Book Review: We Cannot Be Silent by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Due to release on October 27th, Al Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent is a helpful introduction for modern evangelical thought on the current events involving the redefinition of sexuality, marriage, etc.

At 180 pages in length, it is a suitably brief introduction that should lead hungry thinkers towards yet more reading on various sides of the issues addressed in its pages. It includes nine essay chapters and one Q & A chapter at the end.

The first chapter introduces the issues to be addressed, as already mentioned above. The second chapter, however, is where Mohler’s book begins to be especially helpful. It takes a hard look at the history of redefining sex and marriage with an examination of general (i.e., culture-wide) failures on the part of Christians to continuously promote a healthy view of marriage. This is most clearly seen in the “progress” of divorce laws and contraception. Again, this chapter is a history, so Mohler points to the trail of thought leading from the expansion of divorce to contraception to abortion. It is not always a direct line, but it is connected, nevertheless. Chapters three and four continue in historical work, looking at the history of the homosexual movement. Of particular interest is Mohler’s highlighting of a book by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen titled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90s (published 1989). This monograph was written by a psychologist and an advertising specialist to “propose a massive media campaign designed to correct stereotypes and neutralize anti-gay prejudice” (quote from the book’s synopsis on Amazon.com). Among the book’s many suggestions, its most callous is probably this one, “As cynical as it may seem, AIDS gives us a chance, however brief, to establish ourselves as a victimized minority legitimately deserving of America’s special protection and care.”[1] This is not to say that homosexual individuals have not been victims of violence or other crimes; and the author doesn’t do that in this book. Rather, it is to point out a stark example of an actual plan put together and then followed that produced the change in which we now live. For years, comedians and others in the media have laughed at the idea of a “gay agenda,” ridiculing the idea as absurdist right-wing paranoia. This point is not to say that all homosexual individuals, their allies, and others are “in on it.” Your average homosexual man or woman is simply trying to live his or her life. Instead, Mohler highlights it in his book, and I bring it up now, to help raise awareness that there actually was and is what one might call a “gay agenda.” It was put together by a psychologist and an expert in advertising who knew how to sell it effectively. Mohler points out not only that this plan was essentially followed to the letter, but that it would (and did) eventually succeed. Chapter four does continue the historical section of the book, but it deals more specifically with the history of marriage as a topic within the homosexual movement and the feminist movement with a parallel look at evangelicals at that time in the 20th century, who began responding to the homosexual movement based on the philosophy of Natural Law.

The fifth chapter brings the reader into the present day. He discusses the state of the transgender side of the sexual revolution, introducing issues he more fully addresses later in chapter 8, as well as a history of and suggestions for Christian responses to the transgender revolution. Chapter six continues a discussion of present day issues with “The End of Marriage.” He points frequently to the marginalization and eclipse of marriage in the modern age. Marriage, to Mohler and really to many, many others, is “the most central institution of human civilization and human flourishing.”[2] He asserts, “Modernity erases kinship structures, redefines community, establishes the individual as the most important unit of meaning, and sets loose a massive set of social changes that tend to pull the family apart rather than to hold it together.”[3] Some might want to object and say, “But, Adam, hasn’t postmodernity taken over?” I would say that 2015 is currently still centered in modernist thinking. Postmodernity is, if anything, on the way out. Postcolonialism is really the burgeoning philosophical movement of the current generation. Postmodernity has been found wanting by millennials for its emptiness. In postcolonialism, millennials have found a place for morality in an anti-institutional age. Coming back to Mohler’s book, his concern about “The End of Marriage” is that the valuation of having sex without children and children without sex has moved marriage from a covenant to merely a contract, that this could very well lead us to social disaster, and that it has led our society to the subversion of marriage.

As much as I appreciated the historical overview of the earlier chapters, it is the final four that constitute the meat of the book (and will attract the most attention from reviewers and readers). Chapter seven is a clean look at what the Bible has to say about sex. What I mean by that is there are no frills to this chapter. He examines the biblical texts relevant to the topic, as well as the observations of those texts by those inside and those outside the sexual revolution. The eighth chapter will probably draw significant attention from many acquaintances of mine, as it deals with the intersection of the sexual revolution and religious liberty. It is an important chapter, and one that I think would benefit any reader who want to think about this subject. It concludes with a long quote from Jonathan Rauch, an advocate of gay marriage, that I think is worth your time. The ninth chapter is the final essay of the book, titled “The Compassion of Truth: The Church and the Challenge of the Sexual Revolution.” This chapter could be called Mohler’s systematic theology of sexuality, but it is also more than that. It is a call for truth-telling, illuminated especially by a reflection on Romans 7.

“‘It [the law] killed me,’ Paul testified (Rom. 7:11), and yet he insisted that the law is good precisely because it informed him of his need for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[4]

In addition, he calls out various failures of the Christian church as it has dealt with the sexual revolution. He devotes only one page to decrying moralism, for example, but that page is dense with meaning. He also shows the failure of considering Christians morally superior, the carelessness with which the church has spoken to and treated homosexuals and others, the isolation of Christians from gays, lesbians, and transgendered person (and along with it the withholding of the gospel), and shallow youth discipleship in the churches of the last century. He calls us to do better; to love our neighbors in sharing life and the gospel with them, no matter what the sin involved is.

The final chapter is a list of Q & A items commonly discussed today. For example, he addresses, “Aren’t Christians being selective with Old Testament law when they appeal to it with respect to homosexuality, while ignoring Old Testament commands about clothing, food, etc.?” and “What is a theologically faithful definition of sexual orientation? Does sexual orientation affect one’s sexual identity?” and “Should the government play any role in legislating marriage?” Mohler has already taken flack for his answer to the question, “Should a Christian attend a same-sex wedding ceremony?” I think his answers are helpful. And while his answers are necessarily brief for the aim of his book, a few of them are, perhaps, overly brief, even to the detriment of the reader.

Overall, I recommend We Cannot Be Silent as a helpful introduction for anyone interested in Christian thought on the subject of the sexual revolution. It delivers important history, biblical analysis, and thoughtful suggestions for how to proceed in light of all that has happened. If you pick it up, I suggest you follow his endnotes to the books and articles he cites throughout. He references thinkers and historians on both sides of the issue, and those works will also prove helpful.

[1] Marshall Kirck and Hunter Madsen, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90s (New York: Doubleday, 1989), xxvii.

[2] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right & wrong (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 85.

[3] Ibid., 86.

[4] Ibid., 141.

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