SBTS convocation: Mohler urges confessional resolution in the face of change
Although contemporary culture embraces continual change and the revision of core beliefs in the name of progress, the Christian church should be marked by faithfulness to the settled Word of the Lord, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, at the Aug. 23 fall convocation.
“While everything may be appearing to change around us — and far more so apparently in 2016 than in 1979 or in 1859, the reality is ‘the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever,’” Mohler said.
In an address titled, “Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is Settled in Heaven: The Unchanging Word in an Age of Mega-Change,” Mohler drew from Psalm 119:89 to demonstrate the stable nature of biblical revelation in the face of a transitory cultural view of truth.
Change itself is not bad, as the rapid technological change in recent history demonstrates, Mohler said. While for most of human history, change took place very slowly, it leapt forward beginning in the 19th century, perhaps no more obvious than in the progression of the fastest mode of transportation from the horse to the airplane. Change is no stranger to Southern Seminary either, Mohler said, as the school once structured its class schedule around train departures, allowing students to travel to their places of ministry during the weekend. Today, classes are commonly held on Saturdays and weeknights. Mohler also pointed to the seminary’s website, which appeared first in 1996 but today features all the markers of the digital age.
“As an institution, we are not resolutely opposed to change,” Mohler said. “The question is: How do we know what changes and what can’t change? How do we know where we should truly let change happen, but then where we must surely make sure change does not happen at all?”
The problem with the contemporary view of change is that it is driven by an aggressive, secular ideological commitment to the malleable nature of truth, Mohler said. It is the marker of modern intellectual life to believe there are no fixed principles in matters of culture, anthropology, morality, epistemology, and history. Even physics is transitory, Mohler said, as some physicists have admitted recently quantum mechanics and traditional physics are at an “impasse” and the contradictory theories are likely to be eclipsed by a new, dominant system in the near future. In the modern world, change is an essential component of cultural progress, and the resolute nature of Christian theology is at stake, Mohler said.
“This imperative of change is now translated such that we are threats to the common good, and we are the enemies of human flourishing, and we are frankly to be written off as intellectual cranks and moral outlaws if we will not join in not only the change, but the revolution that drives the change,” he said.
The fact that Christians can claim to have unchanging truth is difficult for secular intellectuals to understand, and their incredulity eventually gives way to opposition and hostility, Mohler said.
Mohler referenced a 1979 address at SBTS by W.A. Criswell on Psalm 119:89, during which Criswell challenged the moderate trajectory of the seminary at the time by emphasizing the King James Version rendering of the text — “Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled in heaven.” That claim about Scripture ought to be the foundation for the church’s claim about Scripture in every era, Mohler said.
“We are here to stand with every faithful teacher throughout the history of the Christian church — backwards not only to 1859, but backwards to the Puritans and the Reformers and Jonathan Edwards and the faithful Fathers throughout history and to the apostles and ultimately to Christ,” Mohler said. “And from Christ we learn to love and to believe and to obey all of the Scriptures.”
Christians need to be prepared to reject the cultural celebration of change and recognize their ambition should be for steadfast adherence to the timeless truth bestowed by Jesus Christ himself and guarded by generations of faithful believers.
“We’re beginning this academic year in an act of outright intellectual subversion,” he said. “There would be no warrant for it, no excuse for it, no rationale for it, except for one thing: ‘Forever, O Lord, thy Word is settled.’ And if forever the Word of the Lord is settled, then that settles it.”
Prior to Mohler’s convocation address, two professors elected to the faculty during the spring trustee meeting signed the Abstract of Principles, the seminary’s confession of faith. C. Berry Driver Jr., associate vice president for academic resources and professor of church history, and Michael S. Wilder, J.M. Frost Associate Professor of Leadership and Discipleship, became signees No. 256 and 257 of the Abstract. Mohler said the Abstract remains a vital part of the seminary’s tradition because it represents a commitment to fend off the theological liberalism that claimed historically Christian institutions, as well as Southern during part of the 20th century.
The seminary also installed three academic chairs during the convocation service: Randy L. Stinson, senior vice president for academic administration and provost, as Basil Manly Jr. Professor of Leadership and Family Ministry, Gregory A. Wills, dean of the School of Theology, as David T. Porter Professor of Church History, and Daniel M. Gurtner, Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament. Matthew J. Hall was also officially recognized as dean of Boyce College.
Mohler also acknowledged three new faculty members: Michael Crawford, assistant professor of business administration; Robert Jones, associate professor of biblical counseling; and Gurtner.
Audio and video of convocation are available at sbts.edu/resources.