October 7, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, October 7, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
"This storm is a monster": The incredible power of Hurricane Matthew hits the US
“This storm is a monster.”
That was said by Florida Governor Rick Scott in the hours before Hurricane Matthew, then a category four storm, roared onto the Florida peninsula. As we speak, it is not yet at all clear just how devastating the storm may be. We now know a great deal more than we knew even 24 hours ago. We know that the nation of Haiti has experienced something upwards of 300 deaths. We know that the island nation of the Bahamas has experienced widespread devastation. We know that the southernmost part of Florida escaped most of the wrath of Hurricane Matthew, and we know that as the early morning hours dawn today, Hurricane Matthew was headed into contact with Florida, along the coast, from a point just north of West Palm Beach all the way up to the Georgia coast, where it is expected to be sometime later this evening, perhaps even early tomorrow morning.
All this underlines the fact that our weather forecasting systems now are extremely modern. We’re talking about the Saffir-Simpson scale, for example, measuring the relative strength of hurricanes. That’s only a few decades old. If we’re looking backwards in time to a storm in 1898, we need to concede the fact that the relative strength of that storm is being reconstructed in effect by looking at the records of the time, and many of those records were measured on instruments that would not pass muster in terms of modern standards. It’s still important to have some kind of historical context. Something else that comes to mind with this storm is just how vulnerable so much of the nation is, so much of the world, for that matter just about every spot on planet Earth, has a vulnerability to some kind of natural disaster, sometimes to more than one.
Hurricanes are uniquely threatening to coastal areas, and the most threatened of all of those areas are lowland areas, outer islands, and, for that matter, marshland. And all of that is a triple threat when it comes to Hurricane Matthew. It’s often something that escapes the American imagination to remember just how much of the American coastline is dotted by barrier islands. In certain places, they are called keys. In other places, they were identified as something like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but they are extremely vulnerable all along the American Atlantic coastline, our coastal islands that in many ways are separated from the mainland by just a matter of sometimes a few hundred feet, or a few hundred yards, sometimes even a few miles.
Add to that the fact that most of Florida is barely above sea level, and most of the Georgia and South Carolina coast is actually made up of very spongy marshland. That’s why much of that area is described historically as the low country. It is very low. That’s why South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley ordered the evacuation of all South Carolinians up to 100 miles from that marshy coastline. That’s why in Georgia similar orders have been given, and that’s why in Florida, Governor Scott has been warning his residents that the storm is very deadly. As he said,
“This storm will kill you.”
The magnitude of this storm staggers the imagination, reminding us of our humility before the Creator and our affirmation of the fact that we are certainly not in control of forces nearly so great. And furthermore, we have no direct physical influence over this storm whatsoever. We’re also looking at the fact that the massive power of the storm could actually reshape the American coastline. It has happened before. If you look at the coastline of the United States today, or for that matter anywhere in the world, or if you look at any particular area and its topography, it is telling a story. And that story includes the fact that this coastline has been shaped and reshaped successively by massive storms such as, now, Hurricane Matthew.
We’re also looking at the fact that there are some very interesting parts of human nature that are revealed in the midst of this kind of storm or the anticipation of it. For only the fourth time in its history and the first time in a decade, Disney World is closed, indicating that the so-called Magic Kingdom also is vulnerable, even to this kind of very un-magical power.
We also have a southern cultural observation to make. You know that something serious is afoot when it is announced that Waffle House is closing all of its restaurants along I-95 in the affected areas. When Disney World and Waffle House begin to announce their closings, you know that at least someone is taking this storm seriously, and so must we all. As we’re praying for those in the affected areas and as we see this storm now as forecast to buzz saw, as meteorologists explain it, up the Southeast Atlantic coastline, we remember the fact that we are small, and this storm is great.
But there is one who is far greater than this storm, and that is the Creator of all, infinite in His power. This kind of storm is a display of the power that he has unleashed just in this cosmos. It is only a hint of that infinite power that he possesses unto himself. A storm with this intensity, already having destroyed so much and killed so many, also requires a deeper explanation. And the question is why? Why? The answer from the Christian worldview, of course, is the effect of human sin on the cosmos and on planet earth, made very clear in texts such as Genesis 3 and Romans chapter 8. We as Christians come to understand that, yes, there will be meteorological explanations. There will be explanations in terms of modern science and all of its ability in terms of explaining the storm. But the most important explanation of this storm, the most important explanation of anything that kills and destroys, is that it is a representation of the force of sin set loose in the cosmos by our human iniquity, by the sin of Adam and Eve and the consequences of that sin set upon all of creation.
But the Bible doesn’t merely point backward to the original sin of Adam and Eve. It also makes clear that in Adam we sinned, even as Adam is described as our federal head. Thus when we answer the question why, we don’t just point backward to Adam. We have to look in the mirror and recognize that we too have contributed to the sinfulness that is on display.
But at the same time, the Bible affirms that it is not wrong, indeed, that it is right to call upon God to calm the waters, even as the disciples did so on the storm-tossed lake when Jesus was with them in the boat. And so we pray that the Lord will still the waters and calm the winds and limit the destructiveness of this storm.
Society of Christian Philosophers scandalized by historic Christian position on homosexuality
Next, we face a very important story from an organization that heretofore has never made headline news. That is the academic society known as the Society of Christian Philosophers. The best report on the controversy comes at The Federalist written by Berny Belvedere. As he writes,
“Although the Midwest Conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers is not exactly the rollicking, boundary-pushing saturnalia that its name may imply, this year’s event, which took place two weeks ago, did manage to produce quite the headline-grabbing scandal. The keynote speaker, Richard Swinburne, who is an emeritus professor at Oxford University and an all-around giant in the field, said something that set the philosophical community ablaze.”
Then Belvedere says,
“Here is the offending passage from his paper, “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family and Life,” which he delivered at the SCP conference:”
Professor Swinburne said, and I quote,
“I come next to homosexual sexual acts (between consenting adults). It has been traditional to assume that the Bible and subsequent Christian tradition has condemned such acts…. Where, after all, do we ever find before the twentieth century any explicit approval of such acts by any theologian orthodox in other respects? So I pass to consider what reason God would have for prohibiting such acts; and I suggest that the same kind of consideration applies to the prohibition of homosexual acts as to the prohibition of divorce or extra-marital intercourse. Having homosexual orientation is a disability – for a homosexual cannot beget children through a loving act with a person to whom they have a unique lifelong commitment….”
At that point, Professor Swinburne, one of most respected philosophers in modern Christianity, was saying the obvious that the Christian tradition through two millennia, over 2000 years, has consistently affirmed the intrinsically sinful nature of homosexual acts and behaviors. The group he was addressing, after all, was a regional chapter of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which one might assume would consider “Christian” to be a very important part of that title and thus would be un-shocked and unoffended when someone articulated, even someone so esteemed as Professor Swinburne, the traditional orthodox biblical understanding of sexual morality.
But the controversy went public when Michael Rea, the president of the group, said on Facebook,
“I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.”
Here you have the president of the Society for Christian Philosophers apologizing for the fact that Professor Richard Swinburne, delivering a keynote as he was invited to this regional chapter meeting, actually defended the historic Christian understanding of sexuality, and furthermore, the absolute contradiction in the president’s statement came when he claimed on the one hand to be, “committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion”—and then on the other hand, quite contradicting himself, to condemn Professor Swinburne for his comments.
Inclusion as it turns out, as in so many other cases, is only one way. We might consider this controversy as just another example of political correctness, or more specifically the intolerance that often masquerades under the guise of tolerance, but of course there is more to the story. We’re talking about the Society of Christian Philosophers, and the man at the center of this controversy, Richard Swinburne, as we have said, is one most respected Christian philosophers today.
Furthermore, there’s something a bit fishy to this story, because no one should have been surprised about what Professor Richard Swinburne would say in an address which was already advertised to be considering these very issues. I hold in my hands a copy of one of Professor Swinburne’s most influential books. It’s entitled Revelation. It’s published in its second edition as in the first by Oxford University Press. It was published first in 1992 and then the second edition in 2007. On page 303 of this book, now out for almost a decade, Professor Swinburne writes,
“Various biblical texts forbid performing homosexual acts.”
He then goes on to cite them, Old Testament and New Testament. Swinburne then writes, and his words are extremely important,
“Nineteen centuries of unanimous church tradition supports this prohibition, and denying it would surely have been deemed heretical. So again, I suggest that it must count as a central Christian doctrine.”
The importance of that statement is very difficult to undermine. We’re looking at the fact that one of the most prominent Christian philosophers, a professor emeritus at Oxford University, is on the record and has been now at least since 1992 as stating that a biblical understanding of sexual morality operates as a central Christian doctrine. To deny it, for centuries of the church, would’ve been deemed heretical. Thus, as he says, it must be considered “a central Christian doctrine.” Those are extremely brave words. In one sense, they were very brave back in 1992. They’re far braver, we might understand politically speaking, in the year 2016. There wasn’t an abundant controversy in 1992 or in 2007 when the book was revised, but there was controversy now in the year 2016 when just a few weeks ago, Professor Swinburne addressed a group known as the Society of Christian Philosophers. Something very serious is here afoot.
In response to President Rea’s denunciation of Professor Swinburne, a group of Christian philosophers responded on a website by writing,
“This will serve as a warning to any Christian who might otherwise wish to argue publicly for politically incorrect Christian moral views. The SCP is now a safe space only for BuzzFeed Christians, viz. those who’ve apparently received a new revelation from God abrogating the teachings of the Bible and the Church.”
Later, after citing what they identified rightly as the selective outrage against Professor Swinburne, the authors write,
“That Swinburne’s comments were damaging, harmful, cruel, and hurtful is absurd. This has been a favored tactic of the left for some time. Because they know causing bodily damage, hurt, and harm justifies the use of force in response, if they can convince people in power that certain words and views cause mental damage, hurt, and harm, use of force in censoring it is also justified.”
Now at this point, we need to look a little more closely at the ground of offense in this controversy. That’s the actual statement made by Professor Swinburne. He stated that homosexuality biblically defined is a disability. Many people were outraged at that. The use of the word disability was to them a matter of deep offense, and of course the offense is in the suggestion that there is something less than normative goodness to homosexuality. But in using that term, Professor Swinburne was actually making a very important point familiar to anyone who understands biblical theology. He was arguing that anything that fails to deliver and to be faithful to the telos—that is the end for which God has created it—is a representation of a disability. Anything that keeps human beings from displaying the full glory of God and his purposes in creation is a disability. And in that sense, the Christian church would unanimously have said through centuries that homosexuality is a disability for the very reason that Professor Swinburne indicated.
Homosexual behaviors and homosexual relationships cannot produce offspring in fulfillment of Genesis 1:28 and the full theme of biblical theology. That’s a very important point, and what we have here is a controversy that reveals more about the current leadership of the Society of Christian Philosophers—we even have to doubt the rightfulness of its claim upon that name—when compared to the faithfulness of one of the most esteemed Christian philosophers of our day. Richard Swinburne is a heavyweight in philosophy. He has been so for decades. This controversy is not going to diminish the contribution he has made to the field of apologetics and Christian philosophy over the years. It is however going to make very clear that the moral revolution has reached even the quiet and heretofore uncontroversial group known as the Society of Christian Philosophers.
There’s something else here Christians need to note: putting the word “Christian” in the title of an organization does not make it Christian, not in terms of substance. In this case, we must note that Michael Rea, the president of the group who so criticized Professor Swinburne, described the Society of Christian Philosophers as “broadly united by way of religious faith.”
Well if you’re using language like “broadly united by way of religious faith,” you are not stating anything that is remotely or explicitly Christian in terms of commitment.
Writing on the controversy in his column at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher rightly describes the critics of Professor Swinburne as engaged in “hysterical ideological bleating.”
That’s an apt description. But we also need to note that the actual language being used by many of these critics isn’t repeatable on The Briefing. It is absolutely profane, the most explicitly offensive language imaginable. This is supposed to be a respected academy of Christian philosophers. After all, we’re talking about universities like the University of Notre Dame, Oxford, and Cambridge universities. But in a second column on the controversy, Rod Dreher actually cites some of the very language used by the critics of Professor Swinburne, language far too rough to be cited on The Briefing. After citing one of these professors who actually apologized for using language only because he says it wasn’t radical and offensive enough, Rod Dreher describes the professor and says,
“Remember, this is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University everybody.”
For the record, some of the members of the Society of Christian Philosophers did defend Professor Swinburne, and even others defended his right to deliver the paper that he was after all invited to present. But there were larger arguments also in the wake of the controversy. One member of the society, Eric Steinhart, wrote in an article entitled “Swinburne and the Migration out of Christianity” that what Professor Swinburne represented was a reason why so many people are leaving the Christian faith. He wrote,
“It should be clear to all that there are many positions which Christians can take on issues associated with homosexuality. Christians are neither compelled by the Bible nor by tradition to take only one position. On the one hand, there are Christian individuals and denominations which accept homosexuality,” he says citing liberal or mainline Protestant denominations.”
And then he goes on to say,
“There are Christian individuals and denominations which oppose homosexuality. These include Catholicism and many conservative or evangelical Protestant denominations. So Swinburne was compelled neither by the Bible nor by tradition to oppose homosexuality.”
Now look very closely at the following words,
“He was led to it by his own character. Along with many other Christians, he could have chosen to develop a Christian acceptance of homosexuality.”
We need to watch exactly what’s going on here. It’s more subtle than may at first appear. Now you have a critic of Professor Swinburne saying that Professor Swinburne reveals his character in this position, not biblical or church tradition, not biblical authority nor the consistent tradition of the church. You can pick and choose, he argues, in terms of the Bible or in Christian theological tradition, and if you choose to believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful, then it reveals nothing about the Bible, nothing about the church, but everything about your character. This is a very sinister turn in terms of our public conversation, and it is a very clear new tactic for the moral revolutionaries, one they are obviously now willing to deploy. Thanks to the Society of Christian Philosophers, we have been warned.
InterVarsity affirms biblical teaching on sexuality, commits staff to historic Christian teaching
Finally, also as we go into the weekend, a major story that broke late yesterday at TIME magazine. Elizabeth Dias reporting, the headline,
“Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage.”
The organization at the center this controversy is the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, operating on 667 college campuses nationwide, one of the most influential and respected of the evangelical campus ministries for many years. InterVarsity has had a very important role to play in the American evangelical movement, and now it has taken a very decided stand in identifying the fact that Christian biblical and sexual morality are clearly to be expected, not only in terms of what is officially taught, but of beliefs that are sincerely held by those who hold staff positions in the organization. You can expect the backlash and the outcry about this kind of policy. Some of that outcry is coming from some of those campus ministers and staff who are either already dismissed or in the process of being terminated. Some of them actually organized a so-called queer network in order to further the aims of trying to normalize at least acceptance of same-sex marriage and other homosexual behaviors within the organization.
But remember this, here you have the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an organization that seeks to evangelize and then to disciple young Christians and does so on the basis of biblical truth. It cannot do so otherwise, and an organization like this on the contemporary American college and university campus stands at the intersection of the fact that young people are asking these questions, they can’t not ask them, and the Bible answers these questions, and answers these questions very clearly. Thus, an organization like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship will eventually have to make very clear its expectation of all staff, and it’s going to have to make those terms explicit in terms of the Christian biblical worldview. The organization has done just that in recent months in a major paper that was leaked to the worldwide media, and in this paper you find exactly what you would expect from a Christian organization. You find creation, and God’s purpose in creation, and then the gift of sexuality displayed in all of God’s glory. And then the paper turns to describe the Fall, “not the way it is supposed to be,” listing dimensions of sexual sin that range from sexual abuse and divorce, to premarital sex, lust, adultery, pornography, and yes, same-sex marriage.
In the previous story, we looked to controversy that found a Christian philosopher guilty of actually affirming Christian truth in matters of human sexuality, and now you find a controversy—after all it made the pages of TIME magazine just yesterday—about a Christian campus organization that has the temerity to expect its staff not only to teach but also to believe what the Bible teaches. When the Society of Christian Philosophers makes headline news and when InterVarsity Christian Fellowship makes the pages of TIME magazine going into the weekend, you understand what we have been saying for a very long time. There is no place to hide. Soon we’re all going to know what everyone believes on all of these issues, and Christian institutions, Christian organizations, Christian ministries, and Christian churches, indeed every single Christian, will eventually have to give an answer.