In Which Al Mohler Does Not Kill the Fattest Snake
[BLOG & MABLOG] Mohler released a report on Southern Seminary with an accompanying letter. That letter (which has a link to the report itself) can be found here. And then also, if you want to read about the inevitable consequences of this, the utterly predictable howls of “that’s not nearly good enough, although cash might be good enough” can be found here.
Now I believe that Al Mohler is a good man and—more than this—I believe him to be a great man. This does not mitigate the problem;it accentuates the problem. “So that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy . . .” (Gal. 2:13, ESV). In a very real sense, Mohler’s greatness is what makes this thing such a wretched business. It is what makes it so discouraging. If Al Mohler can get played like this, at his seminary, the future for everybody else looks pretty grim.
A few weeks ago, I made reference to this phenomenon among the Southern Baptists. “In principle, the evangelical (for now)Presbyterians are sunk because of sex and the evangelical (for now) Baptists are sunk because of race.” And this is how it is going down among the Baptists.
The Heart Of The Problem:
And here is the heart of the problem. One of the central reasons the gospel was given was in order to conquer racial enmity. Racial enmity was one of the central tangled clusters of sin that God had in mind. Some beneficial consequences of the gospel do have to be considered distant and very indirect—like hot and cold running water. But putting to death the hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile—a hostility which makes our current race relations here in America look like a day at the beach—was an express purpose that God revealed to us.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph. 2:14–16).
So the fashion in which the gospel addresses the problems of racial resentments and animosities, on the one hand, and racial vainglory on the other, is not a side effect of the gospel. Ethnic animosity was one of the fattest snakes in the devil’s den, and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ killed that snake by being gospel. By being good news.By bringing the clean mountain air of Aslan’s country down into the swamp of our petty and malicious enmities.
“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian,bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
The gospel kills this snake—and this is the crucial point—with one blow of the shovel. The snake is not constantly irritated by the repeated poking of a wooden stick.
But I am afraid this letter from Al Mohler is just more stick jabbing. It is law, substituted in as though it were gospel. To have the law prepare the way for gospel is right and proper. To have law try to offer any kind of solution is simply to have law relegate people to damnation. And what is damnation? Damnation is the curse of no forgiveness possible.
Read through Al Mohler’s letter. Read through it several times. Phrases like “hard questions, hard realities,reckoning, guilty absence of historical curiosity, far from over, horrors of history” come up a lot, and, in addition to that, affirmations of a detached gospel come up too. They intend to be faithful “to Jesus Christ, his gospel,and his commands.” However, these gospel affirmations are circling the airport,and they are all still over ten thousand feet. But in no place is there any offer of actual forgiveness, actually transacted. In no place is the gospel actually applied, efficaciously, to the problem of genuine white sins. And you know why? Because that would result in those sins being, first, forgiven,and secondly, forgotten. Can’t have that.
Mohler mentions that twenty years ago, the Southern Baptists generally “asked forgiveness” for their complicity in slavery and racism. Mohler was involved in that earlier effort, and what the Southern Baptists said most certainly included their flagship seminary.
At that time, I think it is safe to say that most Southern Baptists, having made this painful acknowledgment and lamenting this history, hoped to dwell no longer on the painful aspects of our legacy.
Was that sufficient? Of course not. Silly boy.
And this is how we know that gospel is missing. When you are preaching free grace to a people who have been lost in sin for centuries, and who have done innumerable foul deeds, how long before a minister of grace is authorized to offer them a full and complete certificate with no condemnation stamped on it? That offer can be made, must be made, needs tobe made by the end of the sermon.
But in this set up, with regard to this original sin of American slavery, under no conceivable scenario will Al Mohler ever be allowed to stand before the students of Southern Seminary and declare to them that their sins are entirely and completely forgiven. He will never be allowed to say, “It is finished.” He will never be permitted to say, “Behold, all things are made new.” He will not be allowed to say that forgiveness has been sought, and extended, and all biblical forms of restitution offered, and received, and the matter is therefore concluded.
He will be forbidden to extend complete forgiveness to anybody with white skin. There will never be a chapel service at Southern which concludes with something like “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, black or white, ex-slave or ex-slave-owner—all are now one, and so we will speak no more of this.”
Which ought to indicate a problem.
When you have to offer the sacrifices over and over again (Heb. 10:1), the prime indication is that the job is not getting done.
Run the thought experiment. What would happen if he, or any other minister of free grace, were to attempt something like that? Suppose a black prophet came roaring out of the wilderness and said something like that. Suppose he were to say something like, “Your sins, and the sins of your fathers, were indeed grievous. But you have repented. You have rejected those sins. So in the name of Jesus Christ, who died and rose for the sins of black men and white men alike, I now declare that your sins are forgiven.”
I pondered for a bit on whether to write this next portion, but here goes. I figure that if the Scriptures are so clear on something, then that clarity is sure to put an end to all dispute. Christ can forgive anyone—whether lazy,pilfering slaves or cruel masters. And if the Scriptures tell slaves not to pilfer, which it does (Tit. 2:9-10), and masters not to be cruel, which it also does (Col. 4:1), and offers both of them forgiveness on the spot, then surely the gospel is up to the task of offering forgiveness on the spot to the great, great, great, grandchildren of lazy slaves and cruel masters. At least one would think.
So what would happen if Al Mohler were to offer a definitive and final assurance of pardon to white people? Are you kidding me? The reaction would be volcanic.
And why would a volcanic reaction to such a statement happen? If I might stop being coy, and speak bluntly for a moment, it would happen because guilt can always be monetized, and free grace can never be. And all Americans, whether white or black, love to monetize stuff. That’s how we make it all go.
This Is Not Repentance, But The Lack Of It:
We are talking about millions of people, and centuries of sin. There were in fact countless dirty deeds, which we have no capacity to sort out. We have no ability to make things better. But, come to think of it, we do have the capacity to make them worse.
Someone is going to say that there is such a thing as cross-generational sin, and I grant it. Someone is going to say that there should be such a thing as cultural repentance, and I grant that as well. But when the sin was to judge a man solely on the basis of the color of his skin, and not by the content of his character, it is not even close to repentance simply to swap out the skin colors. That is not repentance. It is a total and complete lack of repentance.
So we used to heap scorn on people simply and solely because they were black. They were automatically guilty—of laziness,indigence, and a need for a strong hand. Taking care of them was the white man’s burden. So how is it repentance to now look at a white man and assume automatic guilt—of privilege, or oppression, of hidden supremacist thoughts? This is not repentance. To modify Peter’s illustration, this is just a dog going back to a different dog’s vomit.
It is not repentance when the only things done by the sinners involved is to switch meth dealers, or to change brothels, or to start embezzling at a different firm. American racial animosity has not gotten out of the pool in repentance. No, we just swam down to the other end and called it repentance. We used to have contempt for black people, and now—sucha movement of the Spirit!—we have contempt for white people.
White privilege is the sin of simply being white, and it is—in this vile new religion—an unforgivable one. Two hundred years from now, white boy, your descendants will continue being white, in their unrepentant insolence. In fact they are probably really white, your great grandparents having emigrated here from Finland in the 1920’s, having had no more to do with slavery than can be read about in a history book. And—if we continue selling ourselves into spiritual bondage this way, into this bizarre form of works righteousness—when those descendants of yours encounter a black man on the street, they will cringe with the burden of all that guilt inside. And why? Two hundred years from now they will cringe, and why? Because they encountered on the street a descendant of that evil African chieftain who sold thousands of his black brothers into the horrific slavery of the Middle Passage.
And this is the place where we discover that the point is actually not who is actually descended from criminals then, but rather what criminal color one is now.
Just Look The Other Way:
If you read the summary of the report, you will see that the report does not demonize the founders of Southern Seminary. The tension between what are considered to be their glaring blind spots (simply by being slaveholders) and their obvious graciousness in other aspects of race relations is clearly set forth in the report.
This creates a dilemma. What should the modern heirs of this heritage of Southern Seminary do? What should the board and administration do? What should the faculty do? The answer is quite a simple one, which is to look the other way.That’s what everybody does with the teaching of the Scriptures. Just look the other way. Don’t answer questions. Why should you have to answer questions? Stare off into the middle distance. Just pretend that the Torah was written by the editors of the Precious Moments Study Bible.
When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money” (Ex. 21:20–21, ESV).
If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut. 24:7, ESV).
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property” (Lev. 25:44–45, ESV).
So there it is. A slave owner is to be punished if he beats a slave and he dies. He is not to be punished if the slave lives, because the slave is his property. Someone who kidnaps an Israelite to sell him into slavery is subject to the death penalty. Slavery was authorized under the law, but only if the slaves were taken from among the surrounding pagan nations.
Hey, where’d all the inerrantists go?
I am not going to do a deep dive on this subject now, having written plenty about it elsewhere. There are Christ-honoring solutions to these problems, but those solutions do not include ignoring the existence of the problems. Neither do they include heaping opprobrium on your ancestors who were more willing to read the Bible out loud than you are.
In all my interactions on the subject of slavery and the Scripture—and please realize I have had quite a few of them—the only person I can recall who has acknowledged the force of this point, or even the mere existence of it, has been Thabiti. Everybody else acts like the ancient mariner, staring out at distant shipping lanes.
Others opt for the quick and easy solution, which is to call me a racist.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Douglas Wilson and originally published at BLOG & MABLOG]