Dr. Al Mohler discusses the cultural and judicial changes that are eradicating all vestiges of Christianity from the American way of life and encourages Christians to remain true to their faith while engaging those with opposing worldviews. (Part 1 of 2)
Dr. Al Mohler: There will be people who will reject us because they are rejecting Christ. But that as the foreground leaves us to have to be really, really concerned that they aren't rejecting us for any other reason. And that's where we have to make certain that we are relating to people, in such a way that they see in us the love of Christ and they can hear from us the Gospel of Christ.
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John Fuller: That's Dr. Al Mohler, speaking about how you can engage a culture that largely has really disconnected from biblical values. This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today, we're looking at how you can live out your faith in a culture that doesn't always think so Christianly.
Jim Daly: John, I think one of our greatest deficits in the Christian church is our lack of understanding and knowledge. And when you are in a position where you need to speak truth, you have to know what to say. And today, we're going to explore that, how to speak truth in a loving way certainly, but how to be rooted in such confidence that you can speak boldly in a way that people can hopefully hear.
In fact, let me read a quote. Our guest has an app, in fact. Dr. Al Mohler has an app Albert Mohler at Southern Baptist Seminary. And he had an article on The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy and said it's our problem. But listen to this quote. "We will not believe more than we know and we will not live higher than our beliefs." That's what we're gonna get to today and I think that sets it up perfectly.
John: Well, let's make sure we come back to that, because there's a whole lot of meat just in that quote. Dr. Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He's a former board member here at Focus on the Family. He's written a number of books, including We Cannot Be Silent and that'll be kind of an undergirding for our conversation, as we analyze our spiritual health in the world today.
Jim: Dr. Mohler, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Al: Well, Jim and John, it's wonderful to be back with you. Wonderful to be here at Focus.
Jim: I'm really excited about the content today and what people will hear. There is so much going on in the culture uh… when you look at it. You and I have both traveled extensively. Many of us look at Western Civilization particularly and say that it is moving swiftly away from biblical principles. I remember Dr. Dobson used to talk about that train, you know, with the rails leading away from Judeo-Christian values. And we point to Canada or we point to Europe.
Now not only are we looking at the train, we are probably near the engine, if not the engine of change in Western Civilization today, because we've embraced such radical ideas. How do we assess as Christians where we are today?
Al: Well, Jim, it's so interesting you bring up that kind of a country-by-country comparison, because there's no doubt that for the better part of the last half of the 20th century, it was Europe that was rapidly secularizing. It was Europe that was moving in these very liberal directions. Legal abortion was available in most European countries long before. ..in the United States and you look at the changes in the sexual revolution.
And, you know, I think a lot of Christians in the United States thought that it wasn't going to happen here. And what we now see is that it was something like a delayed fuse, that what happened in Europe has happened here. What happens right across out northern border in Canada, long before it really happened here, is not happening here. And the velocity is beyond what we could've imagined. The pace of moral change here right now is just massive.
Jim: Al, when we look at the circumstances, whether it's same-sex marriage or abortion or the other, you know, litany of things that we could talk about, how should we react as a church? This isn't the first time the culture has turned its back on the Lord. I mean, that's actually more common when we look into history, right?
Al: Yeah, you know, you look to the book of Acts. That's where everything starts in terms of the history of the church and the church was already a minority in the midst of a majority culture that did not share what we would call "biblical morality" or "biblical values," biblical ways of thinking.
And so, into the Roman Empire, an empire that was headed by Caesar who claimed to be God, a corrupt empire that demonstrated every form of corruption and every form of immorality you could imagine and Christians had to learn how to be Christian right then, right there in Rome.
And if they could do it in Rome, then we by the same Word of God and by the same Holy Spirit, can do it now, but it's gonna take a set of skills we're going to have to learn, skills that, to be honest, our grandparents and great-grandparents didn't have to have, skills that our children and grandchildren are going to desperately need if they're going to be faithful Christians.
Jim: And I want to get to those, 'cause I think it's critical. I love early church history. You do, as well. You're a theologian and a historian. And I want to talk in depth about that, but when you look at where we're at today and this may sound strange, but that spiritual laziness that we might be in right now, and I don't want to be unfair, but when you look at what the Lord is doing, I love the fact that we should start with that question. "God, what are You doing?" Not what do we need, but what are You doing?
Could it be as simple as that His church in the States and in Western Civilization has become so lethargic and so distant from Him, that He's drawing us back by putting some pressure on us? I mean, if you have a wayward teenager, what do you do? You put some pressure on that teenager to draw him or her back to a better place. Is it that simple?
Al: Well, you know, I think as a theologian, it's always dangerous to try to figure out exactly what God is doing in terms of His eternal plan in any moment. But we do know this. Whatever He's doing is to demonstrate faithfulness in His church. That's what He's looking for. And so, yes, I think, Jim, the basic point is exactly right. The pressure that's coming on us now, is it a test for the culture? Yes, but the culture is not eternal. Is it a test for the church? You bet it is, because this is the eternal people of God. We're being tested as by fire.
You know, when you think about some of these things, we have to recognize that the church and by the way, Christian families, now have to kind of saddle up and do everything related to Christian faithfulness in a way that wasn't always true before. And let me just give you an example.
For instance, when I first started going to school, public schools as a little boy, there were Bible lessons in the public schools. And this was before all of that was taken out by court action and all the rest. And you know, I was a Boy Scout. And when I was a Boy Scout, very clear principles of a Christian biblical morality were taught when I was a Boy Scout, taught through scouting.
The entire society in terms of its institutions—the military, the politicians, academics—they all reinforced that basic biblical, ethical, moral outlook. And so, Christian parents, even Christian churches could say, look, we've got to contribute to this, but this kind of basic right morality is going to be taught by Scout masters and by schoolteachers and by professors and by policemen and all the rest. That's gone.
So, the only place where Biblical morality is going to be taught is in people who believe that the Bible's the Word of God.
Al: And that means it's gonna be the church and it's gonna be Christian families or it's not going to happen. We can't count of anyone doing any of our work for us anymore.
Jim: Yeah. Hey, let me ask you this. I'd like to know from your perspective, again as a theologian, the difference between moralists and the church, a follower of Jesus Christ.
Jim: Many of the folks don't understand the distinction.
Al: Well, in one sense, anyone who believes in morality is a moralist of one sort of another, in that we believe there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong. And by the way, there are a lot of people that say they believe in moral relativism. There is no right and there is no wrong. They're pretty sure about moral relativism. In other words, they (Chuckling) still be in right and wrong. You can't operate as a human being without believing that certain things are right and certain things are wrong.
But you know, as Christians, we're committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that defines the human problem as sin and says that the only rescue is the salvation that is accomplished through the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, such that forgiveness of sin comes to anyone who believes in Christ and is saved.
But there is a false gospel that's real close to us. And that false gospel is moralism. You know, Jim, I think the easiest way to put it is this. Someone driven by the Gospel says, the most important thing a person must do, the most important act is to believe. A moralist says, the most important thing is to behave. Those are two very different things.
Jim: That's true.
Al: Now we do believe that you are saved by believing in Christ. We believe that one who is in Christ will behave a certain way in obedience to Christ, but we do not believe that you are saved by behaving. And there are all kinds of churches. Mainstream Christianity in this country has always had its closest heresy in moralism, where the world heard from us, "Behave," rather than "Believe."
Al: We do believe behavior is really, really important, but we believe that belief in Christ is fundamental, primary and eternal in its consequences.
Jim: Well, and in fact, that's the process. For those who are listening that may not have a relationship with Christ, it's that act of belief and then what we call "sanctification." It's a daily process until your last breath, where you're drawing closer and closer to God's character in your own life, the fruit of the Spirit, right?
Al: Absolutely. You know, here's the amazing thing. If you're teaching moralism, if you're a moralist, what you say is, if you just behave, things will be well. We'll be happy with you. And you'll have to deny yourself things you otherwise would want, but that's just the way it's gonna have to be.
The Gospel says, if you believe, your behavior's going to change because the Holy Spirit's going to be working within you to make you want to do the things that Christ would have you to do. And you'll actually discover that your wants and your likes and your dislikes even morally speaking, are going to change if you're conformed to the image of Christ. It isn't gonna happen any other way.
Jim: Well, and that is so insightful and if you think about your opening comments about the early church and where Rome was at, I don't see a picture in the New Testament with the Gospels or the writings of Paul, where they were moralists. They were truth seekers, but they were trying to convert a culture that had no belief into a culture and an individual who did believe.
So, the way you're describing how you come at people that don't know the Lord, that don't have a clue about why you live the life that you live, why you stay married to a woman that maybe irritates you at times or vice versa, because of commitment in Christ first and foremost. But talk about that tool chest you mentioned a moment ago. How do we find the tools to not be moralists, but to teach belief in Christ and then sanctification as a process?
Al: Well, I think it does begin for Christian parents in the home where we're clear that even as we teach our children to behave, we never, ever imply that, that's the most important thing. But rather the most important thing is their relationship with Christ. Hell will be filled with a lot of people who behaved--
Al: --but they did not believe. And of course, none of us behaved well enough to be righteous. That's the whole point and so, one of the things we want to be very careful about is not to teach our children in Christian homes to be self-righteous and to trust in their own righteousness. We want them to behave, absolutely. That's a parent's responsibility, but we want to teach them to behave with a far greater goal of praying that one day they will believe and that changes the whole equation.
You know, in the Roman Empire you were talking about with the early church, the early church didn't go into Rome and say, "Here's how you're going to have to behave." The early church went into Rome and said, "This is what we believe."
But you know, something interesting happened, we have early Roman records of Roman imperial officials trying to describe Christians, and one of the things they say about them is, they stay married to their wives. They do not take concubines. They do not commit adultery. They do not participate in the sexual festivals. So, our behavior does become a testimony, but we never trust in our behavior.
Jim: Well, now that leads us right into the other point. When you look at the breakdown in marriage in the United States particularly and the highway that, that has opened up for same-sex marriage, for the culture to embrace a redefinition of marriage, let's go back to the antecedents of the decisions that are being made today. Go back 40 or 50 years. Where did we begin to lose a righteous and a biblical definition of marriage?
Al: You know, when you start to go back to the early 20th century, things began to change really fast. And it changes first where most people didn't notice. The first huge change was the separation of marriage and the bearing of children. And if you go back to the earliest decade of the 20th century, there was no reliable birth control or contraception that even existed. And every single Christian denomination was opposed to the very idea.
Al: By the time you reach the second World War, you've got churches changing their minds and the Western Civilization at large changing its mind on the issue of birth control. And sexual revolutionaries funded the effort to produce what we know as "the pill," because you can't have a sexual revolution without the pill. The pill was absolutely essential.
And so, when you separate marriage and procreation, instantly you redefine marriage more in terms of what the husband and the wife expect to get out of the experience of marriage, rather than that covenant bond that establishes the beginning of a family.
Jim: Describe that. Use adjectives to describe the difference between a marriage, centered on procreation and children, versus just the two of us.
Al: Okay, so a marriage that is focused on children and family will be about duty, will be about honor and obligation and love and affection--
Al: --and the expansion of that commitment to more and more, welcoming every child as God's gift. A husband and wife who come together and say, we are in this for the experience, primarily about us, well, that's new in terms of even Western Civilization, by the way, this idea of a romantic marriage that has to bear the full freight of the weight of that marriage. And then the husband and wife are saying, "What am I getting out of you? What are you getting out of me?" It's a completely different way of evaluating what marriage is supposed to be.
And that led to the divorce revolution, which was the second big thing that happened, because once you begin to break down that covenant definition of marriage with the whole multigenerational family obligations that are a part of that, then you say, "Well, if marriage is just a contract, then a contract can be made and unmade." And that's exactly what happened, especially with the arrival of no-fault divorce in the late '60's and the early '70's.
So, nobody's talking about people of the same sex getting married or civil partnerships or anything. But what have we done? We entered the decade of the 1970's already redefining marriage in the span of less than just a few decades in terms of whether or not children would be expected and whether marriage was permanent or just a temporary contract. Those are bigger revolutions than same-sex marriage.
Jim: And why at that point, getting back to the title of your book, We Cannot Be Silent, why during those decades was the church quiet?
Al: You know, Jim, first of all, let's just state the first thing first. We failed. It was a massive failure on the part of the church. Where we should've spoken, we were silent. Where we should've confronted the issue head on, the church was fearful.
Now I'm looking back when I 13 or 14, when no-fault divorce became more regularized in America. That revolution was taking place all around me, along with, by the way, Roe v. Wade, most tragically in 1973, all a part of the same.
And so, I look back at that and I realize, I wasn't hearing about that at church. No one was talking about that at church. Christians really weren't so concerned about it. The awakening of the Christian conscience came in the last part of the 1970's, the early 1980's when Christians all of a sudden began to understand something has happened. We should have noticed it before. We should've confronted it before. But the awakening of the Evangelical conscience didn't come until a decade after these big changes had taken place.
John: Well I'm about your age Al and I do appreciate the perspective that you're bringing here. This is good history to know and Dr. Albert Mohler's book, We Cannot Be Silent, is available from us here at Focus on the Family if you'd like to do a deeper dive on some of this history and how we got to this point. We'll send a copy of that book to you when you make a generous gift today of any amount to Focus on the Family. Also order a CD or a download of the program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-A-FAMILY to find out more.
Jim: Al, something you said, you served on the board here at Focus on the Family for a decade or more (Chuckling) and those were, times of change for us here at the ministry. But in that context, you said something as we were talking about the culture that I'll never forget and you know, I have met with people who don't think the way we think, in the abortion arena, in the same-sex marriage arena. And it's been interesting to watch that.
And the thing you said to me was, we don't have to go out of our way to be hated. And on the one hand, it's humorous. On the other hand, I want you to educate me and others about what you meant by that statement. It seems that we wear a badge if we act or behave in such a way, like the moralists that you described earlier and we get hated for that attitude that we project, rather than let the Gospel be the offense and we get out of the way as best as possible so the Holy Spirit can do His work. But talk about that. Don't go out of your way to be hated.
Al: You know, in John, chapter 15, Jesus speaks to His disciples and says, "If they hated Me, they will hate you." And so, we have to understand that being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, under any circumstance, means that there will be people who will reject us because they are rejecting Christ. But that as the foreground leaves us to have to be really, really concerned that they aren't rejecting us for any other reason.
And that's where we have to make certain that we are relating to people in such a way that they see in us the love of Christ and they can hear from us the Gospel of Christ.
And so, Jim, when I was making that comment with you, I mean, let's face it. When, in this secular moment in the society around us, when people see a Christian leader coming, especially someone they know is a Biblically thinking, Christian leader coming, they often brace themselves, because what they're expecting is, "Stop that." And they expect that to be our chief concern.
You know, one of the most interesting sections in the Apostle Paul's writings is in 1 Corinthians, chapter 5 and chapter 6, really clear on these issues. And one of the interesting things is, he says, "I told you," speaking to Christians, he said, "I told you not to have fellowship with people who were involved in all of these sins." But he said, "I wasn't talking about people in the world involved in all those sins, because I've told you to avoid them." You'd have to avoid the whole world.
And so, here you have the Apostle Paul saying, the church is to be morally distinct from the world, but the church is to be in the world. And we need to learn a whole new set of coping mechanisms, of relational skills. We've got to learn how to talk to people who don't think as we think. That's so hard for so many Christians. We have lived inside a Christian bubble for so long, we're only really comfortable talking to people who already believe what we believe.
Now that's antithetical to evangelism, but it's also antithetical to any kind of real influence, even on these moral issues about which we're so concerned.
Jim: It's so accurate and I hope people are catching that. Let me give you an example when I met with a same-sex marriage advocate and as we were sitting. This was one of the early meetings and I do this with intentionality, folks. This isn't willy-nilly. You do it to better understand where they're going and hopefully, to deconstruct their caricature of the church and to share the Gospel with 'em. I mean, that's fundamentally what you're doing.
Jim: In the context of this meeting, this individual said to me, "You know, you guys haven't done so well with marriage. Look at your divorce rate in the church. I mean, why not let us try. We might be able to strengthen the statistics." Think of that question!
And I had to respond with credibility and I said to this man, "You're right. We have not lived it well, but it doesn't nullify the truth of God's Word. It just means we're pathetic living it." To which he said, "Touché." And I think that's part of it. We have to be honest enough to embrace what is true and how we're behaving.
Al: You know, there are a lot of Christians who only seem to know how to operate if Christians are in the majority and if everybody else knows it. (Laughter) There are some Christians who are only able to have a conversation if it's perceived we're coming from cultural, moral, political, economic power and strength. That's one of the real difficulties right now, because we are not coming in that kind of cultural strength that we once had.
If we can only talk when we're coming with superior numbers, then pity that poor Christian who just arrives on the college or university campus where that young person's vastly outnumbered and outgunned. But the reality is, the Gospel breaks through and that's where our confidence always has to be in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
John: So, Al, going back to the quote that Jim opened with about knowledge and truth and Biblical literacy, are we really good at telling people how to behave, because we're not very good at knowing truth and it's really uncomfortable to be with people that might deconstruct our own understanding of truth?
Al: You know, the bigger issue I was addressing there is the fact that the Bible itself demonstrates this pattern as a man is in his heart, so is he. The Biblical worldview tells us that we will never live more than we know, because the mind and its way of thinking is what leads to action.
And so, we got a big problem with Biblical illiteracy and Christian illiteracy among Christians. It's one thing to be troubled by the fact that people out in the world think that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple or that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. That's interesting and troubling, but the bigger problem is, what do our kids know? What do the people in the seats in our churches, what do they know?
And here's the reality. We can't possibly expect them to be faithful Christians if they don't know what faithful Christianity is. It's gotta be grounded in truth. Christianity is a faith that is to be taught, truths that are to be taught and lived out.
Jim: And Al, it's so critical that we capture this and I think in a parenting context again, when you look at some of that data, where 18-, 19-year-old Christian young people are leaving the home. Now you're the president of Southern Baptist Seminary, so you're seeing them in the intake, when they're finishing the four-year degrees, they're coming to you. And you're seeing these 20-somethings coming from Christian homes.
And I think tying back to the point you made about the moralists and we put more stock in behavior than we do belief, that comes to roost in that decade there of the 20's. And I would only think and I do this in my own parenting approach with my boys, is that I need to not relax the standard. You maintain a standard, but the emphasis, the drive you place on your relationship with Christ, not your behavior, because frankly, a lot of 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds, you know what? They can't live up to a standard that high. The truth is, neither can we! And so, how do we convey to them to kind of relax in that behavior area within the context of your belief in Christ as a 18-, 19-year-old? You have to do it every day on your campus.
Al: Well, we do and we have an undergraduate college, too. I'm president of that college and so, you know, we've got every year several hundred new students coming in at 18. And so, I have both sides of it. I've got 18-year-olds and I got the 25-year-olds in the undergraduate and the graduate.
And you know what? By the way, that is a very healthy thing, to have those 18-year-olds having big brothers on campus. (Chuckling)
Al: That's a very good thing. But you know, you look at it and you realize, when they leave home for the first time, when that young person leaves home for the first time, he or she finds out in really short order who he is, who she is, very quickly.
And our great parental urgency is to make sure we taught them everything they need to be taught, everything that is our responsibility to teach, but what we really hope and pray is that when they land on that college or university campus, they know themselves to be Christians. And they are ready to trust Christ for this in a way that is going to shape the future of their lives in every way. But it also points to the fact that our work is not done and I think this is something really important. Our work is not done at age 18 as parents. In a lot of ways, and this surprises parents, I tell parents of college students, you might be surprised, but you may have more influence with your son or daughter in the next four years than you did in the past four years. Be careful stewards of that.
Jim: Yeah, that is a great, great point. Listen, we have covered kind of the principles and the broad outline of what's happening in the culture, but we've got some very specific questions. I want to get down to the nitty gritty. What happens when the gay couple comes to your church or the transgendered person comes to your church or you know, you're interacting with them? More and more of that is occurring today, not just in that place, but even on the issue of life with abortion. Can you stick with us and let me hit you with some of these hard questions?
Jim: Let's do that.
John: Well, I hope you can join us then and get a CD or download of both parts of the discussion. You can listen to that with your children, with your small group or just for personal reflection later on. As we mentioned we also have Dr. Mohler's book, We Cannot Be Silent. It really is a wake-up call as to how we got her and we've got the book and CD or download at www.FocusontheFamily.com/radio. We could tell you more and send those along to you when you call 800-232-6459.
As I mentioned earlier when you make a generous gift of any amount to Focus on the Family to keep this family ministry going we'll send a complimentary copy of Dr. Mohler's book as our way of saying thank you and putting this valuable resource in your hands. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're partnering with us to help people have a vibrant faith.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. You'll hear more from Dr. Al Mohler as he shares what you can do in a very delicate situation. What happens when you're invited to a same sex wedding ceremony?
Al: Attendance at a wedding is not like attendance at a sporting event. Attendance at a wedding is by definition, an agreement that this is right.
End of Excerpt
John: We're going to unpack that tomorrow as we hear more from Dr. Al Mohler and once again help you and your family thrive.
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Al MohlerView Bio
Dr. Albert Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a nationally-recognized leader among American evangelicals. He is a professor of Christian theology, an ordained minister, a columnist and the host of two radio programs, The Briefing and Thinking in Public. Dr. Mohler holds master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southern Seminary. He has authored several books including Culture Shift, Desire & Deceit and Atheism Remix. Dr. Mohler and his wife, Mary, have two children. Learn more about Dr. Mohler by visiting his website, www.albertmohler.com. Also, check out this blog post by Dr. Mohler which Jim Daly has mentioned on the Focus on the Family daily radio broadcast.