Southern Baptist theologian and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler spoke to a Christian Legal Society meeting in Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 20, concerning the current crisis confronting Christian life in contemporary America, and what Christian lawyers, in particular, might consider in their now crucial roles. He began by noting that every Christian should be a “would be lawyer,” and vice versa. There will be “many moments of common urgency.”
Mohler quoted Matt. 16:1-4. “The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he replied to them, ‘When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?’”
We need “Christian leadership in a time of darkening skies,” Mohler said. The current situation is “changing with aggressiveness and hostility.” It is tempting to respond with self-pity, or a hardening of hearts. But we must recognize the “sovereignty of God” who has “brought us to this time.”
Mohler pointed to twentieth century Evangelical theologian Carl Henry, who warned of a coming “barbarism” from the 1960s through the 1980s. “Denial of human liberty” is a result of abandoning the Christian worldview. Similarly, he pointed to other prominent thinkers who have said the same. Alexander Solzhenitsyn told the Harvard graduating class of 1978 that “men have forgotten God.” British ecclesiastical historian Christopher Dawson said that Western civilization is cut off from its sources. Elton Trueblood described Western civilization as a “cut flower” civilization, i.e., a civilization still blooming, but cut off from its roots.
Secularism is no longer limited to elites, Mohler noted. It is shaping the worldview of common Americans. He pointed to a survey of the relative religious nature of countries twenty years ago by Peter Berger that found that India is the most religious country in the world, Sweden the least religious. Berger described the United States as “a nation of Indians, ruled by an elite of Swedes.” Now more Americans are becoming Swedes. Mohler held that there are two ways that a nation can secularize. It can 1) reject theism outright, or 2) adopt a secular worldview while remaining formally religious. He held that “there are and will be four progressive stages” of secularist dominance.
These include 1) secular ascendance (the rising prominence of secular and antireligious ideas in a society), 2) secular aggression (involving the privatization of religion). That religion should be strictly private, not affecting public life at all, is advanced as simply an obvious proposition in this second stage. But Christians must understand what privatization means in terms of where their allegiance lies. Mohler seemed to refer here to the fact that Biblical doctrine involves the claim that God should be lord of all of life, not just the church and the home.
Secular aggression is important in bringing in the third stage, of which Americans have only “a vague awareness.” This is 3) secular triumphalism, which will attempt (really is already attempting) to make a new morality. Secular triumphalism will celebrate its claim to have toppled that which was a barrier to human autonomy, which is the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secularists will attempt to have “the goods of Christian civilization, without Christianity.”
The final stage of secularism, Mohler claimed, will be “secular exhaustion,” in which people become disillusioned with secular claims and values. The result of secular dominance will be a “comprehensive disaster.”
Mohler noted that the decline of religious liberty is happening everywhere, not just in areas of the country regarded as liberal. He point to the firing of the fire chief of Atlanta, Georgia, following the publicizing of the fire chief’s book identifying homosexuality as a sin, as an example of this.
We are now “having to argue for basic liberties that we thought were permanently recognized” in the Constitution. Mohler emphasized that these rights were recognized by, not granted by, the Constitution or any other human authority. They are given by God and disclosed in natural law, but may be (wrongly) denied by a government. There are “glimmers of hope,” and “vestigial witnesses” to the truth in contemporary society, but this does not change the overall pattern of the decline of religious liberty. Mohler said that Christians may soon remember as a mild problem “the good ‘ole days of establishment clause issues.” He said that as part of the decline of religious liberty “all freedoms are being undermined at once.” There is a “meltdown of a civilization that we thought was immune” from collapse. But we must “maintain our Biblical sanity” in a time of “darkening skies.”
Today’s generation of lawyers may be the last lawyers to speak of the “dignity of law.” Mohler noted that revisionist law arose at the same time that Biblical criticism did (the late nineteenth century). Today’s lawyers may also be the last lawyers to speak of the “dignity of the human person.” Mohler claimed that there is “no argument for human dignity that is not essentially theistic.” With the loss of the regime of religious freedom known for many generations, Christian leaders must appeal to principle and show integrity to help guide the faithful through an increasingly hostile era. “Leadership only happens when there is deep conviction … in a time of darkening skies.” While we must avoid pessimism, we must also recognize that “optimism is stupidity.” Instead, we should have “realism and hope.” He said that “the name of hope is Jesus Christ.”
Mohler noted that Winston Churchill led the “half blind” who were “half ready.” He told the Christian lawyers in particular that on the night Churchill became prime minister, the same day that the Nazi armies poured into Western Europe, he realized that “all my life had been a preparation for this hour and this trial.” In today’s trial, Christians “are to be a people of justice, mercy, and humility.” Jesus is the “once and future king,” and we can sleep “in the knowledge that all of our lives have been a preparation for this moment under God’s sovereignty.”Google+