Mohler calls on ETS and evangelicals to hold the line on biblical truth

Communications Staff — January 5, 2005

Present evangelical scholars will determine what future generations of evangelicals believe about such central issues as truth, the Bible and even the Gospel, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told attendees of the Evangelical Theological Society’s (ETS) 56th annual meeting.

With today’s evangelical teachers holding such a critical role in shaping the future of the church, Mohler called on ETS to hold the line in espousing historic Christianity’s commitment to absolute truth as revealed in Scripture. Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on “Contemporary Truth and Culture” during an ETS plenary session.

“In this moment of definition and decision, we are going to be determining what evangelicalism really is,” Mohler said. “And as we look to the 21st century, we are going to be making significant decisions about what understanding of evangelicalism and what substance of evangelical theology is bequeathed to the next generation.”

Within evangelical seminaries and colleges, a group of theologians—known as “post-conservatives”—have responded to postmodernism by reconfiguring the way in which truth is discovered.

Post-conservatives have jettisoned traditional views of propositional truth and the doctrine of revelation in favor of a postmodern model that defines theology and truth through the “narrative experience” of a community of believers. Better-known post-conservative teachers include Stanley J. Grenz of Regent College, Roger Olsen of Baylor University, and open theist theologian Clark Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College.

Against this rising tide, evangelicals and ETS must continue to insist that God has spoken to His creation finally and fully in Scripture which itself is made up of understandable, prepositional truth, Mohler said. Without propositional statements, human beings cannot communicate, Mohler pointed out. Truth is sometimes more than prepositional, but it can never be less, he said.

“I can understand something of the hostility to propositions, but it is very hard to get by without them,” he said. “Even anarchist groups have leaders [and] anti-propositionalist writers use propositions, paragraph by paragraph.

“It is the shape of our minds, and I would argue that it is not merely to counter Darwin, not merely an evolutionary accident, but is a testimony to the fact that our Creator who made us in His image, has created us with a mental capacity and a certain power of rationality that inherently requires prepositional formulation.”

Mohler said evangelicals face at least six challenges in asserting truth within a postmodern culture:

* A deconstruction of truth. Postmodernists argue that truth is not universal, objective, or absolute. Instead, they assert that truth is constructed by societies.

* The death of the “metanarrative.” A metanarrative is the idea that there is an overarching, all-encompassing story of humankind. However, since postmodernists believe all truth claims to be socially constructed, they also deny the existence of all philosophical systems that seek to comprehensively explain reality.

* The demise of the text. Postmodernists argue that readers give meaning to written texts and deny that the author of a given work may ascribe meaning to the words that compose his or her work.

* The dominion of therapy. The prevailing question has shifted from “What is true?” to “How does it make me feel?” Postmodernists replace truth with a focus on self-esteem which leads to rejection of categories such as “sin.”

* The decline of authority. Postmodernists espouse a radical vision of human liberation. To accomplish this, they reject any all authorities including God and the Bible.

* The displacement of morality. Postmodernists reject morality and view traditional moral codes as oppressive.

Mohler says post-conservative evangelicals have embraced portions of the postmodern mood along with parts of its methodology. The post-conservative influence has been seen most clearly in recent years within ETS in the organization’s wrangling with “open theism.”

At the 2003 ETS meeting in Atlanta, members voted against revoking the membership of two theologians who hold to open theism or the “openness of God,” a position which argues, among other things, that God does not know perfectly what will happen in the future.

The two theologians — Pinnock and John Sanders — were acquitted largely because ETS members could not agree on a precise definition of the term “inerrancy” in the organization’s statement of faith. To join ETS, one must sign a statement of faith that affirms belief in two doctrines: the inerrancy of Scripture and the Trinity.

Mohler said ETS must not embrace the squishy notions of truth and biblical inerrancy of the post-conservative theologians. The continued health of ETS and evangelicalism, as well as evangelical churches, is at stake in the debate over the nature of truth, he said.

“I believe at the heart of the evangelical movement from the very beginning, and at the heart of the convictions of this society (ETS), from its very formation, is its confidence in the God who is, the God who speaks,” he said.

“I believe we are committed to a theological method that understands truth as something more than the postmodernist can ever understand or embrace. Truth is revealed in Scripture. Truth is revealed in the One who said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ Truth is revealed in Jesus Christ and His high priestly prayer, who prayed that His Father would sanctify His own in the truth and confess ‘thy Word is truth.’ That is something far beyond what the postmodern mood, movement, or gestalt can understand or embrace.”

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