographer to celebrate it as well. And we employed them for their artistic ability and we paid for their expressive ideas. Kirsten Powers went on to suggest that Christians who have such scruples about same-sex weddings are hypocritical if they do not refuse to participate in the wedding of an adulterer. As a matter of fact, some Christian wedding vendors do indeed try to screen their clients in this way. But the fact remains that the marriage of a man and a woman is, in the biblical point of view, still valid. No union of same-sex couples is valid according to the Bible. This is a huge and consequential matter of conscience and conviction.

Jesus, we should note, was often found in the presence of sinners. He came, as he said, to save those who are lost. But there is not a shred of biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus endorsed sin in any way. To suggest otherwise is an offense to Scripture and to reason.

Just days later, Powers was joined by Jonathan Merritt in yet another essay in which they argued that conservative Christians are selectively applying the Scriptures in making their case. They also denied that forcing participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience. They wrote:

“Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.”

Well, the issue is really not what “society really believes” about baking a wedding cake, but what the baker believes. Reference to what “society really believes” is a way of dismissing religious liberty altogether. If the defining legal or moral principle is what “society really believes,” all liberties are eventually at stake.

Their article also perpetuates another major error — that the wedding of a man and a woman under sinful circumstances is tantamount to the wedding of a same-sex couple. In their words, “This makes sure to put just one kind of ‘unbiblical’ marriage in a special category.” But a same-sex marriage is not “just one kind” of an unbiblical marriage — it is believed by conservative Christians to be no marriage at all.

The state might decide to recognize a same-sex union as a marriage, but to coerce a Christian to participate in a same-sex wedding is a gross violation of religious conscience.

And it will not stop with bakers and florists and photographers. What about singers and other musicians? Under the argument of Powers and Merritt, they can be forced to sing a message they believe to be abhorrent. What about writers for hire? This argument would force a Christian who writes for hire to write a message that would violate the deepest Christian convictions. To be forced to participate in an expressive way is to be forced to endorse and to celebrate.

The most lamentable aspect of the Powers and Merritt argument is the fact that they so quickly consign Christians to the coercive power of the state. They should be fully free to try their best to present a biblical argument that the right response of Christians is to offer such services. But to condemn brothers and sisters as hypocrites and to consign their consciences to the coercion of Caesar is tragic in every aspect. We can only hope that they will rethink their argument … and fast.”

-Albert Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/02/24/caesar-coercion-and-the-christian-conscience-a-dangerous-confusion/

Chai R. Feldblum, “Moral Conflict and Conflicting Liberties,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, ed. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., and Robin Fretwell Wilson (New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 2008). Quote from Judge Michael McConnell also found in this chapter.

Kirsten Powers, “Jim Crow Laws for Gays and Lesbians?,” USA Today, Wednesday, February 19, 2014.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/18/gays-lesbians-kansas-bill-religious-freedom-christians-column/5588643/

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,” The Daily Beast, Sunday, February 23, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/23/conservative-christians-selectively-apply-biblical-teachings-in-the-same-sex-marriage-debate.html 

Christianity and the Dark Side — What About Halloween?

By Albert Mohler

“Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.

The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?

Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. Reporting in 2007, David J. Skal estimated: “Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations.” As of 2012, that total exceeded $8 billion.

Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that “Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business.”

Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has writtenDeath Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal’s approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween in the rise of horror movies and the nation’s fascination with violence.

The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer’s end. As Rogers explains, “Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead.” Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.

As Rogers comments: “In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.

How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra ofChristianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. “More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween’s unsavory beginnings preceded Christ’s birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods. It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.”

Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, “Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions.”

The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.

As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, “The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return.”

This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. “Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween’s,” comments Skal. “Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween’s ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film’s language of shadow and light.”

But television’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood’s “Halloween” series and the rise of violent “slasher” films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.

This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America’s public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.

In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society’s fascination with moral darkness.

For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.

These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”

Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of “All Hallow’s Eve” is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ’s church on earth. Let’s put the dark side on the defensive.”

-Albert Mohler,  http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/10/30/christianity-and-the-dark-side-what-about-halloween-5/

Life, Death, and Lies on the Campaign Trail

By Albert Mohler

“The controversy over comments made by U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock reveals the undeniable ugliness of American politics. At the same time, the media firestorm underscores the importance of getting the pro-life position right — and expressing it well.

Mourdock, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, was debating his opponent, Rep. Joe Donnelly, this past Tuesday night, when the issue of abortion emerged. Both candidates claimed to affirm that life begins at conception, but Mourdock called for the end of abortion on demand. He then extended his remarks with these words:

“This is that issue that every candidate for federal, or even state, office faces, and I too stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view and I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have [for abortion] is in that case [where] the life of the mother [is threatened]. I struggled with it for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Immediately, Mourdock was charged with claiming that God intended a rape to happen. A spokesperson for the Obama campaign said that President Obama “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.” Democratic operatives and media voices denounced Mourdock as hateful, extremist, and worse, and even many of his fellow Republicans scattered and ran for cover. Some demanded that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should pull an ad supportive of Mourdock.

A closer look at Mourdock’s comments reveals that the candidate was not in any true sense calling rape “something that God intended to happen.” Everything Mourdock said in that answer flowed from his stated presupposition that life begins at conception, and that every human life is a gift from God.

Nevertheless, the liberal media went into full apoplexy, painting Richard Mourdock as a woman-hating extremist with reprehensible views on an issue as serious as rape.

Almost none of those who quoted Mourdock in making these charges used the full quotation, much less the audio of its delivery in the debate. The full quote reveals that the candidate was affirming the full dignity of every human life, regardless of the circumstance of conception.

To their credit, some in the media saw through the controversy. Writing for The New Republic, Amy Sullivan made clear that she disagrees with Mourdock’s position, but she honestly explained his words, and she expressed disappointment in his treatment by many liberal commentators.

In her words:

“Despite the assertions of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious and insensitive and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I think most don’t particularly care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body. But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about.”

She is exactly right, and bravely so.  She continued:

“Take a look again at Mourdock’s words: “I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And…even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” The key word here is “it.” I think it’s pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by a rape. He is not arguing that rape is the something that God intended to happen.”

Amy Sullivan also acknowledged that Mourdock’s position is “a fairly common theological belief.” Her candor and honesty were refreshing exceptions to most of the coverage.

Similarly, Kevin Drum, writing in the liberal journal Mother Jones, also registered his disagreement with Mourdock’s argument. Nevertheless, he was bold to ask the obvious — “can’t we all acknowledge that this is just conventional Christian theology?” He added, “What I find occasionally odd is that so many conventional bits of theology like this are so controversial if someone actually mentions them in public.”

Both Drum and Sullivan described Mourdock’s argument as a form of theodicy, meaning a defense of God that points to good coming out of evil. They are certainly right to identify this argument as germane to the context of rape and pregnancy, but Mourdock did not actually go so far as to make the argument.

The controversy over his statements reveals the irresponsibility of so many in the media and the political arena. The characterizations and willful distortions of Mourdock’s words amount to nothing less than lies.

At the same time, Mr. Mourdock is responsible for giving the media and his political enemies the very ammunition for their distortions.

The debate question did not force Mourdock to garble his argument. The cause of defending the unborn is harmed when the argument for that defense is expressed badly and recklessly, and Mourdock’s answer was both reckless and catastrophically incomplete.

The issue of exceptions that might justify an abortion cannot be discussed carelessly. Furthermore, any reference to rape must start with a clear affirmation of the horrifying evil of rape and an equal affirmation of concern for any woman or girl victimized by a rapist. At this point, the defender of the unborn should point to the fact that every single human life is sacred at every point of its development and without regard to the context of that life’s conception. No one would deny that this is true of a six-year-old child conceived in the horror of a rape. Those who defend the unborn know that it was equally true when that child was in the womb.

No doubt, Mourdock meant to express this point, but his words fell far short of an adequate expression of the argument. In his political situation, that failure might be fatal. In terms of the cause of defending life, his garbled argument makes the task more difficult.

And yet, this controversy was really not about a failure of communication. Behind it all is the great chasm that separates those who defend the sanctity of life and those who defend abortion on demand. With that in mind, how should the defenders of life think about exceptions that might justify an abortion?

One truth must be transparently clear — a consistent defense of all human life means that there is no acceptable exception that would allow an intentional abortion. If every life is sacred, there is no exception.

The three exceptions most often proposed call for abortion to be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. These are the exceptions currently affirmed by Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign. What should we think of these?

First, when speaking of saving the life of the mother, we should be clear that the abortion of her unborn child cannot be the intentional result. There can be no active intention to kill the baby. This does not mean that a mother might, in very rare and always tragic circumstances, require a medical procedure or treatment to save her life that would, as a secondary effect, terminate the life of her unborn child. This is clearly established in moral theory, and we must be thankful that such cases are very rare.

Next, when speaking of cases involving rape and incest, we must affirm the sinful tragedy of such acts and sympathize without reservation with the victims. We must then make the argument that the unborn child that has resulted from such a heinous act should not be added to the list of victims. That child possesses no less dignity than a child conceived in any other context.

How should we think of these questions in light of our current cultural and political context? We must contend for the full dignity and humanity of every single human life at every point of development and life from conception until natural death, and we cannot rest from this cause so long as the threat to the dignity and sanctity of any life remains.

In the meantime, we are informed by the fact that, as the Gallup organization affirmed just months ago, the vast majority of Americans are willing to support increased restrictions on abortion so long as those exceptions are allowed. We should gladly accept and eagerly support such laws and the candidates who support them, knowing that such a law would save the life of over a million unborn children in the nation each year.

Can we be satisfied with such a law? Of course not, and we cannot be disingenuous in our public statements. But we can eagerly support a law that would save the vast majority of unborn children now threatened by abortion, even as we seek to convince our fellow Americans that this is not enough.

We must argue for the dignity, humanity, and right to life of every unborn child, regardless of the context of its conception, but we must argue well and make our arguments carefully. The use and deliberate abuse of Richard Mourdock’s comments should underline the risk of falling short in that task.”

“I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at mail@albertmohler.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/albertmohler

Kevin Drum, “Richard Mourdock Gets in Trouble for His Extremely Conventional Religious Beliefs,” Mother Jones, Wednesday, October 24, 2012.

Amy Sullivan, “Why Liberals Are Misreading Mourdock,” The New Republic, Thursday, October 25, 2012.”

RELATED POSTS

-Albert Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/10/26/the-mourdock-moment-life-death-and-lies-on-the-campaign-trail/

The Dark Night in Denver – Groping for Answers

by R. Albert Mohler

“The news hit the airwaves like a sudden onslaught, and the truth began to sink in. It has happened again. This time, 50 people shot while attending the midnight premier of the last in the Batman sequence, “The Dark Knight Rises.” According to press reports, a 24-year-old man burst into the crowded theater, wearing a gas mask and carrying an arsenal. After deploying what is believed to be tear gas, he opened fire with a shotgun, a rifle, and two handguns. At least 12 people are dead, and dozens are injured, many critically.

Over 100 police officers responded to the scene in Aurora, just a few miles from ColumbineHigh School, where in 1999 two high school students killed 12 fellow students and one teacher in a rampage that also injured 21 other students. That school massacre became a milestone in the nation’s legacy of violence. Now, yet another Denver suburb joins that tragic list.

The inevitable media swarm focuses on the data first — the who, what, when, and where questions. Then they, along with the public at large, begin to ask the why question. That is always the hard one.

The same vexing but inescapable question comes every time a Columbine happens or an Anders Behring Breivik attempts to justify his mass homicide. How could such a thing happen? How could a human being do such a thing?

There is no easy answer to this question. The easy answers are never satisfying, and they are often based in the confused moral calculus of popular culture. We assume there must have been a political motivation, a psychiatric disturbance, a sociological pressure . . . anything that will offer a satisfying explanation that will assure us. Wave after wave of analysis is offered, and sometimes some horrifying clues emerge. But the moral madness of mass homicide can never be truly explained.

Christians are driven by instinct to think in biblical and theological terms. But, how should that instinct be guided?

The Reality of Human Evil

First, Christians know that the human heart is capable of great evil. Human history includes a catalog of human horrors. The twentieth century, described by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the century of “megadeath,” included a list of names such as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, and Charles Manson. But those murderers did their killing from a distance, at least usually. Those who carry out the murders themselves are even more haunting to us. The young man arrested in this case, 24-year-old James Holmes, looks disarmingly normal.

The Fall released human moral evil into the cosmos, and every single human being is a sinner, tempted by a full range of sinfulness. When someone does something as seemingly unthinkable as this, we often question how anyone could do such a thing. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this when he lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9]

Human beings are capable of unspeakable moral evil. We are shocked by such atrocities, but only because we have some distance from the last one. We cannot afford to be shocked when humans commit grotesque moral evil. It tells us the truth about unbridled human sin.

The Grace of Moral Restraint

Second, we must be thankful for restraints on moral evil. Christians must not underestimate the potential of any human being — ourselves included — to commit moral horror. We know ourselves to be sinners, and we know ourselves to be capable of sins we do not actually commit. Why do we not commit them?

God restrains human sinfulness. If the fullness of human sin was set loose, humanity would destroy itself. God restrains human evil by several means. First, he has created us in his image, and at least part of this image is what we call conscience. The moral conscience is a powerful restraint on human evil, and for this we must be exceedingly thankful. At the same time, the human conscience is also warped by the Fall and no longer fully trustworthy. We have developed the capacity to ignore the conscience, torture the conscience, and even misdirect the conscience by moral rationalization. Nevertheless, the restraint of the conscience is fundamental, and for that we must be very thankful.

God has also established institutions and orders that restrain human evil. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13, God gave us the institution of government in order to restrain evil and to punish the evildoer. He has also given us the institution of marriage and the family and the larger order of society in order to restrain evil. We are surrounded by a complex of laws and statutes and social expectations and civic associations. All these function to restrain evil.

At the foundation of these restraints is the fear of God, which, even in an increasingly secular society, still retains a more powerful force than is often acknowledged.

Evil Answered at the Cross

Third, we must admit that there will be no fully satisfying answer to these questions in this life. Christians know that God is sovereign, and that nothing is outside of his control. We also know that he allows evil to exist, and human beings to commit moral atrocities. We cannot allow the sovereignty of God to be denied and evil allowed its independent existence. Nor can we deny the reality of evil and the horror of its threat to be lessened. We are reminded that evil can be answered only by a cross.

Theologian Henri Blocher explains this truth vividly in these words:

“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent.”

We must grieve with those who grieve. We must pray for Gospel churches in the Denver area who will be called upon for urgent ministry. We must pray for our nation and communities. And we must pray that God will guard ourselves from evil — especially our own evil. And we must point to the cross. What other answer can we give?”


-R. Albert Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/07/20/the-dark-night-in-denver-groping-for-answers/

Reference: Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Kregel, 2005).

 

Albert Mohler: Ten Books Pastors Should Read in 2012

Thanks to Rick Holland for posting this list!

“Every year I am excited to see what books Dr. Mohler recommends for pastors to read in that calendar year. In the March/April edition of Preaching magazine, he provided the following list. I’ve included links if you are interested in grabbing one or more.

Ten Books Every Pastor Should Read in 2012

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction Alan Jacobs (Oxford University Press: Oxford)

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way Michael Horton (Zondervan: Grand Rapids)

Reading Scripture with the Reformers Timothy George (IVP Academic: Downers Grove)

The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been…and Where We’re Going George Friedman (Doubleday: New York)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Sherry Turkle (Basic Books: New York)

The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion Rodney Stark (Harper One: New York)

Christian Apologetics: Past and Present, Vol. 2 William Edgar & K. Scott Oliphant (Crossway: Wheaton)

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New G.K. Beale (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids)

Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Gregg R. Allison (Zondervan: Grand Rapids)

Lost in Translation: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood Christian Smith, Kari Christofferson, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog (Oxford University Press: Oxford)”

-Rick Holland, http://approachingdamascus.com/2012/03/14/albert-mohler-ten-books-pastors-should-read-in-2012/

Marriage and Cohabitation

Should pastors marry those who have been cohabitating?

“Pastors are stewards of a biblical understanding of sexuality. Marrying cohabiters miscommunicates the teaching function of marriage. I would only marry couples that were repentant, had forsaken the sin of cohabitating,
and sought the remedy of marriage. Marriage does not simply validate the long-term commitment of a couple whose relationship has been based upon cohabitation. There’s another problem, which has to do with the fact that
pastors are not the only stewards of marriage. In other words, marriage is accessible to persons outside the church. So when the church allows a marriage to take place within its life, it should be validating this in a way that goes
beyond marriage as a creation institution and gets to what marriage is teaching in the ceremony of the church and the church’s stewardship of marriage.”

-R. Albert Mohler Jr, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/10/07/should-pastors-perform-marriages-for-cohabitating-couples/