Clash of Titans: Christianity vs. Dr. Mohler’s theology

The fireworks continue between BioLogos and the esteemed Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology and President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, God’s chosen Arbiter of Faithful Readings of the Scriptures, and official representative of the spirit of biblical interpretation on earth, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. The latter has responded to Karl Giberson’s own response to an unreadably ignorant lecture recently given by The Great Baptist Paraclete.

A lot of the specific furor has been over Mohler’s original charge (it was no bland statement) that Darwin’s important trip aboard the Beagle was undertaken in search for evidence for an already assumed evolution. Giberson’s objection to this mischaracterization of history and Darwin’s motives is duly noted, but I myself am not so sure that Giberson’s stance that Darwin was still consciously nursing his “childhood faith” when he left aboard the Beagle is quite right, either.

Still, to acknowledge that Darwin’s faith was already somewhat cultural and never particularly personal as Mohler is intent to do is not at all to grant the demonstrably and consciously false implication of Mohler (and his fellow rotten teeth in Fundagelicalism) that Darwin was intent to find ways to bolster a rejection of a “literal” reading of Genesis — still less of faith in God’s creative role in general. The Beagle naturalist Darwin was a man who struggled more with problematic tenets of Christianity and organized religion in general, and not until his heart-breaking family crisis much later in life did his doubts orbit the question of the basic existence of God.

For Mohler, though, this would make no difference: the fact that he would even question Mohler’s understanding of “orthodox Christianity” at all would make any compatible beliefs he held highly suspect at best. This is where the best part of Giberson’s latest response picks up:

Let me conclude by responding to your charge that what I “have actually succeeded in doing is to show how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender in order to accommodate itself to evolution.” As a theological layperson, I hesitate to engage a trained theologian on this question, but let me rush in where angels fear to tread and offer that “doctrines” are human constructs, much like “theories” are in science. They are not facts—they are explanations or interpretations of facts.

You seem to equate your understanding of how the Bible should be read with plain-fact Christian orthodoxy. There we must part ways, and I suspect that at the end of the day, this may be the real point of contention. I do not think that I am showing how much doctrine Christianity has to surrender, but how problematic fundamentalist literalism is for engaging science. [my emphasis]

You’re darned right that this is “the real point of contention”! As Mohler stated categorically, “The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures.” The poor guy’s fear is explicitly the “costs” of accepting evolution “in terms of theological concessions.” Concessions? Would the decision to consider another piece of (rock solid) evidence in order to help us in our interpretation of Scripture mean that we’d actually have to reevaluate something we had already believed without examining? Might one honestly approaching the scientific evidence in order to help better understand Christianity as it actually exists, which to varying degrees it always does independently of our perceptions of that reality, be forced to “concede” that an earlier perception was incomplete, inadequate, or even just plain wrong?

If that’s so unthinkable, Dr. Al, you’re right: you better run from evolution like the plague.

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  • Wm Tanksley

    Is there a reason for the lack of charity here? I’ve enjoyed your blog, but the opening lines of this post are so ghastly that I couldn’t bear to continue.
    I’m not prejudging you — I suspect you have a reason for the unkindness, and I’ll listen to it. I listen to all posts and comments on this blog; it’s had considerable value to me.

  • You know, I remarked to my wife tonight that I hadn’t posted something so sharply critical in quite some time. I’m sorry if it turns you or others off. Emoting in public is a common symptom of blogdom, I suppose.

    But even if perhaps I let the sarcasm drip a little, there is a reason for the emotion, and it’s described in the post (shouldn’t have skipped it! 😉 ). In short, it’s his decision to throw Christian evolutionists to the curb and so smugly dismiss our ability to have a valid Christian faith by presuming to define us out of it. Not cool at all, and it’s too often par for the course with these systematic theologian types. Worse: his influence is so strong among evangelicals and fundamentalists that they’ll just accept his words on faith as though they believe he deserved all the titles I sardonically awarded him in the first paragraph.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, William.

  • Anonymous

    I’d take it as a personal favour if you could downplay this guy’s baptist and evangelical labels. 🙂
    Most of us have more intelligence, imagination, and humility than to propogate such unhelpful views.

  • Anonymous

    As I said in our chat earlier, I think sarcasm is in order. I imagine him piling the wood to burn people like me (and you) at the stake.

  • Hey, you may be Baptist — but I’m Southern Baptist! Well, not so much currently, but that’s what I was brought up in and one of the things I attribute my love for truth and the Bible to. My critique was certainly more of him than Baptists — Baptists just have the misfortune of having him as the president of their flagship institution, so their name got dragged along by my string of tongue-in-cheek epithets. 😉

    As far as “evangelical”…as I think we’ve discussed previously, the influential American brand of evangelicalism is not the same as your evangelicalism: you’re not a capitalist, for instance! I do hate the fuzziness of the terms, though.

  • Wow, you weren’t holding any punches! I personally commend you for taking such a strong stand. Mohler’s statements are just arguments from authority, his own authority, and as such they are arrogant, condescending to anyone who thinks differently from him. Good for you for standing up for your right to believe Christianity in the way you have found appropriate

  • I agree with much of what you’ve said in your blog, although I do have a slightly different perspective in that I don’t think Giberson should be using the Biologos platform to be so aggressive to Mohler, but I am open to differing viewpoints. Giberson posting on his own blog or on the Huffington Post would be fine. But not Biologos – Giberson’s “open letter” doesn’t seem to have the same grace and humility that was exemplified by the original founder – Francis Collins. I wish he was still on board.

    As for Mohler and Ham and others, they have lost my respect and I try to “block them out” as best as can, because they only serve as stumbling blocks to me.

    I want to like Giberson. I thought he had much good to say – as you’ve highlighted in here. But I thought this statement was much to severe – what do you think?:

    “I felt a bit like a schoolyard bully posting an aggressive piece on The Huffington Post but, when you didn’t respond to my more constructive piece on the BioLogos site, I felt I had to metaphorically poke you in the chest, or take your pencils, or insult your mother to draw you out. The internet playground is a cruel place.” There are a few others, but this was the worst. Am I misreading?

  • ps- I enjoyed reading your post and didn’t find anything alarming in it. My criticism is solely for the open letter by Giberson on Biologos (although in general, I prefer Collins, Enns and Falk’s way of speaking/writing anyways, so I’m definitely biased!).

  • I think Giberson is trying to be light-hearted, albeit in a snappy and witty fashion, but it’s not coming off that way at all — especially given the importance both of these men place on the outcome of the debate in question. I think Giberson feels a little stung by Mohler: he’s given him a platform to speak and engage differing believers in dialogue over at BioLogos, and instead of using it he goes off and publicly denounces their efforts. Ouch.

    I don’t want Giberson to become a firebrand (and I don’t think he wants to, either), but I also don’t want him to treat this as a mere doctrinal nuance. As I’m sure you know, this is a fight over the soul of evangelicalism: will it be able to find common ground with evolutionists and non-inerrantists, or will the self-appointed gate-keepers who hold waaaaay too much sway over the minds and hearts of American evangelicals be able to shield their flocks from all positive exposure to evolutionary creationists? So I understand Giberson seeking this fight somewhere more publicly than BioLogos, even though I think the rationale you quoted above was an unfortunate way of describing it. It’s infuriating to see Mohler disaffectedly soldiering on as though he and other evangelical leaders were not guiding millions of people blindfolded over a chasm on a long and rotting bridge. Evolutionary creationists need to engage them in full view of everyone. It should be done with as much grace as possible (but no more than possible) from those in front. BioLogos might need a “bulldog” of sorts on their side, but he’s got to be going about it in a less than ideal manner if he’s eliciting the kind of reaction you had!

    Thanks so much for commenting. I really appreciate your perspective here.