Christianity Today’s strange story on Al Mohler

This story is the buzz on the Evangelical blogs, the most important of which is Justin Taylor’s at the Gospel Coalition. (He has the whole skinny here). As a Catholic, I have no dog in this fight, but it seems to me that the article’s author, Molly Worthen, a PhD candidate at Yale, pens a few cheap shots that should cause any well-known religious figure with theologically traditional sensibilities to think twice about agreeing to an interview with her.

There are two passages that stand out as particularly outrageous. Here is the first:

Mohler has gone to great lengths to counteract this assumption, to nurture a polished, well-read breed of fundamentalism that is a far cry from H. L. Mencken’s caricature of the literalist bumpkin. “He knows he’s carrying the mantle of Southern Seminary, which has been, at its best, patrician in its appreciation of culture and learning,” says J. Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and a friend of Mohler. Students at Southern are not sawdust-trail Baptists but the smartly dressed sort who can make small talk about literature and art.

Imagine it was not 2010, but 1910, and it was H. L. Mencken writing about American blacks attending college for the first time: “Students at Howard are not ordinary sharecropper Negroes but the smartly dressed sort who can make small talk about literature and art.” The bigotry would be obvious (as, no doubt, Mencken, with no temptation to court subtlety, would have wanted it).

Another passage, describing Dr. Mohler’s immense and impressive personal library (which I had the pleasure to visit almost 12 years ago):

A self-conscious air pervades the library, in the jumble of cultural artifacts intended to convey worldliness; in the shelves lined with a conspicuous number of Great Books, Harvard Classics, and other pre-packaged sets that seem the fruit of a single-minded mission to conquer a body of knowledge, or at least to give that impression.

Apparently, if we follow Ms. Worthen’s narrative carefully we are forced to conclude that just like his impeccably wardrobed seminarians who can parrot sophistication, Dr. Mohler probably just has an interior decorator who knows how to create the proper literary ambiance by lining his shelves with “pre-packaged sets” that “give that impression.”

I carry no brief for Dr. Mohler’s tenure at the helm of Southern Seminary or even the political machinations that were instrumental in helping him and a host of others to shift the historical trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention in a more conservative direction. I am neither a Baptist, nor a Calvinist, nor a young-earth creationist. I am a Catholic, a Thomist, and a theistic evolutionist. And as a professor at Baylor University, I am pleased that in the late 1980s and early 1990s the board was able to change its bylaws in order to thwart a fundamentalist takeover. Again, I have no dog in this fight. Nevertheless, I know smugness and condescension when I see them (and I am told that I may have practiced them myself once or twice).

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  • Jimmy Jimbo

    “As a Catholic, I have no dog in this fight…”

    Well, now that’s a strange comment. You were and still are a leader in the evangelical community. This comment is so aloof.

    Sure, you became a different kind of Christian. That doesn’t mean we evangelicals now consider you an outsider. Why do you consider yourself an outsider?

  • Roger Ball

    This is very typical for today’s disgruntled Christian feminist.

  • Roger Ball

    Why aren’t you allowing any comments? Are you afraid the truth might get out?

  • Francis J. Beckwith

    Roger writes: “Why aren’t you allowing any comments? Are you afraid the truth might get out?’

    (eye rolling)
    I’m still getting the hang of this new blog and I didn’t know I needed to approve the comments.

    “The greatest of these is charity,” someone once said.

  • David

    I don’t know why you’re defending a fundamentalist like Mohler, when he would happily turn around and stick a knife in *you.* And probably will.

  • Michael Buratovich


    I think you have said some very valuable things. I like Albert Mohler. I think he has said some very valuable and thoughtful things. Nevertheless, his talk on the creation-evolution controversy (if it’s the one I think you’re referring to) was pretty bad. He offered nothing substantial, left a whole lot of things up in the air, and came off as having something substantial to say about the subject and then said nothing substantial about it. However, I thought the hack job on him was unnecessary and altogether barbaric.

    I will consider to listen to and read columns by Albert Mohler. I will simply not regard him as having anything substantive to say on the origins issue until he becomes a little better read on the subject.

  • Francis J. Beckwith

    David writes: “I don’t know why you’re defending a fundamentalist like Mohler, when he would happily turn around and stick a knife in *you.* And probably will.”

    If that happens, then his knife will join the 100 others inserted by Baptist “moderates” when I first set foot in Waco. :-)

    On a more serious note, the issue that I raised concerns the integrity in Christian journalism, especially when some of it bleeds into cultural smugness and condescension. I’ve seen it far too many times in my life: the Pentecostal or Bible Church boy or girl who “discovers” Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud in college and then believes he or she can figure out, explain, and hold up to ridicule his or her parents and their theological traditions. Soon, the boy or girl starts using words like “hegemony,” “marginalization,” “narrative,” and “deconstruction” and thinks that he or she is so much smarter than all those rubes back in the Ozarks. But the technique is self-selective. The philosophy of suspicion is never turned inward or against the philosophers themselves.

    As I noted in my original post, I carry no brief for much of the political and theological intrigue that has followed Dr. Mohler throughout his career. But that does not allow me or anyone else to forgo our obligation to be charitable, as Christ himself commanded us to be. As someone who has fallen prey to this temptation in the past, I am fully aware of the debilitating affect it may have upon one’s soul. I’ve not only been to the mountain top, but I’ve been in the valley. And the latter has a much larger population of aspiring Christian intellectuals conspiring with Oedipus to kill their father.

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