March 8, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 8, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Trump calls their bluff: Planned Parenthood won't stop abortions—only "3%" of organization—for funding
This week, it finally happened, a President of the United States stared down Planned Parenthood, dared the organization to tell the truth, and Planned Parenthood did indeed tell the truth. All this goes back to Monday when President Trump made very clear in a public statement that he would protect Planned Parenthood’s $500 million in annual federal tax subsidy if the group would drop its abortion business. Shortly thereafter, Planned Parenthood offered their response: no way.
What’s really important about this is that the President of the United States actually made the offer to Planned Parenthood. Of course, President Trump knew that the organization would never drop its abortion commitment. But nonetheless, he made clear the fact that abortion is indeed the central issue. Reporting for the New York Times on Monday, Maggie Haberman put it this way;Show Full Transcript
“The White House, concerned about the possible political repercussions of the Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood, has proposed preserving federal payments to the group if it discontinues providing abortions.
“The proposal, which was never made formally, has been rejected as an impossibility by officials at Planned Parenthood, which receives about $500 million annually in federal funding. That money helps pay for women’s health services the organization provides, not for abortion services.”
Here we’ll simply pause for a moment and interject the fact that indeed Planned Parenthood will tell you that none of the money it receives from the federal government goes to payment for abortions. Furthermore, the federal government will also certify the same. So what’s going on here? Well, the basic subsidy of $500 million a year, which remember that’s one half of $1 billion each year to Planned Parenthood, helps to fund the entire organization. And thus even though the taxpayer is not paying directly for abortions, it is making possible the organization that is the major abortion provider in the United States. What President Trump did on Monday was a stroke of political genius. The New York Times says it’s because the White House is concerned about potential fall-out if Planned Parenthood is defunded.
The important thing to recognize here, the central issue, is that President Trump was willing to put the issue directly to Planned Parenthood in a way that no President of the United States had been willing to do. Now, of course, he was not naïve, he didn’t expect Planned Parenthood to take up his offer, and it was a massive offer. For instance, Planned Parenthood tells us, they repeat this all the time, that only 3% of their business is actually abortions. But what that fails to recognize is that they count every single conversation with a woman as a medical consultation, thus that’s a medical service, and yet an abortion is counted only once. But more important than the math here is the morality. Planned Parenthood is monomaniacally committed to abortion. They are the central agency of the culture of death in this society. In the statement that was released to the New York Times on Monday, President Trump said this,
“As I said throughout the campaign, I am pro-life and I am deeply committed to investing in women’s health and plan to significantly increase federal funding in support of non-abortion services such as cancer screenings,” he said. “Polling shows the majority of Americans oppose public funding for abortion, even those who identify as pro-choice. There is an opportunity for organizations to continue the important work they do in support of women’s health, while not providing abortion services.”
That was an act of political brilliance; it put Planned Parenthood publicly on the line. And there’s more to the story as the New York Times went on to report,
“In private discussions with people close to Planned Parenthood, White House officials have suggested that there could even be an increase in federal earmarks if the work related to abortion ends.”
So not only does Planned Parenthood currently receive half a billion dollars of taxpayer money from the federal government annually, officials close to the White House according to Planned Parenthood itself actually said that those funds could be increased if Planned Parenthood would be willing merely to drop abortion. Remember, according to their own reports, their own claims, abortion is only 3% of their business.
The next thing to recognize is that Planned Parenthood responded almost immediately to the President’s dare. Dawn Laguens, identified as executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said on Monday after the President’s Statement,
“Let’s be clear: Federal funds already do not pay for abortions.”
She went on to say,
“Offering money to Planned Parenthood to abandon our patients and our values is not a deal that we will ever accept. Providing critical health care services for millions of American women is nonnegotiable.”
Look closely at that language. She said,
“Offering money to Planned Parenthood to abandon” what? “our patients,” and note the next three words, “and our values.”
In other words, what Planned Parenthood is saying here is that their values are the values of abortion. To what extent? To an extent that they will put at risk half a billion dollars of taxpayer money in annual funding because they are so committed to abortion. Note other language in the same sentence. She said that this is “not a deal that we will ever accept.”
Consider that the slamming of a door. And then she went on to use the language that we now understand is the cover language of the culture of death.
“Providing critical healthcare services for millions of American women is nonnegotiable.”
Now notice there is no threat whatsoever to what they claim is 97% of the crucial medical care for women that they provide. Let’s just use their own math, according to their own claims. So what they’re actually saying here is that they’re so committed to what they claim, ludicrously enough, is 3% of their operation, that they will put at risk 97%. What’s actually clear here is not math, but morality. Just to make the point emphatically, the head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards, tweeted in response to the President’s dare,
“Planned Parenthood is proud to provide abortion—a necessary service that’s as vital to our mission as birth control or cancer screenings.”
Now I don’t think anyone could have said it quite so boldly as Cecile Richards actually did. She said that abortion is defined as a “necessary service.” She went on to say that it is “as vital to our mission as birth control or cancer screenings.” Now here’s where we need to recognize that the culture of death has abortion as its central sacrament. Abortion is so central to their worldview that Cecile Richards would list it on equality, using her own words “as vital to our mission as birth control or cancer screenings.”
Now how in the world do we understand that morally? Well, we understand it this way. So far as Planned Parenthood is concerned, an unborn child is more or less the equivalent of a tumor to be screened and to be destroyed. In a later, more comprehensive statement, Cecile Richards said,
“The White House proposal that Planned Parenthood stop providing abortion is the same demand opponents of women’s health have been pushing for decades, as a part of their longstanding effort to end women’s access to safe, legal abortion.”
Now just to be clear, what President Trump did on Monday is actually unlike what previous presidents, even pro-life presidents, have been willing to do. He set the issue squarely and dared Planned Parenthood to respond, and respond they did.
Cecile Richards also said that Planned Parenthood is “glad that the White House understands that taking away the preventive care Planned Parenthood provides is deeply unpopular and would be a disaster for women’s health care.”
Well, it’s a disaster, the President made very clear, that Planned Parenthood could entirely prevent if only it would give up abortion services.
In her coverage of this issue, Washington Times reporter, Jessica Chasmar identifies Dawn Laguens, not only as Planned Parenthood’s Executive Vice President, but also as the organization’s chief brand officer. Now pause for just a moment. Consider the challenge of being the Chief Brand Officer when your brand is Planned Parenthood. That organization is the most important brand of the culture of death in our times. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in America. In making his dare on Monday, President Trump forced the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to make clear exactly where it stands on the issue of abortion and make very clear that it considers abortion so central to its identity and to its worldview that it will not under any circumstances, said its chief spokeswoman, break with abortion in terms of its central core commitment.
Now a great deal of the scene will shift to the United States Congress where we’re going to find out if the US House of Representatives and the United States Senate has what it takes to continue President Trump’s challenge to Planned Parenthood to stare down the organization. Now that we know the truth and move towards restricting and eliminating federal funding for the organization that is now, as we know, so absolutely committed to abortion at any costs. This week President Trump effectively broke the line. Now we need Congress to rush through that line and make a difference on behalf of the dignity and sanctity of human life, to take Planned Parenthood at its words and make very clear that they have failed in this dare.
We must also look to the Trump administration itself to continue to support the dignity and sanctity of human life as it qualifies organizations to receive federal funding, especially through the Department of Health and Human Services. President Trump in daring Planned Parenthood to tell the truth had to know that the organization would not take the deal that he offered. That’s actually the point. But now he knows and now we all know.
Will Evangelicals visit "The Shack"? When theological disaster meets the big screen
Next, we shift to consider the movie “The Shack” recently released to a great deal of interest and no shortage of controversy, and for good reason. The movie tracks back to a novel first written in 2005 and published in 2007 by William Paul Young. “The Shack” was a surprise in the publishing world, a self-published novel that eventually was published and hit the New York Times bestseller list. The novel absolutely stunned the publishing world and it took a great deal of the Christian market also by storm. According to Young, the book was originally written for his own children. It can be described as a narrative theodicy that is an attempt to answer the question of evil in the character of God by means of a story. And in Young’s story, the main character is grieving the brutal kidnapping and murder of his seven-year-old daughter when he receives what turns out to be a summons from God to meet him in the very shack where the man’s daughter had been murdered. In the shack, the central character known as Mack meets the divine Trinity as Papa, an African-American woman, Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, and Sarayu, an Asian woman who is revealed to be the Holy Spirit. The book and later the movie is basically a series of conversations between Mack and Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu. Those conversations depict God in a very different way than the God of the Bible. Papa is for instance, is absolutely nonjudgmental and seems be most determined to affirm that all humanity is already redeemed.
As I pointed out in my review of the book, tracing back to its publication, “The Shack’s” theology is not incidental to the story, indeed at most points the narrative seems mainly to serve as a structure for the theological dialogues, and those dialogues reveal a theology that is unconventional at best, and undoubtedly heretical in certain respects. As depicted in the book, the literary device of an unconventional Trinity of divine persons is itself sub-biblical and dangerous. But the theological explanations that emerge in the dialogue are worse. Papa tells Mack of the time when the three persons of the Trinity “spoke ourself into human existence as the son of God.”
Nowhere in the Bible is the Father or the Spirit described as taking on human existence. The Christology of the book is also confused. Papa tells Mack that though Jesus is fully God,
“He has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being.”
To state what is fundamental, that is deeply at odds with the revelation of Christ in the New Testament. Young also wrote, when Jesus healed the blind,
“He did so only as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.”
Here we need to remind ourselves that at no point is or was Jesus anything less than fully divine. He was never merely human. The absolutely implicit universalism of “The Shack” is made clear when Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.”
Note the “best” way, not the “only” way, just the best way. In another part of the novel, Papa corrects Mack’s theology by asserting,
“I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it, it’s my joy to cure it.”
Now as we must note, without doubt God’s joy is in the atonement accomplished by the Son. Nevertheless, the Bible consistently reveals God to be the holy and righteous judge who will indeed punish sinners. The idea that sin is merely its own punishment fits the eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian gospel. The universalism also comes out, for example, when Jesus tells Mack,
“Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.”
Jesus went on to say to Mack,
“I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”
Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds,
“Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”
Now as you might expect, there’s a theological background to this. Young was actually the child of missionaries and his collaborator Wayne Jacobsen has openly lamented the fact that even as there are what he identified as self-appointed doctrine police who have charged the book with teaching ultimate reconciliation, it is Jacobson himself who acknowledges that the first editions of the manuscript were unduly influenced, by his description, by Young’s partiality at the time to ultimate reconciliation, the belief that the cross and resurrection of Christ accomplished then and there a unilateral universal reconciliation of all sinners and even of all creation to God.
Back when the book was published, James B. DeYoung of Western Theological Seminary, a New Testament scholar who has known William Paul Young for years, documents Young’s embrace of a form of “Christian universalism.” “The Shack,” said DeYoung, “rests on the foundation of universal reconciliation.”
The popularity of the story didn’t just catch publishers by surprise, but observers of American religion and those especially who had been observing American evangelicalism. Professor Timothy Beal of Case Western University had argued that the popularity of “The Shack” suggests that evangelicals might be shifting their theology. He responded by saying that the nonbiblical metaphorical models of God in “The Shack” as well as its nonhierarchical model of the Trinity and, most importantly, it’s theology of universal salvation, all point to the fact that if evangelicals truly love this story then the theology of evangelicalism must be changing. Beal asserted that none of this theology as found in the book is what he described as mainstream evangelical theology. Then he went on to say,
“In fact, all three [that is all three of those teachings] are rooted in liberal and radical academic theological discourse from the 1970s and 80s — work that has profoundly influenced contemporary feminist and liberation theology but, until now, had very little impact on the theological imaginations of nonacademics, especially within the religious mainstream.”
Beal then asked,
“What are these progressive theological ideas doing in this evangelical pulp-fiction phenomenon?”
His own answer,
“Unbeknownst to most of us, they have been present on the liberal margins of evangelical thought for decades.”
Now in his explanation, “The Shack” has introduced and popularized these liberal concepts even among mainstream evangelicals. Now Timothy Beal is not a heresy hunter—there’s no way he can be fairly described as that—he is an academic observer of American religion.
Now that the movie is out, it’s interesting that some evangelicals are signaling alarm, deep concern that a story that is driven by such heresy can be so popular, even endorsed by some who identify as evangelical Christians. There are those on the other side who describe it as merely creative and out-of-the-box storytelling. Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays Papa, that is the divine father in the movie, describes the movie’s take on the Trinity this way,
“It represents a very diverse group of people which is what the world is. It sort of dispenses what the conventional image is of God and what we’ve had in our minds as God, but it’s not saying that this is what God looks like, but rather this is what the characteristics of God look like.”
Now if that statement is theologically unclear, that simply helps to make the point. A website connected to the movie itself claims that more than 1,000 evangelicals have endorsed the movie. But when it comes to the charges of heresy, it’s very clear that central theological issues are at stake here. Heresy is exactly the right word. It’s the indispensable word. It’s also clear that William Paul Young understands that his book represents a massive theological change. According to Emily McFarlan Miller at Religion News Service, Young said,
“There’s ‘no doubt’ evangelicalism is changing, returning to an understanding of God in line with the early church fathers and mothers — an understanding he tried to capture in his book.”
Now what exactly he might mean by that is unclear, but he is very evidently stating that evangelicalism is changing, returning, he said, to a theology in line with the early church fathers and mothers. But just consider that for a moment. There were indeed some early theologians in the church who taught universal reconciliation, but they were later understood to have taught heresy. Likewise, the rendering of the Trinity that is found in this book would have been overwhelmingly condemned by the early church as heresy. In terms of his understanding of evangelicalism and in the context of his hopes for the movie and its influence, Young said,
“As the structures start to crumble, which they are, all of a sudden permission to ask the questions is emerging.”
Now remind yourselves of Professor Beal’s statement that this means that ideas and theologies that had been common amongst feminist theologians and liberation theologians, those on the left of the theological spectrum, have now made their way into evangelical conversation, and by means of the book into the movie, into the evangelical imagination because of “The Shack.” Some of the defenders of the book and the movie insist that we should all just take a deep breath and remind ourselves that this is fiction not a work of systematic theology. But readers of the book and watchers of the movie are actually getting a sustained theological argument. It may not be packaged as systematic theology, but it is a rather systematic destruction of biblical Christianity in favor of an entirely new theology.
Some had tried to argue that what young is doing in “The Shack” is parallel to what C.S. Lewis did in “The Chronicles of Narnia” depicting Christ as the lion Aslan or what John Bunyan did in his famous book “Pilgrim’s Progress,” one of the staples of Protestant evangelical devotion. But we have to note that John Bunyan was at great pains to try to make very sure that his novelized depiction of the Christian pilgrimage, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” was accurate and judged by Scripture. Christian readers of “The Chronicles of Narnia” should hold those esteemed books according to the very same standard.
One of the lessons of this entire controversy is that it is very complex, indeed, it’s very dangerous to try to present what is given to us in Scripture in any fictionalized context. Art certainly has its place, the Christian worldview values art and, for that matter, the Christian worldview also values fiction, fiction that is to be judged and evaluated according to Christian standards of truth and beauty and righteousness. Sometimes that means telling what amounts to a happy story of hope and other times it means delving into the debts of human reality and even human depravity to depict the awesome and horrible reality of our sin.
Furthermore, Christians may profit by reading fiction by non-Christians that may include any number of ideas that are incompatible with the Christian worldview, thus ideas that have to be corrected by Scripture. But the real danger, the seductive danger of “The Shack” is that it’s presented as a retelling of the Christian story. Its close proximity to evangelicalism in terms of the marketing of the book and of the movie and even evangelical endorsements, the fact that the movie is clearly counting on a massive evangelical viewership, all this points to the particular dangers of the kind of fictional representation that is found in “The Shack.” Christians armed by Scripture and committed to the Christian worldview should highly value fiction and thus evaluate it by Christian norms. But we can never value a vehicle for importing heresy into the church or misrepresenting Christianity to the watching world. The Christian worldview reminds us that it is not true that Christians can only see what we already know, but it does mean that we must know what we’re actually seeing.