Since its inception, I’ve listened to Al Mohler’s daily news podcast The Briefing. Because of that, I felt like I heard much of the material before as I was reading his latest book We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right and wrong. Besides a long subtitle that pretty much tells you the focal points of the book, it is a well written defense of the classical Christian position on sex, marriage, and religious liberty in light of emerging trends in our culture. If you want to develop a basic understanding of what’s going on in various ethical revolutions in our culture, read this book. If you want to start developing a response, read it in tandem with Russell Moore’s Onward.
The opening chapter, like many opening chapters, is essentially an introduction that sets the stage for the narrative that follows. The narrative, in Mohler’s telling doesn’t start with same-sex marriage (chapter 2). Instead, he goes back to the roots of the homosexual movement (chapter 3). Then he brings us up into the present by way of the disintegration of traditional marriage values and understandings of sex (chapters 6 and 7) and the resulting transgender and same-sex marriage revolutions (chapters 4 and 5). Mohler takes a pit stop to discuss religious liberty (chapter 8) before pressing on to end with a chapter on how these revolutions challenge the church and a concluding chapter that answers 30 key questions related to the various topics.
Although I don’t often agree with Mohler’s take on everything, I have come to appreciate his voice in the midst of our shifting culture. Often, if I don’t particularly agree with Mohler on something, it has more to do with tone and his penchant for hyperbole. As one example, Mohler says:
Arguing that we should draw a clear distinction between who an individual wants to go to bed with and who an individual wants to go to bed as requires the dismantling of an entire thought structure and worldview (68-69).
While I can agree that this distinction is problematic given traditional understandings, I’m not sure it dismantles an entire worldview. At least if it does, it would need to be explained further than it is. This kind of overstatement, in my opinion, happens pretty regularly on The Briefing, and so in some sense, it is part of Mohler’s overall style of discourse. Since I’ve listened to him for so long (and met and talked with him at RTS not too long ago), I know that he is not speaking irrationally or like one of those talking head types trying to get attention. Instead, I think he is trying to wake up a culture of Christians who have fallen asleep at the wheel, and perhaps the hyperbole works rhetorically well to that end.
In one of the concluding chapters on how to respond, Mohler offers an apology that was both surprising and encouraging. In a larger section on how the church should respond to the sexual revolution, and within a smaller section on aberrant theology, he says,
We must also recognize that we have sinned against homosexuals by speaking carelessly about the true nature of their sin. I indict myself here. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, as a young theologian I was invited to speak at a conference of evangelical leaders and thinkers as the movement toward gay liberation was first taking organized shape. At that time, evangelicals were sure the element of choice was the central issue behind the sinfulness of homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle. Thus, we felt the moral and theological obligation to deny the notion of a homosexual “orientation” and to insist that homosexuality was, in every case, freely chosen without regard to any predisposition. For this, I must apologize to the homosexual community, including a host of Christians who have struggled to be biblically faithful even as they have struggled with same-sex orientation (140-141).
I was struck by Mohler’s willingness to admit he got something wrong. While you might not agree with where he is on an issue, that he would publish an apology like this implies that he is willing to reconsider his positions and is a careful thinker. And while I wouldn’t use this as hope that he’ll come around to agree with the progressives on any and everything, it does show a willingness to continual re-evaluate how he understands culture in light of Scripture. He models well how to be biblically faithful and culturally conversant.
Going off that, he offers some very sound insight in the closing answers to hard questions, and even admits not knowing for sure how to handle certain things (e.g. whether to counsel a fully transsexual person who becomes a Christian to undergo restorative sex reassignment surgery). But, he answers some pretty tough questions with candor and care and I think did a good job of picking questions we will all have to deal with in one way or another.
At the end of the day, I’d recommend picking up this book and digging in if you need a primer on what’s going in our sex-crazed culture. If you’ve listened to The Briefing as long as I have, you might not find much new material here, but it is nice to have it all in one place and in print. If you haven’t been keeping up with The Briefing, you probably ought to, and maybe this book is the place to start. The fact that it is getting positive coverage at The Atlantic shows that it is possible to be faithful to Scripture, yet nuanced in your approach to culture so that you can engage in further dialogue. I hope Mohler continues to be able to do so.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right and wrong. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.
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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!