Mohler cites rapid secularization, Islam and SBC generational divide as crucial issues facing SBTS

Communications Staff — April 24, 2009

Students preparing for ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will face three major issues over the next 10-15 years, R. Albert Mohler Jr., told the school’s board of trustees Tuesday in its annual spring meeting: an increasingly secularized American culture, Islam and a generational shift in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Southern’s ninth president said his first concern is the utter loss of a Judeo-Christian worldview and the wholesale embrace of secularism in the American culture, even in the Bible Belt where churches have until recently ministered in a region deeply influenced by Christian assumptions.

Every region of America, however, is rapidly becoming like Europe, Mohler said, which went from maintaining vestiges of its Christian heritage through the 1940s to rejecting the faith by the 1960s.

“We are going to discover that cultural Christianity is what eventually disappears in a secularized age,” he said.

“Cultural Christianity has been so much a part of the environment of our ministry and of the expectation of our churches that it’s going to be a very different situation for the pastor of the First Baptist Church to worry about being arrested rather than to worry about whether he’s going to get the first seat in the restaurant.

“We are going to be in a very different situation. [W]hen you start looking at a lot of the logic of what is becoming endemic in the culture toward the future, we’re going to be in a very different situation than we’ve ever faced before. And we’re going to discover that we are not as many as we thought we were.”

Mohler cited two recent studies that have shown that the number of people in America who claim to be Christians has decreased dramatically over the past few years. Soon, only vestiges of Christianity may remain in America, he said.

“We’ve got to prepare students to be ready for that and to be able to lead churches to be able to understand what it means to be the church when we no longer have the cultural supports that we had counted on, wrongly, I think, all these years,” he said.

A second concern Mohler expressed is the rise of Islam, which is growing rapidly as a global religion. Recently, the United Nations passed a resolution that criminalizes the defamation of religions, protecting Islam in particular because of its honor code.

This development should disturb Christians, Mohler pointed out, because it could render illegal Gospel engagement of Muslims by Christian pastors, evangelists and missionaries.

“Islam considers it a matter of every Muslim’s responsibility to protect the honor of Islam,” he said.

“Let me point out that we serve a Christ who was scorned and rejected of men. We are never called upon to defend the honor of the Gospel. We are called upon to defend the Gospel. God will defend His own honor.

“We are not to call upon the state, and we are certainly not to call upon the United Nations to criminalize assaults upon Christianity, because what we are really looking at in this defamation language is an end to evangelism and an end to missions.

“Realize that we will be sending out students into a world where Islam is going to become a definitional issue for most of them either because they are going to be in Muslim-dominated lands or because they are going to be in lands of Muslim influence such as Europe or they are going to be in a world that is being reshaped to Muslim sensitivities.”

A final concern facing the seminary is the growing generational divide within the SBC, Mohler said. With much of the denomination’s leadership growing older, the SBC faces a shift toward younger leadership in the coming years and Mohler says Southern must train its students to graciously bridge the divide.

“We are increasingly becoming generationally divided in such a way that the generations are not even talking to each other,” he said. “We’re in a strategically dangerous moment here and Southern Seminary needs to be the place, a happy, healthy place, where we do not allow that to happen.

“We have got to avoid a hardening of the wrong attitudes and a hardening of the wrong issues because we cannot afford to go off in different directions, generationally defined, in this denomination. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

In addition to approving the creation of the new School of Church Ministries (see accompanying article), trustees:

· Extended tenure to two professors: Brian Vickers, associate professor of New Testament interpretation and Carl Stam, associate professor of church music and worship.
· Promoted six professors: Gregg Allison to professor of Christian Theology, T.J. Betts to associate professor of Old Testament interpretation, Timothy Paul Jones to associate professor of leadership and church ministry, Barry Joslin to associate professor of Christian Theology, Russell D. Moore to professor of Christian Theology and ethics and Shawn Wright to associate professor of church history.
· Installed Eric Johnson as the Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care.
· Approved the formation of an Academy of Sacred Music to serve as a think tank for the conservation of Christian hymnody and music. This academy will sponsor lectures, performances, recitals, symposia and other programs and other initiatives under a director appointed by the president.
· Voted to change the name of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth to the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism, dropping the term “church growth” because the term is dated.

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