From One Evangelical to Another: An Open Letter to Dr. Mohler

Last Friday, Dr. Albert Mohler published a podcast in which he discussed a Wall Street Journal article detailing the story of two brothers who left the Southern Baptist denomination. According to the Journal, one brother became a Catholic priest and the other serves as an Anglican bishop in Georgia. In the podcast, he stated:

“As I read this news article, it comes as judgment--judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity and failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith... the differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments, as is the Roman Catholic system, and at least much of Anglicanism.” (See time stamp 16:06)

I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Mohler, as do my friends across many denominational lines. And admittedly, Dr. Mohler is generous to some expressions of evangelical Anglicanism. ("Because becoming an Anglican doesn't necessarily mean, in any sense, the denial of the very essential of the Gospel.... Thanks be to God, there are a very good many evangelical Anglicans and we can only hope that this Bishop in Atlanta is one of them." See time stamp 17:14) That being said, one of my friends, Preston Yancey, was raised Southern Baptist and is in the process of becoming an Anglican priest. Today, Preston writes an open letter in response to Dr. Mohler's comments.

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Dear Dr. Mohler,

This afternoon, I hung my certificate of licensing by a Southern Baptist church to "preach the Gospel as [I] may have opportunity, and to exercise [my] gifts in the work of the Ministry." The certificate is dated the 28th of January, 2009. Just over six years later, I am a confirmed Anglican and a Canon Theologian in the diocese that shares geography with the same Southern Baptist church that first recognized my call by our God to preach the Gospel. I could detail for you that journey, but I have both written about it at length in my book and it is on the whole a conversation for another day. (One I would welcome to have with you.) Here, I’d like to address your public remarks and the unnecessary fracturing of the Kingdom of God.

A few days ago you addressed an article from the Wall Street Journal about two brothers who were raised Southern Baptist and became Anglican and Roman Catholic respectively. Among your remarks, you concluded:

"This story appears as judgment and as challenge to every single one of us: as pastors, as parents, as youth leaders, as those who care about the perpetuation of the faith once delivered to the saints. If we do not ground our children in the faith, then they are going to find the answers to their questions elsewhere."

You are the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My father is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a pastor to the fabric of his being, and for just over a decade a Director of Missions. My mother, who has suffered for nearly fifteen years with chronic pain and subsists in no exaggeration on the miracle of prayer, knows the Scripture with a fierceness hard to rival. My grandparents on both sides are what apocryphal accounts of saints are made of—extraordinary conversions, piercing testimony, movements of the Spirit in the most miraculous ways. I was raised to love Jesus. I was raised to love the Scripture. I was raised to take seriously the realities of hell and judgment, of the blessed hope only securely held in the power of Christ. I was raised to trust the Spirit in all things, to weigh all choices in the rhythm of God, and to seek God first.

Who went wrong?

My parents, who taught me to pray and know the Scriptures? My pastors, who taught me Jesus longs for all of us to be reconciled to God? My youth leaders, who taught me the Spirit is always at work in us?

I became an Anglican, but I do not feel ashamed of the tradition I was raised in. I feel exceptionally blessed to have been raised in it. The Baptists gave me a fierce love of Scripture; the Baptists taught me to want salvation for all people. My questions about what those things meant and mean were not unsafe in the Baptist faith, at least not in the faith I experienced, so words like yours always startle me, especially from someone who is in the position of leadership you hold.

I am an Anglican, but I do not dismiss your faithfulness. I do not doubt your convictions or openness to the Spirit of God. Were you to come to our church, the Table would be open to you, for we confess and serve together the same Good Shepherd. More importantly, we were found by the same Good Shepherd.

I can guess your criticisms of my faith and the Christian faith as expressed in Roman Catholicism. Baptism, Communion, justification, and so on. I take these matters seriously, not least of all because it's my job to. But as we both know, the world is becoming increasingly hostile to orthodox Christian faith. We both know the souls of many hang in the balance. We both know the witness of the church faces countless challenges.

I'll be direct: why are we wasting time?

Some follow Paul. Some follow Apollos. — 1 Corinthians

We follow Jesus, you and I. Your tradition and mine.

So the saint once believed, and I believe the saint. — Edward Hirsch

At my church every Sunday, my bishop welcomes all newcomers by letting them know if our church is not a fit for them, we would be glad to help them find a church in our area that would be. Those churches are what we refer to casually as Christ-Honoring, and among them you'll find Southern Baptist churches. We don't curse anyone who becomes something other than Anglican when they follow the Spirit faithfully into the work to which God has called them. We are co-laborers in the efforts of God. We are serving in this kingdom together. Could we not celebrate when a movement away from one tradition does not lead away from Jesus? Could we not celebrate when a movement away from one tradition does not lead away from Kingdom work?

My certificate recognizing my call to preach the Gospel hangs beneath three icons. The first is of Pentecost, a packed room modernized to show centuries of saints metaphorically present at the moment God began a new work of such extraordinary beauty in and among us and through us. Below it is an icon of Martha of Bethany, who trusted Jesus enough to tell Him exactly what she thought and to obey. Beside her is the Good Shepherd Himself, a lamb upon His shoulders, our Jesus always seeking out the remaining one.

If that remaining one is found in your church or found in mine, the party in heaven will be the same. And as for me and my house, we lift holy hands and bless any and all who are reconciled to God through the good work Southern Baptists do. In the Name of the Good Shepherd to whom all of this is for and must be for, I hope you'd make a similar gesture in turn.

Let us not divide the Kingdom when the Kingdom continues to honor Jesus. Let us celebrate every moment his Name is exalted, wherever that may be.

In the midst of Him,

Preston Yancey

The Third Sunday of Lent, 2015

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You can follow Preston at PrestonYancey.com, and find his book, Tables in the Wilderness, at Givington's, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.

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