2005-09-21

How Al Mohler could force the SBC to change

With all the talk in Christian blogs directed towards Al Mohler's stance on Alcohol prohibition, I began to wonder what would happen if Al changed his mind.

For those who have come in late, I suggest you read Steve McCoy's posting about what has occurred, along with my first and second responses to this. Of even greater benefit is Imonk's article on this whole fracas.

A brief history of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1980-2005
This episode has revealed to me some of the deep problems with the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is America's largest Protestant denomination with nearly 16 million members - most of whom live in "The South", hence the name. I would guestimate that every single US township of 1,000 people or over has at least one functioning SBC church - such is their reach and influence.

By the late 1970s, the SBC became quite liberal in its theology. This was due to the influence of other mainline denominations over the decades, and many professors of theology who lectured students in Baptist Seminaries harbored grave doubts over basic Christian doctrines (including the inspiration and infallibility of scripture, the divinity of Christ and his Resurrection).

Aware of these massive problems, Conservative and Evangelical Baptists fought very hard to control the denomination. They worked to remove liberal theologians and lecturers and replaced them with those who held to orthodox Christian doctrines. This process also occurred in other parts of the SBC, including overseas missions. It was a difficult fight, but for the first time in history liberal theology within a mainline denomination was slowed, then stopped, then reversed.

Enter Al Mohler
Al Mohler was still young when this fight began, and as time went by he was the fresh, new face of Baptist evangelicals. While the stuffy old liberal professors had been put out to pasture, Mohler and a new breed of evangelical teachers and leaders were ensuring that the gains made by conservatives would become more permanent.

But more was to come. Mohler also became a heavyweight amongst evangelicals everywhere - not just within the Baptist union. He was one of the signatories of The Cambridge Declaration, a document that called American evangelicals back to orthodox Christianity. By being a Calvinist, Mohler also raised the profile of Reformed Christianity, both within the Baptist church and amongst evangelicals generally.

Mohler is now the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, the oldest and most influential seminary in the SBC. More recently, Mohler has been involved with the Justice Sunday movement and is a board member for Focus on the Family. In these last two arenas, Mohler has been playing the part of the Christian "Culture Warrior".

Mohler has come a very long way for someone who is still only 45 years old. Greater things may be in store for him: President of the SBC? Replacement for James Dobson? Maybe even a member of congress?

Politically, Mohler has come a long way - especially considering that Calvinists aren't usually welcome in the SBC.

Why Support Prohibition Al?
So all this begs the question... why is Al Mohler, a Reformed Christian who takes the Bible seriously, taking an unbiblical stance on alcohol? There are two possible reasons:

The first is that Mohler is genuinely convinced that Christians should not consume alcohol. Although he admits that there is no direct bible verse to support his position, he probably uses a range of "related" verses - the same that most prohibitionists use to attempt to bolster their case. If this is Mohler's reason then he has proved himself to be rather limited in his ability to understand and apply scripture. For all the verses that could have some possible distant relation to prohibition, there are a number of verses that directly contradict prohibition. I won't discuss these here as others have done a better job at surveying the Bible's teaching in this area, but I will point out that in order to support prohibition, Christians must contradict the clear teaching of scripture.

The second possible reason is that Mohler is aware that the political forces that support him do not favour alcohol consumption. Apart from the multitudes in SBC churches, he has Focus on the Family to worry about. This means that although Mohler may personally believe that drinking alcohol is fine, he chooses not to reveal it. More than that, he explicitly comes out and teaches the opposite. Why? He aims to please those who support him politically. If this is the case then Mohler is lying when he teaches prohibition - a serious charge.

So the only two options are that Mohler is either ignorant or a liar. Not terribly good for Mohler - hence my call for people to remove his name from their blogroll.

A change of mind?
But let's assume that God speaks to Mohler - either through revelation (he realises that the Bible does not support prohibition) or through conviction (he repents of his lies). What then for Al Mohler?

Mohler has only one choice - he publically recants his prohibitionist stance.

So what will happen to him once that occurs? You can probably be assured that many within the SBC will kick up a stink about how this wine-soaked Calvinist has managed to wiggle his way into the organisation's power structure. People will call upon him to resign as President of SBTS and ensure that he finds no other major position within the SBC. Focus on the Family will probably dump him too. Politically, Al Mohler's career prospects will crash. He may even find it impossible to simply pastor an SBC church.

Considering Mohler's position within the SBC, his removal for opposing prohibition would make national news. Most Americans - not just Baptists - would become aware of what occurred.

But what will happen then? Let's assume that Mohler, as a theologian, releases his own booklet on why prohibition in the SBC should end. He could even make this available for free on the internet for people to download.

Outside the SBC, rules on prohibition are not so strict. Many evangelical denominations do not enforce prohibition on their churches, pastors or members - and many of these people respect Mohler as an evangelical leader and would support him on the issue of alcohol. This means that the SBC would come under increasing pressure from evangelicals outside its walls. Moreover, these evangelicals would rightly call the SBC hypocritical for not following the Bible. As we know, the SBC has returned to a more biblical foundation - and yet its stance on alcohol is anything but biblical. Many pastors, members and leaders will come into contact with these evangelicals, who would rightly claim that Mohler had been forced out simply because he took a stand on the Bible. This would have a huge effect on the SBC, as many of the leaders would begin to openly discuss the situation with other leaders - and maybe even delve into the verses themselves and discover, like Mohler, that the Bible does not support prohibition.

There would also be an effect upon ordinary members of the SBC. It is common knowledge that many church members consume alcohol, and a lot of these people would keep it secret from their church and their pastor. Most of these people are probably living with the guilt of committing a sinful act that is actually not sinful. With Mohler's resignation/sacking for standing against prohibition, many of these church members will be interested in what has occurred. Some may even download Mohler's booklet on alcohol, and then search the Scriptures themselves to discover that the guilt they have has no basis in Scripture. These people would then have more courage to confront the pastor and discuss with him (and other members) what the Bible says.

There are also many nominal Baptists who attend church only semi-regularly. If Mohler is sacked, then the chances are that they would find out as well. Imagine their surprise as they, too, delve into the Bible to discover the truth. Their experience in reading the Bible may even lead to other questions and maybe even a true commitment to Christ.

So if Al Mohler does what is Biblical, and if he suffers for his courage, then we need to realise that his actions may be a watershed in the SBC. Despite failing politically, he would succeed spiritually (after all, the only person he should aim to please is God), and the SBC may be rocked to its very core.

And what will be the long-term result? Alcoholism? Anarchy? I doubt it. It is more likely that the SBC will turn even more seriously towards the scriptures and to the truth that God has revealed to us. Moreover, the crisis would have pitted conservative cultural values against scripture, thus opening the door to more serious analysis of what it means to be a biblical Christian, and further examinations of what is cultural as opposed to what is biblical.

And what of Mohler after his public dismissal? There's plenty of seminaries around the world that would benefit from a man who could teach the Bible. After all, what greater calling could Al Mohler have if not to preach the Gospel and teach sound doctrine?

From the Theosalient Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/



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3 comments:

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Excellent article, but as always I find it hard to post unless I have at least some gripe.

I believe you are leaving out a third option in your interpretations of Al's actions: he could believe that the SBC's position on alcohol is not justifiable scripturally, but that attacking it would pose such a threat to unity that it is better to take an appeasing position. Of course, such an argument assumes that the issue of churches that condemn alcohol consumption is a small one.

I feel there is a very clear argument to be made for the significance of the problems caused by SBC prohibition. I believe that it is great enough by far that Al ought to follow the path you described. But I wouldn't feel this way if, for example, the SBC made an official dogma about the fact that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (instead of the "big fish" described in the Bible.)

DOGpreacher said...

...of course...then , next he (Mohler) comes out against heavy metal secular Rock music ( or rap, country, blues, pop,etc.), and you would say he isn't a very good exegete, because we all know that there is no scripture to be found that says, "Thou shall not feed thy mind & spirit on Rock music". Let me get my tongue out of my cheek...ok...now, that issue (prohibition) isn't near as simple as to which side you fall on, as the issue of Rock music.

Let someone tell me how Philippians 4:8-9 is compatible with their Rock music. Then there's the fact that we are told to 'put on the mind of Christ', and to be "renewed in the spirit of our mind", much less Psalm 1, and 1 John 1:5-10. But...I know...NOWHERE does it say,"Thou shall not listen to Rock music".

bunchofcrap55555 said...

I read your article. One long, drawn-out moan is emananating from my bosom. The words, "Oh brother" can be heard on my lips.