Dr. Al Mohler, Jr. talks with Aaron Atwood about his new book, We Cannot Be Silent. Dr. Mohler shares how he believes Christians should response to homosexuality, transgenderism, and other moral challenges facing the church today. Hear the full interview on the Christian Worldview Thinking podcast.
Dr. Mohler, I really appreciate your book We Cannot Be Silent. Would you do me the honor of walking us through your approach to an issue like same sex marriage or gender expression in America from a biblical worldview? Where do you see culture right now, at this point in time in history?
Al Mohler Jr.:
The first thing I would say is that we have to learn to be thinking in two separate tracks all the time. One of those tracks, the primary track, is the track of faithfulness to scripture. As believing Christians committed to the Lordship of Christ, and under the authority of scripture, the first track of our thinking has to be what the true and living God has revealed in His word. That is how our worldview is first established, and what we know to be true before we know anything else to be true.
Yet, there is a second track that has to be operating while we’re living in this world. That second track is listening to the conversation of the world, and understanding that there’s always more there at stake than first seems to be the case. For instance, in our society right now, we see massive confusion over something as basic and as clear as sexuality and gender.
The scariest thing is that this makes sense to some. A lot of evangelical Christians don’t fully understand that yet. The people who are [championing] this moral revolution are, for the most part, sincere in their belief. While we’re paying attention to that second track, we always need to be wondering how they came to their conclusions. How could someone possibly look at the LGBT claims concerning sexuality, morality, gender, even identity, and think that they are plausible? Yet, some clearly do believe they’re plausible.
The danger for Christians is always, first, that we will fail in that first order of Christian thinking. That is what is required for our identity and faithfulness. The second danger is that we will not think carefully about that second track, and listen to what our neighbors are telling us. We desperately need to know how they think, because their thinking is increasingly determining the shape of the culture around us.
Of course, we have an evangelistic and apologetic responsibility here. We’ve got to be involved in on-going conversation with those who are shaping our culture, and with those who are consuming it all around us.
Can you take us to the root of the fruit that we’re seeing in American culture today? Let’s look at the sexual revolution specifically.
Al Mohler Jr.:
When it comes to the sexual revolution, it comes down to this: Around us are people who sincerely believe that human beings are completely, totally, and essentially autonomous.
At the heart of the transgender revolution, the question of sexuality, and of course our sexual morality, is the understanding that we are autonomous and have the right to determine even the most basic fundamentals of our identity.
That’s the bigger problem. Even our neighbors who don’t evidence any confusion about their gender are increasingly just as committed to that idea of personal autonomy as those who are driving the LGBT revolution. That is one of the reasons why our neighbors have no good argument against it from their own secular thinking.
Once you buy into that idea of absolute personal autonomy, you lose the ability to tell anyone they aren’t who they say they are. That is the problem that we confront in society right now.
Christians understand our identity as human beings to be a gift of the Creator who made us in His image, who gave us the gift of life, and who in His sovereign providence determined that we would be male or female. For that matter, right down to the circumstance of being born to these parents in these circumstance at this particular time, we don’t believe that any single human life is an accident.
We don’t believe that we are self-determining creatures. We believe that God has given us a certain responsibility, what theologians call agency. In other words, while we make decisions, and while we’re responsible for those decisions, the most basic facts of our identity are actually assigned to us by the Creator.
Why can we no longer appeal to scripture? Why is it no longer enough to say “the Bible says God made them man and woman?”
Al Mohler Jr.:
Hopefully it does still work in the church. That should be the clincher argument for those who would claim the name of Christ. We know no other wisdom but Christ’s wisdom. We know no other authority than God’s own authority given to us in His word.
That being said, I know exactly what you’re asking. You mean why does scripture not have a compelling force of argument in the secular society around us. For the people around us to believe in the binding authority of scripture, they would have to believe in God and acknowledge his authority. Society increasingly is not about to do that.
This is an area where Christians face a great danger. There is a temptation to come up with an argument other than scripture. I want to be very honest – at the end of the day, I don’t have any more compelling argument than the scripture. The Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. It is the final compelling argument. That’s not to say we don’t have other arguments to make, but Christians always have to be clear that those arguments merely serve to display and describe what is scripturally true.
I’d like to tackle another issue that you mentioned in your book We Cannot Be Silent, and that’s the way we’ve handled birth control. Can you unpack briefly how our handling of an issue like birth control might have consequences that we don’t intend as Christians?
Al Mohler Jr.:
Absolutely. You can’t have the sexual revolution without the birth control revolution. I think most Christians alive right now are unaware of the background to artificial birth control. If you go back to the early decades of the 20th century, every single Christian church and denomination condemned the very idea of birth control, every single one. Christians understood throughout the centuries that separating sex and procreation would lead to a moral separation that would be disastrous for human beings. It wasn’t until the church of England, already in trending in a more liberal direction, became the very first church or denomination in Christian history to open the door to artificial birth control.
What changed everything was “The Pill,” as it was known, because until the development of the oral contraceptive, the church’s stance was more or less theoretical. There wasn’t any really effective artificial birth control until the development of the pill in 1960. When that happened, though, the evangelical Christian community just accepted it. Some even celebrated it, without much thinking about the consequences.
It was the birth control revolution that separated sex and procreation, making possible premarital sex, extramarital sex, and the understanding that pregnancy is now a choice rather than a natural gift of the sexual relationship.
Now, let me say that I don’t argue for evangelicals to embrace a basically Roman Catholic position on birth control. [Editor’s note: The Roman Catholic church forbids all use of contraceptives.] In the book, I deal with that and the reasons why. We are bound by scripture, and not by the dogma of the Roman Catholic church. That’s a very different issue, but evangelicals do have to be very careful that we don’t join the contraceptive revolution, which is just another way of joining the sexual revolution.
I think that’s one of the hotter topics you tackle in this book, Dr. Mohler, because we’ve accepted it so widely. It’s ubiquitous at this point.
Al Mohler Jr.:
That gets to the larger issue of evangelicals and technology. Back in the 1960s, a French protestant theologian by the name of Jacque Ellul said, “[American Protestants are] far too quick to adopt the technology without thinking clearly about its consequences.” Between social media and the digital revolution, it’s clear that that’s not a habit we’ve broken.
My mind leapt immediately to virtual reality. I think one of the next conversations parents will be having with their kids will be about virtual reality technology.
Al Mohler Jr.:
You’re exactly right to point to a virtual reality. The whole question of artificial intelligence is another issue that raises some very basic Christian worldview challenges. In terms of virtual reality, though, what should we learn from the fact that much of technology is being driven by those who were in the pornography industry?
That should be a huge alarm bell for us. In other words, if that kind of virtual reality is being funded and driven at least in part by those whose purpose is the degradation of God’s gift of sexuality, that should tell us a whole lot. When it comes to artificial intelligence, where are the Christians trying to think through what it means to define intelligence in ways faithful to scripture?
This conversation makes me feel like I should just crawl in a hole and hide, but in We Cannot Be Silent, you’re not arguing for isolationism. In fact, you say isolationism is a failure. What do we do next?
Al Mohler Jr.:
That’s actually the next major book I’m working on – isolationism isn’t going to work, because there’s no place to hide. You know, one of the things that Summit does so well is to address itself to young people. If you are in college, graduate school, high school, not to mention middle school and elementary school, there’s no moment when you do not have to deal with these things. There is no way to avoid them. Even where – thanks be to God! – you’ve got genuinely Christian colleges, universities, and schools, and where you’ve got parents who are involved in home schooling, and all kinds of really important strategic Christian initiatives, eventually, all these young people are going to have to function in a society in which the fundamental rules of morality have changed.
Just a few days ago, I was in a room with the former fire chief of the city of Atlanta. He lost his job because he wrote a small book for African-American young men he was mentoring in his church, and in this book, he defined marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman, making clear the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. For that, the mayor of Atlanta fired him.
That’s a sign that there is no place to hide. If we’re going to train our young people to be faithful Christians, they are going to need to be faithful Christians in that fire department. Think of the Christians facing huge moral questions just trying to work for a major Fortune 500 corporation these days. There is no place to hide.
Dr. Mohler, talk to a parent who might have a middle schooler or a high schooler. What should they start to do? Are there books they should read? Are there habits or disciplines you think they ought to start to weave into their routines?
Al Mohler Jr.:
One of the most important things Christian parents can do is to be faithfully confident and strategically engaged in talking about these issues. For example, too many Christian parents wait for their kids to bring these things up. Christian parents that I interact with often will try to clothe this in virtue by saying, “I don’t want to expose my kids to these topics too early by talking about this.” I understand that, but usually that means that parents are way behind — years behind — in dealing with these things. In many cases it is then too late.
One of the most important things I can say to parents is seize the opportunity for conversation. Let me give two examples. One of them is at the dinner table. Yes, that means Christians need to strategically, as families, make sure they sit down to a meal, because the family needs to be engaged in this conversation. Children need to hear mom and dad speak biblically, confidently, winsomely, and lovingly about these issues. Obviously, there are some sensitive issues that need to be discussed away from the dinner table, but the larger cultural and moral questions need to be talked about there.
The other place is in the car. When parents are with kids in the car, and I say this particularly of teenage kids, they have a golden opportunity. I often say, especially when it comes to dads and sons, the most important conversations that a dad needs to have with a son sometimes need to take place when they’re both in the front seat of the car, staring out the windshield. You don’t need a lot of eye contact right then. What you need is a lot of worldview content.
In the car, and at the dinner table, have some good conversation. There’s another thing Christian parents need to do. Watch the news together one night, and talk about it. Make sure that you’re engaged in conversation about the kinds of things that are going on in the world, just to take in the last 24 hours.
The headlines are massive nearly every week. Are Christian parents engaged in conversation with their kids about them, saying, “How do we as Christians think? How does the gospel inform how we understand this big controversy or this big news story in the world? What do the scriptures have to say about this?” If Christian parents aren’t thinking out loud about those things with their kids, don’t expect your kids are going to be able to think as Christians.
I sense that there is a mom or a dad reading this and saying, “I don’t feel ready for that. I don’t know what I would say.” Give them one little boost.
Al Mohler Jr.:
You better get ready in a hurry, because you’re the only line of defense. You are the God-given agent and authority in your family to help frame these issues, so you’ve got to read ahead of your kids. This is one of the reasons why we need the local church. We need Christian parents bonded together to say, “How are you dealing with this?”
Again, sometimes it’s easier to hear some things in larger groups; it’s easier to hear other things in a smaller conversation. Leaders, don’t panic. That’s a big issue, and parents better not panic either. We’ve got to stay ahead. Let me offer one other word to parents here. Your kids are genuine, authentic human beings made in the image of God. You know that, but that means that as much as you are in the position of having the responsibility to teach and to form your kids, you also need to listen carefully to them, and make those kids articulate what they’re actually thinking and what’s in their heart.
Make it safe for kids to articulate that in the context of your relationship as parent and child. Then come back and say, “Well, do you think that’s the most faithful way Christians should think about this,” and recognize we’re in a battle for minds, but at the same time, the Christian worldview affirms the battle for the mind is ultimately a battle for the heart. That’s something Christian parents must always keep in mind as well.
Dr. Mohler, thank you so much for your book We Cannot Be Silent, and this interview. We’ve only just scratched the surface in our time together, but I do appreciate you being with us.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Find him online at http://www.albertmohler.com/.