‘A place for truth’: Commitment to theology defines a faithful seminary, says Mohler at SBTS spring convocation
An ironclad commitment to truth is the defining quality of a faithful theological institution, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during its spring convocation, Feb. 6 in Alumni Memorial Chapel.
In an address titled, “Recovering and Sustaining the Theological Mission of Christian Education,” Mohler stressed the centrality of the theological disciplines in any truly Christian understanding of the world. Any educational endeavor must therefore emerge from a solid theological starting point, along with a robust epistemology, he said. If the church is going to grow, it must do the same.
“There is not going to be any non-theological Christianity,” Mohler said. “By definition, it won’t exist. There is not going to be a Christianity where theology is not central to the entire enterprise of the church — because it’s going to take Christian thinking to have Christians. The center of theology is truth. Theology is only the discipline that matters because truth exists and truth may be known, and that is God’s gift of revelation.”
Twenty-five years after his election as president of Southern Seminary, Mohler returned to a book he found instructive and helpful as he faced his own epistemological battle in his first year, faithfully holding the line for Christian truth. In his 1993 book, No Place For Truth, theologian David F. Wells wrote that evangelicalism as a whole was in a state of crisis because it no longer stood for truth or theological precision.
An “evangelical empire” churned out fewer and fewer theological books. Church theology declined, and intellectual life went with it. Mass media had overtaken the world and become more intrusive than ever. After decades of epistemological and ethical decay in American universities, the postmodern rejection of absolute truth seeped into the mainstream, Mohler said.
“[Moral relativism] was imported mostly, to the vast majority of Americans, not by a tenured professor at Cornell or Yale or Harvard, but by television,” he said. “The moral, cultural, epistemological revolution probably owes more to Professor Homer Simpson than to any tenured member of an Ivy League faculty.”
That crisis has only intensified since. Wells wrote in the years before the internet, which is now immediately available to virtually every person in the world and has accelerated the news cycle beyond one person’s ability to keep up. News outlets like The New York Times — its editorial staff filled with products of the 20th century university culture that denied the existence and knowability of truth — began wistfully longing for a return to truth with no ability to claim it, Mohler said. The church suffered. Those who had been on left wing of evangelicalism in 1993 have simply left for mainline liberal Protestantism. Evangelism remained superficial, but the generation once attracted to that began to move on.The pressures of the modern age provided little incentive to stay, Mohler said. The theological weight of evangelicalism has been decreasing each decade.
“There are fewer and fewer people in the pews because — exactly as we have known ever since the New Testament — the more you try to make yourself relevant, the less relevant you become. And that’s exactly what has happened: In the name of remaining relevant to the culture, mainline Protestantism has abandoned the gospel, and then people just abandoned the churches. They have been hemorrhaging their membership by the millions.”
The solution, according to Mohler, is an invigorated evangelicalism that is committed both to truth and theological vocation. Despite existing in an increasingly secularized and atheistic world, seminaries willing to stand for truth participate in a profound new narrative.
“That other story is being told right now in this room. That story is being told in a resurgent evangelicalism,” Mohler said. “The other story that is being told is of the recovery of theology, not just as an academic discipline — although that is fundamentally important — but of the recovery of theology as the centering reality of Christian understandings of the world and humanity and morality and art and history and music.”
Theology is the natural extension of the embrace of truth, Mohler argued, and therefore there are no non-theological disciplines at a seminary resolved to know and teach the truth. Everything a student studies at such an institution — homiletics, evangelism, missions, exegesis, hermeneutics — emerges out of that theological commitment, Mohler said.
“If The Southern Baptist Theology Seminary and Boyce College mean anything, it must mean we are here in the name of truth. We are here to be obedient to the truth. We are here to teach the truth; we are here to be taught the truth,” he said. “We believe in truth not because we believe in ourselves, but because we believe in the sovereign, omnipotent God of the universe who by his mercy has revealed himself to us. He is there and he is not silent."
Audio and video of the convocation address are available at equip.sbts.edu.