My original post on Molly Worthen’s Christianity Today cover story on Southern Seminary’s Albert Mohler was not a response per se, except to make the observations that it was unusual for CT to publish a profile that was anything less than positive, that the piece was informative but condescending, and that you could learn quite a bit about the author from reading the piece carefully.
Briefly, I thought Molly Worthen allowed her own biases to over-determine her thesis—namely, that Mohler is “fundamentalist” with an “elitist” view of truth who has a library and other accoutrements that are probably designed to carefully cultivate the image of a “theologian” or “intellectual” as he hides his humble roots and promotes his right-wing “culture warrior” agenda.
I think CT-bashing tends to be rather immature (and easy), but I do think they are open to some journalistic criticism here. I don’t have a problem with criticism—and I don’t think Al Mohler is somehow above critique—but I would rather see direct critique, rather than subtle and snide comments laced through a profile. The biggest problem, in my view, is that she failed to either understand, or at least convey, what precipitated and motivated the conservative resurgence, and thus failed to serve her audience by helping them understand this important history correctly.
I thought it might be helpful to provide a brief round-up of other pieces I’ve seen substantiating and elaborating upon these concerns. Click the author’s name if you want to read their full posts.
Jim Hamilton makes the observation that CT’s piece is not liberal enough—in the older, classical sense of the term. He writes: “[Molly Worthen's] piece is not liberal enough because she does not engage arguments and evidence but resorts to rhetorical fallacies and framing comments that mock what she does not appreciate. The liberal thing to do would be to treat all positions and arguments with the respect one wants to be shown to oneself, then state clearly why one is persuaded by one argument rather than another, or how the evidence supports this conclusion not that one.”
Andrew Walker, focusing on the article’s truncated understanding of Southern’s history and controversy, writes that “one cannot understand the genius of Albert Mohler without a proper backdrop of Southern Seminary’s war-torn past. Southern’s troubled theological past went far beyond accommodation or ‘espousing a version of Christianity then alien to the Baptist pew.’ This is the way moderates and liberals postured themselves during the crisis—as the true inheritors of the Baptist tradition. If this were the truth, one would think that the problems at Southern Seminary were only a lurking, latent Presbyterianism. What transpired at Southern Seminary was, well, transgression. Past professors are understood to have either implicitly or explicitly expressed radical feminist views, the outright promotion of abortion, questioning not merely the inerrancy of Scripture along with its inspiration, but also casting suspect claims on traditional understandings of Christology (Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Deity).”
Trevin Wax, rightly disavowing the CT haters, looks at the irony of the Mohler-Henry-CT nexus: “the most ironic part of CT’s cover story is that it paints Mohler as being outside the mainstream of evangelicalism for his complementarian and inerrantist views when, in fact, it is Mohler (and not CT) who is carrying the mantle of former CT editor Carl Henry on these and other issues.”
Kevin DeYoung writes: “If CT is known for one thing it’s their penchant for writing favorable reviews of most everyone under the broad label ‘evangelical.’ So why such a condescending piece on one of evangelicalism’s most well-known leaders? Why go on the subtle offensive against one who is a defender of so much that Christianity Today was launched fifty years ago to defend? It would have been nice to see the magazine of ‘evangelical conviction’ portray the man who, under God, led the largest denomination’s largest seminary back to historic orthodoxy, not as a ‘culture warrior’ wrapped in pseudo-elitist garb, but first and foremost—and I know this sounds crazy—as an evangelical.”