Can Al Mohler evangelize his way out of a wet paper bag?

I am basing my answer the question in the title on many months of listening to his excellent “The Briefing” podcast.

And what I’ve learned from all this listening is that he is very skilled at identifying interesting problems and threats to the Christian worldview, but he rarely or never brings in evidence from outside the Bible so I can discuss these things with non-Christians. Why not? In my experience of listening to him on his podcast, he is not capable of opposing any of the things that he wrings his hands about in any way other than blaming “The Fall” and reminding his listeners what the Bible says. His notion of a “Christian worldview” really just means reading the Bible, and never linking it to science, economics, history, etc. Maybe he is afraid that too much learning about these other areas will crowd out the Bible verses out of his memory. I don’t know.

I still think it’s good to listen to his podcast, but he’s of no value in fixing anything he complains about, unless you’re already a Christian.

Here’s what a conversation with Al Mohler and the liberal supreme court judges would be like:

  • Al Mohler: So, I heard you guys voted to overturn the Defense of Marriage Amendment.
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: That’s right.
  • Al Mohler: Would you like to hear what the Bible says about that?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Actually, no.
  • Al Mohler: Are you sure?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Pretty sure.
  • Al Mohler (turns to the choir): See? We live in a Genesis 3 world!
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: What does that even mean?
  • Al Mohler: Oh! Oh! Oh! I know that one! It means –
  • Liberal SCOTUS: Is that from the Bible? Because if it is, I don’t want to hear it.
  • Al Mohler: Boooo!!!! Phooey!!!!

Al Mohler is a smart man, and very good to have around if you are evangelizing fundamentalist Christians. But with anyone else, he is not in a position to be convincing. The best he can do is wall Christianity off from non-Christianity, but in my opinion, he’s not able to persuasive to the part of culture that he just walled off. OK, that’s the end of my satire of Al Mohler.

Anyway, let’s take a look at this post from Think Apologetics blog, which explains more about this attitude. Note: Eric does not necessarily endorse my snarky satire of Al Mohler.

He quotes from this interview between two evangelical heavyweight New Testament critics:

[Ben] Witherington says:

You speak frequently about a change, even among the laity, in what I will call the mood of the culture when it comes to Christianity. What are the telltale signs in your mind? How do you see a book like this addressing that change, especially if we are now moving into a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America?

[Craig] Blomberg says:

When I was working on my various educational degrees in the 1970s, we were still reeling as a culture from Vietnam, Watergate, Woodstock and a generation of young adults who were often very disenchanted with traditional authority, including religious authority. Yet they were truly open-minded. They were interested in exploring religious options other than Christianity but they were also very open to exploring the evidence for Christianity, especially when it was combined with an authentic, relevant Christian lifestyle. So mixed among other kinds of hippies were a large number of “Jesus people,” many of whom had come out of alternative lifestyles.

If you organized an event on a secular college or university campus with a winsome, compelling speaker and did a reasonably good job at publicizing it, there was a good chance you would draw a large crowd and that a significant minority of the non-Christians in the audience would take significant steps closer to becoming followers of Jesus if not make the commitment on that very day. And those who didn’t at least had some general knowledge, even before they came to the event, of the worldview they were for the time being, at least, choosing to reject.

Today we see the children of that generation as young adults on the same campuses with the same Christian organizations, with even more compelling speakers and evidence on which to draw, and yet in many instances it is extremely difficult to get a good crowd, if you do you are lucky if even a few unbelievers come, and luckier still if any of them are drawn toward the faith. But it is not as if any new evidence has emerged that we didn’t know about a generation ago to make the case for faith weaker. Instead, people have grown up with less awareness of biblical claims, with more prejudice against Christianity, with an eagerness to embrace the most outlandish charges against the Bible without even wanting to research them at all, which really shows that they are looking for reasons not to believe rather than engaging in serious inquiry.

Then Eric says this:

Did you notice that both Witherington and Blomberg acknowledge we are living in  a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America? I wish the rest of the Church would wake up and stop just giving Christians more Bible verses and Bible sermons. I love the Bible. But as I have said elsewhere:

If pastors keep assuming that the average person in the culture thinks the Bible is authoritative, they are living in denial. This is not the 1950’s! When we as Christians assume everyone outside the four walls accepts our starting point, then we are kidding ourselves. I would love to see more pastors spend at least one month or more a year teaching  their congregants on the reliability and authority of the Bible.

For example, let’s say we have thousands of seminary students who graduate who are very skilled at exegeting the text. However, the problems is that the majority of these people (and teachers) start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects. Here are our starting points:

1. God’s existence: God exists because the Bible says so.

2. Epistemology (the study of knowledge): God gives us knowledge of Himself by revelation. The Bible tells us this as well.

3.Miracles: Christianity is a revelatory religion. Without miracles (such as the resurrection) being both possible and actual, our faith is really not very unique. What about other miracle claims in other religions? There is an overall skepticism towards miracles in the West. How do we answer these issues?

4.History: Is history knowable? What historical method are we teaching our students? And as far as miracles, can history evaluate a miracle claim such as the resurrection?

5. Hermeneutics: Can we arrive at objective meaning in the text?

6. Ethics: Is the Bible a source of ethics for us? How would we explain this to the world around us.

If we continue to start with the Bible itself without Prolegomena, we will end up causing thousands of Christians to beg the question to those we minister to. To beg the question is to take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. My advice for seminaries is to make it mandatory for all students to take a class on Prolegomena.

I love the Bible too. But I also know how to have a conversation with a non-Christian about science, economics, politics, etc. I know how to talk about the findings of mainstream science and how they point to a Creator and Designer without dismissing it all as the Devil’s handiwork. I know how to make a case for the pro-life view or for chastity or traditional marriage or the free-market system without requiring that my audience assume that the Bible is the inerrant word of God (which I think it is). We need to get to the point where we can have conversations about things with people who don’t go as far as we do on inerrancy. I think that when they see that we actually know what we are talking about in these other areas, that will open the door for them to listen to us on spiritual things, too.

23 thoughts on “Can Al Mohler evangelize his way out of a wet paper bag?”

  1. I don’t think this is a fair representation of Dr. Mohler, snark assessment aside. I have a colleague who visited Mohler’s home; he noted his extensive, robust library. He has a remarkable willingness to read and understand the other side. While he may come off as folksy, he has a keen intellect that should not be underestimated.

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  2. I have had similar concerns about “The Briefing”. He’s brilliant and extremely well informed in so many areas. I listened to his podcast as well for some time but just found myself always going to other apologetics programs such as Wm. Lane Craig, “Unbelievable”, Don Johnson, or “Deeper Waters” (amongst others) first.
    I think the problem for me was the litany of world and it’s sin becomes overwhelmingly depressing and negative if not balanced with the positive that apologetics can provide. Mohler does present the Gospel, of course, but I agree with the need to bring in a holistic and highly intelligent, informed apologetic.

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    1. See, I’m not the only one who thinks this. That’s good. It does get depressing, doesn’t it? And I just think… if everyone thinks like him, then who is going to convince the non-Christians? I mean – I have never even heard him talk about the minimal facts case for the resurrection. It’s too “us vs them”.

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      1. I know I’m just a commenter here, but I think I may need to retract what I said to some degree.
        Mohler’s “Thinking in Public” certainly has been a great listen and certainly further reveals his brilliant multifaceted ministry. If anything might stand from what I said, it would be just the world-weariness that I get from too much dwelling on the fallenness and sin of the world (which really is the focus of “The Briefing”). I just see too much of it everyday in my world as a physician and with my involvement with the VA Family Foundation.

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  3. While I greatly respect you, I have to disagree completely on this one.

    The briefing isn’t an apologetics show, it’s a news show meant to give a Christian perspective on news and events. It’s not designed to answer apologetics questions or give Christians “ammo” for fighting with Atheists, it’s designed to explain events to Christians from a Biblical perspective.

    You call Albert Mohler a bad apologist because his Christian informing podcast assumes he is speaking to a Christian with a Christian worldview.

    It’s a great podcast for what it is, since it does exactly what it says it will do, “News and events from a Christian worldview”. Not everything has to be an apologetic to scientific atheist unbelievers.

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      1. I am for the peer review of prominent figures within Christendom, it’s basically just grand scale accountability, but sometimes it troubles me. There are those deserving of rebuke and mockery – like Joel Osteen – and, despite perhaps the satirical nature of this post, I found it to be mildly concerning.

        I believe myself to be gifted in certain capacities and lacking in others. I think some people are skilled instead in many areas and lack in less, good for them – seriously.And , although I have just started reading your posts (and enjoy them very much) I can observe that your skills are mostly stored up in the apologetics department. Perhaps you’re also a top not evangelist, maybe you cook a mean stew, either way, our skills can manifest in ways that are specific and important, without requiring anything further.

        Christians needs discipleship just as much as the lost need to simply hear the Good News; one hinges very directly on the successful carrying-out of the other. There are camps young people can attend that focus solely on their apologetic development, are these programs funky because they don’t also have a strong ground game in the evangelism game? Dr. Mohler provides a Christian’s perspective on current events, he gives Christians a counter-cultural lens to look through in a time when not many people are doing so.

        Anyways, I know a few other people already voiced similar protests so I won’t go on any longer. I love your blog and I think you are wonderful – I think the same of Mohler, and Craig, and Matt Walsh… Strobel, Koukl, and even the McDowell family (haha, they’re great, just joke).

        Please, continue.

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  4. It’s interesting because we host large events in post-Christian Canada on the university campus and large numbers come out. It just takes people longer to come to Christ because they have less background and they believe more lies about God.

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  5. Knight,

    The blog isn’t a “seeker sensitive” blog. It’s not meant to evangelize.

    He can interact with non-beleivers. Have you listened to thinking in Public?

    Also, have you listened to his sermon series? (where he evangelizes)

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    1. I’ll have to take a look at that.

      Another friend on Facebook writes:

      “As an avid listener of The Briefing, I’d have to agree that Mohler does tend to wall off Christians from non-Christians. However, any non-Christian listening to the podcast was not intended to be reached. You see, the target audience of the podcast is Christians, and though that doesn’t entirely excuse the fact that his appeal is entirely based off of Scripture.

      Although I’m sure he’d do his listeners some good by appealing to other things (it would teach us how to do the same), it’s not the focus of his podcast.”

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  6. Mohler’s handling of N.T. Wright’s view on justification showed me quite clear how he handles things that are foreign to him. His handling of the Geisler controversy cemented it.

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    1. I think those are two good examples that show why he needs to branch out a little more and be aware of how to handle different views and how to be persuasive rather than divisive.

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    1. No, I think the twitter comments show that there us a sizeable group of Christians who think quoting the bible to non Christians is how we should evangelize. Even though Jesus appealed to the evidence of miracles, not the least of which was his resurrection. I doubt mohler can make a minimal facts case for it using standard historical methods. I know he disagrees with the evidence that the particle physicist presented at Stanford University, in that earlier post I wrote summarizing that lecture.

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  7. Listen to his Thinking In Public podcasts. On these, he interacts mostly with secular intellectuals. Let us know what you think of those. You may simply have committed category errors, in assessing his output.

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  8. WK, I’m going to echo a couple of comments here: you are simply mischaracterizing “The Briefing”, it’s not about apologetics but about news and commentary. I understand your point as well, but unless you understand the worldview itself, unless you have a solid foundation from which to build, none of your points make sense. One has to be informed about issues and have a good biblical understanding before taking on those issues.

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  9. I’m rather confused; should we measure his show “The Briefing” as the measurement of how he would interact with nonbelievers? If the show’s intent is to equip Christians what is a Biblical worldview from the lens of Scripture, I think we might be comparing apples to oranges with your caricature of what he would say to the Supreme Court.
    In a personal conversation many years ago we talked about Presuppositionalism and he stressed to me that he does not subscribe to “tribal Presuppositionalism” and that he sees a place for evidence to non-believers. a
    In the past his blog use to show what he was reading and snippet reviews. I find him to be someone that is quite informed of the world and culture–though I wish he could go deeper in his analysis. I think if we understand him as more of a cultural watch guy we be okay. Everyone has their place–but to jump and caricature how he would speak at the supreme court–that’s going too far and a gross caricature if you ask me.

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    1. OK OK OK. I was only picking on him because he sounds sooooo pre-suppositional and us-vs-them. But I like his Thinking in Public podcast a lot more – there he is really interacting with non-Christians better, and I like that.

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