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Today’s ministry no place for cowards, Mohler tells national pastors’ meeting

MINNEAPOLIS (BP)–Courage is the “missing virtue” in an evangelical church timidly facing an increasingly hostile culture, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told nearly 1,000 participants at the annual Bethlehem Conference for Pastors Feb. 7-9 in Minneapolis.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., served as keynote speaker for the conference hosted by John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, attended by pastors from a variety of denominations from across the nation.

Failure to speak to a theology of courage would itself be cowardice, Mohler said, since courage is missing in so many contemporary churches and ministries. Courage is the “missing virtue” in this “decidedly unheroic age,” he said, because most Americans have “no sense of threat.” Contemporary Americans are content to honor “stuntmen rather than heroes.”

“In the presence of leaders who didn’t fight and didn’t play by the rules and didn’t inhale, it is difficult to see how we can rescue the word ‘courage,'” he asserted.

Mohler cited courage as a “hermeneutical key” to understanding the motives behind the heroic acts of God’s people in Scripture and throughout the history of the church. He illustrated the church’s need for courage with a litany of examples from the lives of biblical figures, such as Abraham and Elijah, to those of historical heroes, such as Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon.

Although courage manifested itself in different ways in different historical contexts, Mohler said the virtue was essential for the people of God to confront the unbelieving powers-that-be of a hostile world.

Fearfulness and timidity have no place in the hearts of those who know that God has sovereignly ordained the circumstances of their lives and has promised to resurrect them in Christ, Mohler continued. This conviction should free Christians to jettison concern for their own safety.

“We trust in the God who vindicates his people and sets all things aright for his own glory,” he proclaimed. “It is a good thing to know that we are not responsible for our own well-being.”

Mohler told the pastors that God requires courage from them not only to confront the unbelieving world with the truth of the gospel, but also to protect doctrinal fidelity and ministerial integrity within the church.

This is increasingly true in an evangelical subculture that wishes to fit the gospel into a “Madison Avenue marketing plan,” he said. The calls to theological courage for today’s evangelical pastors are heard in the accelerating willingness of professing evangelicals to deny such cardinal doctrines as the exhaustive sovereignty of God and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.

“In our generation, there is not one particle of Christian truth that is not under attack,” he said.

Mohler called on evangelicals to contend boldly for the faith by confronting those who call for an unbiblical “open” view of God, which teaches that God cannot know the future choices of his creatures but is “endlessly resourceful” in trying to move history toward his purposes. “These openness theologians are calling for ‘God Lite’ — tastes great, but less saving,” he said. “It takes courage to speak about God, but if we fear God we have the courage.”

Likewise, Mohler called on evangelical pastors to evangelize courageously despite the objections of those who label Christian evangelism as an arrogant “hate crime.”

The temptation to tone down the exclusive nature of the call to faith in Christ is the height of Christian cowardice, Mohler contended, because evangelism is “not telling people what they already have or what they expect, but it is telling them the truth.”

“To say Jesus is a savior is a repudiation of the gospel,” Mohler said. “Jesus is the Savior and the only name under heaven by which we may be saved.”

Similarly, Mohler warned, pastors will need courage to lead their congregations toward biblical expository preaching and church discipline and to oppose such trends as the ordination of women to pastoral ministry.

Mohler was joined on the conference program by Piper; Josef Tson, the Romanian Baptist missions leader who suffered intense persecution and exile from the Cold War-era Romanian government; and Ben Patterson, dean of the chapel at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

Piper introduced Mohler by noting that evangelicals live in a “boldness-unfriendly culture” in which “boldness for almost any cause is welcomed except the cause of truth.” Piper cited recent controversies over such issues as the Southern Baptist commitment to Jewish evangelism.

He said Mohler was his first choice to speak on a theology of courage because of Mohler’s national media presence as a defender of evangelical orthodoxy and because of the “remarkable” turnaround toward conservative theology at Southern Seminary.

Piper, a world-renowned speaker and author of such books as “Desiring God,” led the pastors in an ovation of commendation for Mohler’s work in assembling a first-rate team of inerrantist scholars on Southern Seminary’s faculty and for his articulation of the gospel on television programs such as CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

“It was a transition some look upon with dismay and some of us look upon with gladness and wonder,” Piper said.

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  • Russell D. Moore