Should Al Mohler and Others Step Down?

I ran across this article at the SBC Issues blog yesterday. I’m a Calvinist, I study at Southern and I like Al Mohler, however, I received my MDiv at Southwestern and many of my spiritual mentors have not been Calvinists. I believe both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together within the SBC without having to divide.

However, it is articles like this one that make such an endeavor less and less probable. In this open (yet anonymous) letter to Al Mohler, Frank Page, Danny Akin, Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, David Dockery and the Committee on Calvinism, the author attempts to get to the heart of the theological controversy in the SBC regarding Calvinism. Unfortunately, instead of being an honest assessment of the issues and practical and charitable suggestions for moving forward, it simply lays the blame on a few Calvinist leaders in the SBC for “infiltrating” the entities of the SBC in a “ploy” to move the convention to a reformed theological position. I’d like to look at the article in its entirety, so we can see how not to move the discussion forward. It begins,

On August 15, 2012, Baptist Press released an article that contained the following statement:

Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page has announced the members of an advisory team who will help him craft a strategic plan to bring together various groups within the convention who hold different opinions on the issue of Calvinism.

The 16-member group will conduct its first meeting Aug. 29-30 in Nashville, Tenn.

“My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism,” Page told Baptist Press. The list was announced Tuesday (Aug. 15).”

So far so good. This committee was set up for the express purpose of charitable dialogue within the SBC concerning how Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together for the cause of the gospel. This is a worthwhile goal and a discussion that needs to be had. The article continues,

A lot has been written on the state of Calvinism in the SBC. However, while there are many issues theologically with respect to Calvinism, the growing concern now rests not with the theology itself but with the growing infiltration of Calvinist believing individuals in the entities of the SBC. While the theological differences are still an issue, of major concern is now the theological persuasion of the entities because make no mistake about it, where the entities go, the convention will follow.

Here is where the confusion sets in. Ironically, the author attempts to make the case that the issue is not theological. It most certainly is theological. The reason the article was written is because this person does not like the idea of influential Calvinist leaders in the SBC. Notice the language he uses. It is an “infiltration of Calvinists” into the entities of the SBC. The worry is that as more Calvinists “infiltrate” the SBC, the convention will move more Calvinistic in its theological persuasion. He continues,

I believe this argument itself is proof that that the theological pulse of the entities is crucial to the future of the convention. When Dr. Mohler was made president of SBTS, everyone knew that he was a 5 point Calvinist. Dr. Mohler’s theological position was not a major point of concern at that time because the point of contention was theological and not positional and the convention could and still can deal with that.

I’m not sure what the argument is here to be honest. Mohler was made president of Southern while a recognized 5-point Calvinist, yet his theology was not an issue at that time because “the point of contention was theological and not positional.” I think he is saying that because Mohler was not as influential as he is today, his Calvinism would not likely spread, so it was okay…? So, you can be a Calvinist in the SBC, just don’t have too much influence. We press on…

Things have, however, changed significantly in the past 10 years or so and all of this work that has taken place quietly behind the scenes to place key individuals in strategic places in the convention entities has been extremely successful. This transformation began in a couple of the seminaries, primarily and has been extended to NAMB, Lifeway and even to key convention committee appointees. State colleges and newspapers have followed follow this disturbing trend as well. Trustee appointments are being filled with individuals who have connections to and affinities with Dr. Mohler and his brand of theology. This I believe this is the real elephant in the room that no one has been willing to talk about, at least to this point.

So the issue is definitely influence. Now that certain SBC entities have Calvinistic leadership, there is a problem. Unfortunately, the tone of the article suggests less than ethical behavior on the part of Mohler and a few other leading Calvinists, which is a weighty charge. The idea seems to be that they have snuck around with the hope of infiltrating the entities and thus leading the SBC to officially embrace Calvinism. No specifics, no documentation, mere accusation at this point. The author continues,

Here is the real issue I believe must be addressed and resolved if there is to be any hope for any resolution to the cooperation issue that the SBC currently is facing. Dr. Mohler and others serve in very influential positions and are being paid by SBC entities. While it is accurate to say that they have done outstanding jobs in their respective positions of responsibility, they have also been busy working quietly to direct other areas of the SBC toward a reformed theological position that is decidedly different from their current positions. This has been done quietly and without any outside collaboration and without any word of warning on these individual’s part and this is in and of itself fundamentally wrong. These individuals cannot be allowed to continue this ploy if anyone expects the SBC to move forward in a cooperative manner.

Again, I would like to know the specifics of what he is charging here. Indeed, Al Mohler has done an outstanding job at Southern, and continues to do so. If what he and others have been “quietly” doing is “fundamentally wrong,” it should be brought to light and discussed specifically. Broad generalizations are rarely helpful.

As people are made aware of this situation, it is my prayer that the people in the SBC will rise up and rectify this situation if the leadership of the convention is not willing to do so.

My hope is that people will recognize that this is not the best way to move the conversation forward. Indeed, it is a hinderance to unity we are striving for.

Understand, the divisiveness is not in those who are now standing up to object to what has taken place but the divisiveness in the SBC rests squarely on the shoulders of those who have taken it upon themselves to Reform the SBC from the inside out with no regard to the current theological disposition of the entities, the SBC and those who support the Cooperative Program with their giving.

The author makes this type of statement more than once, and it appears to me that he recognizes the divisiveness of his statements. Others will recognize it as well, and thus the need to repeat over and again that he’s not the divisive one, but rather those whom he is attacking. Although, the only thing we know at this point is that they are influential leaders in the SBC who have a theological stance he disagrees with.

I was asked the following question by a member of this advisory committee, “What kind of compromise would you consider a step in the right direction?” Sadly, I am of the opinion there is only one answer to that question. The divisiveness in the SBC is not theological; the division has been caused by a very small group of individuals who have privately and quietly taken it upon themselves to infiltrate the entities with the expressed purpose of guiding the SBC toward a Reformed position. The simple solution is that some of these key individuals need to go. Southern and Southeastern need a different direction. Lifeway needs new leadership. Dr. Mohler needs to be the first to step down. States need to take a good look at their own colleges and newspapers and the individuals who are responsible for them.

So here is his goal. The influential Calvinist leaders that this author disagrees with need to step down. Southern needs to quit being Calvinist, and Lifeway needs to lose its Calvinist leadership as well. States need to filter their colleges and newspapers away from reformed theology. It’s hard to believe what is being suggested here.

Remember, the division with regards to Calvinism has escalated not simply because there are more Calvinists, but because the influence of Calvinism in the entities of the SBC that is now propagating itself, producing more Calvinists. The entities are now leading the SBC down a Calvinist pathway with no regard to the vast majority in the SBC who do not favor this move.

So the issue is not that there are more Calvinists, but that the entities in the SBC are producing more Calvinists. Hmmm. Here’s my theory, as people read articles like this, and then look carefully at the Scriptures to test its claims, they are seeing the truth of reformed theology. Christians are able to think, and are not blindly following leadership. Let’s give the people of the SBC more credit.

Calvinism or Reformed Theology dominating the SBC is the clear cut goal of men like Tom Ascol of the Founder’s Ministry and Al Mohler and it is crystal clear that they are well on their way to achieving their goal without any consensus on the part of non-calvinists in the SBC.

I think the goal of these men, being a student at Southern, is for students and people to read the Scriptures carefully and closely. To allow the word of God to speak and to bow the knee to what it says. This is what is producing Calvinists, not some secret ploy of shady men.

While many are aware of the Calvinist issues theologically, very few seem to be aware of the level of indoctrination that has taken place in the entities of the SBC nor are they aware of the danger this indoctrination poses. The SBC is being reformed from the inside out with very little attention being focused on those changes. Those responsible for these self-produced changes need to go.

Is this really indoctrination? So because Southern teaches from a reformed theological perspective, that is now indoctrination? What about Southwestern? Are they indoctrinating their students when they make arguments against it? What about articles like this? Are they a form of indoctrination? If you mean men at entities like Southern teach in a way that is consistent with what they hold to be faithful to biblical revelation, then yes. But having attended both Southwestern and Southern, both are balanced and charitable toward other positions, and indoctrination should not be used to describe either.

Make no mistake about it, the change that has been brought on the SBC by the efforts of a few Calvinists is what is causing the divisiveness in the convention today.

Again, they’re the problem. Articles like this calling for the resignation of influential SBC leaders simply because they hold to historic Baptist confessions have nothing to do with it.

Once these individuals have stepped aside, the divisiveness could begin to subside and hope for cooperation could begin once again between Calvinists and non-calvinists in the SBC. One thing is clear; if these individuals are allowed to maintain the status quo, the divisiveness will only get worse as non-calvinists are made aware of what has actually taken place and what will no doubt continue to transpire until the goal of a Reformed SBC is indeed a reality.

Translation: once Calvinist leaders in the SBC are removed, then the convention can go unchallenged with an anti-reformed bias. This is truly an astonishing suggestion. The SBC will be less divisive when we remove all the Calvinists from leadership.

One final thought. If Reformed Theology were the answer to the problems that exist in the SBC, then The Presbyterian Church with its Reformed Theology foundation would be leading the world but it is not. If Reformed Theology were the answer Dr. Mohler and company insist it is, then Europe would be a bastion of Christianity in the world for Reformed Theology was birthed there. Churches in Europe are largely monuments to what was a vibrant Christian presence but sadly they are empty today. I was told it was not Calvinism that killed the churches in Europe but rather a disobedient people that refused to listen to the teaching and preaching of right doctrine. This is indeed an interesting comment since Calvinism itself maintains that no one can listen and respond favorably unless God FIRST gives them the ability to do so. A consistent Calvinist would simply have to conclude that the reason Christianity in Europe is dying is because that is God’s sovereign choice.

Would the Presbyterian Church really be leading the world if reformed theology were true? Is that how God has worked in the past? Right theology equals majority? I wonder what Athanasius would say…

There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of the author here. From a 5-point Calvinist perspective, people are responsible for their actions, for their sins. Europe is the the state it is in because people turned their backs on solid doctrine, they turned their backs on God. Much the same way America is doing now. I wonder if the author would be consistent and blame the godless state of our nation on its Christian roots? Why isn’t America a bastion of Christianity right now, if it had Christian beginnings? Obviously, the issue is not how it has begun, but the decisions of its people to turn their backs on God. The fact that God is sovereignly guiding human history for his eternal purposes and glory in now way limits the responsibility of the free decisions of men with evil intentions. God has decreed all things in such as way so as to not do violence to the will of man. If you disagree, prove it from Scripture.

The SBC does not need this kind of theology. If Reformed Theology is correct and God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work, then a non-calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s sovereign work of salvation. Since most SBC Calvinists were saved as non-calvinists, that should be obvious even to the most unintellectual Calvinist.

“God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work…” Exactly! Good summary statement of John 6. All that they father gives to Christ will come to him, and the one who comes to him he will never cast out, but will raise him up on the last day. No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. So, yes. It is God, not man, who saves, and of all the elect that the Father gives to the Son, the Son loses no one. A non-Calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s work. A non-existent SBC could not hamper God’s work. The Devil himself will not cause God to lose one of his elect. This is the truth of God’s sovereignty as so clearly taught in his word. If it is not God alone who saves, then why do you pray for someone’s salvation. If it is not in God’s hands, then what can he do? Perhaps these are the questions this author should ask himself. The bottom line is that we do not know God’s secret decrees, and we do not know the elect, so we preach the gospel to all people at all times everyone, knowing that through the preaching of the word God almighty is drawing a people to himself.

It is time for this hijacking of the entities of the SBC to stop. It is time to address the ramifications of the reckless regard for the irresponsible actions of a few to Reform the SBC by taking over the entities of the SBC and leading them to a Reformed center with the final intention of leading the SBC to a Reformed position.

We’ll let the readers decide who is reckless and irresponsible at this point.

Al Mohler and other have made their beds. The question now is, who will suffer the consequences of their actions? One thing is clear; someone will.

It appears the consequences of the actions of Al Mohler and others is people who love doctrine and God’s word. It is people who desire to know God to the fullness of his revelation, despite our shortcomings in comprehending the secret things of God. That has been my experience at Southern, and my hope is that God will raise up more men like Al Mohler and Tom Ascol who are not ashamed of their God and his self-revelation, and who proclaim the message of the gospel daily and train others to do the same.

Let’s have this discussion. But let’s do it biblically. Let’s not make unwarranted and general accusations, but come together charitably yet holding fast to our convictions. Let men like Al Mohler be an example to us in that regard.

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11 comments on “Should Al Mohler and Others Step Down?

  1. Dave Miller says:

    Bob Hadley is one of the most virulent anti-Calvinists in the SBC. Fortunately, I am quite convinced that his kind are a minority. Most on both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist side are ready to work together for the gospel. I think people like Bob (who think they are in the majority) are a minority among Baptists – not because of their doctrine, but because of their angry and aggressive tactics.

    • Thanks for the comment. I hope you’re right. I believe the issues to be important and worth discussing, but not something that should divide the convention. The gospel is bigger than that.

    • sbcissues says:

      Dave,

      There is a difference in aggressive and angry. I am aggressive but not angry and I do believe you really do understand the difference.

      While you and I have disagreed on numerous occasions, For the what it is worth category, I have NEVER made any unkind or unfair accusation against your character or intentions.

      ><>”

  2. sbcissues says:

    Matt,

    Thank you for engaging my article as you have done. As we approach the article from differing perspectives, you did at least present your position with respect to the one I presented in a fair manner. I would simply like to make a couple of comment with respect to your criticism of my piece.

    Without a doubt I do disagree with the tenets of calvinism. I cannot accept a theology that posits Jesus did not die for the non-elect and therefore they were condemned to hell at Calvary. This is one of the fundamental foundations of calvinism and I do not believe the SBC as a whole would accept that kind of theological postulate if they understood that this is the case and one being profited by the entities of the SBC. We differ on our positions and I can respect that. I am simply saying I do not want that being the theological position of the entities of the SBC. I have the right to make my case and that is all I am doing. It has nothing to do with the position of churches; it has everything to do with the entities and the people employed by those entities with CP funds.

    My argument in this open letter is not theological; it is positional where the entities are concerned. Obviously the theological implications are the backdrop but it is really not the issue that I believe is the real culprit when it comes to the current debate regarding the growing divide in the SBC. The divide is growing because the entities are propagating a theology that is not being received with open arms in a decidedly non-calvinist denomination. My point of contention is that the change in the entities has been brought on by the efforts of Dr. Mohler and others… and that change is a reality whether anyone else in the SBC likes it or not. THAT IS MY COMPLAINT.

    Here is where you and I will simply have to agree to disagree…. your response…

    As people are made aware of this situation, it is my prayer that the people in the SBC will rise up and rectify this situation if the leadership of the convention is not willing to do so.

    My hope is that people will recognize that this is not the best way to move the conversation forward. Indeed, it is a hinderance to unity we are striving for.

    I believe this is the best way to move the conversation forward. As long as talking heads continue to speak for the good of the people, nothing is ever going to be resolved. If we continue to just talk and complain and point fingers etc etc… the current path that is being forged will continue to be forged and like it or not… the SBC will be brought back to its founding roots of calvinism and the world will be a glorious place to be. I do not want to simply sit back and watch that happen.

    And for the record, If I were a calvinist I would not want this discussion to be taken to the people in the pew either and I think we both know why… but that is just my opinion.

    Now to the issue of this revival of calvinism in the SBC… I maintain it is in part due to the growing influence that the entities of the convention holds and as the entities have slowly been moved to a more reformed theological perspective, so has the theological perspectives of those who are being influenced by the entities. If I am wrong, then why the effort to reform the entities in the first place? The entities do have a measure of influence on the direction of the SBC and we are now seeing the results of the level of influence in the entities. There is no reason to criticize that position… anyone with any understanding of the purpose of the entities understands that… not to mention the HUGE budgets a couple of the entities have.

    I appreciate you allowing me to make these comments. My intentions are no where near those being offered but I cannot control the response of others. My heart is in the right place and it is God that I am seeking to please. I will answer to Him as we all will.

    ><>”

    • Thanks for the response. I think the role of the convention is similar to the role of the government (or what it should be anyway!). Simply to allow for the freedom of religious expression within the limits of orthodoxy. We have Calvinist and non-Calvinist churches (and people of different persuasions within those church), we have dispensational and non-dispensational, Charismatic and non-Charismatic (the balanced kind), and a host of other differing opinions. As long as these churches adhere to the orthodoxy laid out in the BF&M, they can be part of the Convention. Both Calvinism and non-Calvinism are within that pale. And that goes for the leadership as well. What you call “indoctrination,” “infiltration,” and a “secret ploy” which is “fundamentally wrong,” others would rightly call leading and making decisions in a manner consistent with one’s theological convictions. In calling for the resignation of Molher, you are in essence engaging in exactly what you are accusing him of: using influence to dictate the doctrinal tendencies of the SBC. What you call indoctrination at Southern, I call solid Biblical education. No one forces anyone to believe a certain way here, and disagreement not only takes place, but students are encouraged to get into the text themselves and come to their convictions.

      I just don’t think your accusations land on solid ground. They are vague at best. The best way to move the conversation forward, in my opinion, is to recognize the diverse historical theological landscape of the SBC, and recognize both positions as viable when it comes to what is considered orthodoxy. I don’t believe Mohler is attempting to drive the SBC to a reformed positions to get back to the “glory days.” He has shown himself to be a careful and godly leader, willing to engage in charitable dialogue with others. He gave a speech at an ETS banquet recently, and in reminiscing about where God has brought Southern over the years, Calvinism did not come up. Rather, he was grateful that Southern played a roll in bringing Southern Baptist entities back to orthodoxy and faithfulness to the truth of Scriptures. This has been his goal, and what he has faithfully worked toward.

      So again, I simply don’t think articles which call for the resignation of men like Mohler and Ascol benefit anyone. Charitable dialogue of the kind being attempted by the committee on Calvinism is what is needed. I am thankful for men like Patterson and Mohler, who despite differences, are both committed to the cause of Christ and the advance of the gospel. Let us start there and then move forward in a fair and compassionate manner.

      • sbcissues says:

        Matt,

        I agree 100% with what you said about the relationship of churches in the SBC.

        I will even agree with the statement, “What you call “indoctrination,” “infiltration,” and a “secret ploy” which is “fundamentally wrong,” others would rightly call leading and making decisions in a manner consistent with one’s theological convictions.” Here is the major difference and the foundation for my position. I understand that Dr. Mohler is acting in a manner consistent with his theological convictions and for the record, I have a mountain of respect for him, personally and have a numerous occasions complimented him on being a master at what is BOTH his right and even responsibility to do. My problem is with the end result where the entities of the convention are concerned and the direction that they are now headed in because our theological dispositions are from opposing directions.

        With reference to your statement, “you are in essence engaging in exactly what you are accusing him of: using influence to dictate the doctrinal tendencies of the SBC.” This is the right and responsibility of every SB but there is a profound difference in our methods. As you indicated earlier, Dr. Mohler has developed and united a group of like minded individuals who have a common goal, which is to lead the SBC in this Reformed direction. What these individuals have done has been done on their own behind the scenes so to speak with very little attention being given to the outcome. There is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT in and of itself but now that the effects are beginning to be seen, this is where a number of problems are now coming to light. I am simply trying to focus people’s attention on what I believe is the problem so some kind of direction can be determined.

        I don’t believe Mohler is attempting to drive the SBC to a reformed position. You and I will simply have to agree to disagree with this statement. I have not called for Ascol’s resignation; he is head of the Founders and he is not an SBC denominationally paid individual. The reason his name is mentioned in the letter is he was recently added to Page’s committee.

        Here is something for you to ponder. Most agree that the Conservative Resurgence was a necessary move for the SBC. What was the essence of the CR? Why was the CR necessary?

        Thanks for the dialogue.

        ><>”

  3. “My problem is with the end result where the entities of the convention are concerned and the direction that they are now headed in because our theological dispositions are from opposing directions.”

    So the issue is theological. I would simply say that if a theological position held by influential leaders is within the limits of orthodoxy, and they are not doing anything unethical and are leading well according to their responsibilities, then the call for them to resign seems irresponsible.

    Here you say your issue is the end result, while later you say it is the methodology. I’m honestly having some difficulty with what your fundamental reason is for calling Mohler to resign. My understanding at this point is that because he is Calvinist and influential, and is thus having an impact on the theological leanings of folks in the SBC, therefore, he needs to step down so the SBC can continue to be anti-reformed (at least in its leadership). Is that right? Do non-Calvinist leaders who are influential in the SBC and having a similar impact need to resign as well?

    As far as the CR. The issue in my limited understanding was orthodoxy. When Mohler came into Southern, it was in theological disarray. He simply pointed them back to the abstract of principles. On the broader scope, the fundamental issue was the authority of Scripture. The only connection I see is that if God used Mohler in a powerful way to bring Southern back to a theologically coherent position, then it seems a stretch to ask for his resignation now when he doesn’t seem to be doing anything outside the limits of what he is able to responsibly do as a leader the SBC.

  4. sbcissues says:

    The CR was initiated because the Liberals who preferred to be referred to as moderates, had taken over some of the seminaries. They were the educated elite who had all the right answers and they believed the Bible and presented the Scriptures as they saw them. The dangers of their influence began to be an issue in the mid 60’s when Dr. Mohler was 8. Judge Pressler and Dr. Patterson began to meet with pastors and laypeople to devise a plan to gain control of the entities. IN 1979 Adrian Rogers was elected president of the SBC and the CR was in full swing. Dr. Mohler was 20. By the time Dr. Mohler’s impact began to be felt, the CR was well on its way and would have taken place with or without his assistance. His activity at SBTS as president was met with general enthusiasm because most interpreted his promise to return SBTS to its roots was seen as a move to move liberalism out: not calvinism in.

    To the dismay of some, the conservative resurgence and the calvinist revival are not one and the same. Men like Mohler and Akin and Dockery and others did bring some theological balance to the void that stood in contrast to the academic liberals of the 60’s and 70’s. What is ironic is that many of the arguments employed by the intellectual elite who occupied the seminaries during the CR are being echoed by the intellectual elite today who are now occupying the entities. Funny how history seems to have a way of repeating itself isn’t it!

    At issue with the CR was who is going to control the entities. The Conservatives won and the Moderates lost. Remember something else. The Liberals have always existed and still to some degree are around today. They are not however, in control of the entities of the SBC.

    ><>”

    • I honestly don’t know enough about the CR to comment much. Two things though: the CR may have been well under way, and who knows what would have happened at Southern without Mohler. But one thing I do know is that at the time Mohler came to Southern, it was as liberal as they come and it was his leadership that brought it back. Second, I doubt your comparison to the liberals of that day and Calvinist leaders today can stand up to scrutiny. Both sides have their “intellectual elite” and it is unfair to make sweeping statements which pin Mohler and others to intellectual elite liberals who had no regard for God’s word or sound doctrine.

  5. sbcissues says:

    The issue is what is and is not sound doctrine in the eyes of the people in the SBC.

    I do appreciate your interaction.

    May God bless you and your family and ministry.

    ><>”

    • And I’d say its a mixed bag. But if u consider Calvinism outside orthodox Christian belief, then you should probably be calling for something else entirely.

      I agree. Appreciate your interaction as well. Look forward to future discussions! Peace.

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