(An edited transcript)
Dr. Heath Lambert: One of the problems that people face is a culture that Christians are noticing seems to be changing, and changing on us very fast. We want to talk about this with our guest this week, Dr. Albert Mohler. He is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the host of The Briefing and he was my boss for more than 10 years. It is a great delight to be able to say that everything he pervades about faithfulness in his podcast and his preaching is the same kind of faithfulness that comes through as a member of the faculty who works for him. Welcome Dr. Mohler, we are glad you are here this week on the podcast.
Dr. Albert Mohler: Thank you, Heath. It is great to be with you and we miss you at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, but it is wonderful to see how God is using you with both First Baptist Jacksonville and with ACBC. It is important work.
Dr. Heath Lambert: I miss being there, but am glad we are together now. We want to talk about engaging culture in 2018. I don’t think there is probably a Christian thinker alive today who is thinking more carefully and relevantly than you. As people are listening to this, what would you say are the biggest cultural issues that are trending in 2018?
Dr. Albert Mohler: Trending in 2018 is a very important qualifier. Some of these are going to trend a good deal more in 2018. I can think of three in particular. The first is what I would call political shock. It is the new political situation in the US, which is continual explosion, continual minds going off, continual controversy, and stability replaced by basic instability. (Now, this could be sometimes more apparent than real.) Political personalities and modern technologies could make this a far more combustible combination. There is a basic stability to our political culture – everything is still moving forward. The Constitution is still in effect. But I think many people are traumatized for the first time in their lives by an explosive political reality that leads to shock after shock, week after week. People say “What I am supposed to think about this? What can we do about this? Am I supposed to think anything about this or can I do anything about this?” That leads to an extreme partisanship in this country. This is a family situation. As you are involved in counseling, one of the most urgent or new or newish or newly trending counseling issues is what to do when you have a grandfather and a nephew in the same room and they are inhabiting two different worlds that right now are at political war.
The second thing I would say is the immigration issue. It is absolutely huge in a new way. It’s huge politically, of course. We have deadlines in terms of dealing with some very real challenges. You have immigration made a partisan issue – that is not the first time in American history. By the way, this country has never had a fair and just immigration policy at any point in history. There is no Golden Era for the US. We tend to put a very warm glow upon certain memories, especially looking at the Statue of Liberty, but we need to remember that immigration was controversial then and many issues where immigration policy was very unjust then. But right now what is new is not just the political amplification. What’s new is the fact that a lot of Christians realize you’re talking about fellow church members. You’re talking about people in our neighborhood – people who have enormous anxiety and I am not here to debate the immigration issue. I am answering your question: What is a trending issue? That is a very big trending issue that is not going away any time soon.
The third issue is the continuing moral revolution, especially on the LGBTQ issues. The turn we can see is already taking place of more open antagonism and hostility towards anyone who will not join the revolution. We see some very real arguments being made that; of course, we shouldn’t create what they now define as special privileges for Christians where ever they may be found. Consider the controversy over if doctors should be required to perform gender reassignment surgeries, as it is called. Those are three big issues.
Dr. Heath Lambert: Yes, those are three big issues. I want to ask a comparison question. You hear, “this is the worst I have ever seen it.” In fact, I was listening to some commentators the other day saying, “the 1960’s were the worst we ever saw”. In terms of comparison, the 1960’s were a tumultuous time in American national politics. American culture where we are now today, in 2018 – how does that compare to other times of tumult in our country?
Dr. Albert Mohler: That is a fairly egocentric question. I don’t mean that of you asking it, but of the way we tend to assume we have some idea of relative difficulty or relative ease. Part of it is where you are. If you are going to go back to the 1950’s, a lot of people say, “Look you have a very strong family situation in the United States.” Yes but Christians are being executed in the Soviet Union for their faith. In China, they are being martyred, so it’s not only when. It is where. There is also legalized racial segregation in the US at this time. It is a good time if you were a white, suburban, middle-class family. Evidently, it wasn’t such a good time if that was a dream that was forbidden to you.
I think we have to be careful, not only about the when, but the where. We are facing new headwinds, new antagonisms, new issues, and new challenges. Challenges to us and anger directed at us, but right now there are people losing their heads because of their commitment to Christ at the hands of ISIS, so let’s put this in perspective. Of course, the other problem is we tend to think if there was a better time I would rather have lived, but that is an insult to the Sovereignty of God. God’s purpose is that we are alive right now and so this is the right time. This is the right time for us to be faithful.
Dr. Heath Lambert: That’s good. Christians for the most part (not operating in the world of politics, in the terms of being members of Congress and those kinds of things. Not surgeons who have to weigh in, for the most part, on whether they are going to do these kinds of surgeries, not making policy on immigration) we go to church and we are doctors, nurses, bankers, stay at home moms. In the church what can we do to respond to these issues?
Dr. Albert Mohler: First of all the church as to remind itself regularly that we are the covenant redeemed people of God. We are here because of a higher politics, the politics of the Kingdom so to speak. We are here because of a higher calling and higher citizenship. The apostle Paul was clear about that to the Philippians. Peter was clear about that to churches all over Asia Minor and beyond. The Holy Spirit would have us to recognize based upon Scripture that we are the people who gather as a colony of Heaven rather than as merely a group of citizens of Earth. That is rather a good thing. We must remember that we come under the Lordship of Christ to hear the Word of God preached.
Regardless of what the headlines are or the political season might be, regardless whether it is legal or illegal, we gather together for worship to preach the Word of God and we live under submission to Jesus Christ. That is the first thing. We do go into the world, but we are never actually out of it – at least not yet. They are calling us to be faithful. The church has to be the place where Christians help each other to be faithful. Faithful surgeons in the operating room, faithful moms, faithful teachers, faithful welders, and plumbers, there is a whole list. It takes everything the church has as the Spirit led body of Christ to help each other to be faithful, week by week.
Dr. Heath Lambert: So week by week I am talking to thousands of Christians who are nervous and concerned. In speaking to a man recently, he is concerned about his boy who wants to transition. Another conversation with a doctor in our church who is concerned about what his ethical requirements are going to be. In talking with elderly folks who are asking what is going to happen to their grand kids. They are all nervous about these things that we are talking about. What would you say to help a Christian process that?
Dr. Albert Mohler: The very illustrations you gave are embedded with answers. I tell people if you are 70 years old, this cultural crisis isn’t for you. You’re not going to get thrown out of the Rotary Club, but it is about your kids, grand kids, and great-grand kids. They are not going to be able to avoid this at any point in their lives. We created a church that is pretty easy to be faithful if you are 75, but very difficult if you are 15 years old. That 15 and 25-year-old have to pay an enormous price for faithfulness that his grandparents don’t have to pay.
So what is it going to take? It’s going to take all the preaching and teaching and all the raising of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is going to take open conversations and very uncomfortable conversations. Churches have to talk about things we never had to talk about before. Parents have to talk about things they have never had to talk about before. But if you are not talking about them then you are just handing them over to Baal. You are handing them over to idols.
There are other things that should give us some encouragement. One of the massive studies done recently about young adults; (many of them more young than an adult, which is another problem in our country) one of the most responsible studies indicated that if you are going to look at a young person who is going to make the transition from 13 to 30 years old successfully, in Christian terms, the one criterion that might separate whether that happens or not at the operational level is whether or not that young person has quality adult relationships, Christian adult relationships, other than with his or her parents.
Now, you look at that and say, well some sociologist is going to have to do some algebra to figure out where that place might be or where that might happen. We happen to believe that is exactly what you find called the “church”. Here is a big problem, if you are going to market segment your congregation and you’re going to separate everybody else and put all the teenagers together and all the young adults together, then just understand you are probably ensuring the loss of a good many of them. Because it turns out they need sustained relationships with adults who care and are invested in their lives. They also need adult messages. I am not saying you never have a youth group, I am just saying there better be a way of getting those teenagers, adolescents, young people into adult contexts – or don’t be surprised when they do turn into adults they’re not highly committed to Christ.