My friend John Shore sure stirred a hornets’ nest when he dared to imagine a Christianity without hell in in his recent post What Christianity without hell looks like.
Actually, to be more accurate, he stirred a nest of Southern Baptists, specifically the one feathered by Al Mohler, the denomination’s go-to pseudo-intellectual on, well, everything.
I’ve written before about Mohler’s penchant for having no clue what he’s talking about. Many times. Anyone possessing a dollop of critical thought is capable of spotting the glaring problems in his arguments.
Mohler’s shtick is really just a variation of the Southern Baptists’ favorite creedal theme: If you doubt or question any part of what we teach, you might as well flush all of Christianity down the basement drain in the fellowship hall.
Mohler’s biggest fret, of course, is over “Biblical authority,” which is a doctrine, and not, in fact, a reasonable conclusion arrived at by those who have studied the Bible academically. For Mohler, “Biblical authority” consists of “being faithful to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture,” which is, again, a doctrine — a doctrine that Southern Baptists and other conservative evangelicals care very much about, but not one believed by the vast majority of Christians worldwide.
Mohler takes Mr. Shore to task for his “hermeneutic,” and explains for his readers that “hermeneutics” are “the science or the discipline of interpreting the Scripture.” Related to the name of the Greek god of communication, Hermes, hermeneutics is a fancy word for interpretation. But it’s hardly in and of itself a “science” or “discipline.” It’s just a word to describe a specific model of reading—which can be literally anything. A homophobe spitting rage as he reads a gay-themed Archie comic book is practicing the “science” of hermeneutics.
We do have a real and legitimate science and discipline for studying the Bible, complete with its own scholarly auspices, which include regional and national meetings, peer-reviewed journals, academically refereed monographs and the like: this is the discipline of Biblical Studies. But, of course, Mohler’s take on “Biblical infallibility” is far outside the scope of even many conservative Biblical scholars.
Incapable of addressing before his flock the glaring disconnect between pretending to knowledge of the Bible and actually possessing knowledge of the Bible, Mohler jumps aboard the infallibility tube-sled for a quick trip down his very own (and very icy) slippery slope: he accuses Mr. Shore of “hermeneutic nihilism,” and of making the Bible “whatever you say it is,” the (absurd) idea being that without looking through the lens of the Southern Baptist doctrine of infallibility, it’s impossible to understand the actual text of the Bible.
So here we have the intellectual mouthpiece of a denomination whose approach to Scripture falls far outside consensus scholarship on the Bible asserting that Mr. Shore is guilty of abandoning critical criteria for studying the Bible—when, in fact, it is the institutions of Mohler’s own denomination that willfully and categorically reject any and all criteria of Biblical criticism accepted in scholarly institutions and academies around the world.
This is not just dripping with irony. It’s gushing with it.
Like Mr. Shore, I, too, would like to see a Christianity without hell. I’d also very much like to see a Christianity without Al Mohler.
- ^ Other posts about Mohler on the UC blog include Al Mohler Fit the Battle of Jericho and Inerrancy Came Tumblin’ Down, Dr. Albert Mohler versus musician Michael Gungor: Who is on the verge of theological peril? and What would Jesus make of Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler’s argument for the death penalty? For more about the development of the whole theory of hell, see our Black Saturday, Hades, and the Beginning of Hell.
About Don M. Burrows
Don M. Burrows is a former journalist and current college preparatory school teacher. Don holds a Ph.D. in Classical Studies from the University of Minnesota. A former Christian fundamentalist, Don is now a member of the United Church of Christ and contends most firmly that the Bible cannot be read or explored without appreciating its ancient, historical context. Don lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two young children. Don blogs at Nota Bene and can also be found on Facebook.