Rerun: Al Mohler Explains Why He Withdrew from the “Reclaiming” Conference

In light of Dr. Mohler’s decision to sign and rationale for signing the Manhattan Declaration, I thought a reposting of some correspondence I had with him over a similar situation a couple years ago might be of interest to those thinking through the issue. In short, Dr. Mohler withdrew from a friend’s political/morality conference because speaking on the same platform as a Roman Catholic priest under a “Christian” moniker would unnecessarily muddy the waters regarding the meaning of the Gospel. He defended co-belligerence, but not at the expense of Gospel clarity.

Faced with a similar (and far more public) circumstance now, Dr. Mohler has come to a very different decision. I continue to think highly of Dr. Mohler, but I think he is making a significant mistake, allowing important cultural similarities to trump essential gospel differences, all under the eternally significant term “Christian.” My understanding of the situation is very like Dave Doran’s (here and here), John MacArthur’s, Alistair Begg’s, and James White’s, all of whom speak to the issue much more ably than I do.

Here’s the original post from April 10, 2007. I include my introduction and response, but the germane portion is the letter from Dr. Mohler.

_____

Some time ago, I made a blog post in which I took exception with Dr. Al Mohler’s participation in the “Reclaiming America for Christ” conference. Dr. Mohler was scheduled to speak alongside a Roman Catholic priest and Ann Coulter, among others. Though I’ve appreciated much of what Dr. Mohler has said and written, I thought he was making a mistake, and I said so.

Well, someone brought my post to Dr. Mohler’s attention, and in January of this year he sent me a very gracious email explaining how he got into the predicament, how he quietly got himself out of it (he did not speak at the conference), and—most importantly—why. Here’s the germane portion of the correspondence, which he has given me permission to post:

Pastor Anderson:

Dr. MohlerSomeone sent along a blog article you wrote on my scheduled appearance at the D. James Kennedy conference. I appreciated the tone of your article. More importantly, I agreed with your point. I had no idea that the Catholic priest or Ann Coulter would be on the program. I was asked to speak on the role of the church as a counter-culture, and I gladly agreed. Dr. Kennedy has meant a great deal to me from the time I was 15 years old and he was so gracious with his time for me. Much of my theological grounding came from his own theological contributions, books he recommended, and persons I came to know through his ministry at Coral Ridge. I would do nothing intentionally to embarrass him in any way.

Nevertheless, early in December I quietly withdrew from the program. The ad in WORLD was my first clue as to what was afoot. I would be happy to testify before Congress on embryonic stem cell ethics alongside a Catholic priest or to speak at a symposium on abortion or other ethical issues. I would be glad to explain and defend the Gospel in a Roman Catholic setting where I could be fully free to do so. I would invite a leading Roman Catholic thinker (Robert George of Princeton) to Southern Seminary to deliver the Norton Lectures in which he will make the case for an ethical and theological method based in the natural law. I will do so because I will then respectfully respond with an evangelical, Reformation-based rejoinder to his argument. I will argue that Romans 1 and 2 indicate that there is a natural law but that it is (largely and fatally) unintelligible to the unregenerate, whose very (unregenerate) consciences cannot be trusted. Thus I will argue that evangelicals cannot surrender an ethical and theological method that is explicitly and honestly grounded in Scripture. I want my students to understand these issues clearly.

I agree with the Reformers that the Roman Catholic Church represents the greatest challenge to evangelical theology. As I stated (rather notoriously) on “Larry King Live” some time ago, the papacy is a false office, the Roman Catholic Church is a false church, and it preaches a false gospel. I cannot participate in any setting that would confuse the Gospel or the nature of the true Gospel church.

Thus, I withdrew. I did so quietly and without intent to embarrass a friend (who is now recovering from a major heart attack).

If you see that might compromise the Gospel in any way, please do me the kindness of bringing this to my attention.

Faithfully,

Albert Mohler

I appreciate Dr. Mohler’s response very much on a personal level. His taking the time to respond and the gracious way in which he did so are humbling.

I also appreciate Dr. Mohler’s response on a theological and ministerial level. I think it raises a number of important issues for consideration:

* First, by refusing to participate in the conference, Dr. Mohler practiced biblical separation. (In fact, if you think about it, he actually practiced a form of so-called “secondary” separation–stepping away not only from unbelief, but also from an evangelical conference to which the unbelief was linked. Interesting.) Granted, Dr. Mohler does not always separate in a way which fundamentalists believe is required by the Scriptures, but we should applaud this stand even as we urge others like it. If our interest is indeed truth and not turf, let’s rejoice when right decisions are made.

* Second, Dr. Mohler applied the principle of separation to an instance of so-called “platform fellowship.” Refusing to appear alongside error or compromise is a conviction that has been lampooned both by evangelicals and professing fundamentalists, yet it is the basis on which Dr. Mohler made this particular decision. Certainly he described situations in which he would be willing to speak with or to Roman Catholics, but he chose not to do so in this setting. Again, interesting.

I suggest that evangelicals could learn much from Dr. Mohler’s example in this situation. And frankly, so could fundamentalists, who are certainly not immune to the error of speaking in venues that compromise the truth.

* Third, Dr. Mohler explained his thought process in determining where he can and cannot speak and why. We may or may not agree with his conclusions, but we should at least deal with him and his reasoning honestly. Fundamentalists have not always done this, but have sometimes misrepresented evangelicals and their positions. Doing so is sin. It is also silly–in the long run, it costs us our credibility and hurts our position. If we disagree, let’s disagree with facts, not phantoms.

* Finally, all of us could learn from the grace with which Dr. Mohler responded to a challenge and the conviction with which he rectified a mistake.

Thank you, Dr. Mohler, for your example in this situation. Well done.

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9 Responses

  1. Chris, I can’t lie. I’m struggling with this one. To unite different faiths and different gospels is one thing. What I am trying to understand is if this is simply an agreement of “faith” based political agenda’s, then I might be able to see the point here. If it is erring on the side of an ecumenical agenda, then I can see the problem. Have you read Steve Camps blog about it?

  2. I haven’t, Bruce. The kicker, I think is the very strong language that describes all of the signers as “Christians” and “followers of Jesus Christ.”

    I wish Duncan and Mohler hadn’t signed. I’m encouraged that Begg (among others) didn’t.

  3. I really appreciate the stand that MacArthur, Begg, James White took for the Gospel since that is THE issue. I am disappointed that Dr Mohler signed the agreement since I have a great deal of respect for him – you are right it does not give clarity to the Gospel. Thank you for taking a stand for the Gospel also.

  4. Chris:

    While I appreciate Mohler having shown some past conviction in regard to separation there is no way to excuse his signing the Manhattan Declaration.

    The Scriptures compel us to admonish (2 Thess. 3:15) Al Mohler and every brother in Christ who joins with Roman Catholic signatories in The Manhattan Declaration. 



    Signing on to TMD in fact has these men holding hands with the RCC. This action is a betrayal of the Scriptures that forbid such an unholy alliance (2 Cor. 6:14-17) under ANY circumstance. Their actions do NOT, “honor Him as God.”



    The Bible says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…” That is a mandate from the Lord God and it is not open to selective interpretation. Just where does Mohler’s first loyalty lie; to God and His Word or to a well-intended social agenda?

    The biblical mandates are clear. The goal, of course, is to recover an erring brother. Otherwise, we are left with no other option than to “mark and avoid” (Rom. 16:17) Mohler, just as Dave Doran taught in his Gospel-Driven Separation series. 

All of this is to preserve the purity of the church and honor the holiness of God.

    BTW, Mohler signing TMD is not his first foray into this kind of fellowship. He is on record honoring a rank liberal and embracing Billy Graham’s ecumenism.

    LM

  5. For what it’s worth, while I respect Mohler’s personal conviction on this one, I don’t really agree with his decision. The Catholic church the Reformers separated from is not the Catholic church in America today. The latter deserves a second look. I met many devout Catholics I truly believe I’ll see in Heaven while I was at Notre Dame. Sure, I think they have some things wrong (so to we all, I’m sure), but many of them have at least the gospel right. There are many, many “cultural Catholics” who don’t really get it, but the same could be said of Protestants. I think to separate over the label the way Mohler did is more counterproductive. To automatically assume that one bearing the label “Catholic” is not a believer might be to miss an opportunity to fellowship with a brother. If Mohler went and proclaimed the gospel clearly, he might be surprised at what they hold in agreement. If the Catholic participant took exception, it would be a great opportunity to have a conversation about it. Could be he doesn’t understand his own faith. How cool if Mohler could help redirect him (and by extension, his flock)!

  6. Hi, Becca. Thanks for chiming in.

    If you disagree with Mohler’s stepping away from the Reclaiming Conference, you’re probably ecstatic that he’s signed the Manhattan Declaration.

    I disagree on both counts. I was relieved he stepped away then, and I’m disappointed he didn’t do the same now.

    Dave Doran again addresses why this is being taken by both ecumenists and separatists as a significant compromise.

  7. […] There is a previous post on the Manhattan Declaration here. […]

  8. Chris,

    Thanks for contributing to what has become a fascinating, edifying dialogue on issues of “separation”.

    I question, though, if the effort of fundamentalists (as a BJU grad, I used to be one) in seeking absolute “doctrinal purity” through separation isn’t misguided. Yes, Mohler, for example has made a few mistakes in his associations, but in throwing out the “body of his work”, we’re moving toward an absolutism that even the apostle Paul wouldn’t survive (“You hear about Paul? He’s still ministering to those immoral, compromising Corinthians”). As an officer in the military, I’ve been blessed by many a chaplain, who regularly cooperate with chaplains of all stripes, and I’ve never heard a fundamentalist condemn the chaplaincy, but surely it fails the “clear” biblical commands against partnering with unbelievers. You get my point? There’s a lot of subjectivity to our spiritual lives, and in when considering the work of men like Mohler, we need to consider the body of his ministry, and show him grace for those occasional areas of compromise with which we might not agree, rather than separate over the exceptions to his godly ministry.

    Thoughts?

  9. I agree, Will. Associations are an increasingly difficult thing to speak of absolutely. I don’t agree with all of Mohler’s associations, but I do think he has a track record of opposing false teaching—quite frankly, more aggressively than just about anyone I can think of, including self-identified fundamentalists. Doesn’t make him perfect, mind you, but I’m appreciative of what he’s done at Southern, what he did in this situation, etc. He’s one of the guys with a white hat on. Duh. ;)

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