One University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) student asked about the Christian understanding of gender and transgenderism. Another asked R. Albert Mohler Jr. why God allows “80 percent” of the world’s population to spend eternity in hell. Yet another student asked about Christians participating in stem cell research and therapies.
In all, Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), answered questions as varied as the people in the room.
Photo by Emil Handke, SBTS
At UCLA, 1,000 students hear R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of SBTS, field questions about faith in the context of today’s culture in the second stop of an Ask Anything Tour.
In the second stop on an Ask Anything Tour – a series of question-and-answer forums with Mohler on university campuses around the United States – an estimated 1,000 students crammed into a conference space in UCLA’s Carnesdale Commons, with overflow spaces streaming the session on TV screens. The first stop on the tour was the University of Louisville in February.
Each question received a specific answer from Mohler, but every answer came from the same place: historic Christian thought based on the Bible.
“The two biggest questions that frame my understanding of where to begin and how to proceed [with important, difficult questions] are ‘Does God exist?’ and ‘Does He speak?’” Mohler told UCLA students March 2.
“I believe God does exist, that He’s the self-existent, self-revealing God,” Mohler said. “He exists and He speaks. He speaks to us in nature – the Bible is very clear about that. He speaks to us in scripture definitively. He speaks to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ savingly.
“If I didn’t have that assurance, I wouldn’t dare stand up in front of an audience … to talk about how we can ask and answer the biggest questions of life. But if indeed we have that confidence that He is there and He is not silent … we know where to begin.”
Mohler returned to the authority of the Bible and its foundational place in Christian theology throughout the evening. For nearly two hours, he addressed wide-ranging questions related to the problem of evil, evolutionary theories and God’s exclusive means of salvation. And for each, Mohler said Christians must begin their reasoning with the Bible.
Asked about Christianity’s response to transgenderism and the growing cultural acceptance of non-binary gender identity, Mohler emphasized that only God owns the right to answer that question – and He’s revealed His answer in the scriptures.
“I believe [gender] is a fixed identity,” Mohler said. “I believe it’s not fixed by me, certainly; it’s not fixed by the individual. It’s fixed by the Creator. … Let me clearly state what Albert Mohler thinks about this should be of virtually no consequence.
“What God thinks about this, and has revealed about this, is of ultimate consequence. So anything I say about anything, and especially something like this, you should test by scripture, because that’s the only way we can possibly know about what the Creator has instructed us about ourselves.”
Mohler’s appeal to the Bible, he made clear, isn’t simplistic and isn’t a call to proof-texting or finding a passage of scripture that fits a reader’s already-formed opinion. Answers to tough questions often require careful biblical study.
One student asked Mohler if he “agrees with the apostle Paul” in his descriptions of homosexuality as “degrading” and “detestable.” Mohler affirmed Paul’s assessment. But he said Christians cannot escape that Paul’s “bracing” language applies to all of humanity.
“Those words are addressed in the scripture to every single son and daughter of Adam,” Mohler said. “Those words are not uniquely addressed in the entirety of scripture to those who may either struggle with same-sex attraction or be engaged in actual same-sex behavior.”
He went on to explain – demonstrating the kind of work that goes into interpreting the Bible – that what is unique in Paul’s treatment of homosexuality is that he uses it as an example of how far sin will take people in distorting God’s design. They will take it even to the point of acting against their very nature. That doesn’t mean, Mohler noted, that homosexuality is in some way a more sinful type of sin.
“The struggle and pattern of sin may be different, but the need is the same and the call of obedience is the same,” he said.
Other questions from UCLA students ranged from racism in America and issues of bioethics to Mohler’s strategy for reading books.
The Ask Anything Tour is a partnership between SBTS, in Louisville, Ky., and Ligonier Ministries, a discipleship organization in Sanford, Fla., founded by the late theologian R.C. Sproul. Future Ask Anything dates at other universities are in the planning stage.
The next morning, March 3, Ligonier hosted Truth and Consequences, where Mohler was joined by Ligonier teaching fellows Burk Parsons and Stephen Nichols in teaching Christian students and student ministry leaders about apologetics. The three organized their talks around three theological premises: God is, God speaks and God saves.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)