Christianity Today has a long profile of Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that focuses largely on theological battles within the denomination, but also contains some interesting information … like the fact that at the age of 15, he was taken under the wing of D. James Kennedy:
At age 15, R. Albert Mohler Jr. had a crisis of faith. Two years earlier, his family had moved from the conservative idyll of Lakeland, Florida, to the other end of the world: Pompano Beach, 200 miles south … In Pompano Beach, torn from everything he knew, Mohler found himself in class sitting next to the children of rabbis and Roman Catholics, the high-school honors curriculum stirring in his mind the biggest questions of existence.
The curious teen’s youth pastor offered the diversions of his megachurch’s bowling alley and gymnasium, but had no answers to his questions. He took the boy to meet the minister of a fast-growing congregation down the highway in Fort Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. D. James Kennedy listened to Mohler and knew just the antidote to his anxieties. Francis Schaeffer’s He is Not Silent “had an absolutely determinative impact on my life as a young teenager,” Mohler says. “Not that I understood everything that Schaeffer was saying, but it came with incredible assurance that there were legitimate Christian answers to these questions.” Schaeffer became a hero; Kennedy, a lifelong mentor. At 15, Mohler was already a friend of culture warriors and a citizen of the wider evangelical world—yet still a born-and-bred member of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBC), where the culture wars seemed remote and evangelical was a “Yankee word.”
The article also explains how, in the early 1990s, Mohler became head of the SBC as conservatives were solidifying their control after the bruising battles of the 1980s. At the time, some were hopeful that Mohler would be a moderating influence because “in 1984 lent his signature to a full-page ad in the Louisville Courier-Journal protesting the SBC’s recent resolution condemning female ordination” … but they were quickly disappointed, as Mohler had become heavily influenced by “presuppositionalism” and set about purging the moderates from the faculty:
Presuppositionalism is a system of thought that boils down to the slogans advocated by that other prominent presuppositionalist, Francis Schaeffer: There is no such thing as neutrality. Every worldview is predicated on certain founding assumptions, and those of Christianity are incompatible with those undergirding the secular humanist worldview. Studying Barth’s effort to mediate between the presuppositions of Christianity and those of secular modernity hardened Mohler’s conviction that “mediating between modernity and Christian orthodoxy doesn’t work.”
After graduation, Mohler’s stint covering SBC news at the Christian Index convinced him that the battle between conservatives and moderates was not a matter of politics or personalities but of presuppositions. He saw that “these are two fundamentally different understandings of the Baptist faith, Baptist identity, and the future of the SBC,” he says. When he took office at Southern Seminary in 1993, compromise and accommodation were not strategies he had in mind.
Within three years of Mohler’s inauguration, Southern Seminary’s faculty and administration had turned over almost completely. He asserted control over the seminary’s hiring and tenure processes, insisting that even inerrantist evangelicals hired as compromise candidates were unacceptable if they supported women’s ordination. “It was like John Grisham’s The Firm,” says Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press, who joined Southern’s faculty in 1993 but left after five tense years. “Al recruited young lieutenants, students who were spies in the classes who would report back to him what was being said in every classroom.”
The seminary’s Abstract of Principles did not address women’s ordination, but Mohler and the trustees believed that faculty should conform to what they considered the prevailing sentiment among Southern Baptist laypeople. Through a combination of forced resignations and “golden parachute” retirement packages, Mohler purged the School of Theology, closed the School of Social Work, and replaced moderates with inerrantist faculty who agreed with him on abortion, homosexuality, women’s ordination, and his brand of Reformed theology.