JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 11, 2001 – One of the pressing questions in the minds of most Americans after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 is a theological one, “How can the presence of evil and an all-loving, powerful God co-exist in the world?”
That is a theological question that has a theological answer, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told a group of 90 Florida Baptist ministers at a “Theology, Ethics and the Modern Church” discussion, Sept. 24-25, at Lake Yale Baptist Assembly near Leesburg, Fla.
Mohler and David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., led a two-day discussion on a variety of theological topics which included “Scripture as Foundation for Theology,” “Christology through the Centuries,” and “Preaching the Gospel in Postmodern Times: Can Everyone Be Right?” The event was sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention’s Family Life Department.
The terrorist attack on America has prompted a number of age-old theological questions to resurface into the modern mainstream, such as the problem of evil, said Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“Believers must and do have an answer for these things,” Mohler said. “When the problem of evil comes to the evangelical, biblical church, we are to make two dual affirmations concurrently—the omnipotence and righteousness of God. He is all powerful and all good.”
In an address titled, “Truth-Telling in a Time of Tragedy,” Mohler told the ministers the bottom line for people is, “You either believe evil has the last word or God will.”
God will have ultimate victory over sin and death, Mohler said. “The best way is to understand that evil isn’t a thing but the absence of the good,” he said. “Evil only makes sense when measured up against good.
“The real problem is sin. It is evil conducted consciously by human agents. The problem of sin isn’t rooted in a lack of self-esteem. It’s rooted in the fall of man in disobedience to God. It’s turning away from the good.”
In his address, Mohler described the predominance of “postmodernism,” a classification of contemporary culture and thought. Postmodernism has no frame of reference for defining or understanding moral absolutes. Instead, morality is considered to be relative and determined by individual cultural upbringing.
“Postmodernists are not sure what evil or wrong is,” Mohler said. “It is subjective, reasoned away as something else.” In contrast, Mohler said, “The attack brings to our vision the reality of human evil, and our need for Christ Jesus.”
Changing the meaning of the gospel to meet current ways of thinking is a type of “cognitive bargaining,” Mohler said, a “theological form of marketing to poll, package and sell what kind of God people want.”
Postmodernism tries to reconfigure divine attributes and transfers human reasoning onto God, Mohler said. The question becomes, he said, “Not how God can accept us but how we can accept God.”
Some Christians and churches do not realize the extent to which culture has influenced their ways of thinking, Mohler said. “It frames not only how you answer questions, but how you ask them.
“Knowing the truth of Scripture helps you ask the right questions, go to the right sources, think in the right patterns and come to the right conclusions,” he said.
“The preaching task is unfinished if the Word is unapplied where people live,” Mohler said. “We do not live disconnected to the Word to only make connection with it in church.”
Scripture is the foundation of theology, reiterated Dockery in his presentations to the ministers. Dockery previously served as vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary.
“God is God. We are not—that is the beginning point of theology,” Dockery said. “We cannot know everything about Him, but that doesn’t mean we cannot know something about Him.
“Emotions don’t provide the foundation, God’s Word does,” Dockery said. “It guides the emotions to the truth. All things must be interpreted by Scripture.”
This doesn’t mean emotions need to be negated, Dockery said, just put within the context of Scripture. Scripture also is central to understanding how to meet people’s practical needs, he said.
“You cannot jump to ethics without doing theology. You can’t jump to ministry without doing theology. Theology begins by seeing what the Scripture has to say about these issues.”
The church doesn’t just meet the practical needs of today, Dockery said, it develops the next generation of believers for tomorrow.
“Think of yourself as a theologian in the pulpit,” Dockery told the ministers, “giving not just practical help to get people through the week. Also help them to think long-term about their worldview, how they cope with life, where their foundation rests.
“We do theology for the church,” Dockery said. “We have a responsibility to one another as servants of and for the church to be theologians. We have the responsibility to carry out this task in our context and over the responsibility God has placed us in. Every one of us can do theology to some degree.”
Echoing Dockery’s comments that theology is the responsibility of every Christian, George Robertson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Harbor Oaks, later commented, “most church members think theology is the preacher’s field of expertise. They look to him to tell them what’s right and wrong. But the people in the pews need to have a better understanding of it themselves.”
Attending the symposium helped reinforce to Jon King, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lake Panasoffkee, that being a theologian also is part of the pastoral call.
“As I relate to people as a theologian, I help them deal with some of the issues of today,” King said. “I point them to the One who can meet all their needs. Through theology, their questions can be answered. A lot of times, we deal with the superficial issues, when, if we would just get back to the basics, then we could meet people’s basic needs.”
To Luke Granger, pastor of First Baptist Church in Coleman, practical needs can be met by preaching the gospel and guiding people how to live out those principles in everyday life.
“It’s about getting back to the roots of theology and preaching the gospel,” Granger said. “If we get that right, everything else will follow. We need to get back to our first love."
By Kristi Hodges, Florida Baptist Convention
Sara B. Horn,