Albert Mohler: "Which Way to the Future? Southern Baptists, Southern Seminary, and the Future of the Evangelical Movement in America"

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Charlie's picture

For people who are not immediately inclined to listen, I'd encourage you to do so. Mohler is retelling the story of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy and neo-evangelicalism, placing the SBC and Southern Seminary at the forefront of a resurgent evangelicalism. Should be right up SI's alley for discussion.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Bob T.'s picture

First, from my own personal experience and observations of the 1960s and 70s Mohler is right in the main points about what he states about the Fundamentalist Liberal controversies and some result. He is right about the SBC non involvement. However, he does not appear to have a grasp of some of the consequences. He looked at New Evangelicalism and the emerging 21st century evangelicalism without seeing the many failures of the movement. Dr. Rolland McCune's book, "Promise Unfulfilled, The failed strategy of modern Evangelicalism" presents a scholarly and accurate portrayal of what has occurred.

Second, the Southern Baptist Convention churches are filled with unregenerate church members. The victory of the Conservatives in gaining control of denominational leadership and of some institutions was commendable and to be applauded. It was made possible because many Southern Baptists, including the unregenerate laymen, have "assented" to the orthodox truths of Christianity. They are like many Catholic laymen who are shocked when the professors and church leaders deny these traditional truths. However, these assenters to truth have not necessarily personally relied on those truths to become born again believers. They have the knowledge and assent aspect of faith but not the personal trust or reliance. These churches, with many unregenerate members, most likely will have future problems. Also, there are still many of those who endorse liberal theology who are Pastors, Professors, and lay leaders in the SBC. States such as Texas and Virginia have many liberal churches and control state leadership. The Southern Baptist Convention battle for truth appears still in process. They are in no position to offer Evangelical stability to the larger Evangelical movement.

Third, Al Mohler's 5 point Calvinism has come under attack in the SBC. He is respected for having a part in cleaning up Southern Baptist Seminary. But many do not like his theology or emphasis.

Charlie's picture

Bob T. wrote:

Second, the Southern Baptist Convention churches are filled with unregenerate church members. The victory of the Conservatives in gaining control of denominational leadership and of some institutions was commendable and to be applauded. It was made possible because many Southern Baptists, including the unregenerate laymen, have "assented" to the orthodox truths of Christianity. They are like many Catholic laymen who are shocked when the professors and church leaders deny these traditional truths. However, these assenters to truth have not necessarily personally relied on those truths to become born again believers. They have the knowledge and assent aspect of faith but not the personal trust or reliance. These churches, with many unregenerate members, most likely will have future problems.

I don't think you're in a position to make such a statement. It exhibits an extreme lack of charity and a smug superiority.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

J Ng's picture

The impression I get is that Mohler knows something's wrong but he doesn't know how to fix it:

  1. He cites getting J.I. Packer, he of ECT complicity, to teach Southern Baptists henhouse how to be Evangelical. Billy Graham, too, gets away with no warning whatsoever.
  2. He sees commitment to the core of Christ as a biblical teaching and guarding the periphery against false teachings as a pragmatic necessity (rather than, as Fundamentalists believe, also a biblical teaching).

    While some of us here dislike the flamingly belligerent militancy of earlier generations of Fundamentalism, the good thing is that they didn't leave us clueless in facing the foe.

    I think Mohler admitted as much in his message, if I wasn't too optimistic in my listening. If so, why won't he simply invite--instead of Packer--someone like Dr Minnick, Dr Barrett, Dr. Doran, or Dr. Jordan, to name a few better-qualified people, to address the henhouse in need of fixing?

JohnBrian's picture

Bob T. wrote:
the Southern Baptist Convention churches are filled with unregenerate church members.
I served as a interim pastor at 2 SBC churches and pastor of 1 of them. I totally agree with this statement.

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

JohnBrian,

I think this issue is prevalent in the American church; as much among IFB churches as SBC.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

As I listened to Mohler, I was stuck by his definitions. He absolutely rejected being identified with fundamentalism throughout his discourse. However, this appeared to be primarily because of the "bombastic", over the top abuses of fundamentalism. When he described his hope for SBC evangelicalism, everything he affirmed is found in our discussions here and elsewhere in the fundamentalist world regarding our own future.My only real concern was not what he said, but what he did not say. Let us hope these things were omitted for the sake of time, not because they are truly missing in the SBC movement.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Don Johnson's picture

Mohler once said on his radio program something to this effect: the reason he rejects fundamentalism is because you have no influence if you are a fundamentalist.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Well, I don't know. I think he meant that fundamentalists have little to no political or social influence in the world. If that is a correct understanding of what he said, I think he may be over-estimating the influence evangelicals actually have in the world by way of comparison. Anyway, it seemed an odd statement to me at the time.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
Mohler once said on his radio program something to this effect: the reason he rejects fundamentalism is because you have no influence if you are a fundamentalist.

Does it really matter if Mohler rejects the label of fundamentalist? There are people here who would probably reject that label too.

One can be a fundamentalist without wearing a shiny pin that says "I'm A Fundamentalist".

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Don Johnson's picture

Jay C. wrote:
One can be a fundamentalist without wearing a shiny pin that says "I'm A Fundamentalist".

Well, I suppose that's true, but Mohler isn't one and he makes it quite clear that he isn't.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

does that make him any less of a Christian?

Yes, I know that he's signed the MD and named something after Billy Graham, and all the other stuff. I'm just saying that I think we get too wrapped up in our "Fundy" identity sometimes.

I'm not defending any of his actions. I just wonder sometimes about the perceived importance of being a "Fundamentalist" in name (whatever that term means).

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Alex Guggenheim's picture

I read two of the special publications posted at the bottom of the article's page.

The first was an 11 page essay on the biblical emphasis of the role, duty and responsibility of the Pastor to be a theologian. As well, Mohler confronts the therapeutic style that has been popularized in the last 30 years. If you get time to read it one thing is certain, the material is not something you will find in many fundie churches though it is quite fundamental.

The second is an essay by Mary Mohler on modesty. You would be amazed how "fundamentalist" she sounds. She does include an equation of Sunday with the Sabbath in one comment but aside from that I found it to challenge our permissiveness, even within fundamental churches.

http://www.sbts.edu/resources/files/2010/09/the-pastor-as-theologian.pdf

http://www.sbts.edu/resources/files/2010/09/modeling_modesty.pdf

None of this is to take the view away from legitimate grievances or objections if they can be sustained and of course that is not my point. But it did remind me of something I believe Jeff Straub wrote about in qualifying our comments with greater familiarity with those persons about whom we are speaking. And this is not to say anyone here has not done that. Rather that (and certainly Al Mohler has written and published enough material that anyone wishing to understand his theology, philosophy and intellectual idiosyncrasies or eccentricities [if they there are any worth noting ]can probably identify them and make an argument from them) these brief essays do demonstrate a very solid commitment to the very things we either do or should hold dear as fundamentalists.

Yes, they are brief and maybe there are other publications or statements with weaker commitments in vital areas but I would be surprised. Which brings me to the point. Academic politics, theological development and influence and human variables are not the same in a local assembly as they are in more broad structures and less ecclesiastical settings.

A local assembly has a very specific set of boundaries with a very specific protocol, an academic institution, even one devoted to the pursuit of biblical education, is not bound nor can be bound in the same manner because the bible makes no such demand and provides no such protocol to accomplish this. Yes, those principles in scripture that are applicable can and must be to any Christian institution claiming the name of Christ but ultimately they are not a local assembly and do not operate the same way, they are an academic business. We cannot demand from Al Mohler, the institutional purity that we demand from a local assembly.

And there is a great deal to be said about influence beyond the direct communication of the gospel. Because such an influence prepares men and women for reception of the gospel. Institutions that are able to validate, in the minds of unbelievers, concepts of the divine, concepts of authority and truth, are in fact participating in the work of the gospel. I do believe Al Mohler reflects a broad consideration in his leadership.

But of course tomorrow might be the day Al Mohler takes a position with which I have very strong objections, but this is today, not tomorrow (unless of course you are reading this tomorrow and in that case it would be another today and the next day is tomorrow...well I better stop before tomorrow arrives and I haven't posted this Smile )

James K's picture

Don Johnson wrote:
Mohler once said on his radio program something to this effect: the reason he rejects fundamentalism is because you have no influence if you are a fundamentalist.

He obviously knows nothing of the chicago way amongst Fundies. Guys go from being made men to having their own family if they are loyal enough.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Don Johnson's picture

Jay C. wrote:
does that make him any less of a Christian?

Jay, what is your point? Mohler himself makes it clear that he is not a fundamentalist and he doesn't want to be a fundamentalist. He thinks the term means something and he thinks the term doesn't mean him. Why can't you take him at his word?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Quote:
Jay, what is your point? Mohler himself makes it clear that he is not a fundamentalist and he doesn't want to be a fundamentalist. He thinks the term means something and he thinks the term doesn't mean him. Why can't you take him at his word?

I'll take him at his word, I'm just not sure why whether he "is" or "is not"-Fundyness is even worth discussion here. If he's right (in terms of doctrine and practice), great. If he's not, then who cares? I'm not following Mohler off a cliff because he's a good speaker (although I think he is).

In any case, I'll drop the subject now, since I was more or less wondering that out loud anyway and I think all I'm doing is creating confusion.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Don,

It sounds like you listened to the address. What I heard Mohler push away from was the "bombastic" practices of fundamentalism. Now, perhaps we have different perceptions of what exactly bombastic fundamentalism is. However, since he mentioned Norris by name, I think he gives some inkling of his meaning. If the J. Frank Norris' of the world are what he is distancing himself from, I wholeheartedly agree. On the other hand, I heard him praising and espousing other noteworthy fundamentalist principles without claiming the label - i.e. doctrinal purity for instance. I do not think this address resolves every question I might have, as I noted earlier, but I do not think we can simply write off people anymore simply because they will not wear a specific label. Most of the fundamentalists I know, myself included, will not even accept the label without being allowed to define what they mean by it. Doesn't that fall at least somewhere very close to what we heard in Mohler's address?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JobK's picture

And yes, evangelicals do overestimate their political and social influence. Further, what little influence they do have is not due to the gospel. (Because fundamentalists, er, still preach the gospel.) It is due to their willingness to engage side issues. The problem is that when they take a Biblical position on side issues (assuming one even exists) the only ones who agree with them are evangelicals and other like-minded people who would have already. So, the only way to have influence on side issues is by abandoning a Biblical position and start promoting "creation care", "theistic evolution", and "many paths to heaven." Even there, they are merely following worldly trends that would exist otherwise without their participation, not establishing them.

Hipster Christians delude themselves into thinking that they are actually hip, when the truth is that they are the only ones who regard themselves as such. Actually hip people (i.e. the ones who sneer at Katy Perry and Lady Gaga for being too commercial) wouldn't be caught dead around them. Similarly, evangelicals delude themselves into thinking that they actually influence anyone but other evangelicals. At best, evangelicals come in #4 in terms of social and political influence to Roman Catholics, Jews and (liberal) mainline Protestants. But hey, at least they're ahead of the Mormons (if that ... can you see an evangelical become a major media star like Glenn Beck or becoming a major Hollywood figure like Don Bluth or the Osmonds?), Muslims, Hindus, Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses!

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Our Lord did not tell us to let our light shine before men if we can gauge its relative influence, rather simply to let it shine.

This same principle is reflected in 1 Peter 1:1. Just as a wife can win her unbelieving husband or "influence" him, so too can believers, through their light or their behavior, have that same influence.

I believe the influence Al Mohler is talking about is not through gimmicks, but of seasoned speech, mature considerations, earnestness, blamelessness and so on.

Don Johnson's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
What I heard Mohler push away from was the "bombastic" practices of fundamentalism. Now, perhaps we have different perceptions of what exactly bombastic fundamentalism is. However, since he mentioned Norris by name, I think he gives some inkling of his meaning. If the J. Frank Norris' of the world are what he is distancing himself from, I wholeheartedly agree. On the other hand, I heard him praising and espousing other noteworthy fundamentalist principles without claiming the label - i.e. doctrinal purity for instance. I do not think this address resolves every question I might have, as I noted earlier, but I do not think we can simply write off people anymore simply because they will not wear a specific label. Most of the fundamentalists I know, myself included, will not even accept the label without being allowed to define what they mean by it. Doesn't that fall at least somewhere very close to what we heard in Mohler's address?

I think I am listening to Mohler with the context of what he and others have said. What I hear him say is the basic line we have heard from new evangelicals since the time of J. I. Packer's Fundamentalism and the Word of God. In that book, Packer's thesis essentially is that Fundamentalists were useful idiots when we needed to fight the modernists, but now that fight is over and we need a new, more enlightened approach. (I paraphrase, slightly and sarcastically.)

Mohler's 'influence' comment, as I remember it, was along the lines of lamenting the lack of influence on society and politics that he thought fundamentalism had. It was one reason why he would reject fundamentalism. It seemed to me that influence was more important to him than fidelity to the Word. That could be only my interpretation and he likely wouldn't put it that crassly. I also wonder how effective evangelicals have been at influencing society, but that is another discussion.

I recently listened to Michael Haykin (Southern prof) in an excellent lecture about Gnosticism. He mentioned in the course of the lecture TT Shields and commended him as excellent in a fight, someone you wanted on your side when fighting modernism, but you wouldn't want him to be around once that fight was over because he couldn't get along with Christians either.

This is the same line that I hear all the time from evangelicals and is what I am hearing in Mohler's lecture. Maybe he has changed his opinion somewhat, but please notice that you don't hear him saying, "The Fundamentalists were right, Billy Graham and the New Evanelicals were wrong, and we need to see if we can't get closer to the 'sane' fundamentalists of today."

In other words, while it is good to hear him speak about the need to champion doctrinal purity, don't get your hopes up that his approach will ultimately be acceptable to any kind of fundamentalist concept.

And also, please note that Fundamentalism isn't simply about doctrinal purity. The New Evangelicals were all about doctrinal purity also. Fat lot of good it did them.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

James K's picture

Don, are you seriously arguing that fundamentalism actually was about doctrinal purity?

Fundamentalism is about separation. If doctrinal purity was an issue, then the KJVO and conditional salvation (non Lordship) people would have never been allowed to have a seat at the table. "Fat lot of good it did them."

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Jay's picture

James K wrote:
Don, are you seriously arguing that fundamentalism actually was about doctrinal purity?

Fundamentalism is about separation. If doctrinal purity was an issue, then the KJVO and conditional salvation (non Lordship) people would have never been allowed to have a seat at the table. "Fat lot of good it did them."


James, early Fundamentalism was about doctrinal purity; it started as a movement to separate from liberal theologies (in the early 1900's) for the sake of doctrinal purity. Later on, separation became the tail that wagged the dog; now I think we're seeing a correction (back to doctrinal purity that drives separation). That's why I think you and I are so horrified about the inroads that have been made by KJVO and non-Lordshipism within the camp.

Two thoughts on Fundamentalism, though:
1. The emphasis on doctrinal purity (when it started) was good, but it was never clear on what doctrines were actually worth separating over, and we're still seeing this today. Some critical doctrines (justification by faith alone, I think) were never addressed in the Fundamentals set. Phil Johnson noted this in his lecture "Dead Right", back in 2005. We still can't really articulate what doctrines are fundamental even today...witness the http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-creation-yec-24x6x7-and-other-theories ]YEC 24x7 creation thread from a couple weeks ago .

2. The two (separation and doctrinal purity) go hand in hand. I think what we're also seeing is that there is (was?) a culture of separation that began to drive the movement (rather than the doctrine driving it). I also think that the issues/rift between "YF's" and "OF's" is more or less between "how does this work in real life?" and "is what we were doing right?". It will be interesting to see how things play out. My belief is that the YF's will outlast the "OF's", but what will happen then...will they overreact and head into the mainstream evangelical movement and jettison separation altogether, or will they retain their "Fundamentalist" ethos and try to make this work in the right way?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jay's picture

I linked to the wrong thread, although that one works as well. I was thinking of the http://sharperiron.org/forum/poll-should-si-add-young-earth-creationism-... ]Creation in the SI Doctrinal Statement thread.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

James K's picture

The doctrinal purity was extremely limited. In fact, if a movement existed to just represent the original 5 points (either the Presbyterian set or the premill set), then it would be too inclusive. Fundies would have to separate.

When the Machenites essentially abandoned fundamentalism because they lost, it opened the door for all the johnny-come-lately groups who wanted in. Since the movement needed numbers to continue to exist, it had to compromise. This is a serious question: why did fundamentalism need to exist at that point (late 1930s)? They lost to the modernists. The presbos abandoned them. What were they still fighting? Why, themselves of course. And so we have degrees of separation and the rest of that nonsense, doctrinal abberations, and mafia style leadership as a legacy.

So when Mohler says he does not want to be a fundamentalist, there is just as much baggage and compromise with that term as with any other term. Why does anyone have to label themselves? Let Don and others forget, Mohler was part of a fundy-modernist fight and actually won.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Jay's picture

Quote:
The doctrinal purity was extremely limited. In fact, if a movement existed to just represent the original 5 points (either the Presbyterian set or the premill set), then it would be too inclusive. Fundies would have to separate.

Actually, I'd argue that the five points weren't specific enough. Here they are, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Fundamentalism ]courtesy of Wikipedia :

Quote:
  1. The inerrancy of the Bible
  2. The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ's miracles, and the Creation account in Genesis.
  3. The Virgin Birth of Christ
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ
  5. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross

Notice that there's nothing on justification...which is what I was talking about in post #25.

What do you mean when you say that they are "extremely limited" and that they are 'too inclusive'? Is there something that you think should be dropped from the base five?

As an aside, you can find a copy of "The Fundamentals" set at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fundamentals or http://www.xmission.com/~fidelis/

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

James K's picture

Jay, the 5 points are so basic. If they were the standard today, then a great many people from all kinds of spectrums could agree to it. The initial quest for "doctrinal purity" was too simplistic. So when the fundies lost, they had to be about something more than those 5 points. Fundies have NEVER had a pure doctrine. There was compromise from the beginning.

I personally like how Bauder is angling to smoke the conditional salvation out. It is the start of doctrinal purity.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

Also Jay, you might be interested to know that there were actually 2 sets of fundamentalist points. There was essentially the presbyterian set and the premillennial set.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Jay's picture

I'm not a Presby, so I wouldn't know their 5 points =D. I've only heard of the five I posted (although I've heard of five to ten point lists of fundamental doctrines), so feel free to enlighten me as to the Presbyterian ones.

I agree with you that the 5 points, by themselves, weren't good enough; I also think that the beginners of the movement didn't really have time to plan out all of this stuff very thoroughly - which is fine, considering what was going on at the time. So I think we need to work at fixing that now.

What are you talking about with 'compromise at the beginning'? I'm confused. You seem to think that the movement was badly flawed from the beginning (and I'd agree to an extent), but there haven't been any specifics noted. What is your 'vision' for what needs to be done or could have been done better?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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