April 18, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 18, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Heartache and turmoil in South Korea as military divers continue to try to find nearly 300 people now lost and feared dead after the sinking of a ferry on Wednesday of this week. It was at 9:00 a.m. Korean time that the ferry began to list and by 11:00 a.m., it had flipped over. As of 7 pm. on Wednesday night, approximately 174 people have been reported as rescued, but that left almost 300—284—still missing; only four confirmed dead. As of yesterday, the death toll was certainly beginning to rise as hope began to evaporate that any of the people left on that ferry might survive. What made the tragedy there so much more excruciating is the fact that most of the missing are age 16 or 17. They are high school students from a school near Seoul. They were headed for a spring vacation.
According to The Wall Street Journal, murky waters and fast currents are hampering the search as ships and aircrafts continue to scour the area during the day on Thursday and today. As the drama unfolded and as The Wall Street Journal says—it played out on national television—it took on increasingly nightmarish proportions. Parents of the students on the trip say they were initially informed by the Coast Guard that all had been rescued; only later did local media reports inform most of the parents that their kids were not safe. By evening on Wednesday night, it became clear that just 75 of the 325 teenagers who were on board were among the rescued. Total on aboard: about 462, including passengers and crew. But it is these students and their parents, now grieving and in excruciating pain, that are the nation’s main concern even as divers continue to try to rescue everyone who might still be on board. In the early hours of this disaster was hope that even more if not many more could be rescued because in a sinking of a ferry of this type, there are often huge pockets of air that continue where people might survive. But given the circumstances, the temperature of the water, and the time now evaporating, it is hard to imagine that there is much hope for the rescue of anymore or at least many more of these young people alive.
This is leading to national heartbreak in South Korea as we can well understand. It would anywhere. In South Korea right now, it is the prime consideration and, of course, it is the national obsession. And it points to the fact that we, watching this from thousands of miles away, know ourselves to be helpless to do anything directly, and yet the same thing is true for those who were looking at the submerged ship and at its exposed haul. There is nothing that almost anyone can do. Weather conditions and currents have made it almost impossible for divers to successfully be able to do much of anything in the ship, and the ship itself is over an hour and a half away from the Korean coast.
The horrifying reality is that these teenagers were headed for a school break; they were headed for a holiday of sorts in this time between their second and third years of high school, which is when most of these teenagers are under the most incredible pressure in terms of the national testing. But all of us looking at this must recognize the only Christian response is one of heartbreak and grief and prayer; prayer that somehow in this nation, that is, the nation of South Korea that has had such an awakening of Christianity in the last several decades, that this horrifying and heartbreaking disaster may be used, nonetheless, to call people to Christ, who is, after all, our only rescue. How horrifying it is to look at this situation and know that human rescue looks impossible. How much, therefore, the rescue that we know in Christ becomes all the more precious. But, of course, that is true. The gospel is true everywhere and the message of Christ is necessary. Sometimes a disaster like this is clarified, even from a tremendous distance.
Back to the United States, many of you will remember the February 4th debate between Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye, known as Bill Nye the Science Guy. It came after Bill Nye had done a video that went viral with millions of downloads in which he suggested that it was a form of abuse for parents to teach their children creationism. That was not the issue per se that was debated back on the 4th of February, but it was the larger issue of origins, Genesis, evolution, and it drew a worldwide audience numbered in the millions.
Now the Associated Press reporter Dylan Lovan is out with a story about Bill Nye’s second thoughts about that debate. That story made The Courier Journal here in Louisville yesterday and many other newspapers as well, but it’s all rooted in a massive article that Bill Nye wrote, published in the Skeptical Inquirer, entitled “Bill Nye’s Take on the Nye-Ham Debate.” He writes, “This is Bill Nye writing. The whole thing started when a crew from BigThink.com asked me about creationism.” That’s when he goes on to talk about that video he did. The excerpt that was logged, he says, over 6.3 million times in terms of viewing. He went on to write, “Among the viewers apparently was Ken Ham, who is the head of a congregation in Kentucky that holds doggedly to the idea that the world is somehow merely 6,000 years old.” In other words, Bill Nye, in this essay written to the readers of the Skeptical Inquirer, is trying to argue why it was right for him to have engaged in this debate with Ken Ham. Interestingly, it is clear in the article by the Associated Press and in this essay by Bill Nye that he’s on the defensive. There are many in his pro-evolution camp who have criticized him for entering into the debate with Ken Ham, arguing that that kind of debate essentially gives a lot of publicity to the creationist argument; something they desperately do not want to give. He writes, even as he explains why he engaged in the debate, he says, “I was willing to come to his facility if the topic was, ‘Is creation a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era?’” Nye wrote, “Note that this title does not include the word evolution nor does it connote or imply that we would discuss evolution specifically.” Well if Bill Nye is trying to write to his skeptical and secular constituency, explaining that somehow there was supposed to be a debate on creationism that didn’t include a debate about evolution, it’s hard to imagine who he thinks he’s fooling with that particular defense.
Nye went on to write that he does about a dozen college appearances every year. He says he enjoys that privilege immensely. H then wrote:
I slowly realized that this was a high-pressure situation. Many of you—by that, I mean many of my skeptic and humanist colleagues—expressed deep concern and anger that I would be so foolish as to accept a debate with a creationist as this would promote him and them more than it would promote me and us. As I often say and sincerely believe, you may be right. But I held strongly to the view that there was an opportunity to expose the well-intending Ken Ham and the support he receives from his followers as being bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the US, and, thereby, bad for humankind. I do not feel I’m exaggerating when I express it this strongly.
Well what we need to know from that is that in his defense as to why he would debate the creationist, Bill Nye says he did it because he wants to confront creationism and then he says, in words he knows are strong—he says, after all, “I do not feel I’m exaggerating when I express it this strongly.” He says that the idea of creationism is bad for Kentucky—that’s where the debate took place; that’s where the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum is located—he says bad for science education, bad for the US, but the most amazing words are those that conclude the sequence. He says, “Thereby, bad for humankind.” Now that’s an amazing argument. It’s the kind of argument you rarely see made honestly and straightforwardly. Here you have Bill Nye, self-style as Bill Nye the Science Guy, who says that he entered this debate and the larger public debate in order to confront creationism because it’s bad for science education, it’s bad for the United States, and, thereby, bad for humankind.” Well at least we know what he thinks the scale of the argument is.
The interesting thing from a Christian worldview perspective on that is that we actually agree with him about the importance of the argument. In other words, Christians who are committed to the full authority of Scripture, turning the argument around, would say that the problem with the secular, naturalistic, materialistic understanding of the cosmos that suggests that all that we know and all that we see and all that is, is merely an accident; the problem we have with the worldview that is made clear by the late Carl Sagan, Bill Nye’s professor, when he opened his program “Cosmos” by saying that the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be is because we think it’s bad. We think it’s bad for humankind and—as I agree with Bill Nye in this respect—I would say I do not feel I’m exaggerating when I express it this strongly.
The secular worldview that undergirds Bill Nye’s argument was made clear in the oddest ways in this essay that he wrote for the Skeptical Inquirer. For instance, he says, “With that said and everyone profusely thanked, I was going to be on my own in this thing”—he’s speaking about thanking those that helped him to think through how he should prepare. He says with all that behind, “I had to make my arguments come from my heart.” And what follows is the really weird statement; it’s embedded in parentheses: “A metaphor for my point of view from my brain.” In other words, Bill Nye the Science Guy is so committed to biological materialism that when he says my arguments had to come from my heart, he has to say to his secular, skeptical audience, “O, I really don’t mean that my argument came for my heart; that’s just a metaphor speaking of my brain.” When you have to make that kind of point to your secular audience, you’re really afraid that someone somewhere might think you’re actually arguing from your heart.
Bill Nye’s essay in the Skeptical Inquirer goes on for thousands of words. He explains why he wanted to go second. That was his rhetorical strategy in the debate. He wanted to go second. As it happened, Ken Ham won the coin toss, he went first, and Bill Nye went second. As he said, both of them were exactly where they wanted to be, and then he writes this: “Perhaps there was no winner, as this was not a scored debate. Nevertheless, by all or a strong majority of accounts, I bested him.” Now that’s very interesting. Not only was the debate not scored, I don’t know how the response to the debate was supposedly scored, but, nonetheless, even if we just say let’s go with them on this for a moment, let’s see how he continues his essay. “The fundamental idea that I hope all of us embrace is, simply put, performance counts as much or more than the specifics of the arguments in a situation like this.” An amazingly revealing statement; in other words, he says this was basically performance. He cites his background and training as an actor, and he says it comes in extremely handy because in this kind of the public confrontation of worldviews, it’s as much about acting as it is about content. It’s as much about acting as it is about argument. He says:
At a cognitive level, he believes what he says [speaking of Ken Ham], he really means it when he says he has “a book” that supersedes everything you and I and his parishioners can observe everywhere in nature around us. I respected that commitment. I used it to drive what actors call my inner monologue. I did not choose, as I was advised, to attack, attack, attack. My actor’s preparation helped me keep things civil and respectful with Mr. Ham, despite what struck me as his thoughtless point of view. I’m sure it’s influenced the countless people who’ve written to me and come up to me in public to express their strong and often enthusiastic support. Thank you all.
After the debate, my agent and I were driven back to our hotel. We were by agreement accompanied by two of Ham’s security people. There were absolutely grim. I admit it made me feel good. They had the countenance of a team that had been beaten, beaten badly, in their own stadium.
Now I don’t know nor would I pretend to know what these security agents were thinking with their grim faces as they drove Mr. Nye and his agent back to their hotel after the event, but I would dare to say that it would be drawing a wrong conclusion or at least a very dubious conclusion to believe that a grim face on security people indicates that they believed that their team had been beaten and in their home stadium. Anyone who works with security people will tell you they’re paid to look grim. If you’re judging the effectiveness of your address or your sermon or your message or your debate by the grimness or the lack of grimness on the face of a security agent, you probably don’t get out much.
Bill Nye ended his essay in the Skeptical Inquirer with these words: “If we keep making arguments clear and continue to vote and fight the political fights, together we can change the world.” Well I agree with him on this much: if we continue to make the arguments, we can indeed change the world. But the bigger issue is this: changing minds, one by one.
Predictably, as the annual celebration in the Christian church of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead approaches—it is so often called in the larger world Easter; it is most properly called Resurrection Day. By the way, a footnote here, we recall that every single Lord’s Day is a celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is not improper for the Christian church to observe in the course of the year special festivals and seasons in which we draw particular attention to the narrative of Scripture that begins with the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ and continues all the way through to His death, burial, and resurrection, and, indeed, His ascension. But it is Resurrection Sunday that is now before us and, not unexpectedly, many in the secular media are responding with articles and, of course, there are cover stories in magazines and all the rest timed in order to locate controversy right here as the Christian church is getting ready to celebrate the resurrection.
Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston is also out with a story. The headline by RNS is this: “Can You Question the Resurrection and Still Be a Christian?” Now before I even turn to the article, I want to turn to the title. Let me read it to you again: “Can You Question the Resurrection and Still Be a Christian?” That’s one of those headlines that doesn’t actually say anything as specifically as the issue warrants and demands. In other words, what does it mean to question? If you mean to question in terms of questioning whether it actually happened, if you can doubt the resurrection or disbelieve in the resurrection and be a Christian, the answer to that is decisively answered in the negative within the Bible itself. But turning to her article:
Did Jesus literally rise from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one, a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?
Now again and again, I have to come back to Gresham Machen’s distinction between liberal and conservative Christianity, reminding us as he did 100 years ago almost that we’re not talking about two variants of Christianity; we’re talking about two different religions. The actual Christianity, as revealed in the New Testament, is absolutely unanimously clear that the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus Christ from the dead is absolutely necessary if there is to be any gospel, if there is any hope, if there is any promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of everlasting life, if there is any truth and power to the story of Christ other than some kind of minimal moral exhortation. The power the gospel, the New Testament makes clear, is the power of Christ’s resurrection. So the first thing we notice in Kimberly Winston’s article is when she says that the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is held by “many traditionalists and conservative Christians,” we have to respond by saying it has been held by all true Christians from the beginning of the Christian church, from the time of the apostles, until now.
She cites Scott Korb, who is a New York University professor, who said, “The miracle of a bodily resurrection is something I rejected without moving away from its basic idea.” Now let’s trace what in the world he means by that. Professor Korb said:
What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again — that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others.
Now the thing we need to note immediately is it is this kind of minimal moral message or exhortation that people who don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ try to find in the rescue of the resurrection message from some kind of absolute meaninglessness. But at the end of the day, who in the world can base their lives on the fact that this supposed resurrection is a power you find within yourself when you reach the lowest point in your life? Furthermore, you can’t possibly claim to find that belief in the resurrection (that understanding of the resurrection) in the New Testament that teaches a profoundly different message—the message of the centrality of the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
As Winston explains, liberal Christians have attempted to shift from what she calls a literal to a metaphorical understanding of the resurrection. Oddly enough, she cites someone identified as an evangelical youth minister named Reg Rivet; he’s a 27-year-old. He says his complaint is that the Christian church talks too much about resurrection. He said:
You hear about it year after year or at the end of every youth event — ‘This is why Jesus came and why he died.’ We tack it on to the end of everything and that is not what it should be. It’s like we’ve taken something that is very sacred and made it very common.
He says we should talk about it more rarely, but then let’s compare that with the New Testament. It’s certainly not just tacked onto a youth message, but it is repeated over and over and over again. As a matter fact, the Apostle Paul said that there is no preaching, there is no authentically Christian preaching, if it does not include the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead. As you can almost always expect, this news article cites the retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, one of the most infamous heretics in the history of the Christian church. As Winston writes, “He’s best known for his famously liberal interpretation of Christianity.” By the way, that’s one of those distorted statements. John Shelby Spong doesn’t even believe in a personal God. There is no rational way he can be described as a Christian in any sense, which just makes the point that being an Episcopal Bishop doesn’t require one to be a Christian; not in any biblical or theological sense. He caused a dustup, Winston writes, when he wrote a book back in 1994 (that’s 20 years ago) that asked the question, “Does Christianity fall unless a supernatural miracle can be established?” Spong, now age 82, said the answer is no. He wrote:
I don’t think the resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation. I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that His presence, not His body, was manifested to certain witnesses.
In other words, Jesus was present in some metaphorical way, in some spiritual way, but not in a bodily or a physical way with His disciples. John Shelby Spong says that throughout His ministry, dealing with young people or with older people in the church, “I tried to help people get out of that literalism. But you don’t do it a single sermon,” he advised, “You need time to lay the groundwork and for people to process it, ask questions. You have to begin to build on that.” “When people hear it”—he means this skeptical, metaphorical, nonphysical, non-resurrection view of the resurrection—“when people hear it, they grab onto it. They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian.” Well, Bishop Spong, let me just ask a question: Who might have brainwashed them, to use your term, who might’ve stated that you can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Well at the center of that answer has to be the Apostle Paul. Writing in Romans 10, he says very clearly that salvation comes to the one who confesses with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in the heart that God raised Him from the dead.
Now, you ask, did the apostle Paul necessarily mean a bodily, physical resurrection from the dead? He answers that question most emphatically in First Corinthians chapter 15, where he says, “And if Christ has not been raised [speaking of the bodily resurrection], your faith is futile”—he begins this in verse 17 of First Corinthian 15—“your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” In other words, the Apostle Paul says that if Christ was not bodily raised from the dead, then God did not receive and vindicate His sacrifice. And if the Father did not receive and vindicate His sacrifice, then our sins are still upon us and we are still dead in our sins and trespasses. He then continues. Paul writes, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But then he writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And then the apostle goes on verse by verse by verse to defend the reality of the preaching of the cross and of the empty tomb, of the bodily resurrection of Christ, and then he writes:
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Paul then continues by writing, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So what would the Apostle Paul say in answer to the question raised by Kimberly Winston, “Can you question the resurrection and still be a Christian?” The Apostle Paul would emphatically say, “If you question, you better answer.” And here’s the answer: if Christ was not raised bodily from the dead, then we are doomed. We are still in our sins and trespasses, but thanks be to God the message of the empty tomb is true. That’s where the Apostle Paul ends with this marvelous note of victory that is ours in Christ, specifically because of His resurrection from the dead, and that’s why he ends with his verse with which I end The Briefing:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Happy Resurrection Day. We’ll celebrate together with all Christians around the world, who celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; this Lord’s Day and every Lord’s Day.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember tomorrow’s release of another edition of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Remember also to call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.