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Southern’s Mohler describes spiritual, theological sojourn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Florida sunshine beat down on the ramshackle shed, rendering it a sauna of confusion. A crusty, but loving grandfather barking orders didn’t help. Neither did frantic beads of sweat swimming down the young boy’s forehead. He thought the tractor was in first gear, but the 13-year-old had no idea he’d create a new entrance — or more accurately, exit — when he popped the clutch and plunged backward through the rickety shack wall.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. continues to be driven, not by a tractor in reverse but by a hungry intellect; a deep sense of God’s calling; and a voracious appetite for the study of theology, culture and apologetics — dimensions he recounts of his Christian life in the most recent issue of the “Tie,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s alumni magazine. Mohler marked the five-year point in his presidency at the Louisville, Ky., seminary last August.
Besides being reared in a Christian home, Mohler credits church life for influencing him: “I was nurtured in a very fine and faithful Southern Baptist church, he said in the article, “where I received a solid background in Christian knowledge and had valuable Christian experiences within that church — all the way from cradle roll to my call to ministry.”
Through the ministry of this church, Mohler said two spiritual mileposts planted themselves in his life. The first was his conversion to Christ: “As a 9-year-old boy attending Vacation Bible School, I heard the gospel preached in such a way that I understood I was a sinner in need of a redeemer. So, I claimed the mercy of Jesus Christ and trusted in him.”
The second occurred at a Royal Ambassadors camp. Soon after his baptism, Mohler sensed the Lord calling him to preach. “I actually filled out a commitment card on decision day at RA camp, saying I thought the Lord was calling me to ministry. But I was also fairly certain that the Lord didn’t call 9-year-olds to preach.”
Though he was a young, practicing believer in Jesus Christ, Mohler was also searching. By his own account, serious metaphysical and ontological questions surfaced when he heard a sermon that raised a question in his young mind: “How do I know that God exists?”
The hunger to know the secrets of God panged away at him until he read the late Francis Schaeffer’s book, “He Is There and He is Not Silent.” The 14-year-old Mohler read incessantly, rapaciously: more Schaeffer, philosophy books, theology books, history books, books on culture and government and politics. Each book a mile-marker on his trek for truth.
After graduating from high school in 1977, Mohler entered the pre-law program of Florida Atlantic University that year. While plugging down the road of a political science major, he often looked in the rear-view mirror of his memory and reflected on that RA camp commitment card. He struggled with it, wondering if God truly had called him.
“I had an enormous void, a discomfort, as I became increasingly aware that I was not fulfilled. I had a clear sense of being in the wrong place for the wrong reason,” he said. After conversations with his parents and pastor, and with his call to ministry settled, Mohler found a “sense of peace, a sense of rightness, rootedness that I’d never experienced before. And so the question was, ‘What now?'”
Facing a fork in life’s road, Mohler followed God, packed his bags and books and transferred to Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. There he pursued and earned a bachelor’s degree and graduated with honors. But he still wrestled with issues related to theology and to the absolute truth he would ultimately find.
Through the fog of “higher” biblical criticism, Mohler plowed onward. Along the way he witnessed the head-on collision of Frances Schaeffer with the writings of other theologians. But each collision was a visitation and investigation that required a left turn off the freeway of biblical and spiritual inquiry. Schaeffer and, no doubt, the Spirit of God directed Mohler at each intersection, even though the questions he had at Samford still challenged Mohler as he entered Southern Seminary in 1980: “I desperately wanted to know what it meant for the Bible to be God’s Word. That was an urgent question.”
In his search for theological grounding, Mohler looked at “virtually every movement in modern theology, from Schleiermacher to Barth and the various revisionist theologies of the present. All of them failed miserably at the test of biblical sustenance.
“I was also looking for models, and there were many questions that I had been carrying for years. … But there was not a model as a theologian, there was not a model of theological discourse,” Mohler lamented.
That’s when Mohler read the writings of Carl F. H. Henry, world-renowned Baptist theologian, scholar and author. “Dr. Henry, more than any other American evangelical, was that partner who was a teacher to me long before I ever met him,” Mohler said.
Henry was the lone theologian who helped Mohler see “what is absolutely necessary for any credible authentic evangelical Christian confession … the reality that God has spoken, and that revelation comes to us in Scripture as the very words of God. … [And] that revelation is propositional. It must inherently be propositional or we have no confidence in the assertions made in Scripture.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson, who is also president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N. C., said of Mohler: “He is, without a doubt, the most intelligent man to come through one of [the SBC seminaries] in the last 25 years. I have confidence in [the SBC’s] future because it resides in young men such as Dr. Mohler.”
Mohler’s personal convictions are to lead Southern Seminary into the next century and beyond like he has during the last five years: “As propagators of ‘the faith once delivered to all the saints,’ we are bound by God to teach, preach and lead at this seminary into the year 2000 in a way that accurately and appropriately represents the 2,000-year-old message of God’s redemption as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Anything less would not befit God’s calling on my life or the mission of this institution.”

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  • Norman Miller