The Richmond Register

Religion

September 3, 2013

Head of Southern Baptist school marks 20 years

LOUISVILLE — For the last 20 years, Albert Mohler has led the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, restoring it to more conservative principals even though it meant purging faculty who were out of step with his beliefs.

He expressed satisfaction with the transformation as he recently welcomed a new crop of students to the Louisville campus of stately brick buildings and perfectly manicured lawns. Donations, enrollment and the school's budget have grown dramatically since Mohler took the helm, and there's no sign of him leaving.

"I'm going to do it until they pry my cold, dead fingers," he said, making light of his two decades at the school. "There's a right time for everything. But I'm 53 and I fully intend to be here for my adult life. I'm not going anywhere else. This is where the Lord's called me and planted me."

Mohler took over as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1993, when he was just 33. He is married and has two children.

When he speaks, it's often rapid fire, with vigor and emotion. He talks about the seminary's current prosperity as a sign of God's blessing on the institution because it rejected liberal trends in society. He returned it to more conservative social ideas, such as the submission of women to their husbands, and a more strict interpretation of the Bible, such as the literal belief in Adam and Eve.

Mohler has risen to become an intellectual leader among conservative evangelicals and a well-known personality through his blog, books and television appearances.

But his personal growth and the seminary's is in contrast to the Southern Baptist denomination as a whole. Although still the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with a declared membership of 16 million people, the SBC does not wield the same political influence it did when President George W. Bush addressed the group's annual meetings.

And while the SBC's return to a conservative theology at first coincided with growth, in 2012 the denomination saw its sixth straight year of declining membership.

When Mohler took over as president, the massive upheaval known as the conservative resurgence was well under way in the SBC, but even 14 years later, Southern still employed professors who held theological positions Mohler and others considered to be wrong.

For instance, some professors believed parts of the Bible were metaphorical, according to Nancy Ammerman, professor of sociology of religion at Boston University and author of "Baptist Battles." They might believe that God created the Earth but used evolutionary mechanisms to explain it. They didn't believe the six-day creation in Genesis literally referred to six, 24-hour days, she said.

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