Friday, September 19, 2008

An Open Letter to Albert Mohler

Dear Dr. Mohler,

I know that you probably do not know who I am, but my name is Adam, and I am a M.A. Candidate in Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I want to first of all say that I do really respect the work that you do. It is refreshing to hear a carefully reasoned voice on the radio with so much bad material in the media today.

However, I must say that I have been very distressed by the bad argumentation that you put forward in both your article, and in the beginning of your program on Friday. You said that "every single response, thus far, is from a woman." May I be the first [or one of the first] to break that string. I have been dealing with this issue for a long time. In fact, I have had a conversation [or tried to] with Debbie Maken, and have even reviewed Candice Watters' book [I know you have endorsed both of these]. Hence, I am well familiar with this topic.

Dr. Mohler, first of all, we are both protestants. As protestants, we both believe in Sola Scriptura, namely, that the Bible is sufficient to function as the regula fide, that is, the rule of faith for the church. We also recognize that, whatever is not found in scripture, is not binding upon the christian. Yet, I heard you say a whole lot of things that I believe are simply exegetically indefensible.

For instance, you said that, "You have this delayed adulthood among young men," and "This extended adolesence which is beginning to characterize so much of the young male experience."

So, we equate marriage with adulthood. Can you prove that from scripture Dr. Mohler? Even Dr. Grant Osborne, my Hermeneutics professor, said that this was totally wrong. The reality is I have never heard an exegetical argument for this position. The best argument I have heard goes back to Genesis 2:24. However, that text is not defining manhood, it is telling us why it is that you have men today who leave there father and mother, etc. It is because of what God instituted back in the garden of Eden.

Not only that, you have said that, "When you start looking at the fact that we have just actualized and made norminative the expectation in the secular culture that premarital sex is going to be the norm, and in the secular culture it certainly is, then young men are no longer modivated to take on the responsibilities of marriage. If you offer young men the opportunity to have sex without responsibility, here's a news flash, they will take it, and that's what's happening in this culture."

I am really amazed by this statement, Dr. Mohler. Are you denying the grace of God can instruct us to deny ungodly desires [Titus 2:11-12]? Are you likewise denying what the book of Proverbs says when it tells young men that wisdom will keep us from the adulteress [Proverbs 2:16]? So, if a man has the grace of God, and is growing in wisdom, how can you say that "they will take it." It seems to me that the grace of God, and the wisdom and instruction found in the book of Proverbs is foundational to fighting against these things! Yes, Dr. Mohler, men who do not have the grace of God or wisdom will "take it." However, that is a reflection upon the church merely teaching what is right and wrong, and not teaching discernment and wisdom as is found in the book of Proverbs.

Yes, I know, you will bring up 1 Corinthians 7:9. However, Dr. Mohler, did you ever notice that "burning with passion" there is not having sexual desire? The whole phrase runs "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." If you say that "burning with passion" is having sexual desire, then the text has nothing to do with the previous clause which is about having self control! I think it is more likely to equate "burning with passion" with "not having self control" given that Paul uses this chiastic structure in this very context [v.2-4].

Not only that, but many competent commentators such as Dr. Gordon Fee, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Richard Hays, and others have pointed out that this text probably is not referring to singles in general at all, but a specific group of singles, namely, widows and widowers! Hence, the text is totally irrelevant to the discussion of single people in general.

Also you say, "And what happens when you begin to take marriage, and you say, 'It's now an option. It's no longer norminative. It's now an option...'

Again, Dr. Mohler, where do you find these things in scripture? There is no command for every individual to marry anywhere in God's word. I believe that marriage should be norminative, but not in the sense that you are talking about. I believe that it is norminative because God has naturally put it into the hearts and desires of most people to get married, and not because of some command that I am going to add to scripture as if scripture is not sufficient.

Yes, I have dialogued with Debbie Maken, and I have read all of the arguments of the so called "Mandatory Marriage Movement," and I find them to be, not only unconvincing, but extremely weak. When you have to take Genesis 1:28b out of the context of 1:27c [which gives you the subject of "Be Fruitful and Multiply], and the phrase "fill the earth" so that you are left with the absurd idea that every single couple must not only marry, but that an individual couple must have seven billion children so that they "fill the earth," then you have missed something exegetically.

If you try to run off to Jeremiah 29, and use the phrase "Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters," then you will, not only be caught trying to explain how it is that we likewise are all obligated to plant gardens and build houses [v.5], but you will likewise be taking this text out of the context of the false prophets who were trying to encourage the people to revolt rather than live their life as usual [vs.8-10].

Again, your statement that marriage is norminative, in the sense that it is not an option is simply indefensible exegetically. For instance, even Andreas Kostenburger, who has conversed with Debbie Maken, has said the same thing I have. Not only that, but do you not have elders in your church? Are you saying that you command all people in your church to be elders, or else there will be no elders in your church? That is terrible logic.

Next you say, "There is no recovery if you are going to accept the premise that we are autonomious individuals, and each one of us has a right to do whatever is right in our own sight. We can define life as we want it. We can define relationships simply as whatever we want them to be. for however long we want them to last."

I reply. Dr. Mohler, why do you assume that it is either add to God's word, or be autonomious individuals? Might I point out that we are neither if we follow the principle of Sola Scriptura. What if scripture were our ultimate authority, and it defined for us what is sin and what is not sin. What if it defined for us what proper behavior was in our relationships, and decided to bind us to certain things, and not to other things?

What if it bound us to the idea that we had to dress modestly, but that we could wear either a yellow shirt or a green shirt? What if it told me that I had to only have sexual relations within marriage, but that I could remain unmarried? How in the world would this be talking about wanting our own autonomy? Shall I become the governor of Kentucky, and force the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to change its name to the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and teach Presbyterian doctrine? Would you not be crying out about your freedom to worship God in the way you think is right? What if I then accused you simply holding to your own autonomy? Again, God has bound our contience on some things, and not on others.

Next you say, "We can divide the goods of marriage. We can say we want reproduction without responsibility, or we want the marriage without the children. That's what happens when everything begins to unravel."

Again, how in the world is anyone going to be able to defend the idea that you cannot be married and not have children exegetically? Where is that in the Bible? And, yes, I have read all of the major books you might recommend, and the exegesis is very, very bad. For example, if you decide to go off to Genesis 1:28, see above.

If you try to argue that children are a blessing, and therefore required, then the logical conclusion of that position is that all blessings are required. A swimming pool on a hot day is a blessing. Now, if someone would prefer to put the money in the bank rather than by a swimming pool you could simply say, "See, you really don't believe a swimming pool is a blessing, you just view it as an inconvinience to your own personal autonomy." Or, if the person says that they can't afford it, one could likewise say, "See, you just view a swimming pool on a hot day as a financial inconvienience, not a blessing." In fact, given that logic, you should overdraw your checking account into the millions of dollars to have every blessing known to man, and if you don't, you simply do not believe they are blessings, and just believe that they are inconvienences to your own personal autonomy, and as well as financial inconveniences.

How did we get in this logical mess? We got in it by trying to force upon the text of scripture an idea that does not come from the Bible, but rather from "the way things always were." This is a theme in your writings when you talk about marriage and children, Dr. Mohler. I see a distinct difference in the quality of your exegesis from when you talk about things like Homosexuality, the Diety of Christ, and other issues, to this issue. Many others have said the same thing. Dr. Averbeck, my professor of Pentatuch, thought your view that delay of marriage as a sin was a "classic overreaction," yet he seemed suprised to hear that you were one of the people promoting it. Why is it that consistently, when I talk to people whose main area is exegesis, they consistently reject the arguments you put foward from the scriptures, as well as the arguments of these books you have endorsed? Shouldn't that tell you something about the quality of your exegesis on these issues?

Finally, Dr. Mohler, you kept on harping on the fact that these women have natural desires given to them by their creator. I agree, these are natural desires given to them by their creator. It is not wrong to want to be married and have children. In fact, it is a good and Godly desire. However, what you completely missed is that God can intentionally put desires in people that he will never fulfill. For instance, there are a whole lot of people around the world who have a God given desire for food. Does that mean God is obligated to give them food? No, of course not. However, what is amazing is to go to these countries and to see the faith of these people who, although they don't even know if they will get their next meal tonight, are still trusting in God whether he gives them food or not. These people have faith I can only hope to ever have.

And yet, look at the selfishness of these women. They have a desire for something, and if God doesn't give them what they want, they run off and sin. While I agree that the desire is good, and that simply having the desire is not selfish, to say that God must give them that desire right now is to make yourself God, and to engage in the most terrible form of idolatry. God can keep a husband from them for the rest of his life if he wants to do so. In fact, I might even say that God will willing keep a husband from these women to teach them to trust in him alone, rather then trusting in their own desires. It is amazing that these people in other nations who do not have something as essential to life as food do not rebel against God, but have very strong faith, and the women here in America and England who have a desire for something that, although good and Godly, is not essential to life, disobey God if he does not give them what they want. Why did you not address this, Dr. Mohler?

You see, the fact that people are under no obligation to marry means that we cannot trust in marriage, we must ultimately trust in God! We must ultimately trust that he is the God who will give us what we need. If someone, instead, runs off, and does what is right in their own eyes because their faith is in marriage and not in God, then the result will be this wickedness of fertilization to a man to whom they are not even married.

Finally, you speak about shifts in culture quite a lot in your program. Yes, many times culture shifts are for the worst. Many times they bring in ideas that are foreign and hostile to Christianity. However, we also have traditions that are not Biblical, and culture shifts force us to go back to the Bible and test our traditions against the unchanging norm of scripture. I believe that, if we cannot find these ideas in scripture, we need to reject them wholesale. The reason is that, if we are going to be protestants who hold to Sola Scriptura, we are going to have to be people who constantly go back to God's word to find out what God has bound to our contience. His revelation needs to be the foundation of even our morals and our ethics. If we cannot find the idea that not having any children in marriage is a sin, the idea that virtually everyone is commanded to marry, or the idea that marriage and manhood are synonomious in scripture, then we need to reject them as unbiblical traditions.

Again, I don't want this to sound like I don't respect you. I do, and that is the whole reason why I am writing to you. I know many people who have held strongly to these positions who have ended up leaving protestantism altogether because they could not defend these things from scripture. I think that the dialogue needs to focus on what the Bible says, and not upon rhetoric that simply doesn't get us anywhere. I hope you will give what I have said careful consideration.

In Christ,
Adam

4 comments:

RedKnight said...

I've personally noticed that many so called "protestants", now of days, do not rely upon "Sola Scriptura", but upon "Sola Sanctus Spiritus". Meaning they follow however they feel the Holy Spirit is leading them. They therefore are not impressed by one's education, but by one's supposed sanctification, instead. Not to name any names, but I think you might know whom I'm refering to particularly.

Paul said...

Adam,

You might find this surprising but I was very impressed with your letter. I'm in total agreement with your criticism of these positions that Dr. Mohler has taken: 1. Marriage = Adulthood; 2. It's a sin for married couples to forgo having children; 3. Marriage is mandated in Scripture. I think I had already mentioned that I agree with you on that stuff, but I'm not sure.

The only places where I disagree with you are:

1. I agree with Dr. Mohler's statement about men losing a major motivation to marry when pre-marital sex becomes acceptable in society. I don't agree with your take on the injunctions to marry in 1 Cor. 7 ("burning with passion"), but it's not a major issue to me.

2. Obviously, I disagree with your Calvinist statements at the end, to the effect that if someone is or isn't married it's because God "let" him get married and made it happen. But that's old territory that isn't worth revisiting.

Overall, great job and enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing!

April said...

This is what happens sometimes when evangelicals get a large platform. They take their personal view of something and make it a black-and-white issue for everyone. Dr. Mohler did the same thing with alcohol a year or two ago, saying unequivocally that alcohol consumption is sin. Those who make such unbiblical blanket statements belie a festering arrogance. If Dr. Mohler keeps speaking along these lines, he'll lost his platform eventually. Which would be a shame, since he has much good to say. We can perhaps pray, therefore, not for his downfall, but for his humbling.

April

PuritanCalvinist said...

Hey Paul,

Ya, I really do believe that everyone should be on Albert Mohler over this stuff. However, I know the politics of church life, unfortunately. I really wish someone would challange him on these things. I have already tried, but there is not a whole lot more I can do then E-mail him a letter.

April,

Ya, I know what you mean. I really believe Albert Mohler has done a whole lot of good for the Christian community. I have dialogued with a whole lot of Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, and, while many Baptists are very solid in the area of defining sin from an exegetical perspective, there are a whole lot of Baptists who have more traditions than Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox! That is why my whole argument on this issue has been that we need to go back to the scriptures, and not say people are sinning on the basis of these traditions of men.

God Bless,
PuritanCalvinist