Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, recently wrote We Cannot Be Silent, which addresses many contemporary issues such as the sexual revolution.1
The main point of discussion is the acceptance of homosexual marriage, but Mohler also sees other aspects of this revolution in issues like the acceptance of transgenderism. For JOTGES readers, it is of interest that Mohler does not see this revolution in solely cultural terms. He holds that it also involves the gospel.2 He feels that we cannot be silent on these cultural issues because if we do not speak rightly about sin and its consequences, we cannot evangelize people effectively (p. xvii). This naturally leads to an evaluation of what the saving message is. In addition, it is a reminder that how one defines the gospel influences how he sees the culture at large and how to respond to that culture.
In this review I will address these issues and discuss certain applications of what Mohler says. In the book, there are a number of things conservative Evangelicals, including Free Grace adherents, will agree with. However, there are things where that is not the case.
II. POSITIVE CONTRIBUTIONS
Mohler makes many statements which almost all conservative Christians will agree with. It is obvious that in our culture we are facing a redefinition of marriage and the traditional family. Mohler says that the changes are not like anything the Church has ever confronted.
A. Scripture Is the Authoritative Word of God
It is clear that Mohler holds a very high view of Scripture. He tries to support what he writes with the Bible. Christians must view marriage,
gender, and sexual relationships based upon what God has revealed in the Bible. He bases his views of these things upon Genesis 1–2 (pp. 102-103). Both Scripture and natural law show the error of homosexual marriage, as Romans 1 indicates. However, Scripture take precedence (pp. 101-15).
He points out that our culture is now one in which anybody who believes that God has revealed moral truth is an “intellectual outlaw” (p. 6). When it comes to homosexuality and transgender issues, even if our brains are wired differently than our bodies, this does not justify sinful activities such as sex change operations or homosexual marriage (p. 80).
B. Clearly Our Culture Is Changing
It is difficult to look at our culture in the area of sexual morality and not conclude that dramatic changes have taken place. Mohler believes a large part of the problem is that American culture in the 20th century has moved away from Biblical teachings on such things. The moral authority of the Church was neutralized and marginalized (p. 15).
This cultural change was brought about in part by Hollywood (p. 50). In addition, gender is defined by one’s feelings, which is a postmodern view (p. 71). Marriage has become a social construct and the government can decide what constitutes marriage.
The change is impacting all of us. The transgender revolution is attacking our children. Even in elementary schools, in some cases, the children are told not to use masculine and feminine pronouns, and to be accepting of those who do not identify themselves by the gender they were born with (p. 79).
Most Christian readers of the book wonder where all this will lead. Like Mohler, they probably conclude that if the Lord does not return first, and our nation survives, we will see the acceptance of polygamy and polyamorous unions (p. 96). As Mohler points out, the same arguments that are used to justify homosexual marriage can justify these unions as well. Critics say this is a false slippery slope argument, but the warnings are valid based upon the fallen nature of mankind (Romans 1–3), where Paul says the depravity of sin knows no bounds. Would it even be a surprise to see the acceptance of at least some expressions of bestiality in the future?3
There is a chapter devoted to the loss of religious freedom (chap. 8). Even if the reader has not experienced such losses personally, we are all aware of them. Bakers, restaurant owners, and photographers have been sued because their Biblical values went contrary to the government’s acceptance of homosexual weddings. Hobby Lobby was sued because their religious convictions would not allow them to provide, through health insurance, birth control and medicine that would cause abortions. As the head of a Christian educational institution, Mohler warns that these things will have an impact on accreditation and admission policies. Such Christian institutions will be forced to change their policies in such things as admissions and housing.
Politically correct speech is also a problem. In many businesses, and certainly among government employees, one would be wise not to say anything negative about these moral issues. It has caused lawsuits and the loss of employment. Christians already feel the need to watch what they say in public. In some states, the government is already looking at fining businesses that do not use proper language in dealing with those who are transgender.
There are rumblings that Christian parents may face problems in adopting children. Those with strong Biblical views of morality are quickly being seen as intolerant, and not suitable to raise children.
C. Christians Have Been Influenced by the Culture We Live In
Mohler points out that the legalization of same sex marriage did not occur overnight. There were many things that paved the way. Some
of these factors were things that the church either accepted or did not speak out against. One may not agree that there is a connection, but
these things do indicate that the church can be influenced by the morality of the world. In each of the four specific things Mohler discusses,
he points out that the Church at first rejected them as immoral but eventually accepted them. It would be hard to argue that the Church
has not become more tolerant of these things.
The four things are: birth control; reproductive technologies; no-fault divorce; and cohabitation without the benefit of marriage (pp. 17-29). For example, he states that at first the Church almost unanimously opposed the birth control movement. But in all four of these issues, we see a devaluation of marriage, as well as the separation of sex, marriage, and having children. As another illustration, Mohler rightly points out that in most churches today the easiness of getting divorced does not even cause a stir. These things made it easier to accept marriage between two people who cannot have children and to redefine marriage itself.
It also appears clear that the sexual revolution is having a major impact on the youth in even conservative Evangelical churches. Mohler says that the Church is losing the youth in the area of believing in the sinfulness of homosexuality and that postmodern thought is a large problem. Many (most?) Millennials see the Biblical injunctions against homosexual marriage as being intolerant (p. 147).
D. Mohler’s Courage Is Admirable
Mohler’s views on marriage and sexuality certainly go against the cultural tide today. As a public figure he has surely been the object of
ridicule. In addition, he is calling the Church to reconsider how they have been influenced by that culture in things like birth control and
divorce. He admits that the discussion will make some uncomfortable.
Towards the end of the book, Mohler asks a number of “hard questions.” One is whether people are born homosexual or not (p. 156). He says that there is no evidence that they are, but even if they are, that does not change things. We are all fallen and it shouldn’t surprise us that the depravity of sin reaches even into the womb. This reviewer appreciated this answer because there is a strong tendency among conservative Christians to argue that a person cannot be born homosexual and has never understood why some take such a strong stand. Mohler’s answer will certainly be opposed by some of his readers.
Mohler probably angers many who would generally agree with his views when he says that homosexual couples should be able to adopt children. It would be better for the child to have two adults who love and care for them than it would for the child to remain in the foster care system (p. 92). Mohler is challenging us to reconsider some of our traditional views.
It is commendable that Mohler says things that go against the grain. He clearly has strong convictions and in many cases is not afraid to voice them. He believes he is promoting what the Bible teaches and says things that can have a negative impact on his ministry in light of those beliefs.
E. He Recognizes That Homosexuality Is Not a Worse Sin Than Other Sin
By referring to Romans 1, Mohler says that we are all sinners in the sexual realm. He reminds us that heterosexual sins are just as heinous
in God’s eyes as homosexual sins (p. 140). These include sins of lust and heterosexual sin outside of marriage. Divorce between heterosexuals is a devaluation of marriage as is homosexual marriage. In fact, the sheer number of divorces among heterosexuals shows that this sin will damage more lives than same sex marriage will (p. 25). Mohler repeatedly encourages us to show compassion to homosexuals and transgender people, but without condoning their sin.
Christians, in looking at homosexuals as worse sinners than heterosexuals, have not carried out the Great Commission to them. We cannot isolate ourselves from homosexual unbelievers. We must reach out to them. He admits that he has been guilty of this sin and has treated homosexuals as “out there” and a different class of sinner. Mohler might anger some Evangelicals when he suggests that we should even let our children play with the children of homosexual couples, which, one assumes, would include visiting their homes.
F. America Has Never Been a Christian Country
According to Mohler, one of the few positive outcomes of the sexual revolution is that it has allowed Christians to see that America has never been a Christian country. Because in the past many Americans shared, in some sense, a Biblical morality with Christians, we have lost sight of the fact that that does not make a person a Christian (p. 43). Polls that showed the majority of Americans were Christians were faulty. Even though Mohler and Free Grace believers hold to different gospels, most would agree that he is right on this point.
In the same vein, he says this is a reminder that moralism does not bring spiritual salvation to anybody (pp. 139-40). We must recognize
that even if we could stop this revolution and we returned to the days of the 1950s in the area of sexual morality, nobody would be saved by
accepting a Biblical view of marriage, sex, and gender roles. Free Grace adherents would give a hearty “amen” to that sentiment.
Any Christian who studies the Bible and looks at our culture would agree with Mohler that changes are taking place and that many of these
changes are contrary to God’s holiness as revealed in the Scripture. These changes should cause us to evaluate what is happening and to
be on guard lest we be influenced by them. Churches would be wise to ask how they will handle certain issues, such as homosexual couples
who want to get married in our churches. Individual Christians should ask how they will run their businesses and how they will address issues that arise in their children’s schools. It is easy to see how many within Christendom will agree with much of what Mohler says and appreciate his willingness to point these things out to a culture that is opposed to what he is saying. However, there are other things in the book with which at least some Christians will take exception.
III. AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT
While there is much in the book that this reviewer agrees with, I have some objections. The most obvious is Mohler’s coupling of these issues with the gospel.
A. The Gospel
It is well know that Mohler holds to a Reformed/Lordship view of the gospel. As such, in his view a person can only receive eternal salvation if he understands the seriousness of his sin. Part of preaching the gospel, according to Mohler, involves letting people know the depth of their depravity. We as the Church are called to tell the world about God’s commandments (p. 6).
In this sexual revolution, Christians have failed in this aspect of the gospel. Mohler says that Christians did not maintain a vital voice in the culture on these moral issues both in words and deeds and this must change (p. 13). He warns that if we become like the culture we will devalue the seriousness of sin and thus cannot properly proclaim the gospel.
This is why we as individuals, and the Church as a whole, must not be silent. To be silent is not to be faithful to the gospel. The moral revolution is calling us to call homosexuality good (p. 138). This misleads millions of people about their need for Jesus. To reduce the sinfulness of sin slanders the cross of Christ. Jesus died for our sins. If we deny what is sin we mislead people about their need for salvation. Mohler says a “failure of this scale is impossible to estimate.” This is how Paul was saved. He understood the seriousness of his sin (Romans 7) and thus his need for repentance from these sins (p. 139).4
In the question and answer section of the book he makes it clear that in presenting the gospel we must “plead with” and “persuade” people that they will face the eternal wrath of God if they do not abandon their sin for Jesus. He is saying that a homosexual or transgender person must understand the sin of their actions and abandon such practices. If we do not clearly and forcefully show the sinfulness of these things we are not committed to the gospel and do not love our neighbor. When unbelievers subvert marriage, they are in danger of eternal damnation (p. 178).
On a practical level, we also see how Mohler sees this working out in some instances. He asks what a church should do with a person who is struggling with gender issues, for example. If such a person “professes Christ” and “repents of his sins” should the church immediately baptize him and “welcome” him into the church? It is difficult to determine exactly what Mohler means by this. He says it won’t be easy and that churches will have to wrestle with these issues (p. 81).
It seems that Mohler is saying that a church must be careful in these situations. Perhaps there might be a probationary period for such individuals to see if they have understood the seriousness of their sin.5 Mohler certainly suggests that a church should “expect submission to Christ to be demonstrated” in a transgender person, over a long period of time (p. 81). In other words, the homosexual and transgender person must indicate their sorrow for their sin, repentance, and submission to Christ before being welcomed into the church. While Mohler would not, it appears, suggest a rule that governs every situation, his words indicate that a church should be hesitant to too quickly accept a transgender person into fellowship into the church.
This, of course, goes against a Free Grace understanding of the gospel. Profession, understanding the serious nature of sin, submission
to Christ’s demands, and such things, are not part of the promise of life. As much as Mohler indicates that homosexual sin in not worse than heterosexual sin, he does seem to make a distinction here. Would he suggest a probationary period before baptism is offered to a 20-year-old heterosexual male that “professes Christ?” Such a person, as Mohler admits, has sinful lusts. Coming from our culture he likely is heavily exposed to pornography. Should we be wary of his “submission to Christ” before we “welcome” him? Would Mohler prohibit such men (and women) from entering into his college and seminary until they went through some probationary period?
More importantly, his view here is contrary to Scripture. The thousands of Jews in Acts 2, and the large household of pagans in Cornelius’ house in Acts 10, were baptized immediately. In fact, in the case of the pagans they received the Holy Spirit immediately at the preaching of Peter. There was no probationary period. There was no demand for them to understand the seriousness of their sin or to demonstrate submission to Christ. And, we must remember, they lived in a very sexually immoral culture.
Mohler believes that transgender and homosexual people who do meet these requirements will indeed demonstrate obedience towards Christ in the area of their sexual depravity. He admits that the road is a “long” one and the process may be slow, but it will continue in the “same direction.” But, “in response to the gospel, all true Christians seek to live in obedience to the God who created us make and female” (emphasis added, p. 172). Mohler recognizes that it is very possible that homosexuals who truly come to faith in Christ and repent of their sins will continue to struggle with those sins until Christ calls them home.
Of course, this is the theological trap that Reformed/Lordship theologians fall into. If a homosexual person is truly saved, Mohler says he will obey and submit to Christ. However, Mohler recognizes that he will probably still have homosexual desires and that he might even have a temporary fall. But Lordship Salvation says he will soon repent and get back on track. But these desires will follow a person his whole life. How can such a person conclude that he has completely submitted to Christ?
We see Mohler’s lack of assurance for these people when he says they are our brothers and sisters, but only, “insofar as they are fellow repenting believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, baptized into faith and obedience, and experiencing the sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit” (p. 143). A person who still has homosexual tendencies or struggles with transgender issues will simply not find assurance in such a long list of requirements for Christian faith and living. This reviewer would submit that most 20-year-old heterosexuals would not either.
Mohler’s understanding of the gospel and how it relates to the sexual revolution is the most serious problem this reviewer has with his book. There are other concerns, however.
B. The Gospel and Politics
Throughout the book, Mohler indicates that political institutions play a role in the sexual revolution and moral decay of our culture. He
mentions the institution of Planned Parenthood, founded by the strident racist Margaret Sanger (p. 19). It is our country’s largest provider of abortions but is supported by taxpayer dollars. The very act of abortion contributes to the decoupling of having sex and reproduction. It has this in common with homosexuality.
The government also did away with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which paved the way for homosexuals in the military and homosexual marriages. The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) threatens Christian owned businesses (pp. 130-31).
In some instances, Mohler names the political party that is guilty of pushing these initiatives. He says that the Obama Administration has changed the phrase “freedom of religion,” found in the Constitution, to “freedom of worship” (p. 127). The subtle change signals that Christians can say whatever they want in private worship, but not in the public at large. This, of course, is contrary to the main point of his book. We cannot be silent in the public square.
Mohler points out that the courts are being used by the government to bring about the revolution and to redefine marriage and God’s purpose in sex (p. 48). He ends the book with a short chapter on how the Supreme Court has overthrown the Biblical view of marriage.
While many observant Christians recognize the truth of these things, a very large question remains. In light of Mohler’s view of the gospel and these political realities, what should a Christian do in the political realm?
What Mohler implies, but does not specifically state, is that one political party is particularly guilty of promoting the redefinition of marriage and policies that attack the Biblical view of sex and gender. Obama is a Democrat. It is the Democratic Party that has pushed for the passing of the ENDA, and the continued support of Planned Parenthood. They promote political correct language and the repeal of DOMA.
When it comes to the Supreme Court, Mohler mentions the four justices that opposed the redefinition of marriage. All four of them—Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas—are Republican appointees.
Even though Mohler does not ask the question, there is an obvious implication here. Republican candidates for office have almost unanimously stated that they will undo the legislations that are redefining marriage and promoting homosexual marriage. They promise to place judges on the bench that will do the same. They promise to defund Planned Parenthood. Democrat candidates promise to do the opposite. They say they will push even harder to make homosexuality acceptable in society and prohibit the intolerant view of Biblical morality in these areas. They also promise to appoint judges who feel the same way.
The question that Mohler does not ask is: “What should a Christian do in this situation?” He plainly says we must be vocal in our culture and do it publicly. It is a matter of eternal consequences and is part of the gospel. To this reviewer, the logical conclusion is that Mohler seems to be saying the church should oppose the Democratic Party.6 If the policies of this Party are contributing to sending people to hell, by reducing the seriousness of sin, it should be opposed.
For somebody like Mohler, who heads a large conservative Southern Baptist seminary, the stakes our very high. If an institution like Southern Seminary, a church, or a denomination, adopts the public view that support of the Democratic Party is to make one an enemy of the gospel, the consequences would be catastrophic. They would lose donors, faculty members, students, and tax-exempt status. It would also cause the loss of fellowship with many in certain racial communities. In many of these instances the churches and institutions would have to close their doors. Since that has not happened at Southern, one must assume that this has not occurred as of this date.
Of course, there is an irony here. In a book that says we cannot be silent, this reviewer found a profound silence on this issue. It may be that I have entirely misread what Mohler seems to be saying between the lines. However, Mohler’s definition of the gospel includes presenting the seriousness of sin. He points out that Christians must proclaim that seriousness publicly. If we don’t, we are preaching a different gospel. He says there are political forces that are at work to diminish that picture of sin. How can faithful Christians and preachers of such a gospel actively support such forces?
C. Flexibility in Christian Practices?
As mentioned above, Mohler believes that many Christians have perhaps unknowingly contributed to the desensitizing of sin in our culture. Their use of birth control, reproductive technologies, and acceptance of no-fault divorce cause unbelievers not to realize the seriousness of sin by decoupling sex and marriage and procreation.
It is certainly valid to ask if the church has adopted the values of our culture in these areas. It is also valid to examine ourselves and ask if our use of birth control is an expression of our lack of faith in the sovereignty of God. Do we decide not to have children, even though the Scriptures say they are a gift from God, because of selfish reasons such as more money, more free time, and more freedom?
But, as in the case with politics, Mohler indicates these issues also play a part in the gospel. Christians have contributed to unbelievers not realizing how sinful they are. Once again, how one defines the gospel determines whether that is the case or not.
If these practices are not related to the gospel, but sanctification, one may ask if there is some flexibility in these practices. Are there instances where it would not be sinful for Christians to practice these things? Suppose a Christian couple used birth control because due to physical or psychological problems they were either unable to carry a pregnancy to term or were unfit/unable to raise children? Could a Christian woman volunteer to be a surrogate mother for another couple who cannot carry a child or for a couple who has a frozen embryo they are going to discard?
To put it simply, do the Scriptures allow some differences of opinion among believers in these areas? If they play a part in the presentation of the gospel to our culture, as Mohler indicates, the answer is probably “no.” However, many conservative Evangelical Christians have differences in the Scriptural interpretation of these things. For example, it is almost a certainty that the faculty at Southern Seminary have differences of opinion on what the Bible says about the conditions of divorce and remarriage. Perhaps this suggests that some of the things Mohler feels are a part of the church’s responsibility in bringing people to faith are things related to sanctification and Christians can have different views.
In We Cannot Be Silent Albert Mohler shows the reader that there is a moral hurricane going through our culture. Christians need to be
aware that this sexual revolution will impact the church and Christian institutions. We need to be aware of what is going one. Our culture as a whole is rejecting any semblance of Biblical morality.
However, the glaring weakness of the book is seen by anybody who does not accept a Lordship view of salvation. Mohler believes that these moral issues must be emphasized so people can understand and repent of their sins, submit to Christ, and understand what it means to follow Him in obedience. All of these things are necessary to truly come to faith.
Most readers of the JOTGES will not accept this understanding of the gospel. The homosexual and transgender person is like anybody else in terms of what he or she must do to be saved. Understanding the seriousness of sin, the need to feel sorry for these sins, repentance from these sins, submission to Christ and a long, slow, life-long process of being obedient to Him are not part of the offer of eternal life as a free gift. Eternal life is given to all, including the homosexual, by faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life.
One value of the book is showing us the importance of how one defines the gospel. Not only does it determine how we proclaim it, it determines how one views the things occurring in our culture and how to respond to them.
1 R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015).
2 The word gospel simply means good news. It can mean different things depending on the context. In this paper, I am using it to describe what a person must do to receive eternal life, or to be saved from spending eternity in hell.
3 Many, no doubt, would say this is an exaggeration, a false equivalency, and is used by people like Mohler to scare people. However, Michael Brown, believes this is a goal of at least some within the sexual revolution. He mentions Frank Kameny, a “gay rights pioneer,” who promoted the idea of all types of sexual perversions, including bestiality by saying, “Let us have more and better enjoyment of more and better sexual perversions, by whatever definition, by more and more consenting adults;” and “If bestiality with consenting animals provides happiness to some people, let them pursue their happiness.” See Michael L. Brown, A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (Concord, NC: Equal Time Books, 2011), 19.
4 Once again, we see Mohler’s view of the gospel influencing how he interprets cultural issues. Romans 7 does not deal with how Paul received eternal life, but how he struggled to live by the power of the Spirit after receiving eternal life. It is somewhat confusing to determine Mohler’s view of Romans 7 because on p. 165 he indicates it addresses Christian living and experience as well.
5 Mohler asks, “when should such an individual” after repenting and professing Christ “be baptized and welcomed” by the congregation (emphasis added, p. 81).
6 This is often implied but unsaid by white conservative evangelical leaders. For example, Brown points out that Obama was a strong supporter of even the most radical gay rights leaders. See Brown, A Queer Thing, 18-19.