Search

The October 2010 Christianity Today cover story (not yet online) looks at Al Mohler. As far as I can see, it’s the lengthiest profile they have done (at least in recent memory) and certainly the most condescending.

I recommend reading it on two levels:

(1) for basic information, especially if you are unfamiliar with Mohler’s background and how Southern Seminary was turned into an institution that takes Scripture seriously and adheres to their historic Abstract of Principles (the description is my analysis of the results, not the article’s);

(2) as a test-case for how much an author subtly—and often times explicitly—inserts his or her own views into a piece by means of framing and  side-comments.

After your’re done reading it, you can ask and answer questions  like:

  • What does the author think about Mohler as a person and Southern as an institution?
  • What does the author think about Mohler as a theologian and as an intellectual?
  • What does she think about SBC moderates?
  • What does she think motivated the conservative resurgence?
  • What does she think about Reformed theology, inerrancy, and complementarianism?
  • What  are the purposes of Mohler’s library?
  • What is the general impression the author wants the reader to have after completing this piece?

It’s a fascinating exercise, in part to show how much an author’s own presuppositions influence the direction of the narrative.


View Comments

Comments:


49 thoughts on “Christianity Today Cover Story on Albert Mohler”

  1. Bill G says:

    I believe the exact same thing can be analyzed about the CT article comparing T4G and Wheaton’s Theology Conference this past year: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=87508

    1. Bill G I read your link and I agree. The writing comes across as very one-sided and opinionated, without being bold enough to nail colours to the mast.

      We do well to ask the same questions about other “approved” articles linked to on Justin’s blog. It helps steer us away from entrenchment and fear of those who might disagree if we ourselves are prepared to test everything, even that which comes from approved sources.

      Reading the comments section is also enlightening, especially when the blog is of a sufficient popularity to attract (as it were) detractors.

      I think it’s important for those of us who are keenly aware of schism and differences of opinion within the church, that not all Christians are as aware of it, and when it is discovered it can seriously damage a believer’s faith. Let criticism be appropriate, open, firm, but humble and full of love, and thus we can witness as much in our disagreements as we can in our unity.

    2. Tyler Thayer says:

      I’m not so sure I agree that the T4G vs. WTC article was so one-sided. Other than the colloquialism, “T4G folks,” and “club patting on the back…” which seems to put him at odds with T4G for an instant, he’s very interested in weaving the two sides together. He has concerns about both sides, comments on both sides, then proposes a hypothetical situation where they were united in a song.

      Though I may tend to disagree with his analysis of the ‘schismatic’ situation and his solution, I think he was fair in assessment of both sides.

      I think the problem that arises in his argument, where you may say that he lacks a boldness, is that he’s calling for a union that is characterized by soft compromise. A union where we sing a song, but don’t address the issue of our theology and proper doctrine. In my opinion, the real solution would be to challenge groups to find unity in scripture, unity in Christ, unity in mind, heart and soul not just a mere song. This is the resulting symptom of spending a season in post-modern meditation: we care less about truly knowing God, care less about scripture and theology, and are more worried about a unity that puts aside these differences as if they don’t exist. I’m sorry, but that’s not reality.

      Nonetheless, unity is important, and McCracken (in my opinion) was fair and brought up good comments about both sides.(Granted, I believe we can all see which way he tends to lean.) I think he’s opened door to a good starting point for discussion about this topic. One that could be carried on in November, as he suggested.

      1. Tyler Thayer says:

        On another note…I can’t wait to read this article about Dr. Mohler. He’s influenced a lot of the way I think in the past many years, and I highly respect him.

  2. Great advice in how to THINK while reading the mentioned article. Thanks for the heads up – hope you let us know when it’s online.

    1. Tim says:

      Monica:

      There’s an immense difference between a blogger like Justin sharing his viewpoint on a topic and a journalist — who’s supposed to be objective and unbiased — doing the same thing. I’m sorry that you’re not able to recognize the difference.

      1. joseph says:

        Wait a second… no one says Christianity Today is a news paper! Of course there is bias… that is kind of a point! It is an oeumenical paper featuring ”evangelicals” of many sorts writing their opinions. Opinion places clearly have a place in a monthly christian journal. They criticized the emergent church in CT, so why can’t another author criticize one of our guys… and I say that as a guy with an homemade poster of Al Mohler and Mark Dever on my wall! Wow… that just makes me sound creepy eh

  3. monica says:

    Wow Justin,

    way to call the kettle black.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Monica,

      Thanks for the comments. I try to be fair, even in my criticism of others, and I also try to be direct rather than subtle when I find something troubling. In seeking to be direct, I also want to avoid being condescending and snide.

      I don’t claim to be perfect in this regard, and appreciate constructive criticism that helps me grow in this area.

      I’m sorry you’ve found my own work to be of this caliber.

      Justin

      1. henrybish says:

        I think the bad thing about subtly inserting an opinion into a piece of writing is that it smacks of devious manipulation – craftily controlling which view a reader will come to.

        It might be asked why the author would not just be explicit about it if she wanted to influence which view the reader came to, and I think it is because of wanting to piggy-back on the credibility of objective historical reporting, and this credibility would be compromised if it was too obviously mixed with the authors own slant.

        A direct confrontation approach is not as open to this charge of devious manipulation, but it has the downside of generally being more inflammatory and often seeming inappropriate.

        ‘the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way’ Eccl 8:5-6

        1. henrybish says:

          Another relevant verse is, 2Cor 4:2

          But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

    2. Gunner says:

      Monica,

      I don’t want to assume too much from your comment since it’s brief, but it’s important to remember that Justin is commenting on an article that none of us have read yet. The “kettle” is still forthcoming (in October), so it would be fair to withhold judgment both on the article and on Justin’s comments until we can actually read the article itself. As for you thinking that he’s calling the kettle black, that conclusion alone signifies that you can tell where he stands from the summary above, which is part of his point in his response to you (“I also try to be direct rather than subtle when I find something troubling.”). I hope you’ll read the article when it comes out and give the issue a fresh consideration.

      Gunner

  4. Andrew says:

    Monica,

    Were you trying to make a point there? I don’t think Justin has ever denied that his perspective on things affects the way he writes about those things.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    I let my subscription to Christianity Today lapse a long time ago.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “As far as I can see, it’s the lengthiest profile they have done (at least in recent memory) and certainly the most condescending.”

    Why in the world would the writer be condescending towards Dr. Albert Mohler?

    That makes no sense.

  7. bob says:

    Capitulation Today

  8. Jeremy says:

    The differences between the theology of the two conferences that Brett points out is seen in a book that Justin Taylor knows quite well (“Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times”). I think there is a chapter on Roger Olsen’s depiction of evangelicalism’s boundaries and the position of most of the authors in the book.

  9. Dan says:

    Ironically, see the comments of Albert Molher on his interaction with Former Christianity Today editor Carl Henry (on Trevin Wax’s Blog) to see maybe how things have changed.

  10. Danny says:

    Unfortunately, the article will only damage those who are unfamiliar with Dr. Mohler. Those that respect the man are intelligent enough to read through the fodder. How’s that for condescesion? True nuff.

  11. Whoa, Monica. I’m thinking that your comment was: (a) unintentionally worded in a way that lent itself to being misunderstood; or (b) an intentional attempt to be brazenly ironic and condescending. Either way, the fruit hasn’t been very good.

    1. Jake says:

      Spiritual Klutz – Monica’s comment was certainly snarky. And not really a constructive way to make her point. But I find it interesting that you criticize her fruit for being condescending, but don’t have any similar words for bob’s extremely condescending name for Christianity Today. It drastically weakens your point when you criticize those whom you (I suspect) disagree with, but don’t point out the same thing in those whom you (again, I suspect) are in agreement with.

  12. J Lo says:

    A few things.

    First, Justin, thank you for being honest about your own biases. Yes, you are coloring how people will read this article, but Monica doesn’t give you enough credit for your transparency. While I likewise disagree with your take on Mohler and Southern, I do respect you for being up front about your own perspective.

    Perhaps you’re correct that what Southern is now is more faithful to the Abstract than the institution was in the 60s. (I’ve not read it, but from dabbling in Baptist history I can imagine that it would be.) However, I do take issue with the implication that one has to read Scripture the way Mohler does to take it seriously. Do you really believe that only those who read through the lens of inerrancy have a respect for, love of, and dedication to Scripture? Or even minimally that only they are serious about the Bible? As a Baptist seminarian of a more moderate persuasion, I can tell you that I have a high (even sacramental) view of the Bible, which is exactly why I can’t read it the way Mohler says I should. However, I do incorporate it into my prayer life, lament that we don’t read it aloud more in corporate worship, and continue to study the original languages, historical contexts, and ethical implications of Scripture that I might perceive its truths more fully. Furthermore, several of my professors hold degrees from Southern in Old Testament and/or New Testament from before the “Resurgence.” Due to positions they’ve taken on various issues they are no longer welcome on that campus, but I can assure you and any others that they are likewise seriously dedicated to and passionate about Scripture. Why else would they devote their entire careers to teaching it?

    My own biased opinion is that equating a particular theory of inspiration or method of exegesis with one’s level of commitment to Scripture is unfair at best and downright dishonest at worst. (I do, however, apologize in advance if I have misunderstood you on this.)

    I also take issue with the notion from some commenters that only those who are either a)unfamiliar with Al Mohler or b)unintelligent will find themselves without respect for the man. Even if I agreed with all of what he says (and I do agree with some), I find the way he communicates to be either ignorantly (though I can’t imagine such a smart man being so ignorant) or intentionally inflammatory. This method of communication runs completely counter to the virtue of peacemaking, which I humbly believe is of vital importance to Christians. That, and not politics, is the main reason I do not have much respect for the man.

    1. Andy says:

      J Lo, surely you recognize that Christ himself was “inflammatory” when the situation called for it. He was killed for disturbing the peace, angering both the religious authorities and the secular authorities.

      We must always season our words with grace, but that doesn’t mean we should become ashamed of the gospel.

      I urge you to consider the differences between what the world considers peace, and what God considers peace. (Luke 12:51, John 14:27)

    2. Danny says:

      I didn’t hear anyone say that you had to read scripture the way Mohler does to be taken seriously. Mohler has a wide array of friends from many different denominations with whom he will gladly share the pulpit. Having also had a vast experience with the so called “moderate” wing of the SBC I’ll build my own straw man.
      The so called moderates can’t get their minds off of the mean spirited “fundies” long enough to teach the Bible they say they believe. Most of the moderate pastors have built a pulpit polemic by weekly denouncing the newest happings in the SBC.
      Not that it would matter to a “moderate” but good doctrine and fundamentalism are not the same thing.
      Every time I talk to a “moderate” I realize that I have never met a self proclaimed liberal.

  13. Interesting take. I do think presuppositions impact a lot of how we read and write–maybe even to the point of helping explain why you and I read it so differently! Peace, jrdk

  14. Ed says:

    Howzit? I have been listening to Dr. Mohler for about three years now. I like his style and way of manipulating your mind to think about the topics at hand. He doese not offend me and so far I disagree with a very minor detail which is not even worth mentioning and… it’s a non-essential. So, there.

    I read what “J Lo” had to say. So, J Lo, how does Dr. Mohler read the scriptures? I think that Dr. mohler reads the bible as any beliver should, guided by the Holy Spirit. He makes sense to many (due to past call-ins at his former program that I heard).You stated:

    Even if I agreed with all of what he says (and I do agree with some), I find the way he communicates to be either ignorantly (though I can’t imagine such a smart man being so ignorant) or intentionally inflammatory. This method of communication runs completely counter to the virtue of peacemaking, which I humbly believe is of vital importance to Christians. That, and not politics, is the main reason I do not have much respect for the man.

    I am totaly confused by your last statements. The only thing is that I can see that you tend to perhaps define the peace a Christian brings with that of your own version. Andy gave some good scripture in reference to that. Is peace with the whole world the matter at hand for Christianity? Should we sign “We’re sorry” pacts with the people who are opposed to us? Can you please define your understanding of this peace that Dr. Mohler is not adhering to because he stirs things up in “inflamatory” ways?

    O.k., I’m done. Peace.

    1. J Lo says:

      Since my comment has stirred up a few more, I’ll follow up.

      First, Andy, I wholeheartedly agree that Jesus was inflammatory at times. One of my favorite sections of the Gospel is Jesus’ scene in the Temple market. No issue there. I would add to your first passage the further context that Jesus assured us that we would not even find peace in our own homes as his followers. Yet, Jesus also said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” There’s a difference between being faithful to one’s own beliefs and unashamed of the gospel when confronted with adversity (which I also think is important) and going out of our way to create adversity for others because of our convictions. Surely we must confront the world with the truth of life in Christ, but at what point does presentation turn into coercion? I argue that we have crossed that line when that presentation includes litmus tests for “true believers” based on the non-essentials of the faith. This is probably where we will continue to disagree – on what those essentials and non-essentials are – but it is my personal opinion that Mohler and Co. major in them.

      Furthermore, I would caution anyone from making an argument that amounts to, “Jesus did it, so I can too. (Or Al can too).” I’m not arguing that the gospel doesn’t include judgment. Grace and judgment are a package deal, but shouldn’t we try to leave that judgment to God? There’s a vast gulf that separates us from God.

      Danny, I was referencing this line in Justin’s blog during my little rant earlier: “if you are unfamiliar with Mohler’s background and how Southern Seminary was turned into an institution that takes Scripture seriously and adheres to their historic Abstract of Principles (the description is my analysis of the results, not the article’s)”
      I may be wrong, but I read Justin as saying that Mohler’s reform/purge was responsible for this turn of events. I wasn’t attempting to vindicate myself or even attack Justin, but simply questioning Justin’s assertion. I think plenty of those who were purged from Southern take Scripture seriously. They simply read it differently. That was my point, and I apologize if it got lost.

      Also, it may surprise you, but I agree with your description of “moderate” pastors. There is much more SBC-bashing than I am comfortable with. However, I would point out that there are movements within the CBF that have recognized this tendency and have moved past it. I’m not sure if they’re a minority, majority, or something else, but they do exist. Also, I would point out that there are many “fundies” that can’t take their attention off of evolutionists, yogis, and secular humanists long enough to teach the Bible they say they believe.

      As to your last point about “moderates” really being closet “liberals”: now you’ve met a true moderate. :) Congratulations!

      If we’re really being honest, though, the problem is that in addition to there being some “moderates” who are actually “liberals” (yes it’s true), there are some people “who just have good doctrine” who are in actuality fundamentalists. The fundamentalists will see even the moderates as liberals, and the liberals will see even the conservatives as fundamentalists. It really is an issue on both sides. But you’re absolutely correct that fundamentalism and having good doctrine are not the same thing.

      Finally, Ed. It is my understanding that Mohler is a self-proclaimed inerrantist. If I’m wrong on that I’ll take it back, but I thought he wore that label proudly. I won’t argue against the notion that the Holy Spirit inspires his reading, but the same inspiration also comes to those who are not inerrantists. Mohler does make sense to many (I’ve listened to the program too), but others make sense to a different many. That alone doesn’t make either right.

      And as to your last question, if we’ve wronged those who are opposed to us, then we should absolutely seek their forgiveness. And we should forgive their opposition. “They know not what they do.” In fact, we should turn our cheek and let them oppose us on that one too. Our objective is not peace with the world, because only God can bring that kind of peace and will bring it when the time is right. But here now we anticipate that future peace through our present forgiveness and refusal to counter blow for blow (or eye for eye). That is the peace we bring. It is not a peace of capitulation, but a peace that holds fast to convictions and gladly and meekly suffers any negative consequence that may result from them – even death on a cross.

      1. Gunner says:

        J Lo,

        You may have already seen this, but if not, you’ll be interested in Mohler’s 2005 article on “Theological Triage” in which he sets out some of his thought processes for establishing first-, second-, and third-order doctrines.

        http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity/

        Gunner

        1. J Lo says:

          Gunner,

          Thanks for the link. I think I had read that a while back ago (I listened to Mohler’s radio show that entire summer). The triage analogy is a good one.

          Anyone worried about me being a liberal should know that I pass Mohler’s “liberal” test in the article.

  15. Matt says:

    Just read it in print. Who’s Molly Worthen and what’s her deal? She sounds bitter…

  16. Stephen Fox says:

    Mohler is getting the attention of STeven Miller in review of God’s Own Party; Miller who did a remarkable book on Graham Nixon and Race.
    Charles Marsh, with his history with AllianceDefense Fund and Bush Judicial nominee not to mention SBC Peace Committee Member Charles Pickering; Marsh of UVA in his Wayward Christian Soldiers shines light on Mohler’s mentor Francis Schaeffer.
    Gus Niebuhr in Beyond Tolerance praises the Baptist witness in the civic life of Louisville before Mohler’s ascendancy.
    And Duke Curtis Freeman is probing the cultural forces that platformed Mohler as distinct from the progreesive Baptist witness that dialogued with Martin King and abetted America’s Civil Rights Transition.
    In a couple years, these strands will intersect and Mohler weighed in that balance, will be found eggregiously wanting.

  17. Aaron says:

    The author, Molly Worthen, is a doctoral student in religious history at Yale. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Worthen

    She’s been working on this piece for quite a while. Several months back, Worthen contacted me with questions about Mohler. We exchanged e-mails discussing Baptist history, divisions within the SBC and theological differences between Mohler and other SBC leaders, specifically Paige Patterson. I alerted Worthen to Barry Hankins’ helpful chapter on Mohler in Uneasy in Babylon.

    I haven’t read the article yet. But I definitely did not sense that she was bitter about anything.

  18. Bob Myers says:

    Just read the article, and the author’s point of view was constantly obscuring the subject she was covering. It was so obvious to me, that it kind of read like a covertly hostile article, the kind of hostile coverage an evangelical might expect from “Mother Jones” or the “Atlantic Monthly”. The author at times let Mohler speak, allowing that Mohler does not accept the label of “culture warrior” but on the other hand, her writing was all about building her case that he is exactly that.

    It would have been fascinating if the author had asked him tough questions from his detractors and allowed us to see Mohler himself speak.

    I wouldn’t have gone to print with this kind of article if I edited CT.

  19. John says:

    the thing that struck me as most curious is the question regarding the purpose(s) behind mohler’s library. i’m not sure how much detail you can go into since the piece isn’t published as of yet, but can we get that topic on the table?

    the reason it strikes me the way it does is because i was catching myself just about two weeks ago in regards to my book collection. as i was wrestling through what things should guide my purchases i remembered seeing the T4G tour of mohler’s library and began wondering where lines can/should be drawn with such things. it seems like those who we criticize for lavish living when it comes to cars, houses, entertainment, et. al. could fire back at our ‘lavish’ intake of things like books.

    let me clarify: I’M NOT SAYING THEY ARE THE SAME THING. but i do want to make certain that others have a hard time arguing that they are which, in some cases such as dr. mohler’s massive collection, might be harder to do than in others.

    any thoughts?

    grace * peace-

  20. I agree with Justin’s assessment wholeheartedly

  21. Jeff says:

    The article is now online.

  22. Jeff says:

    For me personally, the article captured why I have regarded Mohler as a disappointment for several years now:

    “Mohler is not so much an intellectual or theologian as he is an articulate controversialist, a popularizer… His books… offer little in the way of original analysis….”

    When Mohler first came along in the 1990s, I thought that he would be the seventh Southern Baptist “writing theologian” (theologians who write systematic theologies – the six previous ones were Dagg, Boyce, Mullins, Conner, Moody, and Garrett). I thought Mohler would follow in the footstoops of his hero James Boyce (founder of Southern) and write a massive systematic theology. Instead, Mohler fritters away his time and talent writing legalistic blogposts on topics like “Should Christians Practice Yoga?”, and his books are usually nothing more than compilations of these legalistic blogposts. All of Mohler’s books will be out-of-date and out-of-print in 30 years.

  23. This line almost gave me acid reflux:

    “In this regard, Mohler is just as elitist as the moderates of old Southern: he is certain he has the truth, and those Baptists who protest simply are not initiated intothe systematic splendor of Reformed thought.”

    I mean, heaven forbid he be certain that he has the truth! Barf.

    As for the condescension charge, I’ll just have to agree to disagree w/ JT on this one. I mean, what could possibly be condescending about commending Mohler for being ” impeccably groomed…not the backslapping car-salesman preacher thatnorthern evangelicals might imagine.” Double barf.

  24. Nick says:

    The writer, Molly Worthen, is the same writer who did the hit piece on Mark Driscoll and Calvinism in the New York Times last year.

    1. henrybish says:

      How come she is writing for CT then? Is she an evangelical?

  25. It had been very helpful. thank you for sharing. I will share it with my friends. Thanks

  26. Chaka says:

    I just read the article in print. A couple of the author’s asides did stick out as condescending–the bit about the library’s “self-conscious air” comes to mind. But I thought the article overall was great. It was even-handed and respectful of Mohler’s work and positions.

    A fun question for discussion: Is this profile more or less condescending than CT’s profile of Beth Moore in August?

Comments are closed.

Search this blog


About


Justin Taylor photo

Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books