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Mohler defends biblical authority, gospel exclusivity on ‘Donahue’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A lively televised debate about gospel exclusivity Dec. 17 resulted in a sharp contrast between traditional Christianity and liberal Protestantism.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. appeared in studio on MSNBC’s “Donahue,” defending the orthodox Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. The program was broadcast live from the cable network’s New York City studio.

Although Mohler was called a “spiritual racist” by a Jewish rabbi in the opening segment, it was a debate with a self-professed Christian later in the show that resulted in the most spirited exchange.

Mohler made it clear he believed “Jesus is the only way” and on several occasions quoted John 14:6.

But another guest, Union Theological Seminary (N.Y.) President Joseph Hough, took exception to evangelicals’ beliefs, even saying that God could possibly be a “she.”

“The basic problem I think here is that their God is too small,” Hough said of evangelicals. “For me, I’m passionately Christian. I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus as the one who showed me the way. But I would be the last person to be so arrogant as to assert that my God has so little imagination that she or he could not reach out to other people in other cultures and other ways.”

Host Phil Donahue followed by telling Hough, “You speak for me.”

Hough also said that “those who claim that they know who is going to be saved” have scandalized Christ’s name. “I think God knows who is going to be saved. I’m happy to leave it in God’s hands,” he said.

Mohler, trying to put the entire panel’s debate in perspective a few segments later, said his views parallel the beliefs of the church since its inception.

“This is what Christianity has represented throughout the centuries,” Mohler said. “That’s just an historical fact. Liberal Protestants, like Dr. Hough, have moved away from a doctrine of biblical authority.”

With Hough responding, “That’s not true,” Mohler posed a question: “Do you believe that Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me?”

“I don’t know whether Jesus said that or whether John wrote it,” Hough responded.

Said Mohler: “[But] it was written in the Word.”

“Don’t you know about historical criticism?” Hough asked Mohler. “… Then you should read a little bit of that. If you did, then you would know that that book was written in the second century.” Comments such as Hough’s reflect historical critics’ suspicion of the Bible’s truthfulness by insisting it includes historical inaccuracies.

Mohler responded, “You take the Jesus of your scholarly imagination, and I’ll take the Jesus of the gospel.”

Hough, pointing to a Bible Mohler had brought, asked, “Do you believe that Bible literally?”

“Yes, I do,” Mohler answered.

The entire program had similar clear divisions between panelists. Joining Mohler in representing traditional Christianity were Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew who is president of the Pensacola, Fla.,-based ICN (Israel, the Church and the Nation) Ministries. Flip Benham, president of the pro-life Operation Rescue, joined the discussion by remote.

Hough, Donahue and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach argued against Christianity’s exclusive claims, saying such beliefs were dangerous and resulted in the Crusades and the Holocaust.

Panelists fielded questions from Donahue, audience members and viewers.

Donahue opened the show by asking, “Why do evangelicals — particularly Southern Baptists — target Jews for conversion?” He then asked Mohler, “How do we get into heaven?”

“Only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler said.

But Boteach, author of “Judaism for Everyone,” strongly disagreed with Mohler’s comments.

“Sadly, Reverend Mohler is a spiritual racist,” he said, adding that Ku Klux Klan members once killed minorities in the name of Christ.

Mohler responded by saying that such a person was not a Christian in the first place.

“The Lord himself said we shall know them by their fruits,” Mohler said. “Therefore, the authenticity of one who claims the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is demonstrated by … his love for all persons — including the Jews — and his desire that they will come to Christ.”

A discussion on judgment, heaven and hell dominated the program. At one point an audience member asked Boteach what he believed about Old Testament verses describing “sin and judgment.”

“Did you realize that I don’t give a darn if I’m going to heaven or hell?” Boteach responded. “I didn’t have children so that they look after me when I’m an old fool with drool coming out of my mouth. I had them because I love them. I serve God because I love him. … Why are you so fixated with heaven and hell, punishment and sin?”

Speaking to Boteach, Brown said, “We’re saying there is judgment. Everybody’s sinned. Everybody’s fallen short. It’s true.”

“What is this judgment thing?” Boteach asked, laughing. “[It’s] all we hear.”

Hough said he was “not interested in where we’re going when we die. I’m much more interested in what our religion teaches how to live.”

While some audience members supported traditional Christian beliefs, several expressed outrage at its claim of uniqueness. One said the panel’s evangelicals “are more fanatical than half of the people who are causing problems in Israel and around the Arab world.” Another audience member said the “saddest part of this entire discussion is that these young children of these bigots are being brought up to mimic and memorize and read [and] not to think for themselves.”

Benham disagreed with the description.

“We don’t force a dogma like the Ayatollah does, or like the Orthodox Jew does,” he said. “Jesus says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ It’s an invitation to the whole world.”

An audience member asked Mohler if a serial killer who believed in Jesus could get into heaven.

“If we take the gospel seriously, it’s impossible to imagine that one who knows the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and as his disciple could be a serial killer,” Mohler said. “Then you have another question. After committing that sin, is it possible even for someone who has been a serial killer to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes. We are all sinners, and grace is to those who trust the Lord Jesus Christ — serial killer, serial liar, serial sinner.”

After fielding another hypothetical question about who gets into heaven, Mohler addressed the problem of man’s sinfulness.

“The audience assumes what most people these days assume, and that is that the default position is [that people are] going to heaven,” he said. “[However,] we are born sinners destined for hell. The miracle is that God loved us so much that he sent his Son so that all who believe in him might have life and life everlasting. That’s the good news of the gospel.”

Brown agreed, and spoke to the assertion that exclusive views are the cause of wars.

“There’s been bloodshed under atheists, bloodshed under communists, Nazis,” he said. “That’s because human beings are fundamentally flawed — created in God’s image but fallen. We need help. … Jesus in his extraordinary love died for our sins and says everybody can have a chance.”

Pointing to a past comment by Mohler — in which he said “the biggest problem with Islamic theology is that it kills the soul” — Donahue challenged the Southern Seminary president to lose some of his “devotion” and work to harvest “love and understanding.”

But Mohler said he was doing just that — loving others.

“The most important thing we can do if we love persons is to tell them the truth, and I believe this is the truth based on God’s Word,” he said in a comment that elicited applause.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MOHLER ON ‘DONAHUE.’

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  • Michael Foust