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:
Someone 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.
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.
Filed under: Contemporary Issues, Dave Doran, Ecumenism, Separation Tagged: | Al Mohler, Alistair Begg, Co-Belligerence, Ecumenism, James White, John MacArthur, Reclaiming America for Christ, The Manhattan Declaration