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Young and Bold
R. Albert Mohler Jr. was too young to head the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He thought so. Everyone thought so. But the board was impressed by his youthful vigor and clear plan to restore the seminary’s confessional identity. He was only 33 years old when he assumed the presidency in 1993. Soon thereafter at least 96 percent of the faculty of the largest Protestant denomination’s flagship seminary’s left. Not that the faculty’s many liberals and moderates had much of a choice. Mohler had the audacity to enforce Southern’s Abstract of Principles, derived via the Second London Confession from that landmark Reformed document, the Westminster Confession.
More than 15 years later, Mohler has attracted one of the strongest evangelical faculties in the country. Enrollment has surged to more than 4,300 students—which makes Southern the largest Southern Baptist seminary, and likely the largest U.S. seminary overall. Southern’s success story has made Mohler a big target for Baptists who don’t appreciate this return to the convention’s Reformed roots. Yet Mohler is more likely to bemoan the sad state of American culture on his daily radio program or while appearing on CNN than he is to fly the flag for Calvinism.
“My Agenda Is the Gospel”
“When I say that my agenda is not Calvinism, I say that with unfeigned honesty, with undiluted candor,” Mohler told me. “My agenda is the gospel. And I refuse to limit that to a label, but I am also very honest to say, yes, that means that I am a five-point Calvinist. If you’re counting points, here I am.”
Nevertheless, this issue may still come to a head in the notoriously contentious SBC. While only 10 percent of SBC pastors describe themselves as five-point Calvinists, a 2007 Lifeway study indicates that 30 percent of recent convention seminary graduates self-identify this way. Don’t expect demographics to deter non-Calvinists who continue to insist that a belief in predestination precludes evangelism.
To be continued.