By "repent," I mean to turn around. I am not asserting that he has committed a sin against God. I simply mean to stop progressing in one direction, turn around, and head in another direction. As the Calvinist/Traditionalist war continues to heat up in the SBC, the focus of the issue should not go to Lifeway's "The Gospel Project" or Founders or many of the other targets, in my opinion. The focus should go to the one SBC entity that has as its president a man who has clearly articulated a view that Calvinism is the only logical option for thinking evangelicals who are serious about gospel fidelity. I think that is a bridge too far.
Dr. Al Mohler is a 5 point Calvinist and he has led Southern in that direction quite obviously. That is not a big problem on the surface. Calvinism is a legitimate theological perspective in Southern Baptist life and it has much merit to it. Anyone trying to remove Calvinist influence from Baptist life should be reprimanded and ignored, in my opinion. However, has Mohler gone beyond just being a Calvinist and speaking and working from that perspective? Has he actually moved into the realm of promoting Calvinism over other theological perspectives in SBC life? If he has, then he has gone beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 on an essential issue. He has moved Calvinism to a second tier issue (one of the ones that you divide over denominationally), instead of a third tier issue (one upon which you can continue in fellowship but disagree). I submit to you the following evidence:
From a Christianity Today article on Mohler from 2010:
"Mohler believes that the only intellectually robust defense of biblical inerrancy lies in the Reformed scholasticism that emerged from the Synod of Dort (1618) and enjoyed its apogee at late-19th-century Princeton Theological Seminary, where James Boyce trained. Non-Calvinist conservatives, Mohler says, "are not aware of the basic structures of thought, rightly described as Reformed, that are necessary to protect the very gospel they insist is to be eagerly shared." He thinks that Reformed theology's appeal to young people proves its unique imperviousness to the corrosive forces of 21st-century life. "If you're a young Southern Baptist and you've been swimming against the tide of secularism … you're going to have to have a structure of thought that's more comprehensive than merely a deck of cards with all the right doctrines." In this regard, Mohler is just as elitist as the moderates of old Southern: he is certain he has the truth, and those Baptists who protest simply are not initiated intothe systematic splendor of Reformed thought."
Mohler, in an interview with Kevin de Young and Ligon Duncan of The Gospel Coalition has also gone on record as saying,
"If you are a theologically minded, deeply convictional, young evangelical, if you are committed to the gospel and you want to see the nations rejoice in the name of Christ – if you want to see gospel built and structured and committed churches, your theology is just going to end up basically being reformed, basically being something like this New Calvinism or you're going to have invent some kind of label for what is just going to end up being the same thing. There just are not options out there, and that is something that I think frustrates some people, but when I'm asked about the New Calvinism, I'm going to say basically, Where else are they going to go? Who else is going to answer the questions, who else is going to offer the resources they need, where else are they going to connect? This is a generation that understands that they want to say the same thing that Paul said. They want to stand with the Apostles. They want to stand with old dead people. And, they know they are going to have to if they are going to preach and teach the truth." From video.
In a subsequent speech given to the state editors of Baptist papers in 2011, Mohler qualified his statements by saying:
"…Calvinism is the shape of the future, because the options otherwise don’t very much exist. Now if you just quote me on that and put that in the paper it’s going to make people mad. And it’s not tribal language. It is because when I say Calvinism here, I’m going back to 1845, I’m going back to 1925, I’m going back to 1963, and I’m including all of you in that. Now if you’re offended by that just realize that any outside observer looking at the SBC, looking at our confessions of faith, would put us on the Calvinist side of the ledger.
"Now I want to tell you I am a five-point Calvinist, all right? I never write about that, I don’t speak about that. If you want to know that there you have it. But I am at home in the Southern Baptist Convention of the Baptist Faith & Message. I was not raised in a church that talks about Calvinism. I am not now a member of a church that talks about Calvinism. The whole SBC, the Baptist Faith & Message and the New Hampshire Confession is clearly out of the basically Calvinist direction. Now that’s tribal. And one of the problems with this is people hear that as tribal. And one of the problems is that people hear that as tribal. And to hear that as five-point Calvinism, look, that is, that’s not what I’m talking about here. There are amongst us those who are more Calvinist and those who are less. But the Baptist Faith & Message excludes Arminianism. The SBCs founders identified Arminianism as a heresy they sought to confront." Taken from transcript of speech.
So, here is where we stand with Mohler and Southern Seminary: Calvinism is the only possible place for thinking, theological minded young evangelicals to land. Calvinists say the same thing that Paul said and that the other Apostles said and there is not really any other way to explain the Gospel. And, by the way, all Southern Baptists are Calvinists of some sort or another because we are not Arminians and we don't believe that you can lose your salvation. So, you can have varying degrees of Calvinists short of the 5 point variety like Mohler, but all Southern Baptists are actually Calvinists of some sort and that is just how it is. Mohler asserts Calvinism, but it is not 5 point Calvinism – it is any aspect of the 5 points of TULIP and he says that ALL Southern Baptists fall in that distinction.
Of course, that is my take on it. So, when Traditionalists and Non-Calvinists are upset about what they think is a Calvinist take over in SBC life and Southern Seminary has a president who is a very strident cultural critic with a sharp tone, and there are some professors at Southern who are very much focused on Calvinism, and there are graduates of Southern who are quite militantly Calvinistic, even explaining it as the gospel itself, then this starts to make some sense. It makes sense just based on the words of Al Mohler alone.
Here is the issue in Southern Baptist life: From my understanding, you are not a Calvinist unless you affirm all 5 points of TULIP. There cannot be a 4 point or 3 point Calvinist. That is a false distinction. Calvinism according to the Synod of Dort (and it is debatable if even Calvin would have agreed with Dort) is a theological system that falls apart if you remove one of the points. I do not submit to Mohler's classification of me as a Calvinist, even though I would agree with most of TULIP. I am not a Calvinist. And, the SBC is not Calvinistic just because it believes in the perseverance of the saints or eternal security or however individual Baptists describe it. That is a false designation and it is causing great controversy.
We need to decide if Calvinism is of the 5 point variety in affirming all of TULIP or if it should be applied to those who affirm 2, 3, or 4 points as well. If we cannot even agree on what Calvinism is, then we should quit using the term for any but those who claim all 5 points or are truly Reformed and baptize infants, or we should use it for all Southern Baptists, even those who just agree with one point, ala Molher. Using it interchangeably across the spectrum is a semantic disaster for everyone – and both true Calvinists trying enhance their ranks and Traditionalists looking for targets to fire upon are both guilty. Traditionalists add to this problem when they call Danny Akin and Trevin Wax and many others who do not affirm all of TULIP as Calvinists.
Some Calvinists have called me a Calvinist because of things I believe, but I reject the label because I understand a Calvinist to be someone who affirms all of TULIP, which I do not. I refuse to qualify myself under a false theological distinction just so I can be labeled by others in their attempt to create a category for everyone. I think there are a whole lot of Southern Baptists who would agree with that perspective.
Here is where Mohler is wrong in how he has gone about this: As an SBC entity head who sits under the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, he has every right to be a Calvinist. Calvinism is included in that confession's soteriology. But, he does not have permission to uphold Calvinism above other perspectives that are also within the bounds of the BFM2000 or to apply the designation to everyone. This has been my contention in these debates for the past 7 years now. There must be room for Baptists who agree with the BFM2000 to coexist together, discuss, debate, disagree, and then work together under the umbrella of orthodox Christianity. When one view or another begins to prevail and attempts to supersede or degrade another, not in conversation but or personal belief, but in delegitimizing it, then we end up in a place of massive theological and denominational conflict – basically where we are right now. We also should allow people to self-designate without be labeled by others for political purposes, whether you are a Traditionalists who wants to be defined apart from Calvinism, or whether you adhere to 3 or the 4 points of Calvinism. The labeling by the other side so they can win arguments needs to stop. It seems that Mohler is guilty of this as well.
Al Mohler is on Frank Page's Calvinism Task Force. Will one of the first acts of the Task Force be to ask Mohler to repent (i.e., turn around and back off) of his statements asserting Calvinism as the only possible theological system for thinking evangelicals? Or, should he clarify again in a way that does not enforce a controversial designation upon people who do not want it? Because as long as his stated view is being promoted, I do not see where we can have peaceful coexistence for the sake of mission. And, I fear that honest attempts at cooperation between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists on things like The Gospel Project will constantly be seen in a sinister light by those who fear a Calvinist Takeover of the SBC. We need to step away from semantic confusion and co-opting and deal clearly with these issues. It would be great if Al Mohler would lead us in this.