May 27, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, May 27, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Language battle over car "accidents" chafes at the academy's view of human responsibility
Is human responsibility real? That is an issue that is now being increasingly faced in our postmodern culture by people who on various fronts are denying the reality of human moral responsibility. One of the byproducts of the modern, naturalistic view of humanity is that it is virtually impossible, if human beings are simply a mass of matter and chemicals, to explain any kind of moral responsibility. The kind of materialism that now rules in modern science denies the very existence of anything the Bible would describe as a soul, leaving the human brain to be nothing more than a chemical computational machine.
How can you hold a chemical machine responsible for decision-making? That is something that is now confronting not only the scientific community but also moralists and the courts as well. Now to state the obvious, if human beings are not morally responsible, then there is no basis for understanding how human beings can be defined, or much less live together. It is an absolute prerequisite of sanity that human beings be understood to be moral agents with moral responsibility, and yet we’re living in a time in which the prevailing secular worldview is having increasing difficulty explaining why human beings should be recognized as being morally responsible.Show Full Transcript
And then comes along a very strange headline. This appeared this week in the New York Times. The headline is this,
“It’s No Accident: Call It a Car ‘Crash’ Instead. Advocates Insist.”
Now you have the intersection of an issue that brings together automobile crashes and the question of human responsibility, and it made the front page of the New York Times. Matt Richtel writing for the Times, says this:
“Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers.
“Just don’t call them accidents anymore.”
“That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error.”
One of the authorities cited in the article is Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health,
“When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen.’
“‘In our society,’ he added, ‘language can be everything.’”
So here you have, in the midst of all kinds of secular confusion about human responsibility, a group of safety advocates who are saying that language matters to the extent that we should no longer speak about automobile accidents, but rather automobile crashes. You might be surprised to know that theology makes its way into this front-page story when, after all, it is explained that the word accident is defined as meaning that human beings couldn’t have caused it or prevented it by moral action.
Instead, throughout most of human history, such things have been explained in terms of the operation of God’s sovereignty and His will. But in a society that no longer believes in the sovereignty of God, in a society that denies the reality of God and increasingly denies that human beings have any status that would include moral responsibility given us by a divine Creator, here, nonetheless, you’ve got a group of safety advocates who are campaigning straightforwardly to avoid using the word accident because it implies that human beings are not responsible.
This comes as a massive affirmation of the biblical worldview that human beings are indeed morally responsible. The Christian worldview explains this by telling us that we are made in God’s image, and as God made us in his image he made us as moral beings. The Scripture makes very clear that we are not only moral beings in terms of the knowledge of good and evil, but we are also moral beings in terms of the fact that we do make and must make moral decisions. And furthermore, the Scripture makes very clear, we are responsible for those decisions. Evidently, this argument is gaining some traction. According to the Times,
“On Jan. 1, the state of Nevada enacted a law, passed almost unanimously in the Legislature, to change “accident” to “crash” in dozens of instances where the word is mentioned in state laws, like those covering police and insurance reports.
“New York City adopted a similar policy in 2014 stating that the city, ‘must no longer regard traffic crashes as mere ‘accidents.’”
According to the report, other cities, including San Francisco, have taken the same step. What in the world does this tell us? First of all, it tells us these safety advocates have a very important argument going for them. It certainly is true that language does matter. This article traces the use of the word accident to car crashes back to the beginning of the automobile age when there was, according to these writers, an intentional effort to try to avoid responsibility in terms of automobile accidents back when most people were seeing the automobile as a very new and potentially threatening technology. And yet the survival of the word accident implies, say these safety advocates, that human responsibility is not the key issue at stake. And they give us the math to prove their point.
According to this article and information from the federal government, only about 6% of automobile crashes are actually what might be defined as accidents—that is, they were not caused by driver error; they were instead caused by some kind of mechanical or technological defect or something directly traceable to weather or something unavoidable. That leaves 94% of all automobile crashes traceable, in one way or another, to human responsibility.
On America’s privileged college and university campuses, professors of various disciplines are trying to deny human moral responsibility. They are doing it in terms of their reductionistic, scientific understanding of the human being. They’re doing it by their moral relativism in classrooms on morals, ethics, and philosophy. They’re doing it in various other ways and various other departments. Meanwhile, you’ve got people pressing back when it comes to auto safety, saying that we really shouldn’t use the word accidents. We should instead use the word crash, because the one thing 94% of these crashes is not is what would rightly be defined as an accident.
But as Christians look to this story, we with these safety advocates certainly hope to strive for a lowering of the death toll that comes by automobile crashes. We should also be instructed by something the Christian worldview should tip us off to being very important. It turns out that the use of the word accident was, from the very beginning, no accident.
Church of Scotland votes to allow gay clergy to be married but not to conduct gay marriage
Meanwhile, shifting next to Scotland, a very sad story concerning the Church of Scotland. The British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, reported this week
“The historic vote on the first day of this year’s gathering in Edinburgh draws a line under a [argument] which has split the Kirk [that is the church] for nine years.”
The church has voted to allow gay clergy marriages.
“Commissioners [of the Church of Scotland] voted by 339 votes to 215 in favor of the move.”
As the BBC explains,
“The decision means that same sex civil marriage will be permitted for ministers within the Church of Scotland.”
This headline might be shocking, but it’s really not a development that will shock anyone who has been watching the Church of Scotland. Here you have one of the most historic churches in the history of Christendom that has been abandoning progressively the Christian faith, doctrine by doctrine, principle by principle, until this latest move. But there is also something here that should have our attention in terms of the basic dishonesty that is at stake here.
For example, as Christianity Daily reported from Scotland,
“The Church of Scotland voted to allow its gay ministers to marry. The church, however, left the theological definition of marriage beyond the purview of the meeting, and will take it up next year.”
Repeatedly in the media, leaders of the Church of Scotland, known in Scotland as the National Kirk, declared that they weren’t actually changing, at least not yet, the Church’s definition and doctrine concerning marriage. They were just going to allow not only now openly gay clergy—that’s something they decided years ago—but openly gay clergy who are going to be married in terms of same-sex marriages.
Now back during the communist revolution, in a term that appeared first in Russia, but then spread to Europe, and then to the United States, the Soviet leaders described those in Western nations who were serving their purposes, sometimes unwittingly, as being, this phrase is often traced to Lenin himself, useful idiots.
What sense can it possibly make to claim that you’re not changing the doctrine principles and teaching of your church, that you’re not changing the definition of marriage, when you announce and then vote that you’re going to allow not only openly gay clergy, but you’re going to allow those openly gay clergy to be married to others of the same-sex? The Reverend John Chalmers, principal clerk to the General Assembly, said this remarkable statement,
“We had a debate which made very clear that we were not interfering with our theological definition of marriage and were not going to the place where ministers or deacons could themselves be conducting same-sex marriages.”
No, they appear to have left that for next year when the church is going to take up that question a year later. But it is incomprehensible that the church would say that their ministers could be involved in same-sex marriages but could not perform them. That is the kind of theological insanity that is now spreading throughout so many of the old liberal historic churches and Christianity. Again those churches have been progressively abandoning Christianity doctrine by doctrine, but this is still big news coming from the Church of Scotland. It’s very sad news.
It points to the theological and gospel collapse of a church that had once been influenced by the reformer John Knox and once looked back to giving Scotland its very theological heritage. David Robertson, who was the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland that came out to the national Kirk back in the year 1843, said he was saddened by the general assembly’s decision. He said these words,
“It is a sad day for all the Christian churches in Scotland when what used to be the national Kirk has now departed so clearly from the Bible.”
He went on to say,
“In adopting this policy the church of Scotland has not only disassociated itself from the vast majority of Christian churches throughout the world, but has lost all claim to be the national church for Scotland.”
That is a very important statement and one that needs to be heard very clearly by biblical Christians wherever they are found. The absolute collapse of liberal Protestantism, as made clear in the case of the Church of Scotland, was documented in a recent book by David J. Randall, a former pastor of the Church of Scotland. The book is entitled, A Sad Departure: Why We Could Not Stay in the Church of Scotland.
In the book, we see Professor Callum Brown of Dundee University, who has charted the decline of the church, when he expresses that membership has fallen by more than two thirds in the last 40 years—that’s membership in this church has been reduced by two thirds just in the last 40 years. Professor Brown, understood to be one of most insightful sociologists of religion in the United Kingdom, wrote,
“Since 1963, the church of Scotland has suffered a straight line graph of decline in its adherence. This decline has been sustained and at the moment is showing absolutely no sign of changing. Furthermore, in a 1980 report made to the Kirk’s counsel of ministry predicted a further reduction in membership. And in 1997,” says Randall, “The church suggested that if the decline in numbers continued it would cease to exist by the year 2033.”
Once again, we need to note the pattern people claim that the church has to adjust its doctrine and its moral teaching in order to survive in the world. But the lesson is clear: it is the churches that abandon the gospel and abandon biblical authority, who actually surrender these doctrines and moral principles, that find themselves collapsing in terms of membership. And that’s exactly what is happening to the Church of Scotland.
In a pattern now familiar to us, Randall explained,
“The Church of Scotland professes belief in the Scriptures as the supreme rule of its faith and life, but it has officially by decision of its Supreme Court turned its back on the Bible. After the manner of Genesis 3, doubting God’s word has been followed by denial of God’s word and denial of God’s word has been followed by defiance of God’s word.”
The book A Sad Departure, published by Better of Truth Press, recounts how this particular pastor and his church made the decision that, reluctantly, they must leave the Church of Scotland; and so they did back in the year 2010. It’s a very important story, and it is a cautionary tale for every church and, for that matter, for every denomination. A denomination that begins to follow this path will inevitably find itself right where the Church of Scotland was found this week: abandoning and denying the clear teaching of Scripture, and at this point, defying it to the extent that, though they claim they are not redefining marriage in the church—no, they deferred that for another year—they’re going to allow, even now, openly gay clergy to be involved in same-sex marriages.
Online baptisms and communion? Church of Scotland eyes internet to fix declining membership
But next, staying in Scotland, it turned out that same-sex marriage for clergy was not the only issue debated by the Church of Scotland. Trevor Grundy reports for Religion News Service: the church also has decided “to consider online baptisms and online communion.”
“The Church of Scotland will launch a two-year investigation into the possibility of introducing online baptisms, Communion and other Christian sacraments.”
The church, even as this article begins, “has seen its rolls fall by almost one-third between 2004 and 2015, to just under 364,000 members.”
Now remember that Callum Brown had told us that it had fallen by two thirds since 1964. Now you have the Religion News Service telling us that it has fallen by a third just between the years 2004 and 2015.
According to the RNS report, the church’s Legal Questions Committee, which is responsible for advising the General Assembly, is pushing for “a wide-ranging review of practice and procedure which is impacted by the use of new technology in church life” declaring, and I quote,
“Now is the time to open up a wide range of discussion on these contemporary developments.”
Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. Here we have a church that’s lost two thirds of its members since 1964, and now we’re told it has lost one third of its members just since 2004, that is now considering, in the light of all of that, moving baptism and the Lord’s Supper online.
Well Britain is an increasingly secular society, and evidently Religion News Service appeared to have to define baptism to the readers of this article, explaining in what can only be described as an understatement.
“Baptism, one of the key Christian sacraments, normally demands the physical presence of the person undergoing the rite.”
To make the statement that baptism “normally demands the physical presence of the person” is not only an understatement, the alternative is what can only be described as theological irrationality.
In the earlier story on the fact that the Church of Scotland had decided to make a change concerning its clergy and same-sex marriage, I mentioned David Robertson; he’s the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, again, they broke from the Church of Scotland back in 1843. Once again, his quote is noteworthy. He said,
“The notion of online baptism is as ridiculous as the nation of online weddings or online Communion. At best it is a cheap gimmick, at worst it comes across as yet another desperate attempt by a declining national church to shore up its numbers and justify its existence.”
But there’s another lesson embedded in all of this nonsense for all Christians. It comes down to this: a church that will move baptism online will do just about anything. Inevitably, you can count on it.
Why is man religious? Evolutionist attempts an answer but admits inability to explain pain and death
Next, one of the things we often need to note is that the theory of evolution explains everything, according to its proponents; it must because if you buy in to the theory of evolution. It is part of a larger understanding of cosmology that does explain everything, and eventually the theory of evolution, according to the evolutionists, has to explain even why human beings appear to be such resolutely, religious people. The newsroom at the University of California, Los Angeles, otherwise known as UCLA, recently released a story about Professor Jared Diamond declaring that he presented a lecture celebrating the 20th anniversary of the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, describing his lecture as
“A dispassionate look at religion over the course of history.”
This reflects the modern evolutionary worldview as it tries to explain human religion. As UCLA’s press office reported,
“Jared Diamond, UCLA’s Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of geography and an astute intellectual observer of human life in multiple practices, faced a standing-room-only audience who came to hear his compelling lecture titled ‘The Evolution and Function of Human Religion’ at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Religion.”
An evolutionary understanding of religion, he said, explains that there are six practical functions for religion for humanity.
“From its earliest forms, religion has served as a tool for finding a supernatural explanation of the natural world, absent scientific understanding of the universe. Another early function of religion is diffusing anxiety over dangers beyond human control.”
So here you have an evolutionist trying to say, “Here’s why religion exists, because prior to modern science, you needed to have some explanation for what can now be explained by science, which is virtually everything.” And furthermore, he said religion was very practical because it diffused anxiety over dangers beyond human agency or human control. And thus, he said,
“As scientific knowledge has increased, these two functions of religion have decreased.”
He also said, however, that religion has a third function of providing comfort, “especially in the face of pain, suffering and mortality.”
He says this explains the early effort for religion to evolve,
“But this function has increased as humans evolved.”
In other words, instead of decreasing, it has been increasing, perhaps telling us that human beings, even in a secular age, are now more worried about pain, suffering, and mortality. Trying to explain religion in purely secular terms, after all, the presumption here is that there can’t be a God, so religion in any form is simply a futile exercise explainable by some kind of human need that this religious impulse might help to meet. Diamond went on to look to the future, and he said that if we don’t blow ourselves up in the year 2043 there are two possible avenues for the continued evolution of religion. So buckle your seatbelts, here you have two different avenues of potential evolution for religion.
“If living standards rise all around the world and if science continues to explain more and more phenomena, four of religion’s six functions will probably continue to decline. But religion’s second and third functions of diffusing anxiety and providing comfort seem to be likely to persist.”
Now what is he really telling us here? He’s telling us that, as committed as he is to the scientific, secular, evolutionary worldview, he doesn’t actually believe that that worldview is going to provide satisfying answers in the face of death, and mortality, and pain, and suffering. But he said,
“If on the other hand, much of the world remains mired in poverty or continues to deteriorate, then all functions of religion, maybe even supernatural explanations are likely to undergo resurgence.”
What is all this telling us? It’s telling us that the modern, secular, evolutionary worldview simply can’t satisfy in terms of giving satisfactory explanations to the problem of mortality and evil and suffering and pain. That tells us a very great deal. It tells us something that’s important to the Christian worldview, because we understand that the Christian worldview based upon the Scripture does answer those questions. But we also understand that the modern, evolutionary worldview simply can’t answer those questions, regardless of what should unfold in the future. That, for Christianity, is a challenge; but in terms of the gospel, it’s also a great opportunity.