Making Leonard’s point, Mohler played a role in the high-profile departure of Warren this summer and, two years ago, in the exit of the prominent Bible study teacher Beth Moore, who dissented from the SBC’s support of Trump. Yet Mohler has come under fire himself in recent years from the denomination’s extreme right, whose members claim Southern promotes “woke ideology” by talking about issues of race.
Leonard, who has known Mohler since the 1980s, when the future seminary president was his student, said Mohler’s conversion to the conservative viewpoint was genuine, but it was also a pragmatic decision.
“When he got nominated for the presidency, it appears he decided which way the wind was blowing for him,” said Leonard.
But the real key to Mohler, his former teacher said, is his personal ethical streak, which has made him equal parts a reformer and a company man. “He’s not a flamethrower,” said Leonard. “He believes in institutions.”
Leonard said Mohler’s personal ethics have helped him to persevere when many other Southern Baptist leaders have fallen in recent years.
During a recent interview, Mohler agreed with that assessment, saying he was an unapologetic institutionalist. As if to illustrate the point, he said that while he and Leonard have very different understandings of what it means to be a Baptist and even of how to interpret the Bible, he called his former professor one of the “best classroom teachers” he ever met. “I still respect and appreciate those who taught me, even when we disagree,” he said.
Mohler also paid tribute to his predecessors, including McCall and Roy Honeycutt, whom he succeeded. Honeycutt, he said, disapproved of the direction Mohler planned to take the seminary — and yet was gracious to Mohler during the handover. “He was unfailingly a man of character and graciousness and I am thankful for that,” Mohler said.
Despite his longevity, Mohler said he knows that both the denomination and the seminary face challenges as organized religion declines and institutions fall out of favor.
“It’s a humbling moment for the Southern Baptist Convention and for evangelicalism,” he said. “A denomination that found an awful lot of confidence in constantly growing is now going to have to explain what faithfulness looks like when we are not.”
Mohler said he has no plans to retire in the short term.
“I want to continue to be useful to the kingdom and to this institution,” he said. “And I want to be at some point a cheerleader for whoever follows me.”
This article originally appeared here.