Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1993, will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention when it gathers June 9-10, 2020, in Orlando. Mohler, who served on the committee that drafted the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, recently spoke with the TEXAN about his nomination and his view and vision of the SBC.
TEXAN: How would you define a successful presidential term, should you be elected?
Mohler: I think we’re at an interesting and strategic moment for Southern Baptists, and I would define success as helping Southern Baptists to move in unity and in theological health towards a future that will be even more faithful, even more evangelistic, even more committed to missions. At this particular moment I think there’s a tremendous need for the affirmation of Southern Baptists and for affirmation by Southern Baptists of the convictions that shape us, and I think this is a moment of generational transition in the SBC where we’re in a season of enormous cultural challenge and I think Southern Baptists need to think and talk very openly and honestly about these issues, and to do so in the right spirit. So, I would consider that to be success if I could help to facilitate those conversations and help Southern Baptists move forward.
TEXAN: What other challenges or opportunities do you see facing the convention today?
Mohler: We’re looking at an unprecedented cultural challenge to the SBC. The SBC is accustomed, as a fellowship of churches, to being rather at the center of our own culture. And candidly, we are now in a situation in which all of the major cultural forces now present a significant challenge to us. Southern Baptists face challenges to our faithfulness that no previous generation has had to consider. When you just take into account the moral revolution pressing so many issues on us, there is a great need for Southern Baptists to have a united front and a united heart, but there are challenges to that unity. There are issues that have arisen over the course of the last several years that have probably sown seeds of unnecessary disunity, in one sense because Southern Baptists evidently have forgotten how to talk to one another and even how to discuss issues. So, I’m just hopeful that Southern Baptists are up to this kind of conversation. And what I hear from Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders and lay people is that they want this kind of conversation, and that they don’t want it to take place on Twitter. They want it to take place face to face.
TEXAN: Could you give an example of what you see are some of the greatest opportunities facing the convention?
Mohler: I think of the generational transition that Southern Baptists are now experiencing as itself a great opportunity. Let me give you the best news I can think of about that transition. Virtually every other denomination has had an effective loss of biblical fidelity in the current generation of young adults. The statistics, denomination by denomination, are catastrophic. Here’s the great good news: we have six seminaries populated by some of the most conservative, convictional and gospel-minded young pastors and preachers you could imagine. We have a rising generation just as committed to the Great Commission as their forefathers and foremothers, and in one sense even more so, given the opposition they will face. I just want to tell Southern Baptists, look, we have one shot at this generational transition and we’re starting out with an enormous blessing when you look at the generation of pastors now serving the SBC.
TEXAN: You mentioned unnecessary disagreement on Twitter. In the face of these and other serious disagreements, how do you plan to lead us as a convention toward unity?
Mohler: Well, I do think Southern Baptists are far more united than divided right now. I don’t think we’re suffering a crisis of disunity. But, there are issues that clearly have come up again and again on the floor of the SBC. All you have to do is listen to the denomination conversation after our meeting in Birmingham to know there are some real issues that Southern Baptists want to talk about. And look, just to be candid, the only reason we’re able to have this conversation is because Southern Baptists experienced a great theological reformation in the period of the late 70s, the 1980s and the 90s and beyond. We are the inheritors of that reformation. And we dare not lose it. When you look at every other denomination that has been in precipitous decline, generally accompanied by theological apostasy, we just need to be really thankful for what unites Southern Baptists. And I don’t have a doubt about that, by the way. I don’t doubt that if these major issues were to come up on the floor of the SBC that the Southern Baptist Convention would be enormously united, on the integrity of the gospel, on the inerrancy of Scripture, on the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ, you go down the list—that’s unprecedented in any major American denomination. And not only am I unspeakably thankful for that, I’m determined to perpetuate that.
TEXAN: Why you? Why should Southern Baptists select you in 2020 at the Convention?
Mohler: The folks who have come to me over the course of the last several years and asked me to do this, and in the last several months more pointedly, have convinced me to do it because they have been looking for someone they know who loves the Southern Baptist Convention and is committed to it with a lifelong commitment, someone who has lived through the last several decades of Southern Baptist life and knows what must not be lost, and someone who loves Southern Baptists at every level and will give Southern Baptists and the state conventions and our denominational entities encouragement. And I mean convictional encouragement and encouragement for leadership and understanding of how the SBC works. I will simply say that I don’t have anything to stand on but three decades of service to the Southern Baptist Convention and people by now have pretty much figured out who I am.
TEXAN: We’re meeting in the same city, 20 years after the BF&M 2000 was adopted. Is the current version of the Baptist Faith & Message sufficient for the challenges facing the convention today?
Mohler: I’m an enthusiastic proponent of the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith & Message and I would not encourage the revision of that confession at this time. I think what you see in the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is a very powerful statement of Southern Baptist conviction. My job is to be a theologian, and as a theologian and as a confessionalist I’m very worried about revisiting the confession too often. That just does not represent theological health. I’m not saying that Southern Baptists should never revisit the Baptist Faith & Message, but there will be the temptation on the part of some to revisit it at every meeting of the convention, and that’s not how a confession of faith operates. Theological health is having an ongoing conversation about Southern Baptist convictions, but I think right now—and here’s another piece of really good news—the Baptist Faith & Message really does represent what Southern Baptists believe, what is taught in our seminaries, and what is affirmed by our state conventions. And when you consider the denominational landscape around us, that’s just incredibly good news.
TEXAN: Highlighting the areas in which we are unified and agree—is that going to be a major theme as you lead us as president?
Mohler: Well, if the Lord gives me that opportunity, I think that’s the most important thing I can do. The Southern Baptist denomination is not a hierarchical denomination. The president of the SBC doesn’t have much control, but he does have some influence, and I hope to use that influence to help Southern Baptists to move into this new decade with convictions intact, with Great Commission passion, enthusiastic, and with honest hope. And honest hope means it’s not a hope based on avoiding some hard conversations, but actually having those hard conversations. And I’ve been at this for a very long time—I know Southern Baptists are capable of having real conversations, but we have made it very difficult to do so in our current denominational climate.
In the first sense, we’ve cut our meeting time down so that there’s very little time for either formal or informal conversation at Southern Baptist meetings. And I know this was all done in the name of efficiency, but it’s kind of like a family reunion right now where everyone flies in, has a meal, and leaves without talking to one another. We need to have those conversations, so I’m concerned about the fact that we’ve lost the formal conversations that we used to have, but also the informal conversations. We just have lost a lot of the connective tissue in the SBC where state convention executives and pastors and Southern Baptist leaders and lay people were together even just to have a meal and to have a coffee after a meeting. The SBC is built on relationships, and we have weakened that tissue of relationships. That’s not healthy.
The second thing is the rise of social media means that some people are trying to have ongoing conversation and debate 280 characters at a time. No denomination, in fact no church, of course, could exist trying to move its conversation onto the combat of Twitter. Now, that’s not say that real issues do not arise there and it’s not to say that nothing good could be said there, but it is to say Twitter is a very bad place to go to the Southern Baptist Convention. You actually need to go to the convention. We need Southern Baptists to be actively involved.
TEXAN: What are some of the serious issues that you believe we should learn to talk more healthily about?
Mohler: The good news is those issues [of the Conservative Resurgence]—such as the inerrancy of Scripture at the very center of that debate—they’re not up for question in the SBC, nor, I think, is a basic commitment to complementarianism. But there are new issues that have arisen in relationship to the appropriate roles for men and women in the church and in the Christian life that really were not a part of the picture even in 2000 when the Baptist Faith & Message was revised. They really weren’t very much a part of the picture when the Danvers Statement was adopted. So, I don’t fear those conversations. I don’t worry that Southern Baptists are tempted to go liberal on these issues, but I do think Southern Baptists have a basic commitment to complementarianism and are going to need to figure out what constitutes an adequate basis for our cooperation. There’s something going on in the SBC right now, or at least in some public conversation about the SBC, and that’s the assumption that the Southern Baptist Convention is to take a position on every theological question. That is not, and never has been, true. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a monolithic denomination. It’s got different traditions, it’s got churches with different worship styles, and it has from the beginning. And so what the Baptist Faith & Message has represented is an adequate basis of our theological cooperation. We are, as a denomination, centered in those common beliefs, but the SBC has never been monochromatic.
TEXAN: Some seem inclined to divide the SBC over issues about which the BF&M 2000 would indicate no need for division. Can we move on without settling such issues?
Mohler: I do not believe that health and integrity is ever found in avoiding a conversation. So, I am quite convinced that Southern Baptists are up to having a good, honest conversation about any of the issues that might be brought forward. And, we should not see the fact that those issues are brought forward as a threat or as an assault upon the SBC. But, at the same time, Southern Baptists don’t have a position on any number of issues that some people would like the denomination to speak to. There, I just count on the great wisdom and the conviction of grassroots Southern Baptists.
TEXAN: Specifically, Critical Race Theory and women preaching have become flash points in some quarters. Are these among the serious conversations you envision?
Mohler: I have spoken to these issues as clearly as I know how and Southern Baptists know exactly how to find out what I think about anything because you can Google and for good or ill find what I have said and thought about anything, and I certainly hope for good. My life has been committed to trying to help the Southern Baptist Convention and to serve the SBC in this way. So, just to take that one issue [women preaching in SBC churches]: I do not believe that the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are open to having a woman to preach in the worship service, and I do not believe that they are wrong. I believe that’s an appropriate and right reading of Scripture. I believe that’s an instinct and an intuition that’s driven deeply into the Southern Baptist Convention by conviction. It’s not, however, an issue to which the Baptist Faith & Message directly speaks. Now this is complicated, because I would argue that when the Baptist Faith & Message says “pastor,” it means both office and function. But there are Southern Baptists who argue that it means office and not function. I think Southern Baptists should not be reluctant to have this conversation. I don’t worry that Southern Baptists are going to fracture over this question. I think that there will be some Southern Baptists who will hold a position different than my own, and I do not sense that the Southern Baptist Convention has the will to define these issues differently or beyond what is in the Baptist Faith & Message.
TEXAN: What will be your guiding criteria when you make appointments to the Committee on Committees?
Mohler: I would pledge to make appointments by the very same criteria used by faithful Southern Baptist Convention presidents ever since the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979. I will seek to find the most judicious Southern Baptists and responsible Southern Baptists to fulfill that responsibility and I will do so, I can pledge to you, in a way that Southern Baptists will feel confident when they would see such a list.
TEXAN: Imagine a small town church in East Texas running about 50 people on an average Sunday morning. What’s your case for why a church like that should be a part of the SBC?
Mohler: Well, from my heart, that’s the easiest case to make. Cooperating with Southern Baptists is the way a church like that can reach to Zimbabwe and Zaire and Miami and San Francisco and, for that matter, within their own association and their neighboring associations, with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every single church in the Southern Baptist Convention, by the miracle of the Cooperative Program and our cooperative work, is at work right now for the gospel of Christ, taking the gospel to the nations. And no one of our churches, no matter how large, can do that alone. But we’re able to do that together. And, that church can have the assurance that the missionaries being sent by our International Mission Board are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the sufficiency of Scripture. And they can be assured that when they are training missionaries through six seminaries, they know what’s being taught at those seminaries and that it’s consistent with the Baptist Faith & Message. They know that when the North American Mission Board is planting churches, it’s doing so on behalf of not only that church in East Texas, but almost 40,000 other Southern Baptist churches. Making the case for the Southern Baptist Convention or for our state conventions is just about the easiest case I know how to make.
TEXAN: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Mohler: I think this is an issue of importance, too, when you consider the sex abuse crisis and the issues that confront the SBC. I just want to say that that crisis is real and is going to call out the very best of Southern Baptist conviction and compassion and honesty, and that Southern Baptists are going to have to figure out, as the world is watching, how we’re going to respond to this challenge in ways that befit the gospel of Jesus Christ, what we know the Bible to teach about the protection of the vulnerable, what we know the Scriptures to teach about the integrity of ministry, and what we believe about Baptist polity. If resolving these issues were easy it would have been done long ago. But, under the leadership of President J.D. Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention has begun the process of responding to these issues, and this is going to take a lot of work by the Executive Committee, and a lot of investment by Southern Baptists. But we have one opportunity to show the world, based upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, how this denomination will respond to this challenge.
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 14, a group of pastors announced their intention to nominate Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, as SBC president. The TEXAN will include coverage of Adams’ nomination in a future issue of the paper.