Mohler reflects on 20 years at Southern

One of the most controversial presidents in the 154-year history of Southern Seminary reveals in a wide-ranging interview that he almost chose to study at Southwestern Seminary instead.

By Bob Allen

With two decades under his belt as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship seminary, Albert Mohler’s 10-year plan includes writing a systematic theology, according to a 2,800-word story published Oct. 15 in the campus newspaper The Towers.

Elected president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 1993 to correct what trustees regarded as a liberal drift away from beliefs taught by the institution’s founders, Mohler said he has no regrets about changes made during a tumultuous era in Southern Baptist life known as the “conservative resurgence,” but if he had it to do over “I would probably go into it understanding just how costly at the relational level it would be.”

albert mohlerMany on the faculty, most of whom were former teachers and advisers to Mohler when he was a student, sharply disagreed with his agenda. At one point, he said, people who opposed him were mean to his small children, and he and his wife “were almost unable to go eat in a restaurant without having invectives hurled at us.”

Mohler said one criticism that hurt especially was that he was motivated by personal ambition.

“The most injurious thing is when people impute motivations that you can’t possibly refute because you can’t put your heart out on the table and let people read it,” he said. “You just have to trust you’ll be vindicated over time.”

Mohler said the committee that hired him asked him to stay for 35 years, modeling his presidency after long and influential tenures of predecessors James P. Boyce, E.Y. Mullins and Duke McCall.

Mohler said his third decade at the seminary in Louisville, Ky., will focus on producing the kind of pastors, teachers, ministers and missionaries equipped for ministry in the 21st century and building a student body that is more ethnically diverse. Future plans also include the writing of a systematic theology textbook.          

“My goal is that in the next 10 years, by the time I reach the end of this 10-year period, I’ll be well on my way to getting that systematic theology into final, printed form,” he said. “It will be a systematic theology written intentionally to express what it means to confess the faith once for all delivered to the saints within the very intellectually hostile conditions of late modernity. So it’s going to be a systematic theology and an apologetic engagement.”

Mohler said he doesn’t feel an urgency to publish his textbook soon, because there are a number of quality systematic theology books available, but he believes part of his responsibility is to leave behind a systematic theology as presidents Boyce and Mullins famously did before him.

Growing up in Florida with a pastor who was a Ph.D. graduate of Southern, Mohler said he naturally gravitated toward being a student at Southern Seminary, but nearly changed his mind when his application for admission was mishandled and then-President Russell Dilday offered him a full presidential scholarship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

After meeting theologian Dale Moody and sitting in Wayne Ward’s systematic theology class during a campus visit and noticing similarities with Samford University, where he completed his undergraduate studies, however, the 21-year-old Mohler loaded his 1974 Mustang II in August 1980 and moved to Louisville to begin studies for his master of divinity degree.