Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Catholic defense of Al Mohler...

Hugh Hewitt has called attention to the recent attacks on Dr Al Mohler.

Although I can't profess to be an expert on Dr Mohler, I've been familiar with his work for a good decade or so. A leading Southern Baptist and defender of biblical inerrancy, Mohler has also been associated with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, a group concerned about the erosion of traditional Protestant beliefs among today's evangelicals.

Recently, Dr Mohler has been accused of "anti-Catholicism" by Senator Salazar in a letter to James Dobson of Focus on the Family (Thursday, April 21, 2005) :

In March of 2000, Dr. Mohler said “I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”

My faith is the cornerstone of my values, as I am sure it is with you as well. I call on you to repudiate Dr. Mohler’s comments and hope you distance yourself from those who serve to divide the world’s Christian churches against one another.

As a Catholic who teaches philosophy and theology at a Catholic college, it seems to me that Dr Mohler has done no more than restate the traditional Protestant disagreements with Catholic theology. Dr Mohler thinks that Catholicism is based on a mistaken understanding of the Bible; Catholics confess that Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter and his successors (Mt 16.18/Vatican I). Dr Mohler's language is perhaps stronger than is used in some contexts, but no stronger than numerous Catholics have used with respect to Protestantism--and used in statements that are sometimes found in the official teaching documents of the Catholic Church. The claim that Dr Mohler's words constitute "anti-Catholicism" appears to have no merit whatever.

Yet Senator Salazar's own letter is not without concern. After attacking Dr Mohler, he writes: Indeed, I would ask for your prayers that the United States Senate transcend the abuse of power at the root of this controversy, and move forward in a spirit of bipartisanship on the issue of judges, as well as the monumental challenges facing our Nation such as health care, transportation, energy, education, and care for our elders.

Bipartisanship is certainly commendable. Healthcare, transportation, energy, education, and care for our elders are also important issues. But notably absent from the senator's list of issues are the pro-life and pro-family issues that Pope Benedict XVI has championed so strongly. In his July 2004 letter, the now Pope Benedict XVI set before every Catholic public official the serious moral obligation to protect human life: "There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

The following chart (from a 22 Jan 2005 post) shows why:
1.3 million--US abortion deaths in 2004 (est)
700,000--US heart disease deaths
560,000--US cancer deaths
107,000--US deaths in accidents
30,000--US suicides
20,000-US homicides
15-17,500--civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
14,000--US AIDS/HIV deaths
1371--US military deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
59--death penalty executions in the US 2004

Senator Salazar's zeal to uphold the Catholic faith is commendable. One hopes that he will direct that zeal toward the pro-life issues that Pope Benedict XVI has called all Catholic public officials to defend with all the determination that they possess.

UPDATE/Clarification: prior to this post, I sent to Dr Mohler a short letter stating the gist of what I've said here.


At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Anonymous Wayne M said...

It is good to see all brothers and sisters in Christ circle the wagons and support each other.
Well done!

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Anonymous Alan Riley said...

Thanks for your well balanced comments on Dr. Mohler. Just as the MSM has been shocked that the new pope espouses and strongly believes Catholic doctrines, many have been similarly shocked that someone like Dr. Mohler believes traditional evangelical doctrine. He, like you and many others has sought common ground. In his April 4 post, Dr. Mohler said:

"We should be unembarrassed and unhesitant to declare our admiration for John Paul II's courageous stand against Communism, his bold defense of human dignity and human life, and his robust and substantial defense of truth in the face of postmodernism. In many of the great battles of our day, evangelicals found John Paul II to be a key ally."

I really enjoy your blog. Thanks!

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger J A Greer said...

Outstanding post!

There has been much work by the secular elite to define what people who are serious about their Christian faith actually believe - without really considering what the parties in question actually believe. You did a great job of throwing cold water on that.

Salazar's letter seems quite manipulative and amounts to mere grandstanding.

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger submandave said...

Sen. Salazar seems to have fallen into the greatest dialog killing falicy of the left, that any criticism or even discussion of another's beliefs or positions represents a personal attack upon that individual. Meaningful dialog can never be engaged if the parties are unwilling to openly and candidly recognize and agree upon the ideas and systems in which the dialog is framed.

This is the same assumption that prevents many on the left from understanding the very common Christian concept of "despise the sin, love the sinner" when discussing homosexuality. They fail to see how anyone opposed to homosexuality is not necessarilly opposed to homosexuals on a personal level.

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear Gang:

Thanks for all your kind words. The case of Dr Mohler seems--at the end of the day--to address directly what Pope Benedict XVI has called, "the dictatorship of relativism." Dr Mohler's language of "false church" and "false gospel" may seem somewhat harsh to the ears. And depending on the context, I suspect he might choose to say things a bit more diplomatically. But what seems to cause scandal is that Dr Mohler seems to think that religions are true or false--in direction opposition to the widespread belief that everything is relative, and that your religion is "true for you, but not for me." However much they may differ on some points, Catholics and classical Protestants believe in truth, and they are not prepared to surrender that to the dictatoship of relavatism. Ultimately, Catholics and classical Protestants are united in their loyalty to Jesus Christ, who in his person is "the way and the truth and the life."

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger Patrick O'Hannigan said...

I agree with you about the shortcomings of Senator Salazar's letter. I think, however, that you give Dr. Mohler too much credit.

I do not doubt that Mohler is a good man, but his track record makes him not simply a go-to guy for Southern Baptist perspective, but also an eloquent spokesperson for what sounds to me like the "respectable" rather than redneck grade of anti-Catholicism. Reason: I've never heard Mohler fret about frittering away the heritage of the Reformers (which is his right as a Protestant) without also hearing him work in a jibe against Catholic teaching.

One can disagree with Catholic doctrine on authority, on Mary, on any number of things. But Mohler not only disagrees; he worries about it, and, for all his obvious intelligence, suffers from the common Protestant misapprehension that the Catholic church gets between the believer and Christ.

Evidence for this premise can be found at:


I'm proud to call Mohler a brother in the Lord, but I think he suffers from myopia where Catholicism is concerned. More Patristics, and more study of the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, would help rather than hinder Mohler's already formidable ministry.

At Monday, 25 April, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear Patrick:

Thanks for dropping by! You make a good point that Dr Mohler is a staunch defender of Protestant doctrine. But no more than Scott Hahn is a staunch defender of Catholic doctrine. And I wouldn't call Hahn anti-Protestant. In this context, I think there's a need to defend a brother in Christ from an unfair attack. In another context, it would be a privilege to discuss with Dr Mohler in more detail some differing views on theology.



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