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Andrew Walker March 27, 2012
A prominent seminary president had the rare opportunity to engage a former President on his beliefs surrounding the importance and interpretation of the Bible.
Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, interviewed President Jimmy Carter on a recent edition of Mohler’s Thinking in Public podcast. Titled, “The Bible Meets the Modern Age: A Conversation with Former President Jimmy Carter,” Mohler’s interview with Carter spanned almost an hour.
Mohler’s questions focused on Carter’s love for the Scriptures along with how the Bible functioned in his calling as an elected official and ultimately, as President of the United States. Carter, who became America’s first “born again” president in 1976, became known for the outward expression of his faith at a time when evangelicalism was derided as anti-intellectual.
When asked how he [Carter] understands the inspiration of Scripture, Carter replied, “I think all of the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was interpreted, God’s message was interpreted, by fallible human beings, who were constrained by their knowledge of facts about the universe, for instance, when they wrote.”
Carter went on to note that even if the miracles of Jesus were disproven, the nature of salvation and Jesus’ example would still be just as relevant to his faith.
Though the interview was a public reflection on Carter’s faith, the interview did include controversial subjects.
Mohler questioned President Carter on how the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, particularly homosexuality, was to be understood for today’s time.
“Well I have to admit, Dr. Mohler, that I’m kind of selective on that point of view. I really turn almost exclusively to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who never mentioned homosexuality at all as a sin. He never condemned homosexuals and so I don’t condemn homosexuals. And our church, our little church in Plains, we don’t ask, when people come to join our church, if they’re gay or not. We don’t ordain, we don’t practice marriage between gay couples in our church, but that’s a Baptist privilege of autonomy of local churches. I’m against any sort of government law, either state or national, that would force churches to perform marriage between gay people, but I have no objection to civil ceremonies. And so, I know that Paul condemns homosexuality, as he did some other things like selfishness that everybody’s guilty of, and so I believe that Jesus reached out to people who were outcast, who were condemned, brought them in as equals and I also pretty well rely on Paul’s writing to the Galatians that everyone is equal in the eye’s of God and we’re treated with compassion. And I personally believe, maybe contrary to many of your listeners, that homosexuality is ingrained in a person’s character and is not something they adopt and can abandon at will. So I know that what I’ve just explained to you might be somewhat controversial, but it’s the way I feel.”
Carter went on to explain his views on abortion.
Asked what his understanding is concerning the gospel and the necessity of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, Carter replied, “I believe it is necessary and I teach that every Sunday in my classes that it is necessary for full salvation and acceptance before God to believe in Jesus Christ. The question then comes up, though, “However, how about the people that don’t know about Christ? How about the ones to whom Christians, evangelicals, have never reached or given them the message?” And I don’t feel constrained, Dr. Mohler, to condemn those people as lost or as going to hell, and I rationalize it, perhaps, in using theological terms, in using biblical terms, by Jesus’ admonish that we should not judge other people, but let God be the Judge. So, in a quandary like that about people who don’t know about Christ, what would be their fate? I’m inclined to believe that they will not be condemned or punished by God.”
Mohler, who served as one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief architects during the convention’s “conservative resurgence,” expressed his appreciation for President Carter’s candor and provided Carter the time to express his feelings on the Southern Baptist Convention, which he left in 2000 as the denomination grew more conservative. Carter has since a public parting-of-ways with the Southern Baptist Convention and has been a vocal critic of the denomination’s conservative positions, which has led to a tenuous relationship with the denomination up to present day. He has gone so far as to call the denomination’s complementarian views on human sexuality and gender “discriminatory.”
When asked about the role of women in church Carter said:
“I really became concerned about the basic thrust of the Southern Baptist Convention on two or three issues that happened in Florida in the Convention when it was there, in particularly, the status of women. I feel very strongly, in the eyes of God, women are equal to men and to choose the particularly passages that say that women have to be subservient to men and that they should not teach men and boys, I think it contrary to the basic thrust of what Christ meant and said. I know that you have a different belief in that and Southern Baptists do as well. Now there are some seminaries that don’t even let a woman profess or teach boy students in a class and others that won’t let women speak from the pulpit and things of that kind. I believe in complete equality. My wife happens to be a deacon in our little church in Plains that I’ve described already. We have two pastors—one is a man and one is his wife. They both are ordained and I participated in the ordination, so I believe that throughout religious faith that women should be treated equally with men.”
Though professedly different in many of their views, both Mohler and Carter expressed appreciation for each other. Carter went so far as to express the need for further conversation with Mohler, albeit in a more private setting.
Carter, who turns 88 in October, has recently collaborated with Zondervan to publish a Bible that contains Carter’s personal commentary, much of which was collected during his many years of teaching Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.
Thinking in Public is a popular podcast in which Mohler interviews prominent intellectuals and public thinkers across the political and theological spectrum. It is available on iTunes.
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