This week Al Mohler allowed the release of a statement that he would be running for the office of President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Al is well known in the evangelical world, serving on the board of Focus on the Family, appearing often on secular television shows, and weighing in regularly on the political and social issues of our day. Al is ubiquitous, but before anyone suggests the 2008 SBC Presidential election is already decided, it must be remembered that Al publicly endorsed Ronnie Floyd prior to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention, and it should be obvious from Floyd receiving only 24% of the vote at the convention that the influence of Al is not as great in the SBC as some might presume. There are three reasons why I predict Southern Baptists may not elect Al Mohler, and instead place someone - similar to a Frank Page - in the office of President at the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention in Indianopolis.
REASON NUMBER ONE Southern Baptists are now desiring gospel cooperation, not the separatism of Fundamentalism.
Many thousands of Southern Baptists, including me, were willing to 'battle for the Bible.' We are not willing to battle for additions to the Bible. While Al Mohler strongly believes that the gospel should not be compromised (as do we), and is sometimes critical of the emerging church movement (as are we), it is just as dangerous to demand conformity on matters that exceed the gospel. Some have expressed fear of Mohler's Calvinism, but it his Fundamentalism which should cause pause when it comes to electing Al as President. Whereas Al could argue Calvinism is based upon an interpretation of the sacred text, it is more difficult to deny his Fundamentalism is based on additions to the sacred text. For example, Al has called intentional childlessness moral rebellion. Chapter and verse from the sacred text are not used for such pontifical pronouncements, and we Southern Baptists should always quickly question moral standards that exceed the sufficient Scriptures. Further, when one's orthodoxy (doctrine) contradicts one's orthopraxy (practice or behavior), confusion arises. For instance, in arguing for the moral pronouncement that intentional childlessness is rebellion against God, Mohler writes:
To demand that marriage means sex--but not children--is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children.
Last time I checked only outright Socinians and Open Theists - not orthodox Calvinists - believed God intends to create children but is defrauded by the saints. Orthodoxy would say that God is as sovereign over the means as He is the ends. Is it not possible that a soverereign God actually had a hand in inventing contraception? Most Calvinists I know would agree. But when Calvinism weds herself to Fundamentalism a conundrum is born.
However, the more compelling reason to reject Mohler's Fundamentalism is the dangerous view of authority. In a cooperating convention like ours the Southern Baptist Convention is THE highest authority. At last year's Southern Baptist Convention the messengers adopted the Garner Motion which affirmed the following statement regarding the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message:
We acknowledge that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention.
For those who doubt that the Convention knew what they were doing when they affirmed the Executive Committee statement by adopting the Garner Motion, I would encourage you to read the transcript of the entire debate PRIOR to the vote which affirmed the Garner Motion by a nearly 60% magority. Southern Baptists knew what they were doing. The Convention spoke.
But the next day Al Mohler said the Convention did not know what we were doing. When one man - or an oligarchy of men - refuses to follow the Convention's authority, the Convention no longer exists as an autonomous body. I have always worked under the premise that I will do what I am doing on the IMB until the convention speaks and says 'no more.' My authority flows not from the IMB Board of Trustees; my authority flows from the SBC. My ultimate authority is God and His Word, and if the Convention ever departs from either, then I must leave. But I will not leave until the Convention speaks. The danger is when a man thumbs his nose at the Convention's authority and continues to serve in contradiction to that Convention - all the while receiving funds from the Cooperative Program for his ministry. The tide of Fundamentalism - which washes away gospel cooperation by the perpetual demands to conform on tertiary issues - must be stemmed in the SBC. The very existence and identity of our Convention is at stake.
We also need a President who will focus on the gospel more than politics. We need a President who will focus more on that which unites us than that which separates us. We need a President who serves the Convention rather than a President who controls the Convention. We need a President in 2008 who will lead us into a gospel resurgence.
REASON NUMBER TWO: It is at best unwise, and at worst a conflict of interest, to have an entity President simultaneously serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
It will be argued by some that Paige Patterson served as President of the SBC exactly ten years ago (1998-2000). It is no accident that the committee appointed (not nominated) by President Patterson to revise the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message included relatives and close friends. It is also no accident that a restrictive view of the role of women - a view reflected in the personal philosophy of then President Paige Patterson - eventually found its way into the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Though no major doctrinal confession in the history of any Baptist body since 1600 contained such a tertiary statement about women, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted this one - in no small part to the powers of appointment of the President.
Now, let's move to a modern example. Two years ago a majority of Southern Baptist seminary Presidents pushed hard for the implementation of an annual "Seminary Offering" similar to The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, including her Board officers, felt incredible pressure to acquiesce to the desires of the seminary Presidents. In the end, the Executive Committee, through the appointment of appropriate committees who independently studied the proposal, politely said "no" to such an offering.
Now, fastforward to 2008. Suppose Al Mohler is elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He will not only serve as the President of an entity, he will preside over the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. He will have appointment powers - including over any committee he wishes to form to reinvestigate a 'Seminary Offering." This potential conflict of interest is fastidiously avoided - by policy and bylaw - within the secular corporate world, and it SHOULD be banned by any non-profit religious organization, including the SBC.
One of the reasons that the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008 seems to be controlled by the top down, instead of the tried and true historic Baptist grassroots level of governance, is because too many Southern Baptist leaders in the past thirty years have never met a sycophant they would not promote. Truly great leaders gather people with opposing views around them so that their leadership iron will remain sharp by the fires of dissent and challenge. The oligarchy of leadership that has typified the SBC during the Conservative Resurgence must be broken for no other reason than the incestuous control of agencies and boards through the appointment of simple 'yes' men must be broken for the health of our agencies. Demands for absolute conformity in all things among Baptists is like inbreeding within a family. Soon, the children will be unable to think on their own - literally. And, even more tragic, those in charge of the family won't hesitate to remind the children they are too dumb to know what needs done.
REASON NUMBER THREE: The Southern Baptist Convention needs the leadership of a man who sets the example for generous giving through the Cooperative Program.
Mohler is a member of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, where he serves as a "teaching pastor" and a Sunday school teacher. The church contributes 3.3 percent of its $5 million in undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program and nothing to the SBC's two mission offerings according to Baptist Press (UPDATE: It seems that Highland did not accurately report their traditional mission giving to the ACP. See the church's clarification here. We commend Highland for their stated goals for traditional missions giving for 2008). The mission's giving of one's home church is more important than it might seem at first glance, and in the coming months and years I am quite positive that this issue will only grow in importance in the minds of those whom will chose who leads the SBC.
There already has been an announcement that two other men will be running for President. I know both men and believe them to have good motives and the best interest of the SBC at heart. Just like Al, they will do what they feel called to do.
I do believe, however, that there may very well be another candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention who will be right man for the right job. He may, or may not, be revealed until May - just a month prior to the SBC. It is even possible that this man will not even announce, and simply let his name be revealed at the SBC Convention. Regardless, Southern Baptists should continue to express their gratefulness for Al Mohler, but should give serious consideration to whether or not he is the right man for the wrong job.
In His Grace,