Innovative Communicator of Evangelical Conviction
Whatever the current communications technology, you’ll find R. Albert Mohler Jr. there, employing it as part of a multi-media cultural engagement in the battle for gospel truth. • From faxes to blogs to radio to podcasts to social media, during his 20-year tenure as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mohler has embraced each technology as a means to distribute as widely and quickly as possible his convictions about theological, denominational and cultural developments about which Christians should be informed.
“What Roman roads were to Paul, the airwaves and virtual pathways have been to Dr. Mohler — tools to assist in the spreading of the gospel,” said Hugh Hewitt, national radio talk show host. In interviews with Southern Seminary Magazine, Hewitt and others lauded Mohler as an innovative, convictional communicator.
Along with Mohler, Hewitt is a member of the Salem Radio Network Editorial Board, which meets weekly to “craft meaningful editorial positions on important issues of the day,” said Salem CEO Edward G. Atsinger III. For eight years, Mohler hosted his own daily program on the Salem Network.
“Mohler is a media maven,” Atsinger said. “He was among the first conservative Christian opinion leaders to stake his claim on the web and through the digital domain. His blog posts and articles are incisive and always timely — a must read for many.”
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said, “Dr. Mohler had a firm grasp of the power of Twitter and Facebook way back in the days when most of us still saw them as mysterious emerging technologies.”
Mohler serves on the board of directors of Focus, an international radio and publishing ministry founded by psychologist James Dobson that assists families. Daly counts Mohler as a “close advisor and friend as we navigated the waters of leadership transition.”
The president’s use of the latest communications technologies is always in service to a “gospel imperative.”
In his book, The Conviction to Lead, Mohler offers wisdom about communication — written, spoken, in the news media and more — that explains his rationale for cultural engagement via multi-media, and especially digital, platforms.
“The world spawned by the personal computer, the Internet, social media and the smart phone now constitutes the greatest arena of public discussion and debate the world has ever known,” he writes. “If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world, and that population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.”
Comparing today’s Digital Revolution to the Gutenberg Revolution, Mohler writes, “Christians — and Christian leaders in particular — should take advantage of blogs, social media, and every available platform for communicating our message.”
The “driving motivation” for such digital engagement is a “gospel imperative — to see the gospel of Jesus Christ, the full wealth of Christian conviction, and the comprehensive reach of the Christian worldview set before a sinful world. In other words, the Christian imperative in the digital domain comes down to this — sharing the light in a world of darkness.”
Shining the light
From the earliest days of his presidency when he wrote “Fidelitas: Commentary on Theology and Culture” essays distributed to hundreds of leaders and news media via telephone facsimile machine, to his musings in today’s world of Twitter, AlbertMohler.com, and “The Briefing” daily podcast, shining the light of gospel truth often puts Mohler at the center of national news media attention.
Mohler came to the presidency of Southern Seminary from the editorship of The Christian Index, the oldest religious publication in America still in print. As Index editor, Mohler became known for his editorials on theological and cultural issues, quickly gaining stature in Southern Baptist life.
In the early years of his presidency, Mohler’s steady stream of essays on current issues began to draw the attention of national news media, resulting in his appearance on the most widely viewed television news programs and most prestigious newspapers and magazines.
After 20 years, Mohler is today the undisputed leading spokesman for Southern Baptists — and recognized by TIME magazine and Christianity Today as a key commentator among evangelicals.
In June, when CNN needed immediate analysis the day the Supreme Court handed down landmark decisions on gay marriage, anchor Wolf Blitzer turned to Mohler — just the most recent of innumerable interactions with national news media.
Indeed, since 1993 there isn’t a significant newspaper, magazine, television news or talk show, radio broadcast or Internet news organization in America — and beyond — that hasn’t sought Mohler’s comments on a wide array of moral, social, cultural and theological issues.
“Whenever we ever really needed someone to speak with clarity and conviction” former SBC president James Merritt said, “time and time again, we’ve turned to Dr. Mohler by consensus.”
Mohler has a “1.000 batting record. He has never let us down,” added Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.
Frank Page, another former SBC president, said Mohler is “the go-to man in many ways.”
Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said, “Al Mohler is the consistent leader who is able to articulate a biblical worldview and understanding that transcends the denomination that helps people to understand.”
Sally Quinn is among the most influential members of the secular news media. She respects Mohler, even while mostly disagreeing with him.
A Washington, D.C., veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of the “On Faith” section of The Washington Post, Quinn has interviewed Mohler many times and his essays have appeared in her newspaper.
Calling “On Faith” a “mosaic” in which Mohler’s “voice is an important part,” Quinn said he is a “person of stature in his religious community and I think people need to be educated as to who he is and what his views are.”
“‘Old Faithful’ of clarity”
And when the spotlight turns to Mohler, he courageously speaks biblical truth.
“Dr. Mohler is the ‘Old Faithful’ of clarity; a man who could not not speak the truth if he wanted to,” said Hewitt, his Salem colleague.
Longtime friend and Washington, D.C., pastor Mark Dever said, “He’s going to share the gospel if he’s on TV, if he’s being interviewed by a big media outlet.”
Mohler’s preparation and knowledge of the issues — together with his “dogged … espousal of the gospel” makes him unique, according to Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
“I mean, there’s nobody else like that who I know of right now in our public life; he’s a real gift to us,” said Dever.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, observed Mohler’s daily cultural engagement for many years as a student, researcher and senior administrator at Southern Seminary.
“He prepares every day the way someone that would prepare to do a televised debate regardless of whether or not he’s going to be on television,” Moore said, adding that Mohler’s invests such effort “because he cares about these issues and he cares about how those issues relate to evangelical Christianity and the future of the church.”
The written word
Mohler’s communication via the latest technologies hasn’t kept him from also using the tried-and-true method of conveying important ideas through book publishing.
Mohler’s motive behind his extensive writing ministry — both digital and traditional — is found in “The Leader as Writer” chapter in his most recent book, the widely hailed The Conviction to Lead.
“Leaders write because words matter and because the written word matters longer and reaches farther than the words we speak,” he writes. “Leaders write newsletters, memos, correspondence, articles, columns, and books in order to extend their reach and deepen the impact of their leadership.”
As Mohler enters his third decade leading Southern Seminary in an age that continues its march toward secularism and moral confusion, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals are likely to depend even more on him as a convictional communicator.
For Mohler, communicating truth is a battle that must be fought — using the best available means to distribute the gospel message and engage the culture for the sake of souls.
“Convictional leadership begins with a commitment to truth and a relentless desire to see others know and believe that same truth,” he writes in Conviction. “But communication is a form of warfare. The leader is always fighting apathy, confusion, lack of direction, and competing voices. The wise leader understands this warfare and enters it eagerly.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor and chief spokesman at Southern Seminary