Can Albert Mohler Unite a Southern Baptist Convention Divided over Donald Trump?

 

Al Mohler wants to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.  According to Yonat Shirmon and Adelle Banks’s reporting at Religion News Service, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville will be nominated as the denomination’s next leader.  Here is a taste of their piece:

 

In a statement about his willingness to serve as SBC president, Mohler said he hopes to “unite Southern Baptists,” a group that has long had political and theological divisions within its fold even as it has seen a declining membership as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination….

Campaigns for the presidency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination with about 14.8 million members are usually tightly scripted, polite affairs in which populist megachurch pastors are typically chosen. But because 2020 is a U.S. presidential election year, there was a desire among leaders of some of the denomination’s agencies and seminaries to avoid an ugly and potentially divisive battle over President Donald Trump.

Though most Southern Baptists are evangelicals and therefore make up the backbone of the Republican Party, Trump’s presidency had divided some of its leaders who believe it’s unwise to align so publicly with the nation’s president.

Among those who support Trump is Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who has become a fixture on Fox News defending Trump publicly for protecting America as a Christian nation. Other Southern Baptist leaders, such as Russell Moore of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, are in the Never Trump camp. 

“There’s a tension in the SBC,” said Barry Hankins, professor of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “The rank and file are going to vote for Trump one way or the other. The leadership will argue on it.” 

Mohler, who is 60, has taken a middle path.

Though not a Never Trumper, Mohler has expressed skepticism about Trump’s moral character as early as 2016. Appearing on CNN shortly after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light in which Trump is heard bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, Mohler took a sharply critical view.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, evangelicals are going to have to ask a huge question: Is it worth destroying our moral credibility to support someone who is beneath the baseline level of human decency for anyone who should deserve our vote?” Mohler said.

Read the entire piece here.   Clearly Mohler will have a lot of work to do.  The Donald Trump presidency is now shaping the identity of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I warned about Trump’s influence on American Christianity here.

Southern Baptist Anti-Social Justice Warriors and Race

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In a recent piece at Christianity Today, two Southern Baptists theologians–Jarvis J. Williams and Curtis A. Woods–called out white supremacy and racism and offered a way for Christians to combat it.

Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, endorsed the Williams and Woods’s piece with this tweet:

And then came the critical tweets:

I am guessing that these tweeters endorse this video.

Jemar Tisby, author of Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism called them it out.

 

Beware of Social Justice Warriors and Women Preachers

Founders

Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries

The anti-social justice warriors and complementarians are at it again.

Here is Religion News Service:

(RNS)  — A video posted by Founders Ministries, a neo-Calvinist evangelical group, paints Bible teacher Beth Moore, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC’s current leader as part of a conspiracy to introduce social justice advocacy into evangelical churches.

The video, posted on the Founders Ministries website, intersperses images and comments from a number of Southern Baptist leaders with commentary from Tom Ascol, president of the group.

“I see godless ideologies that have spread across Western civilization over the last decades with a vengeance, to tell us what we are supposed to be seeing, ” said Ascol in the video. “Many of these ideologies have been smuggled into many evangelical churches and organizations through the Trojan horse of social justice.”

Read the rest here.

Some Southern Baptist leaders who appear in the trailer are not happy about it:

 

Albert Mohler’s Prayer for Barack Obama

Albert Mohler is President of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville. I believe he prayed this on the day of the inauguration.  I’m just putting it out there:

Our Father, Lord of all creation, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:  We pray today with a sense of special urgency and responsibility.  We come before you to pray for our new President, Barack Obama, and for all those in this new administration who now assume roles of such high responsibility.

We know that you and you alone are sovereign; that you rule over all, and that you alone are able to keep and defend us.  We know that our times are in your hands, and that “the king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord” [Proverbs 21:1].  Our confidence is in you and in you alone.  We come before you as a people who acknowledge our constant need for your provision, wisdom, and protection.

Father, we pray today for Barack Obama as he takes office as President of the United States.  We pray that you will show the glory of your name in our times and in these days, confounding the wisdom of the wise, thwarting the plans of the arrogant, and vindicating those who do justice and practice righteousness.

Father, we pray with thanksgiving for the gift of government and the grace of civic order.  Thank you for giving us rulers and for knowing our need for laws and and ordered life together.  Thank you for this nation and the blessings we know as its citizens.  Thank you for freedoms unprecedented in human history.  We understand that these freedoms come with unprecedented opportunities.

Lord, we pray with thanksgiving for the joy and celebration reflected on millions of faces who never expected to look to the President of the United States and see a person who looks like themselves.  Father, thank you for preserving this nation to the moment when an African-American citizen will take the oath of office and become our President.  Thank you for the hope this has given to so many, the pride emerging in hearts that had known no such hope, and the pride that comes to a people who have experienced such pain at the hands of fellow citizens, simply because of the color of their skin.  Father, we rejoice in every elderly face that reflects such long-sought satisfaction and in every young face that expresses such unrestrained joy.  May this become an open door for a vision of race and human dignity that reflects your glory in our differences, and not our corruption of your gift.

Father, protect this president, we pray.  We pray that you will surround this president and his family, along with all our leaders, with your protection and sustenance.  May he be protected from evil acts and evil intentions, and may his family be protected from all evil and harm.

We pray that the Obama family will be drawn together as they move into the White House, and that they will know great joy in their family life.  We are thankful for the example Barack and Michelle Obama have set as parents.  Father, protect those precious girls in every way — including the protection of their hearts as they see their father often criticized and as he is away from them on business of state.  May their years in the White House bring them all even closer together.

Read the entire text here.  It’s a great prayer.  I hope Mohler would pray the same prayer in 2016.

HT: Get Religion blog.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Evangelical or Fundamentalist?: Some Thoughts on the Beth Moore Controversy

Beth Moore

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, I am not a cradle evangelical.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life as a Roman Catholic.  I had a conversion experience as a sophomore in high school and I left the Catholic church for a non-denominational Bible church.  In other words, I became an evangelical.

When I converted, the word “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” meant nothing to me. I don’t think I ever met a born-again Christian until I started attending the youth group at Gilgal Bible Chapel in West Milford, New Jersey.  I went from the cloistered community of a working-class Catholic upbringing (I seem to remember mostly Catholics and Jews in my public high school, although I am sure there were Protestants as well) to a similarly cloistered evangelical world.  My only exposure to evangelical Christianity came through Gilgal, a church plant with an authoritarian pastor located on a multi-acre site that included a Christian camp and a conference center. (Gilgal had its own unique approach to evangelical Christianity, and its authoritarian pastor had a tragic fall from grace, but I will need to save that for another post or perhaps another book!)

My conversion was real and life-altering.  I put aside a journalism career and prepared for a life in the evangelical ministry.  My pastor recommended I go to Bible college.  So I did.  I initially thought I would be spending the next four years in residence at a place similar to a monastery, but I soon realized that most Bible college students were no different than the students who attended my public high school.  They dressed the same way, had the same haircuts, listened to the same music (despite the fact they were not permitted to listen to “secular music”), drove the same cars, and had the same ambitions and vices.  They baptized these traits with their “calls” to ministry and a sense of Christian piety.  For some, these “calls” were real and I had much respect, and continue to have much respect, for many of my classmates.  For others, I had no idea why they were in Bible college.  In the end, I had a great time at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University).  I played basketball and made some great friends.  It was like I was attending a four-year Christian youth retreat.  But I digress…

By my senior year I realized that I wasn’t getting much of a liberal education.  In the 1980s Philadelphia College of Bible was a dispensational school.  Bible and theology professors taught us that God had different plans for Israel and the Church.  (One professor, John McGahey, would scream at us: “ISRAEL IS NOT THE CHURCH!). The purpose of this Bible college education, if you could call it that, was to indoctrinate students in dispensational premillennialism. We were required to buy a copy of the Scofield Bible.  We read books by dispensational luminaries such as Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and J. Dwight Pentecost.  We waited for the rapture–the moment when God would raise-up the true believers to meet him in the air.  And our teachers made sure that we knew the rapture would come before the seven-year tribulation.  All of my Bible professors had advanced degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary, the intellectual home of dispensationalism.

Upon graduation, I knew that I wanted to continue my theological education. But I did not want to go to Dallas with some of my other classmates.  I enrolled at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois.  TEDS was an evangelical seminary, but it was not dispensational in orientation (although it did have a few dispensational professors).  I chose TEDS because I knew that I would find evangelical professors who would expand my horizons.  My goal was to pursue a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and use my time to figure out what I might do with such a course of study.  At the very least, I thought an MDiv would allow me to think theologically about the world.  I had no real long-term plan.  My parents helped me out with the tuition, but I also worked as a security guard at various places to get myself to graduation.  I eventually fell in love with history, added an M.A. in church history to my vita, and headed off to pursue a Ph.D in American history.

When I arrived at TEDS in the late 1980s, the school prided itself on its commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.  Kenneth Kantzer, the retired dean of the seminary, had attracted some of the best evangelical theologians to TEDS for the purpose of providing an inerrancy-based alternative to Fuller Theological Seminary, the Pasadena, California school that abandoned the doctrine of inerrancy in the 1960s.  (See George Marsden’s book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism).

Some professors made a big deal about inerrancy.  Others rarely mentioned it. I took Scot McKnight for a Greek refresher course.  The subject of inerrancy never came up.  (Nor did it come-up much in his Synpotic Gospels course).  John D. Woodbridge, who taught me how to think historically and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D in history, was a staunch defender of inerrancy.  My other church history professor, Tom Nettles (who I did not know as well as Woodbridge), did not say too much about inerrancy despite the fact that he was an important historian of the doctrine during the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Church.

But what I remember most about TEDS was the theological diversity of the faculty.  While some of my readers might wonder how a school that upholds biblical inerrancy could be theologically diverse, at the time I did not see it that way . TEDS was not Philadelphia College of Bible or Dallas Theological Seminary.  During my three years on campus I took courses with dispensationalists (Paul Feinberg) and covenant theologians (Ray Ortlund Jr and Walter Kaiser).  I took courses with faculty who opposed women’s ordination (Wayne Grudem) and those who championed women’s ordination (Walter Liefield).  There were Presbyterians and Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians.  I even had one professor (Murray Harris) who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I sat-in on courses taught by some of the founders of the neo-evangelical movement:  Carl F.H. Henry, Kantzer, and Gleason Archer.  I took theology with Harold O.J. Brown, the Harvard trained scholar who was one of the leading voices of the pro-life movement.  I made a few visits to a class on Puritanism taught by English theologian J.I. Packer.

I don’t know how all of these professors got along in the faculty lounge, but they always modeled a spirit of conversation and debate.  Evangelicals had core convictions, but what made them evangelicals was their irenic spirit and acceptance of those with whom they differed.  This spirit, perhaps more than anything, was what made them “evangelicals” and not “fundamentalists.”  As Marsden once put it, “a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.”

At TEDS I learned that evangelicals championed orthodox beliefs– the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Holy Spirit’s role in the pursuit of holiness, and the necessity of living-out the Great Commission through evangelism.  But I also learned that evangelicals differed on what my professors called the “secondary” or “minor” doctrines: the ordination of women, the proper form of church government, the proper mode of baptism, capital punishment, the relationship between God’s providence and human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc.), war and peace, and the way one’s faith should manifest itself in the political sphere, to name a few.

I had classmates from every Protestant denomination imaginable–Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.  Students were preparing for ministry in evangelical denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, but they also trained for work in non-denominational megachurches and mainline Protestantism denominations.

At this particular moment in my life (it was the early 1990s), I needed a place like TEDS.  I loved the fact that evangelicals could disagree on some matters of biblical interpretation.  (I even co-wrote a song about it titled “So Many Views,” sung to the tune of the Monkey’s “I’m A Believer”).  I learned how to think critically and theologically.  I knew that there was a larger theological world out there beyond the evangelical boundaries of TEDS and my experience in Deerfield gave me the skills to navigate it.

I understood the culture at TEDS as representative of the spirit of American evangelicalism.

I have been thinking lot about my experience at TEDS as I watch the debates over the role of women in the church currently taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In case you missed it, last month there was a pretty significant Twitter battle on this topic.

It all began when the bombastic Southern Baptist seminary professor Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary published a piece on women in the church at his blog “Thought Life.”  Here is a taste of that May 7, 2019 post:

Biblical teaching on the sexes is not bad. It is not harmful to women. It is good–thunderously good–for women and for men. If we take the Bible at its word, then we recognize that there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or “non-authoritative” way. Congregational preaching and teaching is authoritative, for the Word of God is authoritative. There is no “non-authoritative” way to preach and teach the Bible. Any who doubt this point might recall how Paul contrasts the “word of men” with the “word of God” in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. If you speak and interpret the Scripture, you speak with the weight of eternity upon you. It cannot be otherwise.

Beth Moore and J. D. Greear are two popular Southern Baptist voices. Both Moore and Greear are gifted individuals, respected within the SBC and beyond it. In recent days, I was surprised to see these two figures endorse, in the context of the church’s gathered worship service, a woman teaching and preaching to the corporate body (see here and here). This was new to me; Southern Baptists have never embraced such a view. As mentioned above, there is no New Testament precedent for a woman teaching the corporate body of Christ (Priscilla’s words in Acts 18 to Apollos came in private, not in public), nor were women called to serve as priests in the old covenant era. Christ did not appoint a woman to be an apostle, nor did any woman serve as an elder in the first-century churches spoken of in Scripture.

And here is his Strachan’s conclusion:

Though many paint women monolithically today, seeing them as instinctually feminist, there are many women in submission to God who wish for men to lead them well and preach the Word faithfully. They do not see the Bible’s teaching on womanhood as “restrictive,” nor the complementarian movement as “afraid” of womanly gifting. Rather, they approach the Word of God with great reverence and awe. They wish to know the will of God, and do it. They take no pleasure in quieting or softening the Bible; they recognize the order that God has established, and they love it. There are scores of such women in church history, in Baptist history, in the modern SBC, and in the broader evangelical world. I know they are out there; I have heard their testimony firsthand. With the whole church of God, these women gladly confess that the counsel of the Lord stands forever (Psalm 33:11), and that the law of God’s mouth “is better…than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:72).

There is much the Word frees women to do as mentioned above. But for the women I speak of, where the Word gives them a prohibition for God’s glory and their good, they receive that commandment with gladness. They submit to God, as we all must do (James 4:7). In our God-defying age, this posture stands out sharply. It is driven by our total confidence in the unerring mind and will of God. We think of Psalm 119:89 on this count: בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם נִצָּ֥ב דְּ֝בָרְךָ֗ יְהוָ֑ה לְעוֹלָ֥ם, “Forever, Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” It is not man who has “fixed” the word of God, and written it in the sky. By God’s own hand and mind, there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.

Let no one defy this order.

There is a lot that could be said about Strachan’s post.  I disagree with him on the role of women in the church and the family, but my intention here is not to get into these theological and interpretive weeds.  There are indeed a lot of denominations that do not ordain women, including the Roman Catholic Church.  But I will say this:  by ending his post with the words “let no one defy this order,” Strachan reveals his dogmatism on this issue.  I wonder what he would think about someone who does “defy this order?”  Are they living in sin?  Are they outside the fold of Christian orthodoxy?  Of evangelicalism?  Will Strachan still have Christian fellowship with them?  Should they be cast into perdition? What is at stake here?

After he wrote this piece, Strachan turned to Twitter to promote it:

It was at this point that the wildly popular evangelical preacher Beth Moore entered the fray:

Strachan initially responded politely:

But then his Twitter feed got snarky.

For example, he retweeted this:

And then his many followers and others of like mind started chiming in:

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And then this week Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, added fuel to the fire with this tweet:

Those familiar with Mohler will remember that he was instrumental in making Southern Seminary a complementarian school and the Southern Baptist Convention a complementarian denomination.  When one listens to Mohler and Strachan, one gets the impression that they believe their view of what the Bible teaches on the role of women in the church and the home is not a secondary issue of faith, but one that is essential to Christian orthodoxy.  I honestly don’t believe that they really think this, but their rhetoric is so definitive and dogmatic that it certainly sounds like they do.

Strachan is not letting go of this position.  He sees the denial of the pulpit to women such as Beth Moore and others as a non-negotiable theological view in the SBC. In other words, those who take a different position do not belong in the denomination. Here is his tweet in response to Mohler (notice how he continues to see himself in the vanguard of those who led the conservative resurgence, even going to the point of capitalizing the word “Resurgence”):

Of course the Southern Baptist Church leadership has the right to define the role of women in the church in any way they want to define it.  This is what religious liberty is all about.  Millions of evangelicals attend churches that do not ordain women.  As noted above, the largest religious body in the world–the Catholic Church–does not ordain women.  But Strachan and other Southern Baptists also like to fancy themselves as heirs to the evangelicalism that I experienced at TEDS nearly thirty years ago. Strachan writes books and edits books for conservative Christian publishers extolling people like Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, and other members of the neo-evangelical movement.

My professors at TEDS had firm convictions on a whole host of issues, but they did not promote them with the fundamentalist spirit to which I see coming from Strachan and his followers.  In fact, it was this very spirit–the kind of militant spirit I see in their tweets–that made fundamentalism so repulsive to people like Carl Henry, Ken Kantzer, and the other neo-evangelical leaders who broke from fundamentalist militancy in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Southern Baptist Convention can work out their issues on women in the church on their own, without my help, but if you are going to try to make complementarianism a defining and non-negotiable characteristic of SBC orthodoxy please stop writing about how much you love the neo-evangelical movement.

On the other hand, if you do want to claim the Henry/Kantzer/neo-evangelical mantle, perhaps it is time to rethink the Convention’s position on this issue and broaden the tent a bit.

So What DOES Al Mohler Believe About Social Justice?

Mohler Macarthur

Albert Mohler and John MacArthur in 2014

At a recent conference at John MacArthur‘s Grace Community Church, someone asked Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist seminary president, why he did not sign MacArthur’s statement condemning “social justice” in the evangelical community.  (We covered this here and here).

Here is a taste of Samuel Smith’s reporting at the Christian Post:

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler explained why he did not sign last summer’s John MacArthur-led statement condemning evangelicals’ embrace of social justice as dangerous to the Gospel.

Mohler, an influential voice in conservative evangelicalism who frequently voices his opinions on current events through his daily podcast, took part in a panel discussion last week at the 2019 Shepherd’s Conference at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California.

During the panel discussion moderated by Grace to You Executive Director Phil Johnson, Mohler and other panelists on stage were asked why they didn’t sign The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.

The statement spearheaded last year by the 79-year-old MacArthur claimed that social justice “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

I read this entire article and I still don’t know what Mohler thinks about social justice.  He seems to have tip-toed around the issue without really saying anything. Here is a taste of Smith’s reporting:

When directly asked why he didn’t sign, Mohler explained:

“I want to be very honest. You have known me for a long time. So you know of my concerns. I am having before God trying to address those concerns the way I think best consistent with 35 years of public ministry,” Mohler said. “I was not particularly appreciative of being handed a statement.”

Mohler stressed that when it came to the statement, he had no opportunity to “offer any particular consultation or suggestion.”

“It is not pride of authorship but I am just reluctant to sign onto anything that is not creedal and confessional that doesn’t express exactly how I want to say something,” Mohler explained. “Not signing should not be interpreted as a rejection of common concern. I don’t think that is fair.”

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently the Southern Baptists are divided on this issue.

Franklin Graham, Al Mohler, Eric Metaxas, Russell Moore and Rachel Held Evans on the *Second* Kavanaugh Accusation

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Brett Kavanugh To Be Supreme Court Justice

Kayla Koslosky has rounded-up some tweets and other commentary from evangelicals on the Deborah Ramirez accusation.  Here is a taste of her piece at “Christian Headlines”:

Many Christian leaders are offering their opinions on Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and they are divided. 

Though the schism has only become greater since Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault on two occasions, faith leaders were divided on his potential appointment well before then.

Here is what they have had to say:

Read the rest here.

Al Mohler Pontificates on the Origins of the Culture War

KavanaughWho “started” the culture wars?

Recently some members of the Evangelical left called for a “pause” to the culture wars.  Evangelical women want Congress to reject the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination and appoint a more moderate justice.  Read about their efforts here.

Meanwhile, Al Mohler, the conservative evangelical president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has told PJ Media that such efforts are “doomed to failure.”  Here is a taste of Tyler O’Neil’s piece:

“The ‘Call to Pause’ is just the latest effort by the Evangelical left to blame the culture war on conservatives,” Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), told PJ Media Sunday. He insisted that the “Call to Pause” is doomed to failure, and more likely to damage the reputations of its supporters than to achieve any cultural or political change.

Here is more:

Mohler fought back against the idea that conservative evangelicals are to blame for the culture war. “It was liberals who pushed the new ethic of personal autonomy and sexual liberation, and it was liberals who championed legalized abortion and celebrated the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973,” the SBTS president told PJ Media.

He noted that “you can date organized evangelical involvement in American politics to Roe v. Wade,” noting that the conservative evangelical movement was largely a reaction to the Left’s culture war coups achieved by the Supreme Court. This became even more clear in light of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which supercharged conservatives’ emphasis on the Supreme Court.

“Now, just after the nomination of a clearly conservative judge, Brett Kavanaugh, as the next justice of the Supreme Court, the evangelical left is predictably opposing the nominee, and calling for a ‘pause’ in the culture war,” Mohler noted. “Amazingly enough, those behind the ‘Call to Pause’ are transparent about their fear that Roe v. Wade might be reversed, or even that abortion rights might be curtailed.”

A few thoughts:

  1. Mohler is often at his dogmatic worst whenever commenting on sexual politics.  I do not expect Mohler to agree with the evangelical women who oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, but why does he have to come across as such an authoritarian ecclesiastical strongman whenever the issue he is addressing involves evangelical women?  One thinks he might have learned something about the voices of women in his denomination.
  2. Mohler pins the entire culture war on Roe v. Wade.  While this Supreme Court case played an important role in mobilizing the Christian Right, it is much more complicated than this.  But nuance, of course, will not help Mohler and his friends win the culture wars.
  3. Mohler continues to operate on the old Christian Right playbook for winning the culture wars.  If we nominate the right Supreme Court justice, the playbook teaches, the problem of abortion will go away.  For some context on this playbook see Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

Albert Mohler: “The judgment of God…has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention”

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Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.  He has responded in writing to the whole Paige Patterson mess.  He continues to defend complementarianism, and I am not sure why he will not name Patterson by name, but this is a start.

Here is a taste of his website post:

The last few weeks have been excruciating for the Southern Baptist Convention and for the larger evangelical movement. It is as if bombs are dropping and God alone knows how many will fall and where they will land.

America’s largest evangelical denomination has been in the headlines day after day. The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.

At one of our seminaries, controversy has centered on a president (now former president) whose sermon illustration from years ago included advice that a battered wife remain in the home and the marriage in hope of the conversion of her abusive husband. Other comments represented the objectification of a teenage girl. The issues only grew more urgent with the sense that the dated statements represented ongoing advice and counsel.

But the issues are far deeper and wider.

Sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear. These grievous revelations of sin have occurred in churches, in denominational ministries, and even in our seminaries.

We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority. When people said that Evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible — even to me. I have been president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty-five years. I did not see this coming.

I was wrong. The judgment of God has come.

Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

We cannot blame a requirement of priestly celibacy. We cannot even point to an organized conspiracy of silence within the denominational hierarchy. No, our humiliation comes as a result of an unorganized conspiracy of silence. Sadly, the unorganized nature of our problem may make recovery and correction even more difficult and the silence even more dangerous.

Is the problem theological? Has the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention come to this? Is this what thousands of Southern Baptists were hoping for when they worked so hard to see this denomination returned to its theological convictions, its seminaries return to teaching the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures, its ministries solidly established on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did we win confessional integrity only to sacrifice our moral integrity?

This is exactly what those who opposed the Conservative Resurgence warned would happen. They claimed that the effort to recover the denomination theologically was just a disguised move to capture the denomination for a new set of power-hungry leaders. I know that was not true. I must insist that this was not true. But, it sure looks like their prophecies had some merit after all. As I recently said with lament to a long-time leader among the more liberal faction that left the Southern Baptist Convention, each side has become the fulfillment of what the other side warned. The liberals who left have kept marching to the Left, in theology and moral teaching. The SBC, solidly conservative theologically, has been revealed to be morally compromised.

Read the entire piece here.

Patterson is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, but he has been given a golden parachute that includes directorship of a new center on campus, a cushy home on campus, and a new post as “theologian in residence.”  As someone on Facebook wrote: “He is still in and comfortable.”

Southern Seminary Adopts the Nashville Statement

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If you want to teach at Southern Seminary, you just may have to sign the Nashville Statement.  The Board of Trustees recently voted to make it part of the school’s “confessional documents.”  Here is a taste of Andrew J.W. Smith’s piece at the seminary website:

The Nashville Statement is a document that affirms biblical teaching about gender and sexuality and seeks to clarify Christian beliefs on some of the most pressing cultural issues. It was published earlier this year by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and signed by evangelical leaders across the United States, including each Southern Baptist seminary president. That Southern Seminary adopted it, according to Mohler, is a matter of responsibility.

“Southern Seminary takes its confessional responsibility with great significance,” Mohler said in an interview immediately following the Board’s public session Monday evening. “Years ago, our Board of Trustees recognized the need of adopting certain statements that clarify and establish the meaning our longstanding confessional documents: the Abstract of Principles, adopted in 1859, and the Baptist Faith and Message, as revised in 2000.”

Like the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and the “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” — both previously adopted by the board — The Nashville Statement is a “timely addition” to that list of official documents, according to Mohler. Faculty members at Southern Seminary and Boyce College agree to sign and teach according to the Abstract of Principles and the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message. The Nashville Statement was adopted to help interpret those two binding statements and specify the seminary’s conviction on matters not directly addressed in the central confessions of the institution, Mohler said.

Mohler emphasized The Nashville Statement does not reflect new thinking. Instead, he said, it affirms historic Christian teaching about human sexuality.

Read the entire piece here.

I am sure that all the Southern Seminary faculty already affirm the beliefs set forth in the Nashville Statement.  But it unclear whether or not faculty will be required to sign it.  See our coverage here.

The New Fundamentalism

southern-baptist-theological-seminary1

Eric Johnson, an endowed professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, came to a gathering organized to celebrate the release of his 716-page InterVarsity Press book on “soul care” and used the occasion to announce his early retirement from the seminary.  Some say seminary president Albert Mohler fired his endowed professor because Johnson believes that the findings of modern psychology can be used by Christians in counseling and other forms of psychotherapy.

One of Johnson’s strongest critics is a Heath Lambert, an advocate of something called “biblical counseling.”  Lambert is the president of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  He believes that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is a “sufficient and an authoritative guide to counseling.”  He also rejects the use of drugs to treat depression and anxiety.

Lambert’s view of Johnson’s work is summed-up in this video.  He spends close to twenty minutes criticizing Johnson. Lambert calls Johnson’s work, among other things, a “total and utter mockery of God’s word.”

Now here’s the kicker:  Lambert also teaches counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I don’t fully understand everything Lambert is talking about in this video, but I am struck by the language he uses to describe one of his colleagues.  First, there is the potential awkwardness of it all.  I have never been to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I am assuming that it is a tight-knit community.  I assume that every now and then Lambert would have to pass Johnson in the hallway and attend a meeting where they are in the same room together. Second, I think it is safe to assume that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a tight-knit Christian community.  I have heard of faculty at large research universities saying nasty things in public about other faculty at the same university, but for some reason I thought faculty at an evangelical theological seminary might be held to a higher standard. All faculty disagree, but few do so in such a harsh and public way.

I am not a theologian or a Christian counselor, but I did take a few courses on these subjects in college and divinity school.  I remember learning about something called “nouthetic counseling.”  It was an approach, popularized by the Christian counselor Jay Adams through his 1970 book Competent to Counsel, that argued psychology and psychiatry were secular ideas that were radically opposed to the teachings of the Bible and thus could not be used in the practice of Christian counseling.  In other words, only the Bible could be used to help people overcome mental illness.  I think this view is akin to what Lambert and his organization call “biblical counseling.”  (Warren Throckmorton, are you out there?  I hope I am getting this right!)

During my education in evangelical institutions, my professors rejected nouthetic or biblical counseling.  My wife, who holds a masters degree in Christian counseling from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, was taught to integrate faith with psychology in her work. Frankly, I thought this whole debate over the use of psychology in Christian counseling was over a long time ago,  I guess I was wrong.

According to Bob Allen’s reporting at Baptist News Global, Mohler appears to support Lambert. In 2005, he moved the seminary toward a biblical counseling approach.  At that time Mohler wrote, “In this psycho-therapeutic age, it is really important that we think as Christians…that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking, to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and God’s word.”

According to Allen’s article, it is unclear what role Mohler or Lambert played in Johnson leaving Southern Seminary, but hundreds of Johnson defenders signed a petition protesting his sudden departure  The signers believe that Mohler and Lambert had something to do with it.

I also wonder if something larger is going on here. Mohler and Lambert both signed the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.  (I did not see Johnson’s name on the statement, but I could have missed it).  This statement has been criticized by conservative evangelicals less for its content and more for its strident tone. Writing at Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, an evangelical pastor chided the statement for its failure to portray “God-generated, Christ-displayed, and Bible-defined love.” McKnight himself argued that the statement did not reflect the pastoral heart of Jesus. It is hard not to see connections between Johnson’s new book on “soul care,” his departure from the seminary, and the criticisms of the Nashville Statement.

The folks at Southern and other conservative institutions in the Southern Baptist Convention have been pretty dogmatic of late.  They have been drawing lines in the sand and suggesting that anyone who crosses these lines should no longer be considered orthodox Christians.  If you want more evidence of this, go back and read my posts about Mohler back in September 2015 when Pope Francis visited the United States.  I realize that Mohler and the Catholic Church do not see eye-to-eye on most things, but I was struck by the fact that he made very little, if any, attempt to find common ground.

In this video, Mohler is drawing the line on biblical inerrancy.  And here he leads a panel on the subject with John MacArthur and others. One of the panelists–I think it’s Mark Dever (also a signer of the Nashville Statement)–suggests that it is Satan who occasionally draws the church away from inerrancy.  Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California, also takes some hits on this issue.

Recently, one of these Southern Baptist defenders of the faith even compared himself to John the Baptist. (It reminded me of that time when Billy Sunday compared himself to John the Baptist or when J. Frank Norris once preached: “I tell you the spirit we need in this compromising, milk-and-cider, neither-hot-nor-cold–you want to know the kind of spirit we need?  We need the spirit of old John the Baptist when he told that Sanhedrin, ‘You are a generation of snakes.'”).

Would Mohler, Lambert (who, by the way, holds a Ph.D in counseling from Southern Seminary), and others academics in the Southern Baptist Convention say that the Christian counselor forfeits the right to be called an orthodox Christian when he starts drawing from the insights of modern psychology ?  I hope not, but I am not sure.

Whatever the case, the academic wing of the Southern Baptist Convention seems to believe that they are living in a moment when Christianity is under attack and must be defended. As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote in response to a colleague who pressured him to sign the Nashville Statement, “the urgency of the hour demands it.” Anderson added: “the impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics.”

Lambert’s video attacking Johnson, the apparent firing of Johnson, the tone and spirit of the Nashville Statement, Mohler’s attacks on Francis, and the use of inerrancy as a means of dividing evangelicals (I am sure I could find other examples as well) leads me to wonder if we are seeing a new manifestation of Protestant fundamentalism.  (I am sure some believe that this happened a long time ago in SBC circles). I have seen this kind of thing before.  I started my career writing about it.  Fundamentalists believe that the culture is under attack and orthodox doctrine is in jeopardy from outside forces.  They call their followers to circle the wagons, draw lines in the sand, and close ranks. Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will be the true defenders of the faith in the sea of cultural, intellectual, and social change?  Who will take a stand?

Perhaps this is the kind of thing the church needs right now.  I am not convinced of it, but maybe I am wrong.  I do, however, find it ironic that many of the same Southern Baptists who seem to be adamant about drawing clear and decisive boundaries also seem to value the legacy of the so-called “neo-evangelicals” of the mid-20th century. the men who tried to bring conservative Protestantism out of its fundamentalist past.  They name their schools and centers after Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry and they admire  John Harold Ockenga, one of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals. They adhere to the conservative theology of these giants of modern American evangelicalism, but do not seem to exemplify the irenic spirit of these men when they speak into public life.  Instead, they sound more like J. Gresham Machen, Curtis Lee Laws, Frank Norris, and William Bell Riley.

I don’t know Eric Johnson, but I hope he lands on his feet.

Georgia Governor’s Veto of Religious Liberty Bill Reflects Baptist Battles

DealGeorgia Governor Nathan Deal is a Southern Baptist.  That is why he vetoed the Georgia House Bill 757.

Here is a description of that bill:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to protect religious freedoms; to amend Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to change certain provisions relating to days of rest for employees of business and industry; to protect property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom; to define a term; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Essentially, the bill protects the opponents of gay marriage.

According to Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this debate over HB 757 is representative of the longstanding debate over the identity of Georgia Baptists.   Deal represents those Baptists who have long defended the historic Baptist doctrine of separation of church and state.  In other words, the government should not be legislating morality–in this case the nature of marriage.  His opponents, apparently led by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler, represents the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention that took place in the 1980s.

Here is a taste of Galloway’s piece:

…Tucked within the governor’s veto message on “religious liberty” legislation was a solid blow struck in the 35-year-old fight over what it means to be a Baptist in the South.

House Bill 757 was intended to offer legal protection to opponents of same-sex marriage. In his rejection of the measure, the governor went old-school Baptist. Danbury Baptist. Jefferson-and-the-wall-of-separation Baptist.

“I find it somewhat ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections,” Deal said. “If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands off’ admonition of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

When it comes to religion, even when legislatures try to do good, Deal said, “the inclusions and omissions” in the laws they draft can lead to trouble. “That is too great a risk to take,” he said.

If you were raised anything other than Southern Baptist, there’s a good chance you didn’t hear that dog whistle. Others did.

In the immediate aftermath of the veto, the governor was called a minion of the Antichrist and worse. But perhaps the sharpest criticism came from Albert Mohler, the president of the Louisville, Ky., seminary that serves as the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In one of his daily podcasts, the seminary president declared Deal’s veto to be “fueled by a theological agenda,” as well as an economic one.

Read the entire article here.

Al Mohler Doubles Down on Pope Francis

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, conservative evangelicals and Catholics came together in 1994 to write “Evangelicals and Catholic Together.”  It was an attempt to unite Catholics and Evangelicals in a common witness for Christianity and the public good. The document was endorsed on the evangelical side by Chuck Colson, Richard Land, J.I. Packer, Bill Bright, Os Guiness, Mark Noll, Richard Mouw, Pat Robertson, and Thomas Oden. At the time, this was a veritable evangelical all-star team.

Four years ago I participated in one of the final meetings of Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good at Georgetown University.  I gave a paper on the history of evangelical political engagement. (Not sure if it was ever published–plans were in the works).  On the evangelical side, this group included Ron Sider, Michael Gerson, Timothy Shah, Richard Cizik, Galen Carey, Bryan McGraw, Stephen Monsma, and Mark Rogers.  The Catholic side included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, John Borelli, Kathleen Caveny, and others.

In 2008, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom wrote a book titled Is the Reformation Over: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.  In the course of the book Noll and Nystrom showed how Evangelicals and Catholics have put aside their distrust of one another and have been working together on matters they could agree upon–moral issues that would advance the common good.

I am guessing that Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, would have some serious problems with these efforts at bridging the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  For Mohler, the Reformation is not over, it is alive and well and must be invoked with force to critique the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States.  Rather than seeking common ground on the issues that Southern Baptist evangelicals and Catholics have in common, Mohler has decided to be divisive.

Do evangelicals and Catholics differ theologically?  Of course they do.  Absolutely.  And these differences should not be ignored.  But my critique of Mohler is more related to his style and approach.  His default reaction is to promote differences at a time when evangelicals should be finding common with Catholics and Francis.  There is a time to talk about the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  This is not one of them.  For example, if you read this blog, Michael Gerson has offered a better way.

Over the course of the last two days, Mohler has argued the following points in his daily briefings:

  • Mohler believes that the  Pope is a leftist.  First, I have addressed the issue of using political categories to describe Catholic social teaching here and will have an op-ed at Fox News on this topic appear either later today or this weekend.  Second, I would advise Mohler to wait to judge the Pope’s visit.until it is actually over.  For example, today at the UN the Pope noted that there are fundamental differences between men and women. I am predicting that we will get more on marriage and abortion this weekend in Philadelphia. 
  • Mohler is bothered by the fact that the Pope didn’t mention the name of Jesus Christ in his speech to Congress.  I find this critique of Francis’s speech before Congress to be rather silly.  Those who are upset about this fail to realize that the Pope’s entire message to Congress was deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ.  
  • Mohler believes that the Pope is minimizing doctrine in favor of piety.  As a result, he thinks that Francis is avoiding a “direct confrontation with the secularizing culture.”  First, Francis is not Benedict.XVIth.  He is a pastor and pastors are concerned with piety.  Church doctrine is important to Francis, but it is not his point of emphasis. He places more emphasis on living his faith in the world than debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important, but so is practice. Second, I just don’t understand how Mohler can think that Francis is not directly confronting the culture.  Both his speech in Congress and at the UN were prophetic.  He spoke Biblical truth to power. 
  • Mohler believes that the papacy is not biblical.  He is offended by people who believe that they will get “sacramental grace” by touching the Pope or his garments.  Fair enough.  Most Protestants are with Mohler here..  But some evangelicals see the Pope’s visit as an opportunity, while others see it as an opportunity to be divisive.  Mohler has chosen the latter. 
  • Mohler thinks that the Pope is not really humble.  Why? Because he calls himself the “Vicar of Christ” and “Bishop of Rome.”  He flies on a chartered plane.  And he lives on expensive real estate in the Vatican. In my opinion, this seems a bit below the belt, but I will let my readers decide.
  • Mohler believes that evangelicals are not criticizing the Pope’s views because they are trapped in a “culture of civility.” I am guessing that Mohler thinks I am trapped in that culture as well. 
So why have I been picking on Mohler this week?  Because he seems to speak for a lot of conservative evangelical Southern Baptists.  There are other evangelicals, like me, who are not comfortable with the way he is approaching Francis’s visit.
Are you an evangelical Southern Baptist?  Does Mohler speak for you when he writes and talks about Francis?

Evangelicals at BYU

Richard Land at BYU

The warm feelings between evangelicals and Mormons are growing stronger.  According to Adelle Banks’s article at Religion News Service, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (Richard Land and Albert Mohler) and the Assembly of God Church (George O. Wood) have recently delivered lectures at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias is also scheduled to speak at BYU.

This developing relationship is historically significant.  For most of the twentieth century evangelicals thought the Church of the Latter Day Saints was a cult. Many evangelicals still think this way, as we witnessed during the Romney presidential runs.  If you type the words “Mormonism is” into Google, the top hits are “a cult,” “not Christianity,” “fake,” “false,” and “stupid.” Most of these hits will take you to evangelical websites by organizations such as Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry and the Christian Broadcasting Network.  In the early 1990s, when I was a student at the decidedly evangelical Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, “anti-cult” groups would come to campus and stand at their tables in the lobby of the Chatlos Memorial Chapel to warn us against the threat of Mormonism and seek our support in the cause of exposing its false teachings.

It does not seem that the evangelicals mentioned above are willing to use the label “Christian” to describe Mormons, but they are definitely willing to work with them to advance certain moral issues. In the 2012 election cycle Land made it clear that Mitt Romney (a Mormon) was not a Christian, but a member of a fourth Abrahamic faith.  In 2007 Mohler said that the Latter Day Saints taught a “sincerely false gospel,” but still make good neighbors.  Zacharias is not new to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.  He spoke there in 2004 along with then Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw and evangelical recording artist Michael Card.  Wood has been taking some heat for his visit. Of course evangelical-Mormon cooperation on moral issues is not unique to the present moment. Mormonism was part of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority coalition in the late 1970s and the LDS leaders continued to stand alongside conservative Protestants as the so-called culture wars heated up in the 1980s and 1990s.

Meanwhile, Mormons have been making efforts to be a greater part of the American religious mainstream.  It should be noted that it was BYU who initiated the meetings with Land, Mohler, Wood, and Zacharias.  The meetings have been centered around faith, family, and religious freedom. 

I am curious what some of the Mormon readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home think about these developments.  Here is a taste of Banks’s piece:

The outreach has gone both ways. In September, Taylor joined two members of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Washington installation of Russell Moore, who succeeded Land as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“It’s clear where we disagree, but we’re standing together in the public square for religious liberty,” said Moore, who has recently spoken with Mormon officials about military chaplains’ religious rights.
As Mormons continue to work toward greater acceptance and visibility — from Mitt Romney’s White House bid to a category of questions on “Jeopardy” — they are more likely to have tangible benefits from this engagement, said Stephen Webb, author of the new book “Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints.”
Bob Millet, a BYU religion professor who suggested the evangelical visitors to LDS officials, said the rapprochement helps Mormons, “a sample of the population that’s not well-understood and highly misunderstood.”

Addendum:  Since I wrote and scheduled this post Thomas Kidd has posted something similar at The Anxious Bench.  Check it out here.