Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2012

Why Albert Mohler Should Retire

…It’s a much more polite post title than the one I originally considered…

Another Evangelical leader has proven this week that when Evangelical leaders reach a certain age they seem to go a little bit off, not unlike bakery products that have a best before date, or as they say in the UK, a sell-by date.  And the manner in which they go a little bit off is to attack their own.

We have already mentioned here the travesty of Jack Van Impe insisting that Rick Warren has bedded down with Muslims to fuse some new brand of faith he calls Chrislam.

This time it’s SBC theological president Albert Mohler, Jr. on his blog accusing Andy Stanley as supporting gay marriage.

Well, first let me qualify that. Albert Mohler’s blog is not a blog in the sense most people use that term. There is no place for comments, for dialogue, for interaction. True, he gives an email address, but…

We begin with Christianity Today:

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they’ll be, he said.

In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they’re really about, Stanley said.

You can watch the sermon in question here, select part five (April 15th).

This is a good place to mention that Andy Stanley is considered one of the finest communicators in the United States.  He chooses his words very carefully, and he is what I consider a very wise man. He obviously wants to continue to living in the tension(s) he described that Sunday.

But while Mohler has Stanley in his sites from the very beginning, he couches his rhetoric with a vague academic church history lesson about megachurches in America. Apparently size matters, and not in a good way. Megachurches breed liberalism in Mohler’s view. Logically then, smaller churches should be fertile ground for orthodoxy. In some bizarre parallel universe, perhaps.

The Christian Post quotes Rick Warren demanding an apology from Mohler on this front:

A prominent evangelical’s recent blog headline – “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” – has irked Pastor Rick Warren, who is calling for an apology for the “sensational” title.

Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, sent a tweet to Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, saying: “A TITLE questioning1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike.U need to apologize to pastors Al.” …

…Taking issue with the title of the blog, Warren commented: “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”

In response, Mohler tweeted back: “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

Where does Mohler derive such arrogance?

But church size is a red herring in this story.  As a somewhat biased fan of Andy Stanley, I had to weigh in at the CT piece:

I had been a consumer of Andy’s video teachings for at least five years prior to becoming a regular follower of NorthPointOnline about three years ago, and was watching live when this illustration happened. I think anyone who has had this type of exposure knows Andy’s heart and and tenor of his ministry.

Just as we’re told that Jesus’ parables should be interpreted only to say ‘one thing,’ so also should this illustration only be evaluated in terms of its primary purpose. You can’t condemn a sermon for what it did not say, or every sermon preached would have to contain a compendium of Christian doctrine and ethics.

Mohler described the resolution of the story Andy Stanley told his congregation. 

…He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

Note Mohler’s use of the word “celebrated.” This is where you see most clearly that you cannot trust what this man is writing. “Celebrated” is a calculated value-laden word which simply doesn’t describe the proper context.  At CT, I continued:

The reference to the TV show “Modern Family” was not giving endorsement to that type of family dynamic; the family in the illustration is simply reflective of the times, and the television reference immediately connected with the audience. That family is also a work in progress, an unfinished story in which the operation of grace and truth will hopefully continue to unfold.

Dan White, Jr. was another CT respondent who felt that Stanley was deliberately walking a fine line on this issue:

…Currently in our political culture of communication the non-negotiable’s are:  1. Define what camp you fall into,  2. Demonize anybody who does not fit squarely into your camp,  3.  Apply debate techniques not active listening and 4. Defend/clarify your position at all costs.  I believe this style of discourse is more secularism than it is biblical. 

I listened to Andy Stanley’s message.  He taught the principle that the tension of Grace and Truth sometimes makes things unclear, ambiguous and complicated.  Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times Jesus seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”   Listening to Stanley’s conservative critics, I’m not sure they see Jesus this way.  I’m not sure they’ve dealt with the way Jesus was perceived by his listeners. 

Jesus spoke in parables and in Matthew 13:34 he makes the point that “Jesus did not say anything without using parables.”   Why would Jesus indulge in short artistic fictional stories to convey such essential messages? Each parable would often end with the refrain “whoever has ears let him hear.” Each parable would often include a hidden message that would be accessible to some and confusing to others.  At one point the disciples share their frustration “Why do you speak in parables?” As if to say “Jesus why are you doing this? Your telling stories but nobody is getting your point, can you find a clearer more obvious approach?”   What the disciples did not understand was Jesus was intentionally enticing people into new territory.

Jesus was not offering easy answers and doctrinal points, he was inviting people into an interactive relationship. He said listen with your ears which meant listen to the deeper meaning.  Don’t listen for the literal meaning, seek deeper for meaning that requires a sincere effort of your imagination and a personal investment.

Is it ever Ok to be ambiguous?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes was.  Is it ever O.K. to come across unclear in order to lay the trust-bricks that relationships require?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes did.  Is it ever O.K. to not give a Yes or No to the “is it a sin” question because the history of the question is so convoluted with agendas?  I believe Jesus sometimes did for the sake of the larger mission and the loaded context of religiosity.  Sure this tension is a harder tightrope to walk.  Some call it the slipper-slope; I call it fighting for balance  This is the very reason why many are not comfortable with the third way of navigating through culture.  It’s much easier to just park firmly in an ideological camp and harp on your doctrinal talking points over and over.  Instead Jesus often models a way of being that is beyond what sin issue is served up to Him.

 Much of the conservative backlash to Andy Stanley’s presentation seems to be intoxicated with anxiety by whatever the hot sin issue is at this time…

There is one redemptive paragraph in Mohler’s conclusions:

Given their size and influence, the megachurches have an outsize responsibility. I am a member and a teaching pastor in a megachurch, and I am thankful for its faithfulness. I know a host of faithful megachurch pastors who are prepared to pay whatever cost may come for the sake of the Gospel…

On that, at least we agree. Where we differ is that I know of one faithful megachurch pastor who fails to make Mohler’s list. And we differ more violently on the need to make such unwarranted pronouncements.  Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

…I spoke with a pastor about this a few months ago who expressed his concerns about people whose ministry seems to be going along well and then they, in his words, “start losing it.” That’s when I wrote this piece about knowing when to quit.

One sure sign is when we start shooting at our own soldiers. If Mohler isn’t ready to enjoy retirement in Palm Springs, he should at the very least quit the blog that isn’t a blog.  The CT article concluded:

Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.

That’s the type of wisdom Albert Mohler, Jr. should have employed from the very beginning.


Update: Missed this one yesterday: For some additional commentary on the tension between grace and truth as it relates to this story, be sure to check out the article by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk, and the 150 (so far) comments.

…What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action. Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong. Mohler writes,

…We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.

No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms….

[HT: Clark.]

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17 Comments »

  1. [...] is the Al Mohler post that everyone is talking about.  Paul Wilkinson (Thinking Out Loud) explains Why Al Mohler Should Retire; Jeff Dunn (Internet Monk) writes on Al Mohler’s Problem with Grace.  Suddenly all my [...]

    Pingback by The Read and Share File « The Master's Table — May 4, 2012 @ 9:28 am

  2. How sad. And to think that this happens in ‘Christian’ churches — all of them. While reading your blog, the following hymn “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” and scriptures came to mind:

    http://www.lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=129&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=129&searchsubseqend=ZZZ

    Proverbs 17:14
    The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.

    Timothy 2: 24
    And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,

    3 Nephi 11: 29
    For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

    The Doctrine and Covenants Section 136: 23
    Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.

    Comment by vikingz2000 — May 4, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

  3. I get the distinct impression that the power tends to make them lose the ability to tell when they are hearing God’s voice and when they are only hearing their own.. That’s too bad…

    Comment by Bird — May 4, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

    • Right on. And not wanting to ‘swing the hammer’ for any ulterior motive, but again quoting some LDS (Mormon) scripture:

      Doctrine and Covenants Section 121
       39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
       40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
       41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
       42 By kindness, and pure bknowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without eguile—
       43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
       44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
       45 Let thy abowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy cconfidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
       46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant acompanion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

      Comment by vikingz2000 — May 4, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

      • Well, the words aren’t wrong, now are they? I completely disagree with mega churches because of this exact thing. Keep them small and well balanced and very transparent…Who knows how many lives will be saved, including the one in power!

        Comment by Bird — May 4, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

      • Hmmm. We don’t get quotations from Doctrine and Covenants here very often. The modern language edition is due any day now, right?

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 4, 2012 @ 11:07 pm

      • LOL! Yeah, not exactly à la King James Version.

        I suppose you can still find some truths in the most unlikely of places. As an inquisitive, philosophically eclectic, dialectically evolving, mystically nuanced, Mormonized, nonaffiliated affirmative Christian I’m beginning to realize this more and more.

        Comment by vikingz2000 — May 4, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  4. Your opinion is definitely valid, but I believe Mohler is deathly accurate in his articles. He is showing the discernment that is needed in these perilous times. If you do not like the truth, or if you think that the truth cuts too much like a sword, then you are the one with the problem, not Mohler.

    Comment by Ryan Modisette — May 5, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    • Mohler took a very short sermon illustration, ripped it from its context, railed against the pastor who shared it, and then condemned all large churches. Probably all before lunchtime. The weight of opinion in the last few days has been decidedly against what he did. The article simply did not contain truth, and therein lies the problem.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 5, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  5. Ok, I can better understand your criticism of Mohler if I can gain a better understanding of the facts. Does Stanley, in fact, condemn active homesexual relationships as sin? If he does, then it is fair to say that Mohler was unfair in his criticism of Stanley and didn’t understand the gist of what Stanley was trying to say. But what no one has said so far (from what I can tell), is whether Stanley believes, or not, that the Bible condemns homosexual relationships. Does Stanley believe that or not? If he does believe that homosexual relationships are sin, then this whole controversey boils down to Mohler misunderstanding what Stanley was saying. If, on the other hand, Stanley was saying that the homosexual relationship between the two men is ok as long as they are divorced, and that they can actively serve as Christians in a Christian church even while in an active homosexual relationship, then Mohler’s criticism of Stanley is at least accurate with regard to the facts, even if you disagree with Mohler’s position. So what is it? What is Stanley’s position on this issue? That’s the bottom line, so someone please clarify.

    Comment by Hog — May 6, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

    • And ultimately only Andy can speak to that question, which he’s not doing. And I think that’s wise. He’s probably seen the casualties of knee-jerk reactions by other Christian leaders and is himself trying to exercise the balance of that tension between grace and truth. He would rather gain the trust of his parishioners over the long haul, and thereby earn the right to be heard on issues that may strike a nerve or two.

      Today’s sermon talked about the importance of the world seeing us as a people who love each other; I wondered if he had some Christian leaders in mind as he spoke. And Jesus did say that a loving attitude would be the mark of true discipleship.

      I think that eventually he will speak more directly to the gay issue as he did several weeks ago when he talked about divorce. He took a very traditional line on the subject which would make conservatives quite happy.

      But rightly or wrongly, he seems to feel now is not the time.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 6, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

      • Let’s say Stanley eventually comes out and says active homosexual relationships are ok, and people who are engaged in such relationships may join the church, serve in the church, do anything in the church that heterosexuals do. What would be your response?

        Comment by Hog — May 8, 2012 @ 12:10 am

      • IF that were to happen in the unqualified sense you describe, then I would at that point not be able to fully endorse/defend his ministry.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 8, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  6. For readers interested in looking at “the gay issue” from a fresh perspective, and yet one that still is in keeping with the meaning of “sin” in the Greek text, feel free to read two earlier articles I’ve written:

    https://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/wrestling-with-the-gay-issue-at-church-when-good-is-not-good-enough/

    and (especially if you are interacting with high school students)

    https://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/compassion-tempered-with-concern/

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 6, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

  7. [...] exactly what many — Albert Mohler, Jr. being the most notable — are doing with Andy Stanley’s sermon illustration. While it’s a badge of honor to jump on the bandwagon that Stanley’s story is approving [...]

    Pingback by Is Not the Whole More Than the Sum of the Parts? « Thinking Out Loud — May 10, 2012 @ 6:29 am


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