The Briefing 12-16-16

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Dylann Roof found guilty of murders by federal jury in Charleston, South Carolina

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War on toys: Hyperinflation plagues Venezuela as socialist government cracks down on Christmas toys

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What the hunt for 2016's most popular toy, the Hatchimal, says about the American consumer

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Christology and Christmas: Must Christians believe the virgin birth?

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Transcript

The Briefing

December 16, 2016

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

It’s Friday, December 16, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Dylann Roof found guilty of murders by federal jury in Charleston, South Carolina

Now the dates of infamy in America include June 17, 2016. That was the day that white supremacist Dylann Roof entered one of the nation’s most historic African-American churches and opened fire. He walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, that’s the oldest AME congregation in America, and opened fire as worshipers were gathered for a Wednesday night prayer meeting. By the end of the shooting spree, nine people were dead. Yesterday a federal jury impaneled in Charleston, South Carolina found Dylann Roof guilty, guilty of multiple counts. As Kevin Sack and Alan Blinder reported for the New York Times,

“Dylann S. Roof, a self-radicalized young white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners last year when he opened fire during a long-planned assault on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was found guilty by a federal jury here on Thursday.”

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The jury convicted Dylann Roof of nine counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill—there were, after all, three survivors—nine counts of obstructing the exercise of religion resulting in death, three counts of that charge with an attempt to kill, and nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence.

Now one of the things we need to note is that that legal language doesn’t come close to the moral magnitude of what we’re talking about in this horrifying attack. But that legal language is nonetheless necessary. That’s because we are not a government of men, but a government of laws. And that means that we have to follow a process of jurisprudence and we have to follow the criminal code and we have to follow through a jury trial in order to achieve the closest approximation of justice. And now that approximation of justice goes all the way to the federal government insisting that it will continue to press for the death penalty.

The most moving coverage of the jury’s decision handed down yesterday is found in the local newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, the Post and Courier. Reporters Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, and Abigail Darlington wrote that,

“Dylann Roof, a gun-obsessed loner who tried to provoke a race war after soaking up online hate, faces a potential death sentence after a jury convicted him of 33 federal crimes Thursday stemming from the shooting of nine black parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.”

The Charleston newspaper also tells us that,

“The [federal] jury [had] three black members and nine white members [who] deliberated for two hours before finding the self-avowed white supremacist guilty of hate crimes, obstruction of religion, and firearms violations.”

Dylann Roof stood facing forward impassive, we are told, as the jury foreman read each count in order accompanied by:

“We find the defendant, Dylann Storm Roof, guilty.”

That federal jury was then dismissed in order to come back on January 3 to begin the next phase of the trial which will decide upon the penalty.

In terms of moral magnitude, some of the most important words spoken during a criminal proceeding are those of the closing arguments before the jury is assigned the task of deciding the verdict of guilty or not guilty. In the closing statements made by the prosecutor, Assistant United States Attorney, Nathan S Williams, pointed to Dylann Roof as “a man of hatred, a man who’s proven to be a coward and a man of immense racial ignorance.”

He repeatedly used the word “hatred,” according to the New York Times, to connect Roof to the hate crime counts. And the prosecutor went on to say that Dylann Roof had “executed them because he believes that they are nothing more than animals.”

A part of the moral clarity necessary in the closing statement was made by the Assistant U.S. Attorney when he said that Dylann Roof,

“In that moment, a man of immense hatred walked around that room shooting person after person after person, stopping only so he could reload more magazines and kill more people. It was an act of tremendous cowardice, shooting people as they have their eyes closed in prayer, shooting them on the ground and as they cowered under tables.”

Our system of justice also calls for a legal defense and the defense attorney in this case, David I. Bruck, had a very difficult assignment precisely because Dylann Roof was guilty and admitted to that even as he was apprehended by law enforcement officials. At no point during the trial did the defendant or his attorney suggest that he had not committed the crimes. Indeed, in the opening statements made on December 7, Mr. Bruck actually said that Dylann Roof was responsible for what he described as the “astonishing horrible attack of June 17, 2015.”

The nation will be following what happens when that panel comes back together on January 3 to consider the just penalty for these crimes. The federal government rejected a plea agreement that had been put forth by Roof’s attorneys in which he would plead guilty in return for a life sentence with no threat of the death penalty. Instead, given the magnitude of these crimes, the federal government made very clear that it was going to move forward to demand the death penalty. At this point, operating out of a Christian worldview, we have to recognize that this society, which is increasingly confused about the relationship of crime and punishment and especially increasingly confused about the death penalty, nonetheless recognizes that there are some crimes when no other penalty can possibly do. Perhaps on that score the most amazing thing is to recognize that it was the Obama administration’s Justice Department that has insisted on applying the death penalty in the case of Dylann Roof, just as it also did in the case of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The penalty phase, that death penalty hearing, is going to be particularly revealing because Dylann Roof has insisted upon acting as his own attorney in that phase. The reason for that is apparently that he does not want his mental state to become the sum of the argument, and that’s the only argument his defense attorney would have. There is also media speculation in Charleston that he does not want information about his own family to become germane to those arguments during the penalty phase. That may mean that that phase is altogether short compared to similar proceedings. Both the local and the international media noted, however, that the defense attorney was doing his very best in his closing statement to try to plant seeds of doubt concerning the mental competence of Dylann Roof even as he knew he would not be able to make those arguments in the death penalty phase because he will not be serving as the attorney at that point. Mr. Roof insists on serving as his own attorney. But the judge in this case ruled out of order the defense attorney’s attempt to interject at every possible turn the mental state of Mr. Roof, because that was not germane to the question of guilt or innocence. At this point we also have to note from the Christian worldview how intense we find that human desire for justice, that instinct for justice, and how difficult it is even in a secular age to overcome that impulse to demand justice.

While this nation may lack consensus on any number of moral issues, we simply have to reflect upon the fact that there still is a consensus, and for that we should be quite thankful, that what Dylann Roof is not only wrong, but must be named by its proper name, which is homicide, with all the dimensions of this crime made very clear in the indictments against him and now the verdicts against him, and that human desire for justice which we know is implanted in the imago dei—that is in the fact that every single human being is made God’s image.

And here we also have to recognize that that desire for justice that is implanted within us by the Creator cannot even be satisfied by this guilty verdict or by any penalty or punishment this court may hand down. Why? That is because human justice cannot be fully restorative justice. There is no way to bring these nine human beings who were killed in this horrifying incident back to life. That awaits the justice that only God can bring on a day of judgment that will be far more conclusive, indeed eternally conclusive than anything, however right that was decided by this verdict in Charleston, South Carolina. This will have to be as right as we can do for now.

From a Christian worldview perspective there are a couple of other necessary insights from the verdict handed down yesterday. For one thing we have to note that the community there in Charleston, including most especially the community associated with the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, responded even to this absolutely heinous crimes with the spirit of forgiveness that which is rooted by their very declaration in biblical Christianity. Even as we ask the question, where does that instinct for justice comes from? we also have to ask the question on the other side, where does the possibility of forgiveness come from? No secular worldview can bear the freight of the forgiveness of sins, only the gospel of Christ can. And one of the signs of the continuing influence of the Christian worldview established in the Christian gospel is where you have the impulse to forgiveness as was demonstrated by this congregation and this community in the aftermath of the massacre.

Finally on this issue we have to reflect with gratitude that Dylann Roof did not get what he wanted as was made clear in this jury trial. Dylann Roof committed this massacre hoping to incite a race war in America. It is clear that this nation has a very long way to go in terms of racial reconciliation and community restoration, but it is also clear that this nation did not descend into a race war after this massacre and did not even come close. The biblical worldview never minimizes the power of hate, but it also never magnifies it beyond the power of love, making very clear that hate will, like all other earthly things, pass away as evidence and as substance of the Fall. Only love will remain, and the Christian worldview and the Christian gospel remind us to be thankful where love is found, wherever and whenever it is found.

War on toys: Hyperinflation plagues Venezuela as socialist government cracks down on Christmas toys

Next, while we’re speaking about worldview implications, those on America’s college campuses and in the cultural elites who are infatuated with socialism ought to go see what it actually looks like on the ground, and right now there is no better place to make that case than the nation of Venezuela. Right now people are going hungry and the lights are going out. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday,

“Venezuelans desperately rushed to banks Tuesday to dump cash after the government announced it is eliminating the largest circulating bank note to combat contraband in a country whipsawed by the world’s deepest recession and highest inflation.”

The Journal reports,

“In the financial district of downtown Caracas, National Guard troops carrying assault rifles stood outside banks as crowds of people lined up to deposit stacks of 100-bolivar bills, which President Nicolás Maduro said Monday would become void on Wednesday night. In the provinces, where there are fewer banks, the situation was chaotic, with sporadic fighting breaking out among residents waiting as early as 5 a.m. in lines that stretched up to four blocks. A 100-bolivar bill is worth just 3 U.S. cents on the black market.”

This is the financial condition known as hyperinflation. This is what brought the Third Reich to power in Germany as the Weimar Republic fell to a similar rate of inflation. I have in my library a 1 million mark, that is deutsche mark, German mark bill from the Weimar Republic just before it fell. At the end of the Weimar Republic, that bill would not buy a pencil, 1 million marks worth virtually nothing. Now the 100 bolivar note is nothing in Venezuela, but so is most of the Venezuelan economy.

Nicholas Maduro had a hero in Hugo Chavez, the late socialist leader of Venezuela, and Hugo Chavez had a hero in Fidel Castro. Now both Chavez and Castro are dead, Maduro is president of Venezuela, and the economy is tanking. Once again, socialism simply cannot live up to its promises. The central economic planning undertaken by the Maduro government has led to continued disaster, and not only are the lights now going out quite literally, but there are millions of Venezuelans who are now threatened with hunger.

As Margaret Thatcher, the late Prime Minister of Great Britain said, the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. The Venezuelan oil economy had been used to prop up the communist regime in Cuba, but when that oil economy ran dry, so also did both Cuba and Venezuela. And the crisis in Venezuela is exacerbated by the fact that all this is taking place just days before the celebration of Christmas, and this brings us to the issue of toys, which takes us to an editorial that appeared this week again in the Wall Street Journal entitled,

“A Very Socialist Christmas.”

The Wall Street Journal says,

“This is a time of year when many Americans count their blessings, and among these is the annual Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Marines accept voluntary donations and distribute toys to millions of needy children. In Venezuela they are developing a different tradition. The government has deployed soldiers from its National Guard to seize millions of toys before they reach Venezuelan shoppers.”

Behind this war on toys is the fact that the socialist government is trying to crack down on consumer products and the availability of them through the black market. But of course in a socialist economy, there is no other market. As the Journal explains, with less than two weeks before Christmas, parents are wondering if they will be able to find gifts in a nation where shortages of meat, vegetables, medicine, and other basic necessities have become common. The Journal also points out that this hyperinflation plays a role, as they write,

“Parents also can’t shop for toys while they are forced to line up this week to deposit their 100-bolivar notes, which the government has decided to outlaw.”

The concluding sentence of the Wall Street Journal editorial brings us right back to Margaret Thatcher. As they point out, the problem with socialism is not only, as Thatcher said, that eventually you run out of other people’s money to spend, eventually, says the Journal, you run out of other people’s toys. Again, perhaps the best field trip we could assign right now to many tenured academics in America is to send them to Venezuela to find out what socialism actually looks like on the ground at Christmas.

What the hunt for 2016's most popular toy, the Hatchimal, says about the American consumer

And speaking of toys, coming back to the United States of America, USA Today Charisse Jones reports that,

“If you’re a parent with a young child, there’s a good chance you may be on the hunt for the elusive Hatchimals.

“Hatchimals are toys eggs that hatch…magical creatures. They are the hottest toys this holiday season, and they are driving parents to distraction as they try to track one down to put under the tree.

“Chains like Target and Toys R Us are limiting the number of Hatchimals that each shopper can buy. Sellers on eBay are offering the toys for double the retail price. News reports breathlessly relay when the next shipment will arrive. And the toy’s manufacturer is planning to help set up ‘rain check’ programs for those who’ll have to wait until next year to get their hands on the life-like pets.”

Now we’ll simply have to leave the issue of lifelike since the same report has just told us that these are magical creatures, but perhaps you have to actually catch a Hatchimal in order to understand what’s being talked about here. If you’re looking for a Hatchimal, evidently it’s getting to be almost too late. Benjamin Glaser, Features editor at the Discounts Comparison site DealNews, said,

“I’d say Hatchimals were the toy of this season. At this point, it’s pretty much game-over if you wanted a Hatchimal.”

Glaser went on to explain,

“Any other year, Furby is … a good gift, referring to the cuddly, interactive toy that was all the rage during the holiday seasons of the late 1990’s and remains popular.”

He concluded,

“But this year it might just be disappointing … There’s no substitute for the Hatchimal.’’

Kathy Chu of the Wall Street Journal says,

“When her 4-year-old daughter asked for a Hatchimal for Christmas, California mother Alma Grace Acosta struck upon a festive nightmare familiar to many parents: Every store and online shopping website in the U.S. she tried was sold out.

“So,” we are told, “she took her hunt global. She contacted her brother in New York and a friend in South Korea to hunt for the toy, before her sister-in-law finally tracked one down in Hong Kong.”

Evidently she paid a pretty penny in order to get the Hatchimal sent from Hong Kong. She said,

“I just hope this toy is worth it. I think if people are resourceful enough, they can take a global approach to toy shopping.”

Well, perhaps economically speaking we should just point out that there is probably no greater comparison than toys being confiscated by the National Guard in Venezuela as the lights go out and Americans involved in a global search for a Hatchimal. Frankly, at this point I can’t think of any more dramatic economic comparison. At this point the Hatchimal issue begins to become far more clear even than the economic GDP. But Christians looking at this may see a number of lessons, but one of them is this, our toys also reveal worldview. And even as we think about recent controversies, including the fact that some big box stores have tried to eliminate the distinction between boys’ toys and girls’ toys, we understand that toys too are an arena of ideological conflict. A very great deal indeed is revealed in the toys that we give to our children, or for that matter to our grandchildren. Many is the parent who may have conducted something short of a global search for a toy only to find the child far more enamored with the wrapping paper than with the gift inside.

Christology and Christmas: Must Christians believe the virgin birth?

Finally, as Christmas fast approaches, there is nothing more important than clarifying and affirming all that the Bible teaches concerning the birth of Christ and the truth of his incarnation, that is the central truth claim of Christmas. Just in recent days, one Christian leader was quoted as saying that if Jesus predicted his death and then was raised from the dead, it doesn’t matter how he came into the world. But the Bible insists it really does matter and the answer given from Scripture very clear in the gospel of Matthew and in the gospel of Luke is that Jesus was born to a virgin. The correct, most specific, theological language here is the virgin conception of Christ, often referred to more generally as the virgin birth of Christ. This refers to the fact that he had a human mother, but he did not have a human father. Attacks upon the virgin birth emerged in the aftermath of the enlightenment with some figures attempting to harmonize the anti-supernaturalism of the modern mind with the church’s historic teaching about Christ. The great question of liberal theology has been to invent a Jesus who was stripped of all supernatural power, deity, status, and authority. And in order to do that they have to begin by denying what the Bible so clearly teaches in terms of the virgin birth.

Scoffing at the virgin birth can be traced back even to the beginnings of the American Republic, and even back to one of America’s earliest presidents, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote,

“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

He referred to the biblical teaching concerning the virgin birth of Christ as “artificial scaffolding” and that argument has been picked up over and over again. We have to consider the consequences of that argument. If Jesus was not born of the virgin then the Bible cannot be trusted when it comes to telling us the story of Jesus, and that mistrust cannot be limited to how he came to us in terms of the incarnation. The fact is that biblical Christianity and ultimately the gospel of Christ cannot survive the denial of the virgin birth. Because without the virgin birth, you end up with a very different Jesus than the fully human, fully divine Savior revealed in Scripture. This point was made by the greatest Greek scholar of the last century, A.T. Robertson, who taught here at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who put it best when he said,

“The virgin birth is the only intelligible explanation of the incarnation ever offered.”

But it is not only the only intelligible explanation, it is also coming to us with the full weight of biblical authority. The Word of God tells us so.

But these scoffers are not only pressed back to the Enlightenment or back to the founding era of the United States, they go back all the way to the time of the apostles and certainly to the fathers of the church. The greatest of those church fathers, Augustine, pointed out at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth that the scoffers who denied the virgin birth by their very scoffing pointed to its truthfulness. He said this,

“So what do the so-called wise and prudent think of this great miracle? Well, they prefer to think of it as a nice story, rather than a hard fact. So when it comes to Christ’s appearing as man and God, clearly a divine consideration, they run into trouble. They think it beneath them to believe that there are things that aren’t human, that there are things in fact that are divine. Hence,” he wrote, “they see no reason why they can’t condemn the existence of the divine altogether. To them,” he said—and remember we’re talking about 1500 years ago—“to them,” he said, “it’s just plain embarrassing that God should walk around in a silly ill-fitting body. To us, of course, it is a genuinely encouraging sight.”

Augustine then said,

“To put it another way, which will truly appear perverse to the unwise and impotent, the more impossible the virgin birth of a human being appears to them, the more divine it appears to us.”

Then, as now, the issue comes down to the truth and authority of Scripture to reveal Christ. And that’s what the Bible does. It reveals Christ and it reveals Christ to have been conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem as predicted by the prophets, and born in order to save sinners.

“While we were yet sinners,” the Scripture says, “Christ died for us.”

But before he died for us, he was born for us, and that is the great central fact that is celebrated as Christmas. As Isaiah the prophet foretold,

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

And thus I come to wish you and your family and all a most blessed Christmas filled with the joy of Christ.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing