MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!
A special Culture Friday guest today—theologian and educator Albert Mohler joins us.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Also a new Pixar film with a lot of spirituality but no true faith.
Plus George Grant reflects on the many ways we proclaim the Good News this holiday season.
And the music of Advent. Today, one of the oldest hymns sung by the church around the world.
BROWN: It’s Friday, December 18th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!
BROWN: Up next, Kent Covinton has the news.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Cyberattack could be “worst hacking case in the history of America” » Cyberhackers may have broken into systems at the U.S. agency that manages the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
That according to officials at the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration.
The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agency also sounded alarms on Thursday, warning of a “grave” threat to both government and private networks across the country.
It’s all part of a massive recently uncovered cyber-spying operation.
GOP Sen. Rick Scott serves on the Senate Homeland Security committee. He said the intelligence points to Russia.
SCOTT: If Russia’s going to do these type of things against our system, then we ought to be very aggressive to make sure that, one, they get no benefit out of it and actually, they’re harmed out of it.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said the hack compromised federal agencies and “critical infrastructure.”
Experts there said the attack was sophisticated, hard to detect and will be difficult to undo.
One official told the Associated Press—quote—“This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America,” adding, “They got into everything.”
While the evidence reportedly points to Russia, neither the FBI nor the CISA has publicly assigned blame. The unnamed official said that’s because it is not yet “100 percent confirmed.”
FDA advisory panel endorses Moderna vaccine » The FDA could give the Moderna coronavirus vaccine a thumbs up as soon as today.
On Thursday, a panel of FDA advisers reviewed Moderna’s emergency use application. The company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks made his case to the panel. He said late stage trials were thorough and successful.
ZAKS: It enrolled over 30,000 participants, and we believe the results support emergency use authorization.
And the panel agreed—voting 20-to-0 to recommend that the FDA approve the vaccine for Americans age 18 and up as soon as possible.
Last Thursday, the same panel recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and top FDA officials approved it the following day.
Winter storm buries Northeast, delays vaccine deliveries » The first huge snowstorm of the season in the Northeast has slowed down delivery of the Pfizer vaccine. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday…
MURPHY: This storm did disrupt some amount of delivery of the vaccine. I’m not aware of anyplace that was expecting it that won’t get it. It might just be a little bit later than otherwise expected.
The nor’easter buried parts of the region in as much as three feet of snow, breaking records in some places.
And tragedy struck in multiple states.
Frozen roads triggered a massive pileup on a Pennsylvania highway. And Corporal State Trooper Michael Miller told reporters…
MILLER: There was one confirmed fatality from a passenger vehicle, and at the very end of the pileup, another fatality occurred in a passenger vehicle.
And another person died after suffering a medical emergency while stuck in the gridlocked traffic.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the storm is to blame for two deaths in his state and more than 600 accidents.
Biden names picks for interior secretary, EPA administrator » President-elect Joe Biden continues to build out his administration, naming two more nominees on Thursday. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Biden has picked North Carolina regulator Michael S. Regan to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Regan previously spent almost a decade at the EPA, including managing a national program for air-pollution issues.
Biden also plans to nominate New Mexico Congresswoman as Interior secretary.
Both nominees must win confirmation in the U.S. Senate.
The president-elect on Thursday also officially announced former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his pick for Transportation secretary.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.
Macron tests positive for COVID-19 » French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for COVID-19. Macron announced the test result after a week full of meetings with European leaders, some of whom are now in quarantine.
They include the prime ministers of France and Spain as well as the EU Council president.
Macron’s office said he took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared.” The statement did not detail what symptoms he experienced.
It said Macron will isolate for seven days and continue working from home.
I’m Kent Covington.
Straight ahead: Culture Friday with special guest, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler.
Plus, George Grant sends a holiday greeting.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday, December 18th, 2020.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
We have a special guest today on Culture Friday: Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary. He’s a respected theologian and public intellectual and I should add, a member of the board of directors of the organization that governs WORLD. Good morning to you.
ALBERT MOHLER, GUEST: Nick, it’s great to be with you. Thank you.
EICHER: Maybe you saw the funny piece in The Wall Street Journal saying Jill Biden, Ed.D., should stop calling herself Doctor Biden … until such time as she can set a broken leg or deliver a child. I laughed at that column because we have a style-guide rule here that unless you can do those things, despite your professional degree, we don’t provide the “doctor” courtesy title.
Dr. Olasky came up with the rule (he’s got a Ph.D.).
So as the pop song goes, can we call you Al?
MOHLER: Of course you can. Of course you may, I should say.
One of the issues here about that—obviously I believe in the Ph.D. I hold one. I believe that the word “doctor,” which after all in the history of Western civilization and, more importantly, the history of the Christian church means the teacher. I believe, frankly, that academically the Ph.D. is the more important degree than the MD. But nonetheless I think one of the journalistic tests is if the title is used, what does it imply? And so I fully understand the restriction to medical doctors, who are actually more properly called physicians. But, then again, to stand on that kind of linguistic principle is to be standing on a fairly small island.
EICHER: I do want to get serious and ask you about the controversy over the election. The Supreme Court turned away an 11th-hour challenge, the Electoral College moved ahead.
But what I want to ask you about was a march and rally in Washington a weekend ago called the Jericho March. You’re a theologian and I have several questions for you on the theology we heard, but I’ll begin with, what was your primary objection to it?
MOHLER: Well, my primary objection did become theological but that’s not how it started. In the beginning, my primary concern was what I call the temptation of rejectionism, which is simply to say the entire system is corrupt, there’s no way to fix it. By the way, that could be true at some point in some situations in history. But once you decide that, then you’re just opting out of the system. You’re opting out. If you really believe that, you’ll never go vote again. If you really believe that, you’ll never accept paper currency. If you really believe that, you know, you just can’t operate in the society.
And I think the only final analysis to be made here is that many people who said that actually don’t believe anything like it. And I actually think you shouldn’t say in public what you don’t actually believe.
EICHER: What I know about the march I know because of the reporting of journalist Rod Dreher and I presume you read what he wrote. He’s an opinion journalist and he made the point, which I’ll summarize, even at the risk of oversimplifying, but he seemed to be saying, yes, there’s likely evidence of voter fraud, just not enough to overturn the election result, that the issue that needs to be tackled here is to return to a single election day, resist mail-in voting to ensure a chain of custody to shore up greater faith in the integrity of our elections.
But don’t you think our default position as Christians ought to be to have faith in the legal system, the legal process because the alternative is so bad, which is to say basically mob rule, fighting in the streets?
MOHLER: Yeah, I think the word I would change is “trust.” I would just change it to “dependence,” in the sense that we don’t have any other system. And in our constitutional system of ordered liberty, it’s been conservatives that have been so insistent upon the rule of law. And we need to recognize that that does mean the rule of law. We don’t have anything beyond that. And I fervently believe that there were some real clear patterns of malfeasance in the 2020 election on November the 3rd. I believe they may have materially impacted the election. But there’s no way at this point—and Republicans learned this, by the way, in the year 1960. So this is not news to conservatives or to Republicans. And one of the things that Republicans learned in 1960 is that it is virtually impossible to un-count votes that have been counted. And so the only way to prevent malfeasance in an election is to prevent it before the votes are counted. That is to say make sure that illegitimate votes aren’t cast and once they’re counted, it’s very difficult to un-count them.
So, yes, I agree, by the way, with the fact that the further we get from in-person voting on voting day, on Election Day, the more malfeasance will enter. It’s not just may, but will enter into the process. Because at that point, voting becomes more of an abstraction. The more abstract, the more dangerous.
EICHER: May I return to the theological points, though. There was a lot in there, this sort of conflating of Christian faith with nationalism, just kind of a mish-mash of strange theology.
MOHLER: Well, that’s one way to put it. Another way to put it was there were some pretty evident heresy. And I say that word carefully as a Christian theologian. And you could say even the danger of what the Old Testament would identify as false prophecy.
So, let me put it this way: you had claims of absolutely authoritative, private revelation from God to people who stood up in front of the crowd there in Washington and before the American people watching, and said, “God told me that X or Y will or will not happen.” More than one said, “God told me that Joe Biden will not be inaugurated on January the 20th and Donald Trump will.”
Now, you just look at that and you go, you know, the Bible’s just exceedingly clear about the fact that we should not take the name of the Lord our God in vain and false prophets are not treated kindly, according to divine justice. And so those claims, though, of private revelation—that’s where the evangelical has to become immediately sensitized to the fact we have a huge problem here. I mean, after all, we stand on the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. And there’s nothing, actually, more opposed to Sola Scripture than the claim of private, divine revelation.
EICHER: Switching gears. You and other Southern Baptist seminary presidents recently affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message and put out a statement saying that it is incompatible with critical race theory. But a prominent SBC Bible teacher and conference speaker, Beth Moore, challenged critics to please provide a concise definition of the term critical race theory. Could you do that, give a concise definition and say why it’s wrong?
MOHLER: The easiest thing to say is that critical race theory emerged out of the frustration on the part of some of what they saw as the failure of the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights movement was a reformationist movement that, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, was about cashing the check that had been written and the promissory note of the United States.
And the critical race theorists came along and, frankly, applied what can only be described as a modification of Marxism and its radical critique to the idea that, no, reformation won’t work. Progress of the reform in the nation won’t work. There has to be an understanding that white supremacy and the support of slavery and racism is actually written into the warp and woof of the entire Western civilizational project, but certainly the United States. And the only way to achieve any kind of racial equality is to destroy the entire system and create something new in its place.
That’s part of it. Because Christianity is not revolutionary in that sense. It is reformist. We have limited political goals as Christians bound by scripture. The Augustinian tradition just reminds us that in a fallen world we can do what is better than what is worse. We want laws that are better than laws that are worse. But we also understand that there is no position of moral innocence. And so you blow up one system and sinners put that system in place, they’re going to put the next system in place, too.
But the other problem is that it basically centers in identity politics, which I think is fundamentally at odds with the Gospel, contradictory—in our case, the Baptist Faith and Message—I’ll just say to classical Christianity. Identity politics says who you are as marked by an identity marker—could be race, ethnicity, physical appearance, it could be any number of other things.
Of course, the LGBTQ movement joined right in this in identity politics and it’s never ending. It’s just an infinite regression into insoluble conflict.
But the last thing is that critical race theory and the ideas behind it are about increasing antagonism between groups to bring about the energy for social transformation. Well, the last thing Christian people can sign onto is trying to increase antagonisms between groups. We’re supposed to be about the opposite. And, of course, the whole mentality is situated—it originates from a very secular, indeed capital S secular, as if to say a materialistic worldview.
So, the problem with anything—you could say communism, you could say democracy, or capitalism—the problem is that trying to define it concisely is going to be difficult because it’s just too big to be concise. But that’s an effort at being concise.
BROWN: Well, Dr. Mohler, this week—as you know—the United States took a huge step in bringing an end to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the new vaccine and another one on the way.
Christians have had a love/hate relationship with vaccines. I know people who have never had the flu nor the flu shot. They’ll argue they take care of their bodies, eat well, take their vitamin C, wear their masks and just aren’t planning to get the coronavirus vaccine. What does the Christian worldview have to say about that position?
MOHLER: Well, Myrna, it’s good to be with you as well. I’ve been working on this issue for about 30 years. I’ve written a lot, lectured a lot about it, trying to think as best I can about it. Christians have not been so mixed in assumptions about vaccines throughout just to say evangelical history.
You think about someone like Jonathan Edwards. The early evangelicals, even at the time of the the Great Awakening, the first Great Awakening, were very pro-inoculation—that’s the better word to use for what they had then—because they believed this is just a part of scientian based upon the knowledge of God the Creator. He made the world and reflects in that world his intentions and design and the intelligibility of the world is a part of his plan. And bringing health out of sickness, avoiding sickness and injury. That’s all a part of the Christian understanding of what is good and right. And so there’s been a real positive approach toward vaccines. And, by the way, the kind of divided thinking on this really did not come about until the last couple of decades in any intense way. So, for instance, when you had the development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines for Polio—and, again, Polio was such a present threat, such a deadly, horrifying threat that evangelical Christians in particular, but almost all Christians immediately saw that as fantastic good news. And then, of course, a succession of vaccines. But we’re in a situation now in which it is a contested issue. I wrote an article recently arguing that I believe it is legitimate for Christians to take the COVID-19 vaccine. I’m not saying that in a way that obligates every Christian. I’m not trying to bind everyone else’s conscience. I don’t think it’s one of those issues in which you can do that. But I’ll say right out front, I will take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to me and I’ll do it for what I believe are reasons of reason and commitment to the common good. But there are real big, moral, theological questions behind virtually every medical technology or innovation. And I try to deal with those at length on seven different topics in the article I released just in recent days.
EICHER: Albert Mohler is president of Southern Seminary and host of the popular podcast The Briefing. Dr. Mohler, Al, nice to talk with you. Thanks so much.
MOHLER: Well, Nick and Myrna, great to be with you.
BROWN: Thank you.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, December 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham has a review of the latest big release from Pixar.
But she says it may please adults more than kids.
MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: There’s no question families are going to rush to stream Pixar’s latest release when it debuts on Disney Plus on Christmas Day. But I have a hunch that, worthwhile as it is as an artistic exercise, Soul is not a movie that’s going to find itself on constant repeat in minivans across the country.
Joe Gardner, played by Jamie Foxx, is a middle school band teacher still holding on to dreams of jazz greatness. But after years of having the door slammed in his face, he’s on the verge of settling for what he considers a mediocre life. That’s the moment his big break finally comes—a musical legend invites him to play piano with her quartet.
CLIP: Oh, sorry, I zoned out a little back there. Joe Gardner, where have you been? I’ve been teaching middle school band. But on the weekends…You got a suit, teach? Get a suit, a good suit. Back here tonight, first show is at 9, sound check is at 7. we’ll see how you do. Yes, woohoo. You’re never gonna believe what just happened. I did it, I got the gig.
And a moment after that he crosses paths with an even bigger break. Like, a mortal break. He falls down a manhole and wakes to find himself on the stairway to Heaven. Though here it’s more like an escalator to a blinding white light manned by a team of weird squiggle-drawing “administrators.” Unwilling to give up the ghost on his earthly aspirations, Joe makes a detour in his journey to the Great Beyond and winds up in the Great Before—a holding station where souls who have yet to be born prepare for life on Earth.
CLIP: Is this heaven? Is it HE double hockey sticks? Hell? No. Quiet coyote. It’s easy to get turned around. This isn’t the great beyond. It’s the great before. The great before? Oh, we call it the you seminar now. Re-branding. Does this mean I’m dead? Not yet. Your body is in a holding pattern. It’s complicated. I’ll get you back to your group.
If you think that sounds existential, you haven’t heard the half of it.
In the Great Before, Joe is tasked with mentoring a frightened soul named 22, played by Tina Fey. 22 has been avoiding her turn at life for millennia.
CLIP: Dr. Borgenson will be matched with soul number 22. Oh, we’re going to get into this now. Excuse me. 22, you come out of this dimension right now. How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t want to go to earth. Stop fighting me, you will go to earth and have a life. 22 has been at the you seminar for quite some time. And has had such notable mentors as Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Mother Teresa. I made her cry. Ignore that. It is an honor having you prepare 22 for earth. I’m going to make you wish you never died. Most people wish that 22.
Before Joe and 22 take a journey to Earth where cross-species body-swapping hijinks ensue, the film leans heavily on New Age references. Writer/director Pete Docter is a professing Christian, but he seems to have taken pains not to include Biblical signposts. There’s no mention of God, only a passing mention of Heaven and Hell, and there’s nothing angelic about the administrators.
The psychedelic pirates Joe and and 22 seek out to help them find a loophole in the afterlife system all practice various forms of Eastern meditation. Though the movie does poke fun at this idea a bit as the captain of the hippy-trippy band gets into an out-of-body state by twirling signs on the corner.
Perhaps Docter felt that, as his story plays with ideas that aren’t exactly doctrinally sound in order to explore deep themes, it would be better not to bring in specific elements from Christianity. Still, believing parents may not want to muddy little minds with the alternate wells he draws from.
That said, Docter does use his brightly colored, metaphysical version of It’s a Wonderful Life to a good end. The movie doesn’t just avoid the “pursue your dream at all costs” message we typically get from kids’ entertainment. It positively rebukes it. The story also builds to a deeply pro-life ethic. Joe ultimately learns that each life is valuable not because it offers some utilitarian purpose or because a person pursued some meaningful passion. People may live their whole lives having done nothing particularly noteworthy. They may have even suffered.
Life is valuable because it’s life.
But, given that the film centers on a middle-aged man and a Liz Lemon-style neurotic, it doesn’t seem likely to hold great appeal to viewers who can’t even imagine a midlife crisis as a blip on the horizon. But maybe Soul will be a hit with today’s little ones once they reach their twenties.
I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Word Play.
This month, George Grant offers a simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two.
GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: “Although it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you.” Of course, that is the last line of one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.”
I couldn’t help but think of the song when I saw a meme recently emblazoned with all the many ways we actually do say, “Merry Christmas”: from “Happy Holidays” and “Ho, Ho, Ho” to “Seasons Greetings” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas;” from “Glad Tidings” and “May Your Days Be Happy and Bright” to “Blessed Yuletide” and “Joy to the World;” We say “Tis the Season to Be Jolly,” “Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Comfort and Joy;” Sometimes we even borrow phrases from other languages: “Feliz Navidad” and “Noel, Noel;” At times we might even be tempted to say “Bah Humbug;”
Indeed, “It’s been said many times, many ways.”
The song was composed almost on a whim by two Hollywood jingle writers—who happened to be Jewish. On a sweltering Southern California afternoon in July 1945, Mel Tormé and Bob Wells joked that perhaps thinking and writing about Christmas would cool them off. They later recalled that they “just started writing down all the mid-wintery things” they could think of. It must have worked. They completed the song in less than 45 minutes, and it went on to become one of the most frequently performed Christmas songs: first made famous in an iconic recording by Nat King Cole.
Wells later wrote and produced extensively for a wide variety of projects in film and television, working with Dinah Shore, Andy Williams, Patty Duke, Gene Kelly, Henry Mancini, Duke Ellington, and Harry Belafonte.
Tormé would go on to have a storied career, both as a composer and a performer. He wrote a host of torch song classics like “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Autumn in New York,” “Born to Be Blue,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But, the “Christmas Song” about “turkey and some mistletoe” and “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” has proven to be his single greatest legacy. And, although he said that it was not among his favorite compositions, he acknowledged it as “my annuity.”
In any case, “I’m now offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two, although it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you.”
I’m George Grant.
May I offer one more simple phrase about WORLD’s December Giving Drive? Please help ensure that after a tumultuous 2020, biblical journalism will continue into a new year by visiting wng.org/donate and making your gift today.
My involvement with WORLD goes back many, many years and I’ve been so pleased to watch it grow and so encouraged to see people like you make that happen by your support.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 18th—one week from Christmas Day. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. For our fourth, and final, installment on the Music of Advent, Bonnie Pritchett presents what hymnody scholars believe is one of the oldest hymns of the church.
BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: It wasn’t until late in life that Aurelius Clemens Prudentius devoted himself to God. Born in 348 to a wealthy Spanish family and schooled in the law, Prudentius lived quite successfully as lawyer, judge, and provincial governor.
SONG: [OF THE FATHER’S LOVE BEGOTTEN, CATHEDRAL SINGERS]
But at 57, he left it all for the monk’s cowl and pen. Perhaps his most enduring poem is Of the Father’s Love Begotten. Here is a version performed by The Cathedral Singers in 1994.
SONG: [OF THE FATHER’S LOVE BEGOTTEN, CATHEDRAL SINGERS]
John Neale included six stanzas of the poem’s original nine in his 1851 translation from Latin to English. Ten years later Henry Baker included three more of Prudentius’s verses. Neal’s editor paired the poem with a 12th century plainsong melody. Perhaps that melody’s dance-like rhythm inspired composer Matt Riley in this 2014 interpretation.
SONG: [OF THE FATHER’S LOVE BEGOTTEN, MATT RILEY]
Of the Father’s Love Begotten, reads like a confession of faith. It proclaims God is the eternally triune Creator, Savior, and King the prophets promised would redeem His people.
From the opening stanza, Of the Father’s Love Begotten tells a lost and weary world of a love not bound by time.
The husband-and-wife duo, Adam and Lori Ubowski, call themselves Out of Darkness. In their 2016 version of the hymn, they added a refrain: “Forever in the Father’s love we stand. Forever. Amen.”
SONG: [OF THE FATHER’S LOVE BEGOTTEN, OUT OF DARKNESS]
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett
EICHER: If you’ve enjoyed Bonnie’s music selections for Advent, we’ve made up a Spotify playlist so you can download those cuts for your own enjoyment. We’ve placed a link to that playlist in today’s transcript: worldandeverything.org. Bonnie returns one week from today with one more musical reflection, this time, celebrating Christmas Day.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Well it takes many people to put this program together each morning. So we want to say thanks to: Megan Basham, Ryan Bomberger, Anna Johansen Brown, Kent Covington, Kristen Flavin, Katie Gaultney, George Grant, Kim Henderson, Leigh Jones, Onize Ohikere, Bonnie Pritchett, Mary Reichard, Jenny Rough, Sarah Schweinsberg, Les Sillars, and Cal Thomas.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Nightowls Johnny Franklin and Carl Peetz are the audio engineers who stay up late to get the program to you early! Paul Butler is executive producer, and Marvin Olasky is editor in chief.
Of course, none of this happens without you. This is our December Giving Drive and I hope you’ll beat the rush and make your gift today at wng.org-slash-donate.
In Psalm 34 David reminds us, Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. I hope you have a restful weekend, and worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.