The Briefing 01-25-16

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Total erosion of doctrine of creation in Iceland shows rapid acceleration of secularization

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New York Times editorial board unable to answer origin of human evil and sinfulness

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World Economic Forum in Davos reminds of man's inability to save himself

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Transcript

The Briefing

January 25, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, January 25, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Total erosion of doctrine of creation in Iceland shows rapid acceleration of secularization

Every single worldview has to start by answering the most basic question of all. Why is there something rather than nothing? Nothing would need no explanation; the existence of something does. Every single worldview that human beings have ever conceived or understood has to answer this question. The Christian worldview begins with the Christian doctrine of creation, which begins the very text of Scripture,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

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Everything in Scripture follows, and everything in the development of the Christian biblical worldview also follows from that very first axiom, the axiom of creation. Every alternative worldview has to answer the question in its own way. Now one interesting historical note is that it took centuries for any alternative worldview to arise in Western civilization as a rival to the Christian biblical worldview. There simply was no other alternative. That changed, particularly in the 19th century, with the arrival of Charles Darwin, Darwinism, and the theory of evolution. That allowed the development of a non-Christian, non-biblical worldview, an alternative worldview that was established in the axiom of materialism—that is that all that exists is that which is matter—naturalism, meaning that there has to be purely naturalistic explanations for all phenomena, and of course now we have the doctrine of evolution as one of the central doctrines of orthodoxy among the modern secular elites. We also have to note that every worldview moves from one question to another. The Christian worldview, like every other worldview, has to move from why is there something rather than nothing, which Christianity answers with the doctrine of creation, to what’s gone wrong with the world, which is where the Christian worldview answers with the doctrine of the fall and the doctrine of sin.

The next question is, can anything be done to rescue? And that is where the Christian doctrine of redemption, the doctrine of atonement through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to the whole doctrine of salvation, plays such a central role. And then every worldview has to answer the question, where is all of this going? That is the Christian doctrine of eschatology. A secular worldview, any secular worldview, or any other alternative worldview, has to answer those same questions; and the answer to that question, the very first question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” actually, as we shall see, determines all the rest. It sets the trajectory for every other answer to all those other inescapable questions. Keep this in mind with a headline for the Washington Post over the weekend. Rick Nowak, reporting for the Post, the headline,

“In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth.”

The headline in Iceland Magazine, which is where the story is datelined, says this,

“0.0% of Icelanders 25 years or younger believe God created the world, new poll reveals.”

This is an astounding story, and the dateline is from Iceland, one of the least populated nations on earth, but also one of the most secular. As a matter of fact, as Noack reports,

“Only 20 years ago, nearly 90 percent of all Icelanders were religious believers. Today, less than 50 percent are”

—and for the most part, that meant Lutherans, but now he says less than 50 percent are. Secularization has happened so fast in Iceland that it defies just about any kind of statistical understanding. As Bjarni Jonsson, the Managing Director of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association—that’s an atheist movement in Iceland—explained,

“Secularization [in Iceland] has occurred very quickly, especially among younger people with increased education and broad-mindedness, change can occur quickly.”

Well, one of the things we need to note is that in the Scandinavian and other northern nations, it turns out that secularization has happened faster than in some other places. One of the reasons, by the way, is the fact that it demonstrates the collapse of the faith in a state church. In Iceland it is the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church that is the state church, most Icelanders are still members of that church, even as it is indicated most Icelanders actually don’t consider themselves not only Christians, but even in any sense religious. But there is far more to the story. The research indicates that when this poll was taken in Iceland, the researchers couldn’t find one—not even one—young Icelander who would say he or she believed that God created the world. Looking at the survey instrument more clearly, it is evident that the stark alternatives were laid before those who were taking the poll. They could believe that the Big Bang was the engine of creation or something else or nothing else, but one of the alternatives was that God created the world. Not one indicated any belief that God created the world. That’s 0.0 in terms of the statistical report on the survey. Iceland Magazine reported this back just a few days ago by saying,

“Iceland seems to be on its way to becoming an even more secular nation, according to a new poll. Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist.”

That, by the way, is one of the highest numbers of any European country on earth.

“Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God.”

Now let’s just ponder this for a moment. In the United States and in other nations, we have seen the collision between the Christian biblical worldview and the worldview of naturalistic evolution. We have seen that collision for the last century and a half and indeed we have seen—even as the doctrine of evolution and the naturalistic worldview has taken largely possession of the academic elites in this country—we’ve noted, nonetheless, that the vast mainstream of America, the vast mainstream of Americans, poll-by-poll and survey-by-survey indicate that they believe that God created the world. By differing percentages they believe that God may or may not have used evolutionary processes, but in the United States, at least to this point, there’s nothing like what we see in Iceland. But here’s the big point we should note. In Iceland, this wasn’t true 20 years ago. Something happened that brought about this accelerated worldview change in Iceland. There is no reason to believe that in an increasingly secularized society in this country, the same kind of acceleration can’t happen. And we need to note what the focus of this is. It is the doctrine of creation, it is the answer to that first most fundamental question, why is there something rather than nothing? And that’s where biblically minded Christians need to think very carefully. Because if any other answer is given in the Christian worldview, if any other answer is given than that which is given to us by divine revelation in Genesis, it’s not that we just don’t know why there is something rather than nothing, we actually don’t have Christianity.

B.B. Warfield, one of the great thinkers of the Christian world back in the late 19th century and into the early decades of the 20th century, pointed out that the Christian doctrine of creation—the fact that God created the world—is the sole sufficient requirement for the fact that God can be Lord over this world. He cannot be Lord, He cannot be sovereign over creation, if he did not create it. Conversely, as Warfield said, if God created the world, then he is in charge of it. It is his, it is his possession, and it reflects his glory and his purposes. That states very clearly the alternatives that are before us. We can either believe that the world is as the Scripture reveals made by God, by a sovereign act, by his Word in order to display his glory and in order to present the theater for the drama of redemption, or we can understand that the world is merely an accident that somehow matter and time and energy intersected in such a way that through a “Big Bang,” as it is called, or by some other means, nothing simply became something. That leads us to an astounding section in the Washington Post story,

“Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country.”

I’m reading from the article,

“But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God.”

Well, yes it does. That is manifest theological nonsense. It isn’t possible to say that one rejects the fact that God created the world and then say that one intends to be a Christian, because the Christian worldview is predicated first of all upon the fact that God is the sovereign Creator of the world. That is exactly what the apostle Paul said in Acts chapter 17 to the Athenians. That is the first point, the first principle, the first axiom of the Christian worldview. If God did not create the world, then God is himself a created being; and that is a huge problem. The only other alternative worldview is Dualism in which there is the existence of God and creation independent of one another. Any way you look at it, nothing is compatible with the biblical worldview, nothing is compatible with Christianity, but the Christian doctrine of creation.

Following in the story, the Washington Post reports,

“Most experts, however, would agree that the survey also indicates that the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s influence is a rapidly diminishing in Iceland.”

One expert said,

“Results within the survey indicate that the state church holds a weak position in Icelandic society,”

Well that’s true for almost every state church anywhere, and it points to the problem of having a government established church. But we need to note, here the statement is that Iceland State Church,

“…holds a weak position in Icelandic society.”

Well, long before that, it appears that the Iceland State church held a very weak position when it came to Christian truth and God’s Revelation in Scripture. Oh, just one more note in terms of this Church in Iceland. Back in October, we are told by the Iceland Magazine, the Bishop, that is the presiding leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland, rescinded her promise that priests in that church would not be required to perform same-sex ceremonies. She had said previously that those same-sex ceremonies would not be imposed upon ministers of her church if those ministers believed it would violate their fidelity to Scripture. But in October she reversed that, stating that all ministers in the evangelical Lutheran Church there in Iceland would be required to marry same-sex couples. She did so saying,

“What matters in this case, is that we follow Christ’s gospel of kindness and love.”

That’s the language she used for requiring her own ministers to defy Scripture in marrying same-sex couples against their own convictions.

New York Times editorial board unable to answer origin of human evil and sinfulness

Next, while speaking of the doctrine of creation and the book of Genesis, where you do not expect those issues to appear is in the editorial page of the New York Times—until, that is, yesterday. The final editorial statement from the editorial board of the New York Times yesterday was this question,

“Is Warfare in Our Bones?”

The editors of the New York Times wrote,

“The discovery of what looks like the aftermath of a brutal clash between two groups of prehistoric hunter-gatherers on the shore of an African lake is certain to stir up a debate about human nature that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.”

Now, let’s just pause for a moment. I can guarantee you that the editorial board of the New York Times does not believe in the actual existence of Adam or Eve. But you’ll notice that even in going back to human origins, the way they know to do that is by citing Adam and Eve. There’s a story here to be sure. The editors continued,

“The biblical creation story posits that our forebears were inherently pure and peaceful and only fell into nasty struggles for dominance with the knowledge of the forbidden fruit. A corollary advanced by one school of archaeologists and anthropologists holds that our Stone Age ancestors were not inherently violent, and, apart from the odd murder, did not wage organized war until they started to coalesce into societies.”

The editors continued,

“Not so, proclaim proponents of a rival theory that war has deep biological roots, and we’ve been waging it forever. That’s what we are, argued the philosopher Thomas Hobbes; not so, declared Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Even President Obama jumped into the debate when, in his Nobel acceptance speech in 2009, he asserted that “War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man.”

Well, the editors are actually talking about a news story that ran in their own paper in previous days. As they summarize it,

“What scientists found at a place called Nataruk on what was once the shore of a lagoon on Lake Turkana in Kenya were skeletons showing unmistakable evidence of violent deaths — crushed skulls, imbedded arrow or spear points and the like. According to a report of the find in the journal Nature, one man had been hit in the front of the head and stabbed in the neck; the skeleton of a pregnant woman looked like she had been tied up before she was killed. It was obviously a terribly violent encounter. But was it war?”

Well, the editors are not able to conclude an answer to their own question, “Is warfare in our bones?” but they go on to try to argue for peace. It’s a very strange editorial in a very strange edition of the New York Times. But what it does tell us is that, once again, we note that we can’t know ourselves without explaining how we became ourselves. We can’t know the world without explaining how the world came into existence. Now, just a couple of points here, the editors of the New York Times, not exactly what you would consider a theology faculty, say that the biblical creation story, in their words,

“…posits that our forebears were inherently pure and peaceful and only fell into nasty struggles for dominance with the knowledge of the forbidden fruit.”

Well, that’s not exactly right, but it’s close to right. It was Adam and Eve’s sin in eating the fruit of the tree that was forbidden them—that was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—that was pride, arrogance, disobedience at the heart of the fall. It wasn’t the fruit itself that was the knowledge, it was the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil that was the problem. But that’s a quibble in one sense. The editors of the New York Times basically get the Christian worldview right; they basically understand that humanity was born in an original innocence and then fell into sin. And they are certainly right that struggle for dominance, warfare, all the things we associate with human violence, are evidence, tragic but undeniable evidence, of that fall. But you’ll notice that if you don’t believe in the doctrine of the fall, that is if you don’t answer that second question, “What’s gone wrong with the world?” in terms of the biblical answer of the fall and human sinfulness, you’ve got to come up with some other answer. And doesn’t it tell us a great deal that the editors of the New York Times are ransacking academic journals such as Science and Nature in order to find some kind of supposedly scientific evidence of where the human problem emerged. And so we have on the editorial page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times yesterday, an editorial that takes us to a place called Nataruk on what we are told,

“…was once the shore of a lagoon on Lake Turkana in Kenya,”

to a group of skeletons that were found and studied by anthropologists and archaeologists in order to tell us that human beings for a very, very long time have been very violent. But we notice something else, and that is that even as the secular researchers and the editors of the New York Times seem to be fascinated by the evidence of the fact that human beings have for a very, very long time been violent, there is no offering of any explanation as to why human beings would turn to violence, why there would be a propensity to violence among human beings. Here again we see the testimony of why the Christian worldview is so important, because the Christian worldview alone revealed in Scripture tells us that it is human sinfulness and human sinfulness alone that explains why there is a propensity to violence that is within humanity. It isn’t something we merely learned; it isn’t something that happened to us; it is something that comes from within us because of our sinfulness, and that is directly a result of what happened in the garden with our first father and our first mother, Adam and Eve. Even if the New York Times think of Adam and Eve as only metaphorical, Christians understanding the clear teachings of Scripture understand that they were indeed not only historical, but the first parents of all the living.

But when you come to the end of this editorial, you come to understand why the editors of the New York Times asked this question and why these findings on this lake in Kenya now bring about these kinds of editorial musings. The editors speak of these skeletons found on the shore of the lake and then ask this question,

“But are they testimony to the inevitability of war? If warfare is indeed common from the dawn of human history, does that suggest that we will never cease fighting? Not necessarily. A propensity for violence, even if it is innate, has been more than matched throughout our existence by a preference for peace — a fact the bones of the victims of the battle of Nataruk cannot show.”

Well, that sentence is simply defied by human history. It just isn’t true. But, furthermore, it reveals a longing, a longing for wondering how in the world the problem of violence, the problem of evil, the problem Christians know as the problem of sin, can ever be resolved. And that’s where, once again, we come to the fact that no secular worldview can offer any satisfactory answer to that. If we did merely learn violence then perhaps we could unlearn it. But we didn’t merely learn it, we are it. The biblical worldview tells us that’s the problem. It can’t be resolved by any kind of economic progress or educational advancement. It can’t be resolved by moral improvement. It can only be resolved by atonement. It can only be resolved by the coming of the Prince of Peace to establish his kingdom that will know no end. But what this editorial tells us more than anything else is that there is within the secular heart and within the secular worldview a longing for something better. It is a longing for answers that will satisfy, and that shows our Christian opportunity. Even as the modern secular worldview has been advancing, especially in the academic and intellectual elites in this country, it hasn’t been found satisfying. So oddly enough, we see not only the secular longing, but our Christian opportunity in yesterday’s final editorial in the pages of the New York Times.

World Economic Forum in Davos reminds of man's inability to save himself

Finally, speaking of the intellectual, economic, and educational elites, they all tend to meet together at one great event once a year, and it just took place in recent days in Davos and Klosters, Switzerland. It is the World Economic Forum, and to know it is to understand how the elites think and how they gather. It was a gathering of billionaires by and large, and a gathering of political leaders as well. As The Economist of London points out, it’s not that the business leaders are going there to butter up the government leaders, it is the opposite. The government leaders go, hat in hand, in order to hobnob with the international capitalists, the international billionaires who constitute the elite of the elite of the elite. This includes some famous rock stars like Bono and other major cultural figures, American actors, and others. This is an elite that likes to hang together and fly on their private jets in order to talk about the problem of climate change and the need for sustainability.

As the Financial Times said, sustainability was the big “in” word at Davos this year, but the bad word was “populism,” and that points to a big dynamic. “Davos Man” was coined back in the 1990s to describe the kind of person who goes to the World Economic Forum. They are cosmopolitan elites whose primary allegiance is to the elite, not to the nation of their birth or their citizenship, not to anything other than the perpetuation of the elite; and they believe, they sincerely believe, that they have the answers to the biggest problems and that they can solve these problems. They fly on their private jets or on their government jets and meet together in Switzerland; they confab with one another, they have all kinds of interesting presentations, and then they seem to be frustrated year-by-year that they cannot as elites solve all the great problems of the world.

The World Economic Forum has actually done a very good job, in many ways, of describing the problems, looking at world poverty and world hunger and economic inequality and any number of other issues. The World Economic Forum has been very adept at pointing to new advances in technology and what kind of complexities are likely to come by these vast technological changes. But even as the term “Davos Man” was coined back in the 1990s to describe these elites, the problem is always the same. They meet together year-by-year and grow more and more frustrated that they cannot as elites solve all the world’s problems. But even here as Christians, even sympathetically, we can look to the World Economic Forum and just remind ourselves and remind each other, salvation will not come by Davos Man, only by the Son of Man.

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing