Mohler: Theological education must be built upon truth of Scripture

Communications Staff — April 29, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – A true theological institution is built upon an indestructible foundation of the absolute truth of God’s Word, R. Albert Mohler Jr., told The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees Tuesday afternoon in marking his 10th anniversary as president of the school.

There are currently two models of theological education, one that holds to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and one that rejects it in deference to the wisdom of the world, Mohler said, addressing the annual spring meeting of the trustee board. Southern stands boldly upon the authority of Scripture, he said.

Mohler was elected Southern seminary’s ninth president in March of 1993. Under his leadership, the seminary has been transformed into a conservative, confessional, evangelical institution that holds to the inspiration and authority of Scripture and is accountable to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“In the world of theological today, there is a polarization,” he said. “There are two different visions of theological education. If you were to go to a national listing of all the divinity schools, theological seminaries—freestanding and denominational—you get a list and look at them, and you say, ‘these schools must be about the same thing.

“They are accredited by the same agency, they have in common either the word ‘divinity’ or ‘theological seminary,’ they must certainly be about the same thing.’ That is profoundly wrong. In fact, that is an error that is not only evidence of confusion, but the promise of tremendous destruction in the vision of theological education.”

He compared these opposing visions to opposing groups of biologists, one that believes in cell theory and one that does not, or to groups of physicists, one that believes in gravity and one that does not, and to groups of doctors, one that asserts the existence of germs and one that denies them.

“Between those two polarities, there is an enormous antagonism,” Mohler said.

The wide gulf between the contrasting groups illustrates the deep differences between theological seminaries that believe the Bible to be the Word of God and those that believe the Bible to be a culturally-bound artifact, Mohler said.

“Imagine you had a group of theologians, some of them believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and others do not,” he said. “You have an incredible antagonism.

“Some believe that the Bible is the Word of God and bears God’s own authority as His self-revelation and others believe that it is the written record of religious persons throughout an evolutionary process coming to god-consciousness. There is a radical antagonism between those two understandings.”

Mohler identified six non-negotiable blocks upon which a true theological institution must build: truth, theology, trust, testimony of Scripture, and the task of ministry assigned to the church. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone for this foundation, he said.
All six have been foundational in Southern Seminary’s turnaround over the past 10 years, he said.

For example, the inspiration of Scripture, a biblical understanding of theology, and a focus on teaching them fervently, are pivotal among the building blocks for Southern Seminary, he said. Many so-called theological schools today teach little to no theology, but theology should drive every aspect of a divinity school, Mohler said.

“Everything had better be theological about a theological school,” he said.

“This ought to be the one place where the language of theology, the discipline of theology, the worldview of God’s truth set out in its comprehensive form on the basis of biblical revelation out to be the driving impulse of who we are, what we do, what we teach, who we hire, and what we are all about.

“If theology is not central to everything about a theological seminary, in the end it won’t be central to anything in a theological seminary.”

Mohler said it is inconceivable that a theological school would reject the inspiration and authority of the Word of God and still believe it has anything to say in preparing ministers for work in local churches.

“I do not understand why you would be about the task of theological education if you do not believe the Bible is the Word of God,” he said. “I do not understand why you would go and spend three years to get a master of divinity degree if you do not believe that God has spoken to us and we have this Word.

“I cannot imagine that churches would support a theological institution that isn’t sure what the Gospel is. And you cannot be sure of what the Gospel is unless you are sure of what the Gospel is not.”

Southern must continue to build upon these blocks because they represent absolute truth, but also because they point to a trust between the seminary and its denomination, churches, students, and faculty.

Mohler pointed out that many of Southern Seminary’s present faculty members left safe and secure jobs in other institutions to come to Southern even while the seminary was in turmoil during the changes of the 1990s because they believed the vision of the new administration.

Many students also trusted that vision before it was fully realized and came to Southern, and church members continued giving of their resources, Mohler said.

“This word ‘trust’ is of incredible importance to me,” Mohler said. “You (the trustee board) have entrusted so much to me and to those who have come with me and those who the Lord added in the years to come.

“A denomination (has also) trusted all of us. Behind that denomination are thousands of churches. You look at those churches and there are millions of faithful Christians, most of whom will never set foot on this campus, many of whom aren’t sure exactly how theological education works, yet they contribute their money. They give of their funds because they trust that we will (use) the resources given to us (to carry out) the mission given to us.”

Mohler said all who have been involved in the school’s amazing turnaround over the decade must remember that it ultimately it has been the sovereign work of God.

“There is the danger, of course, to think that we have done this,” Mohler said. “And that’s why an anniversary like this is so meaningful, but is also dangerous. This is God’s doing. This is about God’s priorities, God’s church, God’s determination to make His name great. God has allowed us to have a part in this.”

In seminary business:

* The board extended tenure to three faculty members. Charles E. Lawless, Jr. was elected associate professor of evangelism and church growth. George H. Martin was elected professor of Christian missions. Both have served as professors for several years in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Seminary. The board also elected Robert A. Vogel as professor of Christian preaching. Vogel currently serves at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and will join the Southern faculty in the fall.

* Trustees approved a $25.4 million dollar budget for 2003-2004, representing an 8.8 percent increase. The increase is particularly good news given the fact that many other institutions are cutting their budgets, Mohler said.

* Mohler announced the addition to the faculty of Ken Fentress as assistant professor of Old Testament. Fentress presently serves as pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Lisbon, Md. He will join the faculty in the fall.

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