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Theologian Discusses Relevance of the Bible in Modern Society

December 26, 2007 at 6:45 PM EST
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In the second of two conversations on the role of the Bible in modern society, Ray Suarez talks to Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, Ray Suarez has the second of two holiday conversations about the relevance and role of the Bible in modern-day society.

RAY SUAREZ: Last night, we heard from the Reverend Peter Gomes of the Memorial Church at Harvard University.

Tonight, we get a different view about reading the Bible in the 21st century. It comes from Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is called “Culture Shift: Engaging Current Issues with Timeless Truth.”

And, Dr. Mohler, it’s Christmas week. The holiday fills churches, but it’s also a public holiday, a major commercial event in the calendar.

At Bible's core, a direct message

RAY SUAREZ: What is it that American society at large is celebrating this week?

ALBERT MOHLER, President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: Well, I guess when you talk about society at large, that may be difficult to answer, other than the obvious historical reference for Christmas is the birth of Christ.

But we as Christians realize there are many Americans who are not celebrating a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, perhaps not even celebrating the fact that he was born, who are nonetheless at this time of the year gathering the family.

But it certainly these days mixed up with a great deal of consumerism and all the cultural accessories of the holidays, so I guess it really does vary a great deal from home to home. But as for our house, we're celebrating the birth of Christ.

RAY SUAREZ: You talk about God's square truth. And in your new book, you condemn relativism. But was Jesus' message so cut and dried? Didn't he often embrace ambiguity in the way he taught, in the way he talked about the poor being rich and the rich being poor?

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, Ray, I appreciate that. I don't think ambiguity is the best word there. He often did speak in terms of aphorisms, and parables, and it certainly takes a great deal of responsible and intellectual work to try sometimes to know exactly how to apply the teachings of Jesus to a concrete situation.

But in the most important things, Jesus of course spoke very, very clearly, very straightforwardly concerning himself, his identity, his purpose, concerning human sin and the fact that he had come to save sinners of his death on the cross.

And so, on all those things, he speaks very, very specifically, very straightforwardly.

I will acknowledge that when it comes to many issues of public policy, taking the words of Jesus on economics, on justice, these require a great deal of thought, but nonetheless I don't think Jesus was intending to be ambiguous. I think he was intending for his disciples to have to wrestle with some of these issues in a responsible way.

Christianity's message universal

RAY SUAREZ: Last night on our program, the Reverend Gomes called for a Jesus who was less comforting, more radical, who spent a disproportionate amount of time with people on the fringes. Do you agree there?

ALBERT MOHLER: No doubt about it. As a matter of fact, Dr. Gomes and I may disagree on many things, but there's no doubt that when you read the gospels Jesus spent a great deal of time with the people that others would have forgotten, people that others would have crossed the street to avoid.

Jesus spent a great deal of time -- he was asked about this, in fact, confronted by the religious establishment of his day. And his response was that the sick do not need a doctor, that he had come to seek and to save the lost. And so, on that point, I would have to emphatically agree.

RAY SUAREZ: In your book, you talk about preaching with the culture in view. How do you talk about the Bible to a modern world where only a minority of people worldwide are Christians?

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, when I speak of applying the Bible, first of all, I'm speaking to Christians who feel an obligation to the Bible as the word of God, who understand that this is how God has spoken to us. The one true and living God has informed us concerning himself and all things needful for our lives in the word of God in the Bible.

And so I assume, first of all, that this Bible, which itself declares itself to be living and active, not a dead word but a living word, I believe that it is the preacher's responsibility, first of all, to give the church this word, to inform Christians of this word, to teach and to preach this word.

I think we do have a public responsibility -- and that's why I write and speak in public. That's why I speak in the media and elsewhere. It's in order to say: This is a word not only for Christians -- Christians are those who understand that this word is our obligation, it's God's word, God's grace to us that we would know him -- but it also is a message for all people.

RAY SUAREZ: So there is a relevancy, you're suggesting, to people of all faiths, of no faith, of a modern world that sometimes is struggling for answers?

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, I believe that the Bible is the word that leads us to the gospel that saves. And, Ray, I believe it's the only gospel that saves.

I believe that the word all human beings need to hear is that they are sinners and that they are desperately in need of a savior. And that savior is Jesus Christ.

And I believe that the Bible is the only book, the only revelation that is going to get persons to the saving knowledge of our lord, Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul said that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. We find that in the Bible, and that's why the Bible is so central to the lives of Christians and so central to our communication and witness of the gospel to other peoples, as well.

Persuasion, not theocracy

RAY SUAREZ: In your new book, "Culture Shift," you try to sort out for yourself and for others just how a Christian takes his or her profession of faith into the public square and into the political arena. That's a question of some controversy at the moment.

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, it is, and it probably always has been, Ray. As you know, the intersection between the Christian faith and the issues of political life can often be rather combustible, because when you have the collision of worldviews, especially Christianity and a secular worldview, but in times past it could be many other conflicts of worldviews at different times, Christianity and Islam, these are always going to be issues of controversy.

What I'm calling for is for Christians to apply the word of God in a responsible way, in a thoughtful way to the actual, real-life issues confronted in our culture.

RAY SUAREZ: So where does that leave a Christian person who thinks that it's an uphill climb in a secular public sphere, in a politics that, for instance, treasures this idea that we don't have an avowedly religious political system?

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, we have an avowedly religious American people. And you can look at all kinds of profiles describing exactly what that looks like. And so if you have a people who by and large believe in God, that's going to be reflected in their political engagement, in their consumer life, in every aspect of their lives.

We do have a constitutional prohibition about an establishment of religion. I have no quarrel with that; I think it was a part of the constitutional genius of this country.

But it comes, of course, in the First Amendment also with the fact that there shall be no restraint upon the religious exercise, the free exercise clause concerning religious liberty in this country.

And so you look at that. And politics is necessarily going to have some impact by a people, the very people of the country, in a democratic republic. So those people are going to come to those issues with everything that they are, and everything that they think, and everything that they believe.

I want to make sure that Christians are assisted in connecting the dots to make sure that there are Christians wherever we show up, whether it be in the voting booth, in the marketplace, or anywhere else.

RAY SUAREZ: But what about the means of persuasion? Yes, it gets you to the voting booth; yes, it gets you to debate the essential issues of the day. But can you convince others who don't share that worldview that that's a reason why they should buy one Christian's point of view?

ALBERT MOHLER: Well, I really wouldn't expect that anyone would buy my point of view simply because I hold to it or because I put the label of Christian on it. They should test it.

And I would say that, first of all, we have a responsibility in the public square as Christians to make very clear about our argumentation, to make very clear about our motivations, to be very clear about how we understand these policy proposals, our positions and convictions, to be under-girded by, for instance, the kind of rationale you would find for other policies.

And so I don't think Christians who are arguing from a biblical perspective have anything to fear there. In the great marketplace of ideas, everyone has an agenda; everyone has a worldview. And I think an honest discussion of how these things are sorted out can only be healthy.

And I believe that Christians can and should be persuasive concerning our convictions in the public square. And in a democratic process, if we're not persuasive, then we simply will not be able to see these convictions prevail.

But I hope that Christians will be persuasive, and persuasive not just because we want to win an argument, but because we believe this is for the good of all people, compelled by love of God and love of neighbor, these are what we believe to be the convictions that will lead to human health and happiness.

RAY SUAREZ: Albert Mohler, thanks for joining us, and merry Christmas.

ALBERT MOHLER: Merry Christmas to you, Ray. It's always good to be with you.