Reflections, Part 2- The Charge of Inconsistent Separation: The Matter of Mohler
by Greg Linscott
When critiquing the selection of Phil Johnson as the speaker for this year’s Men’s Fellowship, a common concern that was raised was the inconsistent practice of separation. When asked to elaborate further, many people would point to the frequent inclusion of Albert Mohler as a speaker at Shepherds Conference. Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. One of the concerns most frequently cited with Dr. Mohler is his association with Billy Graham. Mohler chaired the Graham Crusade in Louisville in 2000. The seminary is also home to the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry.
The Mohler issue is complicated. The conservative resurgence within the Convention has been well documented, and there is no doubt that Mohler has been among the most important figures in the movement. There is also no getting around the fact that Billy Graham has been a prominent presence within the SBC (not to mention American Evangelicalism) for decades. As I am understanding it, Mohler has explained that at the time he was asked to chair the crusade, he had expended most of his convention capital by purging the liberals from the seminary, and could ill-afford to alienate Graham supporters by distancing himself from the crusade. My understanding (and this is a fact worth is worth noting) though, that his agreement to associate with the crusade was conditioned upon there being no Roman Catholics or theological liberals involved in the Louisville effort- a condition the BGEA quietly consented to.
Regarding the matter of the school of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry- it is my understanding that Mohler’s reforming was a process of years. One of the things that accelerated the transition process from theological liberalism to theological conservatism was the establishment of the School of Evangelism- a new institution under the Southern Seminary umbrella, that allowed an entire faculty to be built immediately from the ground up, while the School of Theology went through a more deliberate process of time. This new school was funded by a substantial donation by the BGEA.
Now, as someone firmly entrenched in a heritage of separatism, I understand why this course of action is of concern to many. At the same time, making changes, especially substantial changes such as the ones undertaken by Mohler and his conservative SBC colleagues, will not happen overnight. Even within our own historical tradition, there have been those who determined to remain and reform rather than immediately departing, and remained until they were expelled. It is possible to identify with someone’s position, disposition, and convictions without affirming everything in someone’s methods. I believe history will show that like Josiah of old, Mohler was a man who eventually “purged the land,” though even in Josiah’s case, the process is said to have come to a state of completion in Josiah’s 18th year. To disparage PJ/JMac for association with Mohler who was associated with Billy Graham would be like disparaging Bob Jones University, who is associated with Ron Hamilton, who was associated with Jack Schaap… but I digress.
My observation is that under scrutiny, almost anyone will have a charge of inconsistency that will stick somewhere. The matter of association with Mohler is not, in my mind, any more problematic than partnerships and identifications forged within Fundamentalism over the last decade or more.
To be continued…