The Briefing 06-15-17

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Congressional baseball shooting leaves 4 wounded, including Rep. Steve Scalise with critical injuries

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After finding new fossils, scientists are rewriting the origin story of humanity—again.

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SBC adopts resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy, affirming biblical unity of humanity

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How many Jenner's? The sad confusion when Jenner refers to "Bruce" in the past tense

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What's in a board game? It turns out a lot more history, culture, and worldview than you might think

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 15, 2017

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

It’s Thursday, June 15 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Congressional baseball shooting leaves 4 wounded, including Rep. Steve Scalise with critical injuries

A shocking and evidently horrifying scene unfolded yesterday in suburban Washington D.C. In Alexandria, Virginia, at a ball field, the congressional Republican baseball team was at practice when a lone gunman opened fire, seriously wounding four—one of the most seriously wounded, Representative Steve Scalise. Scalise is not only a Congressman from Louisiana, first elected to Congress in the year 2008, but he is also in congressional leadership. He is the third ranking leadership member of the Republican team in the House of Representatives. He is known as the majority whip.

Representative Scalise was shot in the hip. At least one other senior congressional staffer was shot twice, one bullet penetrating his lung. But it was reported originally that Representative Scalise was only moderately wounded. But as of the end of the day yesterday, he was listed in critical condition in a Washington area hospital after undergoing surgery. The identified shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, age 66 from Belleville, Illinois, was shot dead by Capitol police who were there to guard Representative Scalise. Now that’s an interesting footnote to this story because if the Representative’s police and not been present as a ranking member of the house leadership, neither would the Capitol police have been present, and it was those officers who were able to put an end to the shooting.

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Initial reports from the police indicated that Hodgkinson had expressed himself both privately and publicly as being distraught after the 2016 presidential elections. Other press reports indicated that he had specifically targeted his attack on members of the Republican Congressional baseball team. There was immediate and bipartisan outrage and concern indicated in the aftermath of this attack, and we understand why. This is the kind of event that immediately brings forth a sense of moral revulsion and a sense of concern for all those who have been injured and whose lives have been affected. And something else to notice in all of this is that it certainly has a sobering effect, a bipartisan sobering effect, in recognizing the reality of the challenge faced by many people in public life.

While Americans pray for the recovery of Representative Scalise and others injured in this attack, this is also something that is basically sobering to the entire nation. Let’s remind ourselves that this was the practice amongst the Republican Congressional baseball team getting ready for the kind of competition that is not only a part of congressional tradition, but is almost stereotypically American. The headlines have also prompted some discussion that reminds us that even the most tragic situations often bring something of a forced civics lesson.
Many people are wondering what in the world does it mean for a member of Congress to be identified as the Majority Whip. This goes back to the parliamentary system of government in Great Britain where the Whip was the party official responsible for making sure that members of the party voted according to party lines. In the modern United States Congress, the whips in both the Senate and the House have the responsibility for maintaining party discipline, especially on issues of controversial legislation. Representative Scalise rose quite quickly in the leadership ranks of the United States House and the Republican caucus precisely because of his unusual ability in terms of this dimension of leadership.

Shocking events like this also bring about something else these days, and that is an anticipated change in the expectations concerning security, especially in terms of public events. You stand regularly in long lines getting ready to board your airplane also because of security. Other issues in American life have been utterly transformed because of the new reality and the need for security. And now even the Congressional baseball game becomes a newfound focus of the need for security. The great humanistic dream of the 19th and early 20th centuries about the inevitable progress and improvement of human morality falls once again, this time on a suburban baseball field outside of Washington D.C.

After finding new fossils, scientists are rewriting the origin story of humanity—again.

Next, on The Briefing in recent days we’ve talked about a Christian worldview engagement with the media, and we’ve cited the fact that even in the secular media have recently begun talking about the struggle for narrative supremacy. That kind of narrative supremacy is another way of saying it’s a clash of worldviews: who gets to tell the story and what story determines the identity of the culture. But it’s not just the culture, it’s also what it means to be human. And very central to the story of what it means to be human and the fight over those stories is the question of origins. This is why in terms of that intersection between science and modern culture many of the most pressing questions have to do essentially with the question of what it means to be human. And that came up in recent headline stories, including this one from the Los Angeles Times in recent days.

Deborah Netburn reports that the oldest human fossils are shifting, and here are the words in the headlines, “the Garden of Eden.”

Netburn reports,

“Anthropologists have long sought to pin down the exact location of the proverbial ‘Garden of Eden’ — the region of our planet where the earliest Homo sapiens emerged.”

She goes on,

“Over the last two decades, a combination of genetic evidence and data from the fossil record have led scientists to conclude that the first members of our species evolved in eastern Africa about 200,000 years ago. But,” she says, “a new discovery suggests a more complex narrative,” there’s that word narrative again, “a more complex narrative for the origin of humans. In a pair of papers,” she says, “published Wednesday in Nature, an international team of researchers describes 22 human fossils from western Morocco that are,” believed to be not just 200,000 years old but 300,000 years old. “According to the authors, it is the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens ever discovered — by a long shot.”

Now as we’ve been discussing, all of this is about that struggle for narrative supremacy. The story is embedded with truth claims. That becomes very evident later in this article in the LA Times when I read,

“The unexpected location of the find, coupled with previous discoveries of early human remains dating back 260,000 years in South Africa and 195,000 years in Ethiopia, casts doubt on the story that the first members of our species evolved in a single region of the African continent, study authors said.”

Now before we even look at the data that’s claimed here, let’s just consider what we’re being told. We’re being told that scientists are revising the story that they tell about the origins of humanity. How was the story being revised? Well, for one thing, the story is being made now older, but that’s not even what the scientists think is most interesting. What’s most interesting in terms of this revision of the story they tell about human origins is that now they’re saying that human beings didn’t emerge 200,000 years ago from one place in Africa, but now potentially as much as 300,000 years ago from multiple sites and origins within the African continent. Now that’s not a small adjustment in the story. That’s actually a massive rewriting of the story. For one thing, if you’re looking at the emergence of humanity claimed by evolutionary scientists 200,000 years ago in one place in Africa, then you at least have some kind of plausible explanation for why there might be a unity in the human race. But if you’re talking about multiple origins of humanity evolving according to different lines in different places, well then you have a completely different story.

One of most fundamental things we need to recognize is that the unity of the human race is made not only implausible, it’s impossible in terms of this telling of the story. As you look at the data, it’s really interesting that here you have an argument among evolutionary scientists. We’ll have to leave most of that argument to themselves. But the bigger issue for Christians is this: we are constantly in this struggle for narrative supremacy, and we have a huge investment in the story concerning the meaning of humanity and thus inescapably the question of human origins. The biblical story of human origins is of course not about evolution, but divine creation. It tells us that God for his glory created human beings, and furthermore if you put it in the larger frame, it seems absolutely implausible that it could have been either 200,000 or 300,000 years ago.

Evangelical Christians have been engaged in a somewhat lively debate over the question of the age of the earth and the cosmos, but I hold to an unreservedly young earth position because I believe it not only fits best the biblical data, the biblical text, but it also holds to an understanding of what it means for God to have created human beings by his own special action for his glory in such a way that we have a consistency with the Genesis narrative, but we also have a fundamental understanding of why humanity is one race. Evolutionary scientists, we should note, almost outright if not universally reject the very idea of the unity of the human race in one original couple, regardless of when that might be placed in a chronological frame. Instead what you have here is the now very open argument that humanity, the human species, Homo sapiens, evolved over time, a long, long time ago—we’re talking about 300,000 years here, and from multiple sources in multiple places.

In terms of the Christian worldview, this points to one of the most necessary affirmations of biblical Christianity. And that comes down to the historicity of Adam and Eve, not only the fact that Adam and Eve existed, but that they existed and were created as a special act of God as we find in Genesis where we are told that he created man and woman, male and female in his image. And furthermore, we ground the unity of the entire human race in the fact that we all have ultimately one human father and one human mother known in the Scripture as Adam and Eve.

SBC adopts resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy, affirming biblical unity of humanity

Now at this point we have the juxtaposition of another headline story in recent days. The Southern Baptist Convention has been meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. One of the headlines that the meeting has occasioned—it seemed to ricochet across the country very quickly—has to do with the convention eventually passing a resolution that categorically condemns any claim of racial superiority. Now the convention didn’t get there as quickly as it might have, but it got there almost unanimously. And that’s what’s important. Convinced and convicted by Scripture, the messengers elected by Southern Baptist churches said that there is no biblical justification whatsoever for any claim made by any party for racial superiority, and furthermore, the messengers in adopting the resolution also said that very idea is not only an affront to the biblical doctrine of anthropology, the biblical doctrine of humanity, but also to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So why, let’s ask, were Southern Baptists convicted about this issue? It wasn’t because of any argument made by an evolutionary scientist. It wasn’t because of any argument made by humanistic philosopher. It was because of an argument made on the basis and inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, which is the word of God, and also an argument based upon biblical theology that centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any claim of racial superiority, I have often argued, should be recognized theologically as nothing less than heresy. Because it’s not only an outright denial of the biblical doctrine of humanity, it is also a denial of the work of Christ in terms of our salvation. But the most important worldview issue is this: Christians are corrected on this issue from any temptation to racial superiority by the very narrative of Scripture. The story that tells us that God created human beings in his image, male and female, and that every single human being also made in God’s image eventually has a unity not only in the doctrine of creation but in God’s act of creation, having Adam and Eve as ultimately our common ancestors.

One of the biggest questions we should have in the light of the kind of headline story that emerged in recent days concerning evolutionary scientists is how exactly they would argue for the unity of the human race. Taken at face value, these media reports concerning the scientific research would seem to undermine utterly any claims for the unity of humanity and that puts us in a very bad position. It’s a position by the way that emerged early in Darwinism with the philosophy known as Social Darwinism. Here it seems to be coming back in a different form. In the New York Times coverage of the story, one of the researchers is cited as arguing that “our species may have been evolving as a network of groups spread across the continent.”

Now let’s just again take that at face value. Here we are told that this new narrative of evolution is replacing an older narrative of evolution that says that human beings didn’t evolve in one place in Africa, all seemingly having one common source, but rather from multiple sites in Africa where it was networks of different groups who eventually evolved into Homo Sapiens. In terms of the development of the modern theory of evolution, it has moved from the denial of the possibility of common ancestry to now the denial of even a common place of ancestry. Over and over again, consistently, uniformly, we understand that ideas have consequences. It should be pretty easy to see that these particular evolutionary ideas will have very dangerous consequences, indeed.

One final issue on this research before leaving it. Temember that headline in the Los Angeles Times?

“Oldest Human fossils Shifting Garden of Eden”

Why that phrase Garden of Eden? Well it’s a reference to something that should be very, very important to us. It turns out that even the secularizing society can’t leave behind the legacy and the formative power of the biblical narrative, the biblical story of human origins. They may reject it even outright, but they can’t escape it. Eventually even in the headlines, here pops up the Garden of Eden.

How many Jenner's? The sad confusion when Jenner refers to "Bruce" in the past tense

Next, I shift to a very different story, this time from USA Today, the front page of Tuesday’s sports section of what bills itself as America’s newspaper. Here’s the headline,

“Jenner Savors Transgender Advocate Role.”

Scott Gleeson’s reporting, of course, on the individual currently known as Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as Bruce Jenner. Now my point in raising this story is not to look at the entire LGBTQ issue or even to look comprehensively at the transgender issue. What I’m interested in more than anything else in this story is the tense of a verb being used here and by whom that verb is used. As the story unfolds, we are told that,

“Caitlyn Jenner has a wide array of titles to attach to her identity. Reality TV celebrity. Olympic decathlon gold medal winner. Parent. Author. And, most notably now, transgender woman.”

Now in terms of worldview concern, there’s so much in just those few words, but let’s press on for just a moment. Gleeson reports,

“But Jenner believes her true calling is being an advocate for the transgender community and those struggling with gender dysphoria as she did for 65 years.”

What I guess is not particularly shocking anymore is the use of the pronouns or for that matter the shift from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner. In terms of America’s public conversation, the LGBT revolution has progressed so far that when we’re looking at a paper like USA Today we almost expect that now. We take it for granted. But what’s really interesting is what follows in terms of the next paragraph. And the person speaking in the paragraph is Jenner. The quotation is this,

“I look at it like this: Bruce did just about all he could possibly do. He won the (1976) Games, raised 10 wonderful children, was a couple (in relationships). Then, I finally got the guts to live my life authentically.”

Now what’s so interesting about that? The verb tense. Here you have someone now identified as Caitlyn Jenner speaking of another person, Bruce Jenner, and speaking of that person in the past tense,

“Bruce did just about all he could possibly do. He won…”

All that’s past tense. What we need to note here is a single individual speaking of a previous life and speaking of it in the past tense in terms of claiming to be the same and yet not the same. Here you have someone now identified as Caitlyn Jenner speaking of what in any previous human epic would be understood to be a different person, a fundamentally different person, a different person in terms of body as well as in terms of consciousness and speaking to that person in the past tense. But, of course, what we’re looking at here is a fundamental confusion that’s now unavoidable. If the transgender revolution progresses, we’re going to be lost in a constant battle even to understand who anyone is, or for that matter, who anyone was.

At the center of this issue is the question of human identity and who decides who we really are. This is where the Christian worldview now seems so absolutely revolutionary and countercultural because the biblical worldview says that we really do not determine or even discover who we are. Rather, we are told who we are in terms of the pages of Scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Christian worldview also tells us that we are told who we are even in terms of the structure of our bodies as male or female. Who knew that in the year 2017 that would be so controversial that it would seem countercultural and offensive to the cultural elites in this country? And as you look at this page, the front page of the sports section of USA Today, the Christian biblical worldview seems so utterly out of step with the larger society.

But there’s something else here to note, and that’s the radical contradiction that is evident even in the first several sentences in this news story. Are we talking about one individual or two? The USA Today story seems to say both at the same time. We’re told that Caitlyn and Bruce Jenner are two different people, but we’re also told that it is now Caitlyn who speaks in retrospect in memory of winning the Olympic decathlon as Bruce. So is this one individual or two? USA Today seems not to be able to keep the story straight, and fundamentally those operating out of a biblical worldview understand why it would be such a struggle because we also understand it’s absolutely impossible.

What's in a board game? It turns out a lot more history, culture, and worldview than you might think

Finally in thinking about Christian worldview and popular culture, we’ve talked about movies, entertainment, we’ve talked about literature, politics and economics. What about games? A recent book by Tristan Donovan entitled,

“It’s All A Game.”

was reviewed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, and as you look at the book and the story, something becomes very clear. The development of games tells us a great deal about the developments in human history because games as other artifacts of entertainment and culture do not emerge out of a vacuum. Many of these games can be quite logically traced back to the cultures in the times in which they emerged. For example, the game known as Monopoly, which is loved by many and hated by others, can be traced right back to its origins in the midst of the Great Depression and the United States. Furthermore, Donovan also tells us that the game Twister emerged in the 1960s and 70s hand-in-hand with the sexual revolution of which it became a symbol. A culture awash in all kinds of information, a seeming tsunami of entertainment and fascinated by trivia, well, that’s a society that it turns out became very fascinated with again called Trivial Pursuit.

Donovan makes the case that the first recognizable games include what was known as the Royal Game of Ur that dates to about 2600 B.C. It was rediscovered by archaeologists about the 1920s. But it’s also noted by Donovan that the Queen in terms of game of chess became the most powerful player at the very same time that some of the most powerful queens of those very centuries were ruling in respective countries. So it turns out, and the book has many interesting chapters and illustrations, that there’s actually no escape from the great clash of worldviews. Sometimes it emerges in the headlines or on for instance the floor of Congress. Sometimes it appears on a board game, and Christians shouldn’t be surprised.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing