Thursday, October 21, 2010

Christianity Today's view of Al Mohler

I just read Christianity Today’s cover story for October 2010 written by Molly Worthen. It is a brief biographical sketch of Dr. Albert Mohler a leading evangelical thinker who is the head of Southern Seminary and who is an important figure in the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention. Although the article includes descriptions of the importance of Mohler to conservative evangelicals there is a general tone of condescension in the piece. Worthen, it seems, considers Mohler a fundamentalist and it is reasonably clear that she doesn’t see this as a good thing. Although it is subtle, Worthen does not portray Mohler in a positive light.

Whether you agree with him or not Al Mohler is a remarkable person in many ways. He has accomplished a number of things that were only dreamed of by many conservative theologians before him. He has a successful and broad ministry in the general culture with his radio program and blog. He has been able to make a tremendous impact at Southern Seminary in shifting it from liberal and neo-orthodox theological positions to a more traditional and conservative direction. Along with this, and partly as a result, Mohler has been part of a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Denomination as a whole. While Worthen is correct in identifying the fact that Mohler holds to fundamentals in theology such as the inerrancy of the bible, complementation roles for men and women etc, he cannot properly be considered a fundamentalist.

Mohler is carrying out his conservative revolution from within the Southern Baptist denomination. Separatism is the position that most clearly defines modern fundamentalists and Mohler never withdrew from the SBC but rather chose to work from within the denomination. In addition to remaining in broad fellowship in the SBC with those who may not share his conservative theology Mohler has also engaged in measured ecumenical activities that virtually no fundamentalist would. Mohler is a cofounder of Together for the Gospel along with Presbyterian Ligon Duncan and charismatic C.J. Mahaney. One would be hard pressed to find any fundamentalist Baptist engaged in mutual ministry with one partner that holds to infant baptism and another that believes in the gift of tongues for today. Mohler also signed the Manhattan Declaration which is a joint declaration of both Protestant and Catholic leaders on various issues such as abortion, gay marriage, etc. Many of his colleagues refused to sign and Mohler explained that his signature was not an endorsement of the theological positions of the Catholic Church broadly, but rather agreement on the specific issues mentioned.

It is therefore further testimony about how far Christianity Today has fallen from its original purpose that a Christian leader who holds to fundamental doctrines and yet is attempting to engage the broader culture and reform an old-line denomination would receive such condescending treatment. It is even more remarkable when one considers (as reported in the article) that it was Carl Henry, former editor of Christianity Today, who was an important influence in turning Mohler more conservative.

When Karl Barth, the leading Neo-Orthodox theologian, came to the U.S. to deliver lectures he made a stop at George Washington University where 200 or so religious leaders were invited to come and ask him questions. One of them was Dr. Carl Henry. Dr. Henry rose to ask a question and identified himself as the editor of Christianity Today. Barth sarcastically asked “did you say Christianity today or Christianity yesterday” referring to Dr. Henry’s conservative theological views. Dr. Henry replied “yesterday, today, and forever”. A lot of history has happened since that time but I still find it ironic that in our time it is Dr. Henry’s old magazine that seems to exhibit Barth’s attitude toward those who have the audacity to believe wholly in the truth of the scriptures.

I recommend the article but caution the reader to recognize what I believe to be an obvious bias. By the way, I almost chose to review an article written by Dr. Mohler instead of this one. Since in this case the topics nearly overlap I have linked that article here and recommend you read that as well to give some depth to the views of the person described in the Christianity Today article.

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