Mohler at T4G conference on evangelism: exclusivity makes the gospel more beautiful
R. Albert Mohler Jr. argued that the exclusivity of the gospel is not an apologetic burden, but rather life-giving good news, during a general session at the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference, April 8-10.
The biennial conference for pastors and church leaders brought together more than 7,500 men and women from all 50 states and 29 different countries to consider various aspects of evangelism. More than 60 percent of those in attendance were younger than 40 years old. And of all attendees, more than 3,100 of them identified as Southern Baptists. In addition, more than 27,000 digital devices — computers, smart phones and tablets — streamed the conference online from 100 different countries.
Mohler, who is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called his sermon, “The Open Door is the Only Door: The Singularity of Christ and the Integrity of the Gospel.”
“We come to celebrate and declare the great fact that we are unashamed of the gospel and to point to Christ as the door of salvation and to pray, with the apostle Paul, for an open door for the proclamation of the gospel,” he said.
“But we are also here to confess together that the open door is the only door.”
Preaching from John 14:1-7, Mohler described Jesus’ statement that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]” as an “unavoidable claim of exclusivity.”
Mohler said the Christian gospel is the only way to salvation because only Jesus meets humanity’s need for a savior.
“If all we need is a teacher of enlightenment, the Buddha will do; if all we need is a collection of gods for every occasion and need and hope, Hinduism will do; if all we need is a tribal deity, any tribal deity will do; if all we need is a lawgiver, Moses will do; if all we need is a set of rules and a way of devotion, Muhammad or Joseph Smith will do; if all we need is inspiration and insight into the sovereign self, Oprah will do; but if we need a savior, only Jesus will do,” he said.
And, according to Mohler, the gospel’s exclusivity is not negative.
“If we see [the exclusivity of the gospel] as a negative, hard, burdensome truth that we are forced by Christian duty to bear, we misconstrue it, misunderstand it — we underestimate the gospel,” he said.
Rather, Mohler said Christians should celebrate every dimension of the gospel, “seeing all of it as grace and mercy, every morsel of it as pleasing and life-giving.”
In addition to nine general sessions — with Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan, who co-founded T4G along with Mohler, and featured speakers Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, John MacArthur, John Piper and David Platt — the conference also held several plenary panel discussions, two of which included Mohler.
A panel about the issue of homosexuality included Mohler, joined by Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a distinguished faculty member at Southern Seminary, and Sam Allberry, a pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, U.K. The other panel featured Mohler along with Dever, Duncan, DeYoung, University of Cambridge scholar Simon Gathercole and Peter J. Williams, warden of Tyndale House Cambridge, discussing “future theological threats.”
Two Southern Seminary leaders gave breakout sessions during the three-day conference, including Mohler and Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College. In Mohler’s, he and Ligon Duncan discussed in panel format the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and its relationship to evangelism and missions.
“If the Bible is not inerrant and infallible, then we will not know what the gospel is,” Mohler argued, claiming that an inerrant Bible is an essential motivation for the spread of the gospel. Otherwise, he said, the truthfulness of the gospel message becomes subjective to the interpretive grid of the reader. Echoing Mohler, Duncan explained that if the Bible, even in part, is untrue, then it does not lead to Christian love, since, theoretically, Christian teaching on the human condition may be wrong.
In his breakout, Strachan addressed the need for pastors to view their work as explicitly theological and public in “The Pastor as Public Theologian in an Increasingly Hostile Culture.” Describing those in pastoral ministry as those with the “privilege of declaring reality to God's people and the world beyond,” he encouraged pastors to teach their flocks a theology of work, the body, the government and all other things in God’s creation, because if they do not, no one will, Strachan said.
“You can't cleave the gospel and ethics; the gospel creates ethics,” he said. “Preaching can bring ethics to bear on all of life.”
In conjunction to his breakout session, Strachan taught one of two academic courses offered by the seminary, each giving the 166 students who participated an opportunity to earn transferable credit for either the graduate or undergraduate level. Strachan taught “The Pastor in the Public Square” course, and Adam W. Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, taught “A Theology of Evangelism.”
The morning of April 8, only hours before the opening session of T4G, more than 1,300 people attended the inaugural national conference of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The conference featured 10 20-minute sessions about topics like singleness, homosexuality and men on the mission field from Strachan, who is also the executive director of the council, Mohler, Platt, Duncan, Moore, DeYoung, Piper, Danny Akin and Eric Mason, as well as a women’s panel discussion.
Both video and audio from sessions of Together for the Gospel are available at t4g.org.
With reporting from James A. Smith Sr. and RuthAnne Irvin