Al Mohler: Unfortunately Accurate

by Jared Moore on November 13, 2012 · 30 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Back in 1997, Al Mohler wrote an article titled “The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology Without Theism.”  You can find the full article here.  I’ve written a summary of the article below, followed by my response.

Mohler, Jr., R. Albert. “The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology Without Theism.” The Southern Baptist Theological Journal, 1:1 (1997), 6–15.

The historic claims of Christianity have grown increasingly unpopular up to the 20th Century.  From Nietzsche and the “death of God” at the end of the 19th Century to the radical and revisionist theology of mainline Protestantism in the 20th Century, theologians are poised to practice theology without God in the 21st Century.  Evangelicals fared better at the beginning of the 20th Century, fighting for biblical historic Christianity, but the last 50 years of the 20th Century found evangelicals debating essential issues of Classical Theism.  Nearing the turn of the 21st Century, the biblical theological core of evangelicalism is being threatened by the various new “theisms” of evangelical revisionists.

Today, the Doctrine of God is in crisis.  In a postmodern culture, some see knowing God as oppressive, while others see knowing God as mere emotive sentiment.  There is no “objective view of God,” only the creation of the image of God that works for each generation.  The official atheism in the public square, whether disguised as banal spirituality or not, is the result of a century of increased secularism.  In mainline Christian circles, the classical view of God is rejected.  Even popular evangelicalism advocates a “user friendly” god that has little resemblance to the God of the Bible.

Furthermore, the classical doctrine of God has been broken down by some evangelical theologians.  Even though evangelicalism grew out of a rejection of liberalism and modernism, evangelical theologians have come to embrace liberalism and reject biblical truth.  Theological pluralism among the doctrine of God has become a normal occurrence within the evangelical movement.  The crisis of evangelical theism is seen in the denial of the God of classical theism as sovereign, transcendent, omnipotent, and omniscient.  The modern worldview rejects any claim of transcendence or the supernatural.  Thus, the only two choices for evangelicals is to embrace the worldview of the surrounding culture and reject classical Christian orthodoxy or to reject the worldview of the surrounding culture and affirm classical Christian orthodoxy.  Unfortunately, many in the church have embraced the culture and rejected the classical doctrine of God.

One prime advocate of this rejection within evangelicalism is Clark Pinnock.  Pinnock rejects the classical doctrine of God and argues that God is a caring parent.  He does have some Scripture on his side, but also argues for God’s openness and vulnerability.  One must understand that Pinnock and others present the classical doctrine of God as if its proponents believe God is impersonal, remote, and static.  This caricature is not an accurate description of Classic Theism.  Moreover, Pinnock thinks Christians should force the biblical doctrine of God to answer to the modern culture.  The result is catastrophic.  Any culture that forms the baseline for the doctrine of God will create a god that bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible.  As evidenced in Pinnock’s theism, human freedom becomes more important than the classical orthodox view of God. 

In conclusion, those who call for revising the classical Christian doctrine of God base their desired revisions on the changing culture’s submission to modernity.  The Christian task, however, is not to ensure that our doctrine of God is culturally compelling, but biblically faithful.  Those who argue for a “loving god” who resembles a deified human parent present a god who looks very little like the God presented in Scripture or who has been worshiped by Christians for nearly 2000 years.  The question is whether evangelicals will affirm and worship the sovereign and purposeful God of the Bible, or shift their worship to the limited God of modernism and practice theology without theism.

I think Mohler’s quick history of modernism was helpful.  His point concerning evangelicalism being birthed out of rebellion against liberalism, only to succumb to forms of old liberalism today (1997) was spot on.  Mohler is correct that the crisis in evangelicalism is whether or not we will preach the Word and encourage our cultures to submit to God, or if we will seek to alter the Word of God in order to submit to our cultures.

Furthermore, Clark Pinnock was a good example of a revisionist within evangelicalism at the end of the 20th Century.  Mohler’s critique was accurate that the classic view of God is often discarded, caricatured, replaced by a straw-man, and then rebutted by these evangelical revisionists.  He is also correct in his description of evangelical revisionists reducing the doctrine of God to “human beliefs about God,” or a “user-friendly” god, instead of evangelical Christians affirming that God has revealed Himself truthfully in Scripture, and requires all men to submit or burn in Hell forevermore.  Today, Pinnock’s mantle has been picked up by other evangelical revisionists such as Greg Boyd, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Stanley Grenz, and John Franke, plus, many others.  The crisis Mohler diagnosed 15 years ago is still the same: Will evangelicals submit to God’s Word or their cultures?

In conclusion, unfortunately, Mohler is correct about his own time and culture (1997), and prophetic about the future.  Popular evangelicalism has gone further away from the classic view of God.  On a positive note, however, there has been a rebellion against the rebellion.  Those who rebel against the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism are being rebelled against by others who affirm the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism.  There has been a renewed emphasis, a revival of sorts, concerning the classic doctrine of God within evangelicalism.  Mohler is a big reason for the growth of this rebellion against the rebellion.  There are still many in evangelicalism who reject the classic doctrine of God, but the rebellion against the rebellion is growing.

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

1 Greg Harvey November 13, 2012 at 8:41 am

Not to be intentionally or overtly offensive, Jared, but that reads like gobbledygook.

2 Ben Coleman November 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

It seemed quite understandable to me.

3 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

I’m an advocate of proposing solutions when pointing out problems. I read a lot of finger pointing in Mohler’s article, but what’s his solution? What’s your solution since you agree with him?

4 Bill Signer November 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

Is it finger pointing to comment on facts?

The solution is in the last paragraph. Mohler (although there have been many others of equal/greater importance) has helped lead a fight against liberalism among evangelicalism.

5 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Okay. Maybe I chose words that are too harsh. I’m asking for specific steps. To say that Mohler has led the fight against liberalism among evangelicalism is a statement of the obvious. I’m saying that it’s one thing to point out the problem, but it’s another to posit actual pragmatic solutions. Sorry, but generalities don’t cut it.

6 parsonsmike November 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

Dale,
I guess this is another place that you and I don’t come together.

Steve’s statement is very good where he says,
“We must remain steadfast and proclaim God’s Word, His law and His gospel into a world that is increasingly antagonistic towards It, and let the chips fall where they may.”

That is our job. To be His witnesses and leave the results up to Him.
Many [not necessarily you, IDK] think that if a church is not growing it is doing something wrong. Thus they look for solutions to make it happen. But God alone makes it happen.

The solution? Pray a lot and just keep preaching the Word, pastor.

7 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm

As far as where you and I stand with one another, Mike, any disagreement would be based in assumption. Where did I say that I disagree with the basic issue pointed out here? I said that I see a lot of finger pointing. My communication style is rather blunt and unsophisticated sometimes.
As far as Steve’s statement, I’d agree with it. Surprised?
As far as churches growing, I pastor a tiny country church. We do well to have 40 people in worship on Sundays. I have chosen to stay with it instead of moving to a larger church (which I’ve had the opportunity to do several times) because I believe this is where God has placed me. We haven’t grown much. There are a myriad of factors involved. But I guarantee you that the classic doctrine of God is not lost on the folks here, nor on me. While I’m more of a Hermanszoonian than you’d like, I think you’d find my preaching to be classic, Baptist, and conservative.
As to praying and preaching the Word, I’ve been doing that for longer than you’ve been alive, by the looks of your picture.

8 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

May I add that I mean no disrespect to you by the looks of your youth. I’m simply saying that your admonition is one to which I’ve been faithful for over 30 years. Such encouragement is needed, and your admonition is true.

9 mike white November 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Thanks Dale (grin)… I’m 54.

10 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Haha! Okay. Maybe not……..I’m 55. Guess my eyes are 55 too! Anyway, I don’t think we’re as far apart as it may seem. We simply approach things from a different perspective.

11 Jess Alford November 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Dale,

Keep praying. and preaching God’s word. Your church sure sounds familiar. Visit and do God’s will. It’s nothing to be ashamed of to have a small church, often times they are the most Spiritual. Don’t worry about, God will add souls when “He” see’s fit. Just remember God doesn’t want our advice.

12 Chris Roberts November 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Mohler’s solution would be to teach and preach and rely on and uphold the Bible.

13 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm

And where is that not being done in the vast majority of SBC churches? I know I do it. I believe you and most others on here do it. Again, generalities and pointing out issues with no specific solutions isn’t enough.

14 Frank L. November 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Dale,

I don’t have knowledge of what is going on everywhere. I’m sure you are preaching the Word as you say and there are other factors that may be hindering your growth, also as you point out.

I do suspect that there are many places in SBC life that preaching has become more “cheerleading” than proclamation. Also, a great deal of counseling and basic, “self-improvement” with some Scripture mixed in seems to be prevalent.

I would not dare surmise to what degree “poor preaching” contributes to our current morass, but I’d think it has to be significant across the board.

Again, I take you at your word and believe you are doing your best to preach the Truth.

15 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 6:45 pm

Thanks, Frank. I’m afraid that what Mohler’s is talking about is all too prevalent in people’s lives so that, while they may wish to be “spiritual” they don’t desire to be “set apart.” We are in a small country community. People go to the larger churches with more programs, etc. ad nauseum. Many have moved out of our little community. So, yes, many factors are involved. We continue to work to reach people, and we rejoice over every victory in people’s lives.

16 Frank L. November 13, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Dale,

I think you hit on an important aspect: “” we rejoice over every victory in people’s lives.”"

Victories are relative.

Interestingly, the most exciting church I’ve pastored over the years was in the smallest community. Even in a town of less than 3000 we were able to see 375 first time decisions for Christ over an eight-year period. It was truly exciting and our little church became the “Big Church” relatively speaking.

I’m now in a small, older church (in transition) in a large city. We are growing, but it is tough. Victories are not as grand nor as frequent. I am working harder and seeing less tangible results than in the small town.

I cannot presume to understand why things are this way. I for one am preaching the exact same message in the exact same way.

I guess we’d all agree, “God has to give the increase.” The flip side of that is: we have to make the sacrifices to plow, water, and weed.

17 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Amen, Frank. Amen.

18 Chris Roberts November 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Dale,

I get dismayed more often than not when I listen to preaching because what I so often hear is other than the Bible rightly divided. As Frank said, many churches have turned into a kind of cheerleading or weekend pep-talk, the time to hear how much God loves you and wants to help you have the life you always dreamed of. Many others present regurgitated platitudes that sound good to ears turned to Christianese but are nonetheless biblically shallow, at best. And too many others have simply abandoned the Bible wholesale, giving it lip service at best.

I’d say there’s a pretty significant problem with even Christian churches – even Baptist churches – relying on the Bible and feeding from the Bible.

19 Dale Pugh November 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I would definitely agree, Chris.

20 Steve Martin November 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

The culture IS the enemy.

The culture does not care one wit about God’s Word or the church.

We must remain steadfast and proclaim God’s Word, His law and His gospel into a world that is increasingly antagonistic towards It, and let the chips fall where they may.

“When the Son of man returns to earth with His holy angels, will He find faith?”

There will be plenty of religion and even a lot of ‘Christianism’. But faith in what the Living God has done for sinners is another matter entirely.

21 Christiane November 13, 2012 at 11:54 am

what did Our Lord find when He first came among us?
He found a brutal world filled with those who were ‘lost and harassed and without a shepherd’ . . . and He had compassion for the lost

we await His return, but in the time we wait, can we remember how it was with Him then? Can we remember His compassion and His love, and how He embraced a wounded and dying world? Can we remember?

O Emmanuel
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny Hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made Hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands”
(Malcolm Guite)

22 Jess Alford November 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Instead of culture changing evangelicalism, evangelicalism should be changing the culture. God, is still God regardless of culture, traditions, movements, times, or ism’s.

The answer is in Christ, the individual must find that answer in Christ, and not in culture. I’m afraid we have re-defined God.

God-user friendly

23 Frank L. November 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I don’t purport tio know what Mohler believes is “the” answer but I am convinced it has less to do with theology than many think.

We (SBC) fought a long battle for orthodoxy and supposedly won. Yet baptism continue to decline and churches continue to close.

It appears to me that in regard to “classic” doctrine we are right — “dead right”.

24 John Wylie November 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Frank,

It’s not our doctrine that’s killing us.

25 Frank L. November 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm

John W.,

That’s my point.

26 John Wylie November 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

It appeared that your point was that our doctrine is what’s killing us.

27 Frank L. November 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm

No, as I pointed out we apparently won the “Battle for Orthodoxy.”

Something else must be killing us for it appears certain we are dying, or at the very least in ICU.

That’s why I said we are “dead” right. I often liken it to being on the right train tracks, pointed in the right direction, but not moving. Sooner or later, one is going to get run over by a train.

28 John Wylie November 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm

No doubt a lack of diligence is involved here. Perhaps a little too much focus on cultural relevance. But could it be we are just living in the last days? The Scripture teaches that people will have little appetite for the things of God in the end times.

29 Jess Alford November 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

parsonsmike,

I agree with you, Pray and keep preaching the word, God will take care of the rest.

No doubt culture has crept into the church, and more than a few want their ears scratched. I feel the word has become the problem in a lot of the SBC churches because the typical Christian will not recognize they are the problem. I hate to say this but some of us preachers will not recognize we are the problem.

I would like to say something here that may muddy up a lot of water.
Many of us preachers will say “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” or “we are all sinners”, Look I know we all sin, but we have been declared righteous. I cannot tell you how many Christians I have caught in sin,
their response would be, we are all sinners, or I’m just a sinner saved by Grace. Here is another scripture taken out of context when someone is caught in sin. “Let him without sin, cast the first stone”.

I stand ready to defend the N.T. doctrine. Paul said he was chief of sinners because he persecuted the church. Not that he was living in sin.
We should choose our words wisely.

30 Caleb W November 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm

I do not understand the fear of a ‘secular’ public square. This is a good and practical thing in a democracy. Does Mohler want theocracy? Sometimes I think so. Francis Schaeffer sure did.

The constant references to ‘the culture’ are getting to be obtuse and unhelpful.

I also wonder if constant complaints about evangelicalism losing God or not preaching ‘the Word’ aren’t just a rhetorical device for pastors to rally their congregations? I keep hearing about this phenomenon, but not seeing it. Yes, demographically speaking Americans may be becoming less evangelical (they aren’t less spiritual), but evangelicals need to be wary of crying wolf too many times….References to the ‘last days’ anyone?

The statement that evangelicalism grew out of a rejection of ‘modernism’ and ‘liberalism’ is overstated. It makes me wonder if Mohler knows what modernism is? These guys are always complaining about modernism, the enlightenment, post modernism, etc etc. But they are often employing the tools of these isms, or are heavily indebted to them. Argue like a medieval monk, Mohler does not.

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