Southern at TGC: Institutions are indispensable for the growth of the church, says Mohler during breakout session
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was well represented at the biennial national conference of The Gospel Coalition, April 1-3. The seminary sponsored two events during the week: a breakout session featuring R. Albert Mohler Jr. and a live recording of Mohler’s popular podcast Thinking in Public, both on Tuesday, April 2. In addition, Southern Seminary alumnus Jeff Robinson moderated a panel discussion featuring professor Juan R. Sanchez and trustee H.B. Charles.
Mohler at breakout session: Don’t stop believing in institutions
If evangelical Christianity is going to continue to grow, it must embrace the necessity of institutions, said R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of Southern Seminary, during his breakout session titled “Why Younger Generations Should Invest in Institutions.”
Mohler, who has been president of Southern Seminary since 1993, said that movements must either form institutions or disappear. They are therefore the only lasting means of change in society, he argued. While young people tend to be obsessed with such movements, Mohler said, if they want their ideas to exist beyond their lifetimes, they need to prioritize institutions.
Christianity is no different, he said. From the beginning of the Christian faith, institutions have been essential for lasting change. This was not only true in the earliest days of the church, but also during times of significant theological progress, like the Protestant Reformation.
The great Reformer and theologian Martin Luther was also a revolutionary builder of an institution, Mohler said, as demonstrated in Andrew Pettigree’s 2015 book, Brand Luther. Luther’s theological corrections extended beyond his region and time because the Protestant institution carried them on to future generations.
Similar reforms took place in the 20th century, Mohler said. As old American universities began to abandon historic Christianity, conservative Christians broke off to form their own groups. Fundamentalist Christians built Bible colleges while evangelicals tried to establish schools of their own, which were intended to compete with their liberal academic forebears. The evangelicals like Carl F.H. Henry failed to do this, but arrived at a much more important goal, Mohler said: working together to fulfill the Great Commission.
“At the very same time that the mainline Protestants were pouring all their money into institutions of cultural dominance, evangelicals were pouring money into institutions of Great Commission purpose. That’s the bargain that evangelicals made — it was a theological decision to put far more money into missions than anything else.”
In both cases, the leaders of a growing movement recognized that they needed institutions for their ideas to survive beyond their lifetimes. Similar things must happen today if the church intends to accomplish the Great Commission. This is what denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention offer evangelical Christianity.
“If our convictions are going to last, they are going to have to be institutionalized,” Mohler said. “It turns out that you can’t have the Great Commission without institutional platforms to send [people to], and missions will not last if you don’t have institutions, like the church. But churches pretty quickly need other institutions, which is the logic of denominationalism. Denominations don’t exist in order to suck the life out of the local church. … Denominations exist because churches need one another in order to accomplish what they cannot accomplish on their own.”
Institutions are inherently a risk, Mohler said. In a fallen world, they will sometimes not pan out, either because they are constructed upon immoral ideologies or because they fall apart over time. But that should not keep Christians from committing to them, since they are the only way the faith survives. The church, Mohler pointed out, is an institution that will never die because Jesus Christ promised it would endure. It is therefore worth the pain and effort to keep it pure and faithful to the task of taking the gospel to the nations, he said.
“The problem with institutions is that if you don’t have them, you don’t exist. If you do have them, you will lose them. The good news is that faithfulness subsides in and continues in the institutions that are kept accountable and faithful,” Mohler said. “There’s a reason why institutions last. People believe in them, they invest in them, and they endure over time.”
You can listen to the full breakout session here.
Panel on pastor endurance featured Sanchez, Charles, and alumnus Robinson
During one of the breakout sessions at the conference, Southern Seminary alumnus Jeff Robinson moderated a panel discussion about endurance in pastoral ministry. On the panel were Juan R. Sanchez, assistant professor of Christian theology at the seminary, and H.B. Charles, a Jacksonville, Florida, pastor who is currently serving a term on the school’s board of trustees. The three were joined by pastors Dave Harvey and Richard Philips.
Robinson, who in addition to an editorial role with The Gospel Coalition is the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky, told the roughly 200 pastors and leaders in the room that he convened the panel based on his experience in the local church. Pastors often experience frustrations, discouragement, and burnout, Robinson suggested, but rarely do they have the opportunity to learn from more seasoned pastors how to endure those parts of ministry. If the goal for a pastor is to serve for a lifetime, then pastors need that kind of help.
Sanchez, in identifying “threats” to endurance, specifically named the temptation to pursue ministry success without deep rooting in the Bible.
“If I’m not drinking deeply of the Word, I’ll be tempted to do ministry on my own strength,” he said. “And that’s the real threat to endurance.”
Charles emphasized that the “joy” of serving the church for a lifetime is the expectation of the future reward that Paul writes about in the third chapter of the book of Philippians.
“We are pressing on for a reward that is much more than anything this world can offer,” he said. “That’s the joy of enduring in ministry.”
While the particulars of the panel discussion were diverse, a theme of the hour-long panel became the necessity of pastors to lean into their divine callings and to align their ministry expectations with those in Scripture.
Mohler during pre-conference: Church must help parents with their difficult task
Mohler also spoke at a the TGC pre-conference event, arguing that marriages and families need their church communities in order to flourish. In an address titled “Parenting in Turbulent Times,” Mohler said some parents have romanticized the parenting styles of previous generations. There was no “golden age” of raising children, Mohler said, and nostalgia for a different time only makes a parent’s job today even harder. The challenges facing parents today are greater than ever, he said, because the very structure of family is at stake.
“The family is more fragile than ever before, and parenting in that context is more complex than ever,” he said.
The church is uniquely equipped to help young parents teach their children to love God, he said. New covenant Christians are intended to make more Christians, according to Mohler, and one way to do that is by helping to raise the children of believers. If one family cannot do it alone, the family of God should help.
“It takes a church to assist Christian families to flourish,” he said. “It takes a church to support parents and parenthood."
During the week’s events, seminary admissions personnel made more than 1,300 contacts and interacted with nearly 500 prospective students of Southern Seminary or Boyce College.
Southern Seminary team members also distributed more than 3,000 resources, including a Sermon on the Mount study journal featuring original notes and reflections by New Testament professor Jonathan T. Pennington, a unique print of the four gospels, and various books and informational materials.
Mohler’s live Thinking in Public interview was with Jonathan Leeman, author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age. Stay tuned for more coverage on the Late Night event in the coming days.