Something Is Terribly Wrong at Southern Seminary
(For the New Christian Intellectual) Dr. Albert Mohler has been one of the most trusted men in the conservative evangelical world for decades. Much of that is due to his role in the latter stages of the conservative resurgence, in which he is rightly credited with bringing Southern Seminary back from the depths of theological liberalism.
In a message entitled The Cost of Conviction, he recounts how he was elected President of Southern Seminary at just 33 years old; how he had to face down, oppose, and eventually fire many older men and women who had poured into his life as his professors; how he and his family were hounded relentlessly by the liberal faculty, the liberal students, and the liberal secular media; and how he knew that the only way to recover the theological integrity of Southern Seminary was to enforce orthodoxy among the faculty—rather than trust in the mere verbal (or written) assent to it.
As I re-listened to that message, and as I contemplated the fact that I am now the age that Dr. Mohler was when he entered that battle, I was struck with a renewed sense of awe, of respect, and of gratefulness toward him. Even then, he was in many ways my better—my elder brother in the faith. But that renewed sense of awe only serves to make the writing of this difficult piece all the more burdensome.
No man of God takes pleasure in openly challenging his heroes of the faith. Neither, though, does any man of God shrink back from doing so when it is clear that it must be done. That tension produces in one a particular blend of fear and trembling. It is with such fear and trembling that I say what follows.
Something is terribly wrong at Southern Seminary.
The problem is not exclusive to Southern. It is actually fairly widespread within evangelicalism—but it is particularly surprising and concerning to see it blossoming at Southern Seminary, which is still under the leadership of Dr. Mohler.
The wider evangelical world recently discovered that several faculty members of Southern Seminary have been deeply influenced by, and actively teaching, certain dangerous ideologies which Mohler, himself, has repeatedly warned against. Those are the interconnected ideologies of Marxist-inspired-Social Justice (his wording, not mine) Critical Race Theory, and intersectionality.
Dr. Mohler’s Warnings
For context, consider Mohler’s somber warning only a few months ago, in the June 14th episode of The Briefing:
“Ideas, as we know, do have consequences, and one of the most lamentable consequences, but the main consequence of critical race theory and intersectionality is identity politics, and identity politics can only rightly be described as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have to see identity politics as disastrous for the culture and nothing less than devastating for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Speaking on the current dangers of Critical Theory and the associated appeals to “Social Justice” in his recent Chapel Q&A, Mohler explained:
“Now the universities are filled with those who are committed to Critical Theory. It is a radical form of Marxism. Social Justice was very much a part of that movement… You have a theory of Social Justice which requires a tearing down of everything that exists, and upending every authority. Critical Theory—you have to take everything apart, from art to everything else. It’s all about oppression. It reads everything through oppression. That’s what everything is. Every structure that exists merely exists to oppress… So Social Justice in that view became associated with identifying peoples that are oppressed at various levels of oppression, and working to liberate them by whatever means necessary…And this led to Critical Legal Theory…Critical Race Theory coming out of much the same thing…And I will fight [this version of Social Justice] with every fiber of my being.”
With such strong language by Dr. Mohler, you’d think it impossible that anyone under his influence (least of all, under his leadership) could possibly get away with teaching those ideologies—but you’d be wrong.
For years now, many other evangelical leaders who are undoubtedly under Mohler’s influence to some degree or another have been teaching ideas which are obviously rooted in the dangerous ideologies he condemns—and they’ve been doing so in the comfort of Mohler’s silence about their teaching.
Right Under His Nose
Even more astonishing is that members of Dr. Mohler’s own faculty have seemingly been given a free pass by him to teach the very ideologies he warns against. Before surveying the various quotes by these professors below, I need to elaborate on a very crucial point which too many seem to miss in these discussions: I am not concerned here with what these men personally believe, or how they would describe their beliefs—and you should not be either. What matters far more in this context is identifying what they teach—regardless of what anyone chooses to call it, and regardless of whether they fully and consciously believe it, themselves. If you listen to Dr. Mohler’s retelling of his early battles at Southern Seminary, you will find that every liberal professor claimed to assent to orthodoxy. Dr. Mohler had to go beyond mere assent to evaluate their actual teachings against the orthodoxy which they professed. The issue at stake is the health (or lack thereof) of the doctrine being taught. If I were to start teaching that “salvation is by grace, after all that we can do,” it would not matter how much I said that I deny works-righteousness, or even how much I sincerely believed that I denied works-righteousness. I would still be teaching works-righteousness. It also would not matter if I’d never even heard of Mormonism before. It would still be accurate to say that I was teaching one of the essential doctrines for which Mormonism is rightly considered a false teaching. This must be said because two of the professors mentioned below (Dr. Hall and Dr. Williams) have begun saying that they reject Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. But they have done nothing to answer for the fact that their teachings (cited below) are in no way distinguishable from those aspects of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality which Dr. Mohler warns against.
DR. CUTRIS WOODS
Dr. Curtis Woods, in a panel discussion on “Gospel & Race” said the following:
“We’re talking about an implicit racial bias, we’re talking about a presuppositional bias, that this person, based upon their color, is lesser than…. If I have power, based upon privilege, and privilege being connected to the ideology of Whiteness, because by ‘Whiteness’ we’re not simply talking about skin color, once again we’re talking prohibition: if you are not white, then it is not right. That’s Whiteness as an ideology.”
Note that Dr. Woods seems to adopt and to teach two of the most essential redefinitions introduced by Critical Race Theory: the redefinition of racism as “privilege plus power,” and the redefinition of “whiteness” as an oppressive sociological construct.1
In another video, we see multiple clips of Dr. Woods teaching that white men who wish to lead black men in the ministry must first be led by black men, themselves—or that for every book by a white author, they must read two by black authors. Such rules are based in the oppressor/oppressed dynamics of Critical Race Theory, along with closely associated “standpoint epistemology,” which teaches that one’s access to objective truth is limited based on one’s social location and racial or class experiences.
DR. JARVIS WILLIAMS
Another professor at Southern, Dr. Jarvis Williams, wrote the following for Jemar Tisby’s The Witness:
“Though I’m a marginalized African-American man within white male-dominated evangelical movements (Southern Baptist and Reformed), I’m still part of the privileged male majority in my Christian tribe. My brown, marginalized identity intersects with my male identity. Though my African-American identity has caused me to lose certain privileges and has caused me certain traumatic experiences of racism in both the SBC and in the broader evangelical movement, my male identity affords me certain privileges that are unavailable for many black and brown women in white male-dominated, evangelical Christianity.”
The remarkable thing about this quote is that in spite of Williams’ disclaimer that he “rejects Intersectionality,” his words almost exactly match Dr. Mohler’s own characterization of the ideology of Intersectionality in the episode of The Briefing in which he warned against that ideology (I’ve underlined the matching language):
“The argument of intersectionality is that humanity is marked by oppression that is revealed in a pattern of intersecting social identities. This is a very foundational thought to identity politics. The point of intersectionality is the more complex the intersection, the greater the oppression. In other words, an African-American lesbian is less politically powerful and thus more oppressed than even a black male. You can quickly see how all of this has been appropriated by the moral revolution, and it has become an essential tool of the sexual revolutionaries. You also have to understand that critical race theory and intersectionality are now basic fundamentals of thought in higher academia in the United States and in much of Europe.”
Note that Dr. Mohler links this very kind of Intersectional ideology, which his professor teaches, with identity politics and the moral revolution which has taken over higher academia. One begins to wonder about Mohler’s own academic institution.
“But,” an objector might say, “these are just two random professors. There’s no indication that the school, as an institution, is headed in this direction.”
DR. MATTHEW HALL
And that’s where we turn to Dr. Matthew Hall—the Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Administration at Southern Seminary. With that dual position, there is arguably no one under Dr. Mohler who has more sway over the direction of the seminary than Dr. Hall. And yet some of his teachings on race and racism are the most concerning.
In an article which was posted on the Southern Seminary website, Dr. Hall said:
“The best thing you can do to start is to take a humble posture, recognizing that you have a racialized worldview of which you are likely unaware. Your beliefs, attitudes, and values have been formed in ways deeply informed by whiteness.”
The article has since been taken down (but archived here), along with a similar video of Dr. Hall which was on the Southern Seminary Youtube Channel, at the request of Dr. Mohler. But around the same time that Dr. Mohler had those resources “scrubbed” (his wording), several other videos emerged of Dr. Hall teaching ideas which are clearly rooted in Critical Race Theory.
On a podcast which is dedicated to discussing “racial reconciliation and the gospel,” Dr. Hall taught that his “Pauline” and “Biblical” view of sin leads him to believe that “I am a racist… and I will struggle with racism and white supremacy until the day I die…because I am immersed in a culture where I benefit from racism all the time.” Note that Dr. Hall is not merely confessing his own sinful struggles here. He is teaching what he believes to be the Biblical view of sin. He is not merely claiming that he struggles with racism and white supremacy. He is claiming that Scripture teaches that we all struggle with racism and white supremacy to the extent that we “benefit from racism.” How anyone can get that from Scripture, and then teach it as Scripture with the confidence of Dr. Hall is beyond me. Note also the dizzying circularity of “I am a racist in virtue of the fact that I benefit from racism.” Such circularity is an indication that more than one functional definition of “racism” is being employed: the one inspired by Critical Race Theory, and the traditional one.
And this is not an isolated incident. There are at least two other instances2 in which Dr. Hall confesses “I am a racist” in the same smiling manner of challenging others to join him in that “confession.”
Allow me to submit what should be obvious: there is no non-Critical-Race-Theory-inspired meaning of “I am a racist,” or “I struggle with white supremacy,” which should not immediately disqualify one from any kind of ministry until more spiritual maturity has occurred. That Dr. Hall does not see this as a disqualification issue, and that he teaches it as the “Biblical view of sin,” rather than as a mere personal confession, demonstrates that he has a radically novel understanding of what racism is—and he gets that understanding (whether he realizes it or not) from Critical Race Theory.
Finally, there are multiple videos3 of all three of these professors—Dr. Jarvis Williams, Dr. Curtis Woods, and Dr. Matthew Hall—teaching at Southern Seminary that racism is a system of ‘power plus privilege,’ rather than personal prejudice; that to truly be multi-ethnic, it is not enough to merely have “black and brown faces”—one must also have “black and brown voices” by “leveraging privilege and power;” that there is such a thing as “white culture” and that Southern Seminary is suffering from it; that “the rotting corpse of white supremacy” is hiding under everything you thought was true and good about the world, and that they are going to now reveal that to you.
An Ominous Reality & A Pressing Question
Just one of these incidents, by just one of these professors, would be cause enough for concern, given the seemingly impeccable reputation which Dr. Mohler has earned for himself in the realm of ideological discernment—especially regarding these types of ideologies. Indeed, Dr. Mohler is able to identify and to critically analyze (for the Church’s benefit) even covert instances of these ideologies in the culture on a weekly, if not daily, basis through his podcast, The Briefing. Yet he has been nearly silent about the encroaching of these ideologies into the Church—even when it is directly under his nose, on his own turf. There can be no doubt about his ability to identify it. There can be no doubt about his ability to correct it. The only question which remains is: does he want to?
The fact is that we are not dealing with just one instance. We are now dealing with a deluge of revelations about these professors which has frankly been difficult to keep up with. With each passing day and each new revelation about what these professors have now been teaching for the past few years, it becomes clear that we are not dealing with a few coincidental missteps. This is an ideological campaign being implemented at the school over which Dr. Mohler presides as President.
And it is not just a few random professors who are participating in this campaign. In Dr. Matthew Hall, we see that the second most powerful man at Southern Seminary is actively teaching precisely those ideologies which the most powerful man at Southern Seminary has repeatedly warned against and denounced. If there was ever a time when Dr. Mohler was called upon to act, this is it.
So why doesn’t he? Why is the theological stalwart from the conservative resurgence silent in the face of encroaching ideological danger? Why does this man, who has helped to guide the Church through so many difficult ideological crises, stand back as if nothing were wrong while the Church is being torn apart by the divisive and insidious ideologies which he himself has named as a danger to Her?
When we are faced with such a question about a man we have long trusted and admired, we often find ourselves willing to grasp onto the first answer which might occur to us—no matter how adequately (or inadequately) it actually functions as an answer. But when we stop to consider the God-Man whom we first trusted and admired, and who is worthy of all trust and admiration, we know that we must not cave to such a temptation. That Man, who is Truth, deserves our unyielding loyalty, and we dare not betray Him for the sake of saving the face of a mere mortal whom we love.
So, in loyalty to Christ, I must confess that I am unable to conceive of any adequate answer to explain Dr. Mohler’s inaction. Moreover, in loyalty to that same Christ, I find myself now called upon to expose the staggering insufficiency of those hasty answers which we might be tempted to grasp onto.
THE PRIVATE DISCIPLINE ANSWER
Perhaps, it may be thought, these professors have simply fallen prey to ideologies which they did not fully comprehend, and in their godly desire to help the Church through difficult issues concerning race and racism, they lost their way and did not realize the dangers of the ideologies they were imbibing and spreading. This much I do not dispute. But what does this have to do with Dr. Mohler’s inaction on the issue? Well, the argument might go, because they do not have malicious intent, they don’t deserve the harsh public correction of Dr. Mohler, and he is, instead, correcting them in private. This is a good answer, but to a completely different question. The question is not “How will Dr. Mohler discipline these professors?” as if the only thing to be concerned about here is the individual spiritual growth (which is the purpose of Christian discipline) of the professors.
There is a much more pressing and weighty concern which should be at the forefront of our minds: If even these men—men who have achieved such theological acumen so as to have attained professorship at one of the most respected theological seminaries in the world—if even they can fall prey to the dangerous ideologies of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, how much more so the average Christian!? If our most elite Christian scholars are susceptible to these dangerous ideologies, then what a precarious position our pastors and church members are in. This is not an argument for “handling things quietly.” Just the opposite. This is an argument for the most aggressive public theological campaign imaginable. Yes, let the professors receive whatever discipline they need to receive in private, but let also Dr. Mohler (and every other evangelical leader) burst forth in strident, comprehensive, public condemnation of every single manifestation—whether covert or overt—of these dangerous ideologies which threaten to take captive even the wisest and most sincere among us, until every pastor, every seminarian, and every Church member is equipped to identify and to repudiate them in all godliness and all wisdom. The goal ought not merely to be that these professors stop teaching what they have been for years—so as to simply save face for the Seminary. The goal must be for every professor at Southern (and beyond) to be fully equipped and emboldened to wage an all out and explicit war against these dangerous ideologies until they are swept into the dustbin of Church history, where they belong.
THE STIGMA OF RACISM ANSWER
Perhaps another tempting answer to the question of Mohler’s inaction is the somewhat legitimate fear of being seen as racist for speaking too boldly against these ideologies—not just the fear of man which wishes to be thought well of, but also the fear of doing harm to the gospel by allowing it to be associated with the stigma of “racism.” It is no secret that these ideologies have dominated the culture precisely by taking advantage of that very type of fear in the hearts of every honest person. No one decent wants to be racist, or even have the appearance of racism attached to anything they do. The fact that so many have caved to these ideologies is a testament, not to the “implicit bias” which those people are compelled to “confess,” but to their common decency in their loathing of racism. But, as we are seeing, decency and naivety are a deadly mixture. It is through the desire to remain “decent” that the naive are taken captive by deceitful doctrine.
But what of those who are not naive? What of the wise? What of the leaders of our evangelical institutions and seminaries? What of men like Dr. Al Mohler? They know that to reject Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality is not to reveal sympathy toward racism. They know that the accusation of racism which is based solely on one’s rejection of those ideologies is a false and manipulative accusation. The progenitors of these ideologies rest all of their confidence in the expectation that the fear of such false accusations will outweigh anyone’s love of the truth—so that their ideological agenda will conquer, not through argument, but through acquiescence. And this supposed answer to Dr. Mohler’s inaction would suggest that he, himself, is choosing the path of acquiescence. But if even Dr. Al Mohler is not willing to face down the false accusations of these evil ideologies, then how can any pastor, any seminary student, or any Church member be expected to do differently? If the false accusation of racism were such a threat to the gospel that it could silence seminary presidents from publicly correcting false teaching, then the Church and the gospel would be through. There can be no gospel—and thus, no Church—where there is no possibility to guard sound doctrine. That’s why we must never acquiesce to the attempt to silence correction through false accusations. If innocent Christians are being bullied and confounded by deceitful ideologies, which prey on their good intentions through false accusations, in order to manipulate them into abandoning the truth, that is precisely the time for the theological elders of the faith to stand up and to step in. That is the time for seminary presidents and professors to demand that the bullies aim every single false accusation at them, rather than at the sheep, and then to dismantle every false accusation in the strongest and clearest terms possible.
THE COMPASSION ANSWER
The final seemingly plausible answer for Dr. Mohler’s inaction is related to the above concern, but more positive. Whereas the previous answer is rooted in the concern for protecting the gospel from the stigma of racism, this proposed answer is rooted in the concern of being compassionate toward those who have been victims of actual racism. Let us not forget that Southern Seminary was founded in part on very racist premises, defending the morality of slavery. This rightly raises the level of sensitivity with which Southern Seminary, and its President, must handle issues regarding race and racism. Dr. Mohler cannot and ought not to treat the issue flippantly. There are real victims of actual racism today, and any Christian institution—let alone, a Christian institution with a past like of Southern Seminary— ought to be eager to do whatever possible to care and love for such people, and to combat actual racism wherever it may be found within the institution’s purview. And because issues regarding race and racism today are so wrapped up in these false ideologies of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, it would be difficult (it might be argued) to adequately love and care for victims of actual racism while strongly denouncing those ideologies within the Church.
There are two fundamental problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that it is self-defeating. We cannot care for victims of actual racism if we lose the ability to identify actual racism, and the first consequence of these ideologies is a complete destruction of that very ability. In fact, these ideologies transform racism and white supremacy from despicably evil forms of prejudice which can be objectively identified and obliterated, into ubiquitous subjective “powers” which can be “confessed” with a smile and a shrug, but never done away with. They belittle the evils of actual racism, and they belittle the suffering of actual victims of racism. These ideologies are an impediment to caring for actual victims of racism, and should be opposed, if for no other reason, on that basis alone.
The second problem with this line of reasoning is the fact that it is rooted in a misplaced sense of the relation between compassion and truth. And this is where I want to more heavily rely on Dr. Mohler’s own words from his message, The Cost of Conviction, because it contains some of the wisest counsel on Christian compassion I have ever heard:
“Right compassion is for the right people, for the right reasons, based on God’s truth… People claim to be compassionate but they are not compassionate. They do not have compassion for the things of greater value, but rather for the lesser. We are dying in evangelicalism of the terminal sin of niceness. We cannot afford to be nice. Nice means, ‘I’m going to be polite and not raise your heterodox teaching with you.’”
According to Dr. Mohler, there is a “right compassion”—which means that there is also a wrong compassion. Right compassion involves having compassion “for the things of greater value,” and one of the chief examples of greater value which Dr. Mohler suggests we ought to have compassion for is the Church:
“True compassion is compassion for the truth…and for the Church. We must love the Church such that we would not put poison into its bloodstream…Have compassion for the Church who is so easily led astray… It’s so easy for the covert heresy of smooth words to seduce the Church into a false gospel.”
And applying this specifically of his post as President of Southern Seminary, he says, “I refuse to let compassion be debased to mean keeping people who teach heterodox doctrine on a theology faculty… How dare you send someone into the Church who will teach heterodox doctrine.”
The Astounding Contrast
Consider for a moment the astounding contrast between the realities outlined above and these solemn charges given by Dr. Mohler in the past. It is breathtaking, and it is frightening.
How much poison has been pumped into the Church’s bloodstream under Dr. Mohler’s watch? How many seminarians have been sent out by Southern Seminary into the Church, who are now teaching heterodox doctrine? How much irreparable harm has been inflicted upon the Church by Southern Seminary as these dangerous ideologies have been pumped—however unwittingly— into the minds and hearts of her future leaders? Since the conservative resurgence, there has not been a more pressing existential danger to the health of the Church than the one we are seeing play out before us, and much of it is being played out right on the campus of Southern Seminary. For anyone who loves the Church, this is the time to act.
To get a sense of the weight of Dr. Mohler’s inaction, ask yourself: “What would it look like if every pastor in the SBC followed his lead?”—because the reality is, most will. The result would be devastating. Who, besides Dr. Mohler, is there to stand up against these evil ideologies which are infiltrating the Church? And if Dr. Mohler’s ministry ends without him acting to equip the Church against these ideologies; and if Dr. Matthew Hall succeeds him as President of Southern Seminary, what will be the fate of the Church?
I do not claim that the Church is (yet) in the same condition she was in prior to the conservative resurgence, but so far is it depends on me and my brothers, she never will be again. Such is the conviction and the passion of every godly man who loves the Church and has been called to shepherd her in whatever capacity.
So, I will end with the heart-wrenching plea which I never thought I would have to make:
Dr. Mohler, in the name of all that you fought for; in the name of every glorious and Christ-honoring achievement you have made throughout your tenure as President of Southern Seminary; in the name of the hopes and dreams you undoubtedly had for your errant professors; in the name of your love for the truth, and for the Church; and especially, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom I trust we both love and long to serve with honor and faithfulness, please: Rouse yourself against this great threat, and do all that is necessary4 to see the Church delivered from these present dangers.
- It is also important to note here that Dr. Woods was not merely giving a “history lesson” on the origins of the concept of whiteness as a method of justifying racism. The context of his comments makes it clear that he is discussing contemporary application of the ideas being discussed. The example of oppressive “Whiteness” he mentions is the example of being afraid of a black man in a hoodie. While such fear may be unwarranted, it is difficult to see how it could be classified as an example of the oppressive historical construct of “Whiteness” apart from a view rooted in Critical Theory.
- One is here. The other is in the montage of clips here.
- All compiled in this montage.
- I realized after publishing this that there could be some confusion about what I might consider “necessary” here in regard to delivering the Church from the dangers of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. So, I would like to clarify here: I do not have any vindictive desire to see these professors publicly penalized for their teachings in any way. I am not here calling for them to be fired—necessarily. I am simply calling for them to do all that is necessary for a man of God to do in righting the wrongs he has done—even if they were done unintentionally. I am calling for them to do everything in their power to undo the harm they have inflicted upon the Church. If they honestly repent of their false teachings, and of any underhanded ways which may have accompanied it, and then bear fruit in keeping with that repentance by working in every capacity available to them to destroy the threats of these evil ideologies in the Church, I will be the first to joyously embrace them as my brothers. As I have emphasized above, the fundamental issue here is not their persons. It is their teachings. My goal and my prayer is that they will passionately reject all that is heterodox on the topics of race, racism, and the gospel; that they will embrace all that is orthodox on those issues; and that they will do everything in their power to equip the Church to do the same.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jacob Brunton. It was originally published at For the New Christian Intellectual, title and image changed.]
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