In the comments to this previous post, about the Rev. Al Mohler — mullah/president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the Real Live Preacher reminds us of Mohler's notorious takeover of that school and purging of its faculty:
He fired men who were so beyond him in scholarship that he really shouldn't be mentioned in their circles. He set himself up as king there and ran the institution into the ground. Southern used to be the scholarly center of Southern Baptist life. A decade later no serious scholar would step foot in the place.
I had several friends, all devout Baptists and eminently qualified scholars, who were unceremoniously fired during Mohler's cultural revolution in Louisville. That event is what led me to say that Mohler's real goal seems to be to become the SBC's first pope.
About every five years he [Mohler] makes a completely asinine statement of one kind or another and puts himself in the news for about fifteen minutes.
Witness one of his wonderful theological revelations from the past when he decided that the historic Baptist principle of "Soul Competency" and "The Priesthood of Every Believer" was a mistake from the very beginning. The priesthood of every believer has been a centerpiece of Baptist thought since 1601. It may be the most important gift that Baptists bring to the greater Christian community. Of course, it doesn't jibe with the fundamentalist agenda because it takes away their ability to control from the top.
Precisely. This core belief of "soul competency" or "soul freedom" — individual freedom of conscience — is an essential part of what it means to be a Baptist. It is also why Baptists do not recite the historic Christian creeds. We're anti-creedal.
I personally believe wholeheartedly in the content of both the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed (I'm even a fan of Apollo Creed.) Yet I do not believe in creeds per se. Your soul freedom trumps my ability to judge or exclude you for failing to subscribe to any given theological formula.
Most evangelical churches and institutions in America are temperamentally and culturally Baptist. They tend to believe in (adult) believers' baptism, to be non-hierarchical (structurally, if not interpersonally) and congregational — relating to other churches in a way that closely mirrors Baptist polity ("Baptist polity" being pretty much an oxymoron).
American evangelicalism also inherited from the Baptists their suspicion of creeds. But something strange happened to this anti-creedal stance in the evangelical churches. The great traditional creeds are not recited there, but it is no longer true that these churches and organizations do not have creeds — they've just written their own.
The "statement of faith" has replaced the creeds in most evangelical churches, and these statements are enforced with a dogmatism rivaling that of Athanasius.
One problem with these statements is their inelegance and ugliness. Compare either of the creeds above with the prosaic statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals or that of the evangelical relief and development agency World Vision. (To World Vision's credit, they consider the Apostle's Creed an acceptable substitute for their SoF.)
Those two examples at least have the virtue of imitating the brevity of the classic creeds. The NAE statement is only 180 words long and World Vision's is 182. These are a bit longer than the pithy Apostle's Creed (117 words), and a bit shorter than the Nicene Creed (229 words). Many of the evangelical statements of faith are much, much longer.
Which brings us back to Southern Baptist Seminary and its grand inquisitor Al Mohler. The creed they have written for themselves, called an "Abstract of Principles," is 1,236 words long — more than 10 times as long as the Apostle's Creed.
Can we please stop calling them "Baptists" now?