Paul Thompson blogs at “The Bridge.”
It was early on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. David and Emily came by the house at 4:30AM to drop their dogs off to stay with Renee because we would be away until Wednesday afternoon. We then met up with Jeff Norton, pastor of NorthRidge Fellowship in Jerome, ID at 4:45am to begin the drive to Brigham Young University in Provo, UT.
This would prove to be an historic day for all of us. The drive to Provo, was pleasant. Any time to be in good discussion with family and friends is a good moment. It may be worth just going for a long drive some time; if for no other reason, just for good conversation.
The reason for this trip was to be present for an historic moment with students of BYU. Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was asked to speak to the student body with an address in the Marriott Center Arena, a Forum Lecture.
The title of the lecture was “Strengthen the Things that Remain: Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Human Flourishing in a Dangerous Age – An Address at Brigham Young University.” (the full manuscript can be downloaded HERE.)
After meeting at First Baptist Church in Provo, UT with about 20 others, we traveled to the Marriott Center Arena. We made our way to ‘center court’ best seats in the house.
The perplexing issues for me were not about Dr. Molher speaking to the student body, I was confident that he would speak boldly and compassionately. The issue I did not expect was what to do with the ‘congregational’ singing. The Forum Lecture began with the singing of “How Great Thou Art”. I have no issue with this song, but for reasons in my mind I wrestled with the thoughts of singing a song that is familiar to both of us, Christian and Mormon. I chose to pray during this time because I was not prepared to solve this issue immediately in my mind. I prayed for Dr. Mohler and that God would open the ears of the listeners of his lecture.
Dr. Mohler expressed kindness to the faculty and students at BYU for the invitation and wasted no time before addressing the question of why he would agree to speak at such an event. This was important to both those present and to speak to the skeptics not in attendance of his motive and intentions.
“The presence of the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary behind the podium at Brigham Young University requires some explanation. I come as an evangelical Christian, committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the trinitarian beliefs of the historic Christian faith. I come as one who does not share your theology and who has long been involved in urgent discussions about the distinctions between the faith of the Latter Day Saints and the faith of the historic Christian church. I come as who I am, and your leaders invited me to come knowing who I am. I have come knowing who you are and what you believe and my presence here does not mean that the distance between our beliefs has been reduced. It does mean, however, that we now know something that we did not know before. We need to talk. We can and must take the risk of responsible, respectful, and honest conversation. We owe this to each other, and we owe this to the faiths we represent. And we had better talk with candor and urgency, for the times demand it.
My presence here is indicative of one of the strangest and most ironic truths of all — that the people who can have the most important and the most honest conversations are those who hold the deepest beliefs and who hold those beliefs with candor and engage one another with the most substantial discussion of the issues that are of most crucial importance to us. And thus the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is thankful to be among you at Brigham Young University. You are a university that stands, as all great universities stand, for the importance of ideas and the honor of seeking after the truth. I come to honor the importance of ideas and the centrality of the search for truth with you.”
The title of the address was articulated with boldness as I have come to expect from Dr. Mohler. He spoke into our culture and our similar moral standards of the rights of all humans, from conception of life to elderly in life. Dr. Mohler anchored his comments to historic events and spoke with boldness from Scripture (the Bible) to think about how we hold all life with dignity and honor toward God for what he has created.
He addressed the moral right and wrong that has quickly collapsed. ”Twenty years ago, not one nation on earth had legal same-sex marriage.” This was spoken with Revelation 3:2 in mind where the Lord Jesus Christ told the church at Sardis to “Strengthen the things that remain.” The advancement of same-sex marriage continues to claim real estate across the land where now we are told that “40 percent of Americans live where same-sex marriage is legal.”
If marriage is simply a human development, we can rightly redevelop it. If it is evidence of the evolution of human relationships and romantic attachments, we can evolve further. If it is a laboratory for experimentation in hopes of greater human fulfillment, we can experiment with abandon. But if it is the gift of a loving Creator who made us in his image and gave us marriage and the family as among the most precious of his good gifts, our experiments will lead to disaster.
My notes on the address concluded with these words as Dr. Mohler transitioned to his conclusion… “Now comes the Gospel”
Read the conclusion with joy…
When I was with you last October, I said something that got picked up by media around the world. I said that I believe that we will not go to heaven together, but we might well go to jail together. That was last October. That was four months and a few days ago. Since then, federal courts in your own state have ruled that your legal prohibitions of both same-sex marriage and polygamy are unconstitutional. Since that time, the President of your church has been summoned to appear in a secular court in London. Since that time, just over one hundred days ago, so much has changed.
Civil and criminal penalties have recently been leveled against bakers, photographers, and florists who could not in good conscience participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. Erotic liberty is in the ascent and religious liberty is in peril.
We may go to jail sooner even than we thought.
This is why our conversation is really important, and why we need to stand together on so many urgent concerns. Most importantly, we are now called to defend religious liberty for each other, so that when they come for you, we are there, and so that when they come for us, you are there. We are learning anew what the affirmation of religious liberty will demand of us in this dangerous age.
But as I come among you, and I as am honored by this opportunity to address you, I come as a friend among friends to speak as who I am and of what I believe. As a Christian, my ultimate confidence does not rest in marriage, or the family, or civil society, or human rights, or any human affirmation of human dignity, not matter how robust.
My confidence is in the Lord, the unchanging God of the Bible, who revealed himself in the Bible and who redeems sinners through the atonement accomplished by his Son, Jesus Christ, who was both fully human and fully divine. My confidence is in the Gospel revealed by Christ and preached by the Apostles — the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. I believe in the saving acts of Christ in his death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the grave. I believe that the Bible is our sufficient written revelation, inerrant and infallible and unchanging. I believe that God’s promise of salvation will be fulfilled and that all he has promised in Christ will be given. I believe in the truth unchanged and unchanging, because I believe in the God who tells us in the Bible that he never changes.
I can close my eyes at night and I can open them to face each day because I know that my Redeemer lives, and that history is in the hands of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I know that I, along with all who come to him by faith, are safe in Christ. I can trust that he, as the Apostle Paul stated so famously, will be faithful to the end.
I am thankful for the honor of being among you today and the great honor of delivering this Forum Lecture. These are dangerous times, but also days of hope. In these times, it is vital that we bear witness with each other of matters that matter so much to our nation, our culture, and civilization itself. But, as we bear witness with each other about these things of such importance, we also bear witness to each other about what is even more important — eternally important.
I will adopt his opening and conclusion as a model for dialog and discussions with my Mormon friends. This lecture was, in my opinion, a God ordained example of careful and bold dialog on our moral similarity and theological differences. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that history is in the hands of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
May all that remains, be strengthened.
Thank you Dr. Mohler for the example you gave and the humility you displayed with your address to the student body at, of all places, BYU. Your encouragement to those who attended the evening gathering at First Baptist Church, Provo, UT and the extended time, late into the evening, with pastors and church planters in the Utah/Idaho SBC was appreciated.
Thank you First Baptist Church, Provo, UT and Russ Robinson for hosting us and providing this extended time together.