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.”

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57 thoughts on “Responses to the CT Cover Story on Mohler”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Thanks for gathering up all these reviews of Worthen’s piece in one place.

  2. If people from all over the spectrum are crying foul, then something probably is. Hopefully, CT’s editors and the author of this piece will improve from these critiques. We’ll see.

  3. robert says:

    Thanks for posting these.

  4. JW says:

    Brad,
    I don’t want to go back and forth over this issue endlessly, but not to put too fine a point on it: All the reviews Justin sites are from a fairly specific point on the spectrum. Here is a more positive take from antoher point on the sprctrum: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2010/09/28/ct-on-mohler-and-me-on-the-gospel-story/

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Dr. Kirk’s post seemed more of a personal reflection and affirmation and didn’t really interact with the history, journalism, specifics, etc.

  5. Rich Maurer says:

    Hold on!
    Don’t you think Trevin’s and Kevin’s dredging up of CT history and Carl Henry was a bit below the belt? :-)

  6. Steve McCoy says:

    I’ve been waiting for someone to start collecting responses so I wouldn’t have to go looking. Thanks JT.

  7. CG says:

    Molly Worthen simply follows the current journalism trend of writing in a slightly-condescending way in order to cultivate a rapport with the reader. It’s cheap, yet effective, writing. Remember her NY Times profile of Mark Driscoll back in Jan 09? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html

    In addition, Worthen has a sloppy and careless approach to her subject. For example, in the CT piece, she repeatedly uses the term “fundamentalist” – sometimes inside quotation marks, sometimes without. And yet, the AP stylebook itself considers the label to have “pejorative connotations” and specifically advises journalists, “In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.” So either Worthen didn’t consult the stylebook, or didn’t care.

    As a counter-example, Ann Rodgers (religion writer for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is a far superior journalist, in my opinion, because she reports the facts, explains where controversies lie, and doesn’t let her own opinions (whatever they may be) shine through. She’s also extremely cautious with labels and terminology.

    1. CG says:

      Also, every time a journalist uses the generic phrase “critics say” or some variant thereof, they’re actually saying “here’s what I think.”

      Worthen herself uses the phrase several times. This isn’t national security. If the critics have names, use them, otherwise we can reasonably assume that the critic is you.

      1. Greg Long says:

        CG, that is a great comment. “This isn’t national security…” LOL

  8. I read through the article twice and I agree with your assessment, although it certainly could have been worse. There is a brand of journalism when you say something by not only reporting the facts, but also managing to insert your own private opinions into them, albeit in an artful and subtle way. It’s unfortunate that Worthen stooped to this, though it shows how incredibly hard it is for any of us to be truly neutral. We are all “elitists” aren’t we? But obviously, those of us who admire Dr. Mohler are disappointed.

  9. Trevin Wax says:

    Rich,

    The article itself refers to Henry as one of Mohler’s mentors, so I think Henry’s influence at the post of CT should be fair game. :)

    1. Rich Maurer says:

      Just making sure you knew my comment was tongue in cheek. ;-)
      ;-) ;-)

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        I gotcha. I’m a little slow at times. ;)

  10. I also wanted to say that the entire time I was reading about this I was thinking, “Man, they need a Mohler at CT.”

  11. J Lo says:

    “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 would be interested in hearing the “correct” history…

    1. Chris Borah says:

      “A Hill On Which To Die” (Paul Pressler) is an inside, conservative take on the issues. Also, “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary” by Greg Wills is very helpful in understanding the specific state of SBTS before and after Mohler got there.

      Pressler’s book is admittedly a personal reflection from the most conservative of conservatives, but it, at the very least, helps you understand that they takeover was not for the sake of fame or power-mongering as Dr. Kirk’s linked article would have you believe.

      1. J Lo says:

        Chris,

        I will have to read those. I think I can borrow the latter from one of my neighbors, as I live pretty close to SBTS. I do wonder, though, if the “correct” version is not in either the conservative or moderate positions but somewhere in between.

  12. Phil Johnson says:

    Justin: “I think CT-bashing tends to be rather immature. . . . [but] Trevin Wax, rightly disavowing the CT haters.”

    Do you mean you think it’s “immature” to deplore what CT has become and say so, or that most who criticize CT tend to do so in a less-than-sophisticated manner?

    Because it seems to me that one of the underestimated, under-analyzed, and understated stories in contemporary American religion is CT’s influential role in shaping the evangelical movement into the monstrosity it is today. The appalling slippage in CT’s editorial stance from the Carl Henry era until today is incredible for the speed and relative ease with which it took place–especially given the fact that CT was founded to be (and still claims to be) a guardian of evangelical conviction.

    It amazes me that most men of stature in the evangelical movement–including many who express concerns about the evangelical drift–are relatively silent about the waywardness of their movement’s self-styled “house organ.” What is so special or sacrosanct about CT that they should not be subject to the kind of scrutiny and discernment CT itself (long ago) called for in response to the editorializing at The Christian Century?

    Characterizing criticism of CT as inherently “immature” doesn’t help.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Point taken, Phil. I did say it “tends” in that direction, not that it’s “inherently” such.

    2. Trevin Wax says:

      Phil,

      I don’t think CT is above criticism. In fact, I think they welcome a thoughtful critique of their coverage.

      I’m referring to the flippant “let’s beat up on CT” attitude that manifests itself in people taking cheap shots at the magazine without offering any constructive criticism. Scrutiny and discernment is a good thing. But I don’t think our critique should resemble the kind of snide remarks we noticed in the cover story on Mohler.

      1. Ron Gleason says:

        Trevin,
        Who specifically possesses the “let’s beat up on CT” attitude about which you’re speaking? I believe one of the besetting sins of CT in the “Emergent Conversation/Church/Whatever” debate has been to be overly friendly towards those who were least friendly to what evangelicalism stood for at the inception of the magazine.

    3. Danny says:

      All things to tend toward such a progression. Who would of thought 10 years ago that JP would invite RW to DG. RW preaches like he’s Pelagius reincarnate and the Reformed powers that be are utterly silent. I seem to have fallen off the reformed bus and then runover by the Rodney King unity bus. I never saw it coming.

    4. Ron Gleason says:

      Phil,
      Thank you for your comments. Due to the obvious “slippage” and increasingly tendentious nature of CT’s articles, I canceled my subscription quite a while ago, being content to read it only occasionally at college or seminary libraries. I believe I speak for a number in my generation.

  13. Dave Moore says:

    As one who holds to similar theological convictions as Mohler, and is troubled by the “commentary approach to journalism” that Worthen rather recklessly utilized, some legitimate questions do seem to be overlooked by Mohler supporters:

    Is it crystal clear that any other view than the complementarian one is at odds with inerrancy? It is fine for any Christian institution to define itself by complementarianism; it is quite another to say that it is the only one that logically flows from inerrancy.

    More difficult to broach in some ways because money and related matters is such a bugaboo, even for us evangelicals, but I proceed nonetheless. I grant that the comments about Mohler’s library were snide and condescending. I also grant that there is no specific, maximum number of books which is allowable for ministers who want to be an example to the body as I know Mohler does. That said, I confess some angst as to the amount of books and the various accoutrements of Mohler’s library. As one who has interviewed many writers and scholars (including Mohler), I have had the chance to see several well-stocked libraries. Indeed, some may see my own library of 2,500 volumes as too much. So again, locating the magical number seems rather elusive. However, it seems to me that the ornate and massive nature of Mohler’s library is an issue to at least discuss. There are no easy answers here, but it does strike me as odd that there is such silence on it.

    1. Tad says:

      Ia little jealous of his library, but I dont see it in excess. How could it be in excess? If his family is getting food, he is giving to his church, and doing what God wants him to do how can we call his library excessive?

    2. Rich Maurer says:

      Dave,

      Great point re: inerrancy. I am reformed in soteriology, complementarian and young earth. I am ordained in the Evangelical Free Church which is about 50% reformed (soteriologically), mostly complementarian and (I am guessing) old earth leaning. Our denomination holds these differences in tension and does not claim that inerrancy is incompatible with egalitarianism. However, of the three, egalitarianism carries the most weight for me. If our denomination one day became predominantly egalitarian, I would have to surrender my credentials and move on. What I mean is that while egalitarianism is not incompatible with inerrancy it can certainly be the final push down the slippery slope. I stay and warn others to stay clear of the edge.

    3. TJP says:

      Mohler is rather open in his lack of enthusiasm for sports and, I believe, rather open about his passion for reading. How many books would the funds I put into tickets for sporting events, athletic equipment and greens fees purchase? I am grateful for the ways I have been served by Mohler’s passion for reading and grateful for the diversity of interests in the Church that God orchestrates for His Glory.

  14. Mark says:

    Thanks for putting these all in one place, JT.

  15. Leslie says:

    Any comments from someone outside the Southern/T4G/Crossway crowd? I only ask because all the people quoted in this blog post all seem to cross reference each other. Nothing wrong with that, just curious.
    Mohler is respected in many circles, Christian or not, Reformed or not.

  16. Dave Moore says:

    Tad et al.,

    I am not sure if you were directing your comment at my previous post, but in case you are…

    I did not say Mohler’s library was excessive, but find it odd that it is a non discussed topic.

    To Leslie: I for one am not in any of those groups, but benefit regularly from all of them.

  17. Jessica says:

    Dave,
    I think your point concerning inerrancy is an important one that must be thought through, but it would be generalizing, in a similar manner to Worthen, to portray Mohler’s supporters as having never asked themselves hard questions about complementarianism before. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I am not complementarian for any other reason than because I wrestled deeply with this issue and Scripture, certainly not because I am some google-eyed follower of Dr. Mohler’s.

  18. Dave Moore says:

    Hey Jessica,

    I agree with your point and commend your own pursuit of the truth. However, my point is based on what too many inerrantists claim (either implicitly or explicitly).

    And let me add, I was honored to be approached by Wayne Grudem in 1992 to consider being the inaugural director of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. However my point remains, and one again that I have heard in too many quarters: the complementarian position is the only view that flows logically from inerrancy.

    1. CG says:

      I certainly understand how inerrancy and egalitarianism go hand-in-hand, as I held both as recently as 2008. Over the course of that year, I became persuaded of the complementarian position, but I don’t think I was being sinful before, or living in denial, etc. I do, however, think I was mistaken to apply extra-biblical presuppositions to the Bible.

      Both positions can be defended from an inerrantist perspective, but I now believe (having previously held the egalitarian position) that the complementarian position has the stronger evidence.

      1. J Lo says:

        I’ll be honest. I was shocked when I read the story of how Mohler simply had no answer for Henry when Henry asked him how he could support his egalitarianism biblically. It seemed like a clever narrative “straw-man” to me. As someone who has spent a lot of times in moderate circles, I’ve heard very convincing arguments on that subject. In fact, if I were ever to become an inerrantist, I think I would have difficulty becoming complementarian based on the Bible alone.

  19. I found Dr. Kirk’s “analysis” poorly made. He clearly insinuated that Dr. Mohler and his ilk are guilty of losing sight of the gospel in favor of “power-grabbing.” This would seem to indicate that anyone who takes a biblically conservative position and wants to see such a postion and practice extended into the society and her institutions is guilty of “power-grabbing.” Surely such an inference needs much more support than Dr. Kirk gave it. His piece was essentially argument-by-assertion.

    1. J Lo says:

      I think it’s how that practice is extended into society (or even the convention)that defines it as power-grabbing or not.

      Is it because you make a compelling argument and the other side jumps on board after being persuaded?

      Or is it because you see where the power is and then change sides yourself? Then you purge everyone with an opposing view and engage in control tactics designed to convince everyone who remains behind that even their original view wasn’t Christian enough? For instance, you start making non-essentials into essential tenets of orthodoxy: complementarianism, young earth, no yoga, etc.

      I don’t know if Kirk was implying that all conservatives who wish to see their influence expand are “power-grabbers.” I don’t think he was. I think the point is that those, like Mohler, who use coercion toward that end could be accused of such a thing.

  20. Dana Olson says:

    My greatest amazement is that David Neff called Worthen’s article “sensitive.”

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I had the same thought, Dana.

  21. Consider the source. Dr. Mohler is a scholar, a gentleman and a Leader of distinction. CT is, well, a sorry excuse of what they once were or wanted us to think they were. I have every issue of Leadership Journal (since 1981). I canceled some months ago becuase I am simply weary of the slide into theological lukewarm pablum that CT has become.

    Long live Carl F.H. Henry and Dr. Mohler.

  22. D. Lee Hilburn says:

    I am extremely disappointed in the writing style and lack of best practice in terms of journalism. Even regarding the article mentioned above concerning Mark Driscoll was opinionated and degrading. I can only hope, as harmonized above, that more Mohler and Driscoll like personalities join CT.

  23. “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…”

    I wonder if something has recently changed at CT because they recently did a critical piece on Beth Moore….hmm…..a Southern Baptist as well.

    1. Carla Ray says:

      Sarah,
      I’m glad you mentioned the Beth Moore piece because I was wondering the same thing myself. It was unnecessarily critical piece as well. Both articles just ‘feel’ like the writer has some grudge or agenda.

    2. Carla Ray says:

      Sarah,
      While I do agree with you that the article on Beth Moore was critical I’m confused that you would bring that up… I thought your name looked familiar and I remembered that you posted on that article by Halee Scott and gave it 5 stars and wrote the following:

      “Halee, this is a great piece and I appreciate the even-handedness that you have done well to communicate.”

      I thought you must be related to her when I read your glowing comments about her writing. I might add that your comments were equally as critical of Beth, which is your opinion of course, I’m just confused as to why you would cite that reference here when you seemed to be supportive of that critical article.

      1. Carla, “related to her” ?? I certainly was and am supportive of Halee’s piece on Beth Moore, I’m just noting the fact that CT is doing some more critical pieces that are “anything less than positive,” pieces I wouldn’t have expected in previous years. I only am pointing out the irony that Moore and Mohler are both Southern Baptists, I’m not assigning anything else to that observation.

        To be clear as well, I’m not speaking of the profile piece done on Beth Moore in CT, but the companion piece written by Halee Scott.

  24. Ray Ortlund says:

    D. M. Lloyd-Jones, What Is An Evangelical?, pages 9-10: “Every institution tends to produce its opposite.”

  25. Dave Moore says:

    Ray,

    Would you mind unpacking a bit why you included that wise quote?

    Best,
    Dave

  26. Todd Neighbors says:

    The article turned my stomach and made me rethink my subscription to the mag.

  27. Raymond R says:

    At first I thought the hidden agenda driving this article might be the typical Calvinist bashing since Patterson was quoted and Rogers mentioned, but as I finished the article I realized the true agenda: Mohler has dared to touch another sacred cow in the SBC… the Cooperative Program. If he is leading the reform that is so badly needed within this program I’m afraid this battle may be his toughest one yet. This is definitely a stick in the hornet’s nest.

  28. I read this yesterday, and let me say this. First, I am an Arminian, an egalitarian, and have sympathy for theistic evolution/intelligent design (yes, I know that is a lot to unpack). Someone like me should be delighted to see Al Mohler get panned as a pseudo-intellectual and a conservative politician. But seriously, this article was in bad taste, badly written, and badly reported. If CT is wanting to do the sort of Rolling Stone investigative journalism, this is what you will get. Lots of bias, personal jabs, and gossip about what’s really going on.

    Of course they have a right to do this, but I would stop short of calling it Christian.

    1. The word “really” is supposed to be in quotes. Sorry.

  29. Mike says:

    Siiiggghhhhh…”Mohler is not so much an intellectual or theologian as he is an articulate controversialist”

  30. David Petersen says:

    Molly Worthen has covered other Reformed leaders, most notably R. J. Rushdoony in a Church History article. I did detect some snide comments and was not exactly pleased with the description. She did far better, I think, in placing Mohler in his historical context. Like it or not, Mohler is controversial because of what happened at Southern Seminary. Many Baptists who claim to be evangelicals (and possibly subscribers to CT) do not agree with him. Again, I don’t agree with some of the remarks and wish Worthen had been more judicious in her word selection.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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