Christianity Today and Al Mohler: A Long Profile in the Wrong Direction

Albert Mohler certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, certainly doesn’t have to like everyone or everything I like. But the recent cover story by Molly Worthen on Southern Seminary’s president deserves comment for other reasons.

I could talk about the condescending attitude that permeates the piece, where presuppositionalism is defined as “a system of thought that boils down to the slogans” offered by Francis Schaeffer, Al Mohler is described as “not so much an intellectual or theologian as he is an articulate controversialist,” and Southern Seminary is cast as a group self-conscious fundies buying blazers and Redken hair products “to counter outsiders’ stereotypes of fundamentalism.”

I could talk about the way Worthen continually injects her beliefs into the story, calling old Princeton “hyper-rationalist” and inserting a parenthesis at one point to clear up that “Calvin’s own theology is distinct from that of his followers.”

I could talk about how the two sides that jockeyed for power in the SBC get termed “conservatives” and “moderates.” Mohler’s take on things is “pugnacious;” he’s an “inerrantist,” “doggedly fundamentalist,” and a “culture warrior.” Those opposite Mohler come across more reasoned, more balanced. The only time “liberal” appears is to describe the old Southern faculty that ran afoul of “fire-breathing trustees.”

I could mention the eye-rolling line that the current “diversity” at Southern means there are some four-point Calvinists or the sneer about Mohler being an elitist because he is certain he has the truth, “and those Baptists who protest simply are not initiated into the systematic splendor of Reformed thought.”

This long piece has a lot to say about Mohler, much of it helpful, much of it not. The bigger issue, however, is not what the piece says about Al Mohler, but what it says about Christianity Today. This is a magazine begun under the editorial leadership of Carl Henry, an inerrantist, a Calvinist, even one might say, a rationalist. Anyone familiar with Henry’s massive God, Revelation, and Authority would easily conclude, and rightly so, that it is Mohler who stands in the tradition of Carl Henry, and CT, at least as represented by this piece, stands, well, somewhere else.

Mohler is certainly controversial and it is right for journalists to explore controversies and get both sides to a story. But to paint Mohler—a champion of inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, and the historic Christian positions on abortion and homosexuality—as nothing but a controversialist and an heir of Prostestant scholasticism and dreaded Old Princeton is hardly fair, and hardly in keeping with CT’s general editorial philosophy. I have several years worth of CT’s in my office. There are dozens of profiles and virtually every one of them is warm and flattering, some almost puff pieces. I’ve read stories on Bill Gaither, Jack Hayford, Shane Claiborne, Donald Miller, Beth Moore, even Ted Haggard (before his “fall), and they are overwhelmingly positive. 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” look at the man who, under God, led the largest denomination’s flagship seminary back to historic orthodoxy, and portray him not as a “culture warrior” wrapped in pseudo-elitist garb or as the intellectual heir of slogans and scholasticism, but first and foremost—and I know this sounds crazy—as an evangelical.