Today I got an e-mail informing me that I could now access the latest edition of Christianity Today online in a cool, magazine-layout format. I confess to opening the ezine with some trepidation, inasmuch as the cover story was “Reformer”, and the subject was Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.
I grew up Southern Baptist. As I was coming through elementary school and into high school I heard of how things were going at the annual Southern Baptist Convention–complete with rumors about bussing people in to stack the key votes.
I lived in North Carolina and so got to hear tales of “the revival at Southeastern Seminary”, which was the winning side’s way of talking about “the fundamentalist takeover” that the losers mourned in retrospect.
So I was worried about whether this article, bearing a title that struck me as positive, might be unduly adulatory.
But it wasn’t.
Nor was it unduly condemnatory.
It struck me as striking just the right tone, in fact. It highlights Mohler’s reformed commitments (hence “Reformer”), speaks to how these are crucial in his theology, and allows for other voices to distance themselves from that as a baptist commitment.
The article talks about Mohler’s early seminary years in which he had been willing for a time to embrace an egalitarian position on gender–until he got caught not being able to give a biblical defense of it. It outlines how this and other interpretive decisions are wedded to his commitment to inerrancy.
The article also speaks of Mohler’s commitment to reading and learning and offering a thoughtful, articulate response to the challenges our culture is facing.
I know that you are all going to find this hard to believe, but I do get worked up about some things pretty easily. One of those things is when Christians engage in power-grabbing. This ruffles my feathers to the right and to the left.
Although the article did not major on the dynamics of the Mohler-led house-cleaning at Southern or the precedent conservative takeover of the SBC, both of those rankle me. (And yes, I know that folks on the left do and/or attempt the same things in various ecclessial contexts and that ruffles my feathers just as much–but this article was about Mohler within the SBC!)
And this is where the questions about our commitment to the gospel get deadly serious for me.
When Jesus predicted his death, the next thing his disciples would do, inevitably, would be to shove that aside and start working out other paths to glory. “Which is going to be greatest?” they argued. “Can we sit at your right and left?” they asked. “Never Lord, you can’t die–God rebuke you!” Peter protested.
And, each time, Jesus said to them, “The cross is not just about me, it’s also about my followers.”
More than any theological system might uphold or implicitly deny the gospel, I worry that our pursuit of power by means other than the self-sacrifice–the kind of cruciform life that even allows our enemies to think that they have won–corrodes the faith, indicating that, in fact, the faith which we are living is not the following of Jesus to which we’re called.
While Mohler’s colleagues voice concerns about his Calvinism and its effects on evangelism, and while Mohler worries about their non-Calvinism and the intellectual integrity with which they can consistently articulate the gospel, I worry that the actions of pursuing power by the means of the world blows over the whole house.
This is not to question Mohler’s salvation, or that of the other architects of the SBC transtion over the past 30 years, but to suggest that we in America have certain ways of getting our gospel story wrong. And Jesus-backed power grabbing seems to be one of our collective, besetting sins.