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Christian education, minus Scripture, is a ‘lie,’ Mohler tells conference

TOLEDO, Ohio (BP)–Christian education that is not driven by the centrality of Scripture is “a lie,” R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Nov. 15 to a national audience of evangelicals gathered at the Great Lakes Bible Conference, Toledo, Ohio. Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called for parents and churches to recapture their God-ordained responsibility to immerse the generations to come in comprehensive biblical instruction.
“Much that is in the name of Christian education is nothing more than secular psychology warmed over,” Mohler charged. “It’s nothing more than the wisdom of the world with a little Christian language thrown in to leaven the loaf. … (O)ne thing that is not present is the Word of God.”
Instead of seeking to “smuggle in” the veneer of a Christian worldview on an otherwise secularized curriculum, Mohler called for education that is “scriptural in its shape and substance, in its authority, in its formation.”
Probing the counsel of Moses to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:1-25, Mohler outlined three pivotal components of Christian education and lamented their alarming absence in many sectors of contemporary evangelicalism.
In an age which “hates the truth,” biblical doctrine is the first distinguishing mark of truly Christian education, Mohler said. He recited the words of the Shema, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” as among the first memorized by Hebrew children in Old Testament Israel. This declaration, he argued, is an affirmation of revealed doctrinal truths about the attributes of God.
Despite such a forceful biblical mandate for purity of truth, Mohler pointed to vast theological confusion in many evangelical churches. “The God proclaimed by so many is simply not the God of the Bible,” he noted, citing widespread ignorance even among church members on the meaning of such doctrines as God’s sovereignty, omniscience and omnipotence.
Secondly, discipline, purity of life, is essential to Christian education, he said. Noting Moses’ impassioned exhortation for the Israelites to carefully observe the commandments of their God, Mohler pinpointed the ancient temptation for each individual to “do what is right in his own eyes” as “the essence of human rebellion.”
Such rebellion must be guarded against, Mohler asserted, by the biblically required discipline of the people of God, to whom has been revealed in Scripture the very definition of sin. Such discipline, he said, has virtually disappeared from the modern evangelical landscape. Instead, sin has often become a “trifling matter … winked at in so many contemporary churches.”
“The people of God misbehave, break God’s law; sin is abundantly evident in so many of our churches,” Mohler observed. “And there seems to be no moral authority willing to say: ‘This will not do.’
“The moral laxity of the church is one of the great curses which will condemn us before the world,” Mohler warned. “And eventually, far more importantly, before the Lord.”
Diligence, persistence in teaching, is the third mark of biblical education. Mohler said believers’ homes must be “Word centered,” citing the Scripture’s call for God’s people to bind his word to their hands, foreheads and doorposts.
“Is it so apparent in your home that no one could visit your home without knowing your concern and care for the Word of God?” Mohler asked. “Do your children know that the Scripture is so precious to you that when a question comes up and you simply must turn to it, you don’t have to ask four people where it is?
“Is there a Bible on your bedside? Is there a Bible on your breakfast table, where it is something that is so much a part, not just of the furniture, but what is necessary for the living of your life that you cannot be without it?”
Christian parents and churches face the daunting challenge of a culture consumed by the rampant biblical illiteracy of a post-literate age, Mohler said. He contrasted the basic biblical cultural understanding of the past century with recent surveys which suggest that most Americans mistake quotations from Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” for Scripture. Christians must strive to be “people of the book,” Mohler counseled, in an age in which obsession with technology extends from children captivated by computerized key chain “pets” to the “persistent vegetative state” of adults before the household television.
Mohler encouraged Christian parents to stem the tide of such trends by committing themselves to making readers of their own children. Of his own daughter, he said, “I would rather her have the best literature than the best fashion.” Such nurture, he said, begins with reading the Bible to children from their earliest ages.
“Are you teaching them the Scripture, such that they learn that part of what it means to be a parent is to open the Word of God?”
Instead of popular notions of Bible study in which participants simply sit in a circle “sharing biblical ignorance” about what the Bible “means to me,” Mohler challenged pastors and church leaders to return to a more classical understanding of church-based Christian education.
“We have programmized so much of our Christian education that we count success by finishing a program rather than by measuring whether we’re actually teaching the Word,” Mohler said. “Have a teacher who knows the Scripture and can teach the Scripture sit down with persons committed to study the Scripture. Have the Bible before each person in the class … and actually deal with the text.”
Likewise, Mohler called for a reversal of the increasing secularization of Christian colleges and seminaries at which Scripture has become “a required course, but, by no means, the central educational foundation.” Mohler told the group of his own determination to ensure that Scripture retains its place of centrality at Southern Seminary.
A recovery of such Scripture-driven educational priorities in homes, churches and educational institutions would transform the agenda of the church, Mohler contended, including the expectations for ministers. Instead of churches searching for pastors who can fill the role of an eloquent CEO with a mastery of technique and leadership ability, churches would first ask: “Can you teach the Scriptures?”
“Think of how that would change the pulpit committee meetings,” Mohler remarked. “To sit back and say: Is it first and foremost known of us that our pastor is a scholar of the Word and one who is able to teach that Word he has come to know.”
The Great Lakes Bible Conference was sponsored by the Toledo-area Friday Night Bible Study, a conservative evangelical organization founded by Robert Forney Jr., a professor of pathology at the Medical College of Ohio. Along with Mohler, the Conference heard messages by James Montgomery Boice, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia; Michael Horton, vice chairman of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; and Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church in Cleveland. Contemporary Christian artist Steve Camp served as conference worship leader.

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  • Russell D. Moore