Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Al Mohler's bobblehead doll


Al Mohler is today’s most influential Southern Baptist leader. From his key position as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary he provides vision and direction for the series of changes sweeping through the denomination.                                                                     
The list of Mohler’s accomplishments is pretty impressive. He began his career by revamping  Southern Seminary, long a bastion of classic, main-stream Baptist doctrine (in the interest of full disclosure, I have two degrees from this institution and love it as the place where my heart was formed for ministry), into a center for Reformed theology. He was the driving force behind Southern Baptists’ new doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message. He’s the theological mind behind the Reformed theology captivating many younger ministers within the denomination. For the mainstream media, he’s the most visible representative of Southern Baptist perspectives on cultural issues and is a guest on everything from the Larry King show to CBS Evening News. Whenever there’s a high-profile issue in the news, like homosexual ministers, Mohler’s the guy the news people seek out. He’s an articulate spokesman for conservative, evangelical theology and provides great sound bites.

Mohler writes for major, secular newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. His books are well known. He’s all over facebook and twitter. His blog, www.albertmohler.com, is one of the most important conservative Christian sources of opinion. He has opinions of everything from preaching to church structure to the United States Constitution to the national debt to how to raise your family. I don’t know who’s managing his personal publicity campaign, but they’re doing a great job.

Here he is at a recent conference giving a brief remark about preaching and spiritual authority: 

And here’s the thing about Al Mohler. He brings up a great point: preaching without authority is useless, and preachers today don’t always keep the Word central to their preaching. All us preachers need to be regularly challenged to stay focused on the Bible.

But there’s an underlying sense of discomfort you begin to sense the more you listen to him and read his stuff. There’s an unmistakable tone of moral superiority and intellectual condescension that feels very much like a cult of personality. And he practices what he preaches: The preacher is the one who tells everyone else what they should believe, think, feel and do. It’s a particular irony that Mohler—as Protestant in his theological convictions as anyone who ever lived—should embrace a leadership style so Catholic in tone. He proves New Testament scholar Gordon Fee’s observation that megachurch pastors in modern America act as Popes. They speak from such a platform of assumed authority that they form a “plurality of papacies” because their followers regard their words as infallible.

So it came as no great surprise when I learned that that you can buy an Al Mohler bobblehead doll.

Just go to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky and you can pick one up for your home, church or study. I understand you can also buy bobblehead dolls for John Calvin and Martin Luther. Maybe a three-pack?

One of the grave dangers that ministers and churches face today is the tricky and essential negotiation of leadership. Congregations are hungry for leadership. The declining state of our nation demands spiritual leadership. Pastors are called to lead; indeed, when we fail to lead we fail at our calling. But it’s the how we lead that makes all the difference.  Spiritual authority isn’t a blunt instrument and the office of spiritual leader isn’t an invitation to celebrity status. When we hire publicity agents, something’s gone wrong. Instead, whatever spiritual authority we have is due less to the manipulation of social media than to the timeless truths of God’s Word and the subtle movements of His Spirit. Our leadership can't be about us.

Fenelon, one of history’s great spiritual teachers and leaders, observes in his book “The Seeking Heart” that “True firmness is gentle, humble and calm. A sharp tongue, a proud heart and an iron hand have no place in God’s work. Wisdom ‘sweetly orders all things.’” His ministry during one of the most stressful and morally ambiguous times in church history (Fenelon was the church’s point man when the Huguenots were evicted from 17th Century France), remains a model of decency, humility, faithfulness and effective leadership.

He would never have dreamed of a bobblehead doll.

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