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Seminaries responsible for recovery of biblical knowledge, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A nationwide recovery of biblical knowledge must begin in the local church — and ultimately, the seminaries — Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Aug. 27.

Mohler, preaching at the school’s fall convocation, said there is a “doctrinal deficit” of biblical knowledge among both churchgoers and American citizens. He quoted several polls, one of which found that only 9 percent of Americans could define the Great Commission, although 90 percent of them claimed to be Christians. In another poll, Mohler said, only two-thirds of churchgoers knew anything about the content of John 3:16.

Preaching from Deuteronomy 6 — in which the Israelites are commanded to memorize God’s commandments — Mohler said biblical instruction must begin at home and in the church. What is taught at Southern Seminary and other theological institutions, he also noted, will impact local churches.

“How much loss has come to the church because Christian parents do not teach [biblical truth]?” Mohler asked. “[But] how much injury has come because the church has not taught Christian parents what they are to teach?

“How woeful it is that there would be a theological institution that would not teach ministers of the gospel, on the basis of God’s Word, what it is that they are to teach, that others may be taught.”

Before Mohler spoke, four seminary professors signed the “Abstract of Principles,” the confession of faith that has been signed by every tenured professor in the history of the Louisville, Ky., seminary. Adding their names to the historical document were Peter Gentry, associate professor of Old Testament interpretation; Kenneth Magnuson, associate professor of Christian ethics; David Puckett, professor of church history; and Stephen Wellum, associate professor of Christian theology.

A total of 221 people have now signed the document, which includes the signatures of the founding professors, including the founding president, James P. Boyce.

Mohler reminded the seminary family that much like the Israelites were given a great land they did not earn, every generation inherits a legacy from those who have gone before.

“We are living in a house we did not build, filled with many good things we did not bring,” Mohler said. “We are the inheritors of something great and blessed, eating from trees we did not plant — as every previous generation of the people of God must confess.

“Let us watch ourselves that we not betray this trust, but show ourselves by God’s grace ready to pass this on to the generation that shall come.”

If the next generation is to inherit a Bible-based institution, Mohler added, then the present generation must be shaped by biblical doctrine.

“We understand that all truth is God’s truth and it is to be lived out as God’s truth,” he said. “With humility, we understand that this is not a wisdom we have sought out and found. It is a wisdom that has been delivered to us by divine initiative. It is based ultimately and entirely upon revelation.”

Because it is God’s revealed truth, Mohler said, it must be cherished. He pointed out that Moses treasured God’s commandments when he told the Israelites, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Such instruction, Mohler said, must start in the home.

“The first concern of this text is [that] the learning should take place in the home, and let each of us be reminded that the home is the first school,” he said. “Let each of us be reminded of the parental responsibility that cannot be franchised out. Every parent will give an answer to the Lord God himself concerning the education of our children.

“We will give an answer for whether they were raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That is a parental responsibility.”

But the Word of God also must be taught on the seminary level, Mohler said.

“There is no apology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for the requirements we instill in our curriculum in the classical disciplines of exegesis and hermeneutics, theology and church history, ethics, philosophy and apologetics,” he said. “It is because we believe that there is a certain content to the Christian faith.”

If doctrine is taught, Mohler said, then diligence will follow. It is imperative, he said, that Christians believe God’s Word not only with their head but also with their heart. He pointed to Deuteronomy 6:5, where Moses tells the Israelites to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

“We want to make it a matter not just of the head,” Mohler said. “It must become a matter of the heart. Thus our standards are not set merely by accrediting agencies — although we intend to surpass those — but by the God who is a consuming fire, to whom we will give an answer.”

Christians must be taught to cherish God’s Word, Mohler said, if they are to avoid distractions. He read Deuteronomy 6:13-14, in which Moses warned the Israelites to fear God and to “not follow other gods.”

“That is the temptation, and is that not what we are seeing today when our own young people are being seduced by the gods of the age?” Mohler asked, referring to the media, the culture and the “dominant educational establishment.”

Pointing to the polls showing the lack of biblical knowledge in America’s churches, Mohler said, “There is a certain knowledge that has to be known if Christianity is going to survive. The doctrinal deficit in the contemporary church is far below that minimal standard.”

The responsibility to reverse that negative trend lies with Christian homes, churches and seminaries, Mohler said.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that there is no such lack of knowledge,” he said. “… [We must] pray that God would raise up his church by the preaching of his Word, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit such that we are a Scripture-shaped people that stand out for our holiness against the world — not because of our righteousness, but because of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Audio of this sermon is available on the seminary’s webpage at: http://www.sbts.edu/resources/audio/Fall2002.php. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SIGNING SOUTHERN’S CONFESSION OF FAITH and FALL CONVOCATION.

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  • Michael Foust