Four temptations frame the past, present and future of evangelical theology, Albert Mohler said Wednesday evening in his presidential address to the 73e ETS annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
Mohler, this year’s ETS president, cited fundamentalism, atheism, Roman Catholicism and Protestant liberalism as temptations that have framed the organization’s challenge and forged its identity since its humble beginnings in 1949. , when the founders first met at a YMCA in downtown Cincinnati. The Four Temptations have existed since that first organizational meeting, he said, but they have only grown over the years.
The president of Southern Seminary cited fundamentalism as the first temptation.
While ETS is fundamentalist in the sense that evangelicals stick to fundamental Christian doctrines such as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the person and work of Christ and the Trinity, the organization has rejected the tendencies of fundamentalism to withdraw from culture. Mohler said ETS must also avoid the theological eccentricities that have sometimes characterized fundamentalists in recent decades.
Nonetheless, Mohler said that “honesty obliges us to understand that there is a limit to how genuine non-fundamentalist evangelism can be.”
A second threat is atheism, Mohler said. The problem is not that evangelicals are tempted to become atheists, but rather that evangelicals fail to understand our agreement with atheists on what is at stake. Mohler cited the point of view of atheist Sam Harris that it’s all or nothing when it comes to the existence of God. Harris says, âLet’s be honest with ourselves: over time one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose. “
“We agree with atheists on a central and inescapable assumption and it is the truth that the existence of God or the non-existence of God is the most important question facing mankind,” said Mohler said. âThe only thing we recognize is that it all stems from this presupposition.
âThis is a point with which we agree with the sincere and honest atheist. I think when ETS was formed in 1949, they understood that evangelism is not a mediating position between belief and disbelief. It was an attempt to establish a theological society on the faith delivered once and for all to the saints.
While ETS members and evangelicals do not flirt with outright rejection of the existence of God, they may be tempted to make room for some sort of common ground on the issue to court respect for the secular universities.
“This temptation is not so much of a temptation that we become atheists, although, as I tell the students, for me an evangelical theologian must understand that one of us is right and the other is wrong,” said he declared. âThere is no credible position between the two. Either God is or he is not.
Roman Catholicism represents the third temptation. The roots of ETS, like all evangelism, are deeply rooted in the Protestant Reformation. The question evangelicals should always be ready to answer for is their basis of truth, which is only Scripture.
Catholicism was on the rise in America right after WWII when ETS began and gained momentum later in the 20e century, so this is not a new threat, Mohler said. The temptation today may be to give ground on the gospel because Rome seems to have such a massive and ancient basis for spiritual, ecclesiastical and theological authority.
âTo be evangelical is to understand that one of the questions we will always have to answer is why we are not Catholics,â said Mohler. âWe know we have to find an authority somewhere. We understand that there is an inescapable requirement that we answer the question of authority.
âAnd we understand that Catholics have a very big argument. And they have a lot to show for it. They have a papacy, a magisterium, a Vatican, they have archbishops, they have cardinals, and centuries and centuries of continual argument – doctrinal tutelage as they call it.
The answer to the question “Why not Rome?” is abundantly evident, Mohler said.
âI believe that to go to Rome is to abandon the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,â he said. âI believe this is joining a false church based on false and idolatrous assumptions. But I also understand that it would be easier to sleep at night if we could trust a magisterium with their stewardship for us. It would be easier to think about handing over your institution to someone else because, after all, there is a safety net.
âTo be evangelical is to recognize that we have no backstop. We have no alternative. We are left with the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God.
The last temptation, according to Mohler, is Protestant liberalism. This temptation arises when Christians believe that they must try to save the Christian faith in order to make it palpable to the culture. In recent decades, Protestant liberalism has rejected virtually all of the central doctrines of Christianity in an attempt to make the faith more attractive to a secularized society.
âOur task is to make sure that we hand over the Evangelical Theological Society to a new generation, as it has been entrusted to us, intact in its mission, energetic in its convictions,â he said.
âMembership in ETS must be meaningful. The challenge we face in the next few days is a quantum increase over what we are seeing. We will find out shortly whether being a member of this society is sufficient to disqualify certain people from teaching in certain faculties or for election to tenure.
“We will also find out, with our doctrinal commitment, how far you can go in the modern secular academy, as there is no DCI (diversity, equality, inclusion) statement that seems to include American evangelicals in diversity. and inclusiveness. “
Raising the question of the future of ETS, Mohler made a pointed point: âOur doctrinal basis requires the affirmation of biblical inerrancy and the Trinity. We have made it clear that inerrancy is defined by the Chicago Declaration on Biblical Inerrancy. The founders of ETS were convinced that our affirmation of the formal principle of the Reformation (sola Scriptura) would also involve the affirmation of the body of doctrine.
Today’s challenges will require more doctrinal specificity, Mohler said.
âJust consider the challenges posed by the LGBTQ revolution,â he said. âOur task is to faithfully pass this company on to the next generation, and it is no small task. It is our task.