The word is out. Dr. Al Mohler is on the cover of Christianity Today magazine. And, while the most culturally visible Southern Baptist has enjoyed a decade and a half of media coverage--coverage invariably placing him among elite intellectuals in evangelical sub-culture--this particular story by Molly Worthen, a writer and journalist finishing her Ph.D. in American religious history at Yale University, appears slightly less euphoric in presenting Mohler as the reforming hero he has heretofore become.
One surely expected the letdown, given some hints from those who read Worthen's story prior to its release. For example, young, restless, and Reformed icon, Justin Taylor, came across as bewildered--even apologetic--concerning the cover story on one of his heroes, Al Mohler. He lamented just prior to the release of the story: "The October 2010 Christianity Today cover story (not yet online) looks at Al Mohler... it’s the lengthiest profile they have done...and certainly the most condescending."
Taylor goes on to suggest the reader consider the soon-to-be-released story on two levels, the first being for basic factual information. Taylor's second level is interesting: "[Consider Worthen's piece] as a test-case for how much an author subtly—and often times explicitly—inserts his or her own views into a piece by means of framing and side-comments." The series of questions Taylor suggests is telling, questions including: what Worthen thinks about Mohler as a person, theologian, and intellectual; what Worthen thinks about SBC moderates and the Conservative Resurgence; and Worthen's thoughts about Reformed theology.
If I didn't know better, it sounds as if Taylor greased the bucket a bit. That is, he seems to be casting Molly Worthen as a hostile witness whose biased journalism possesses a faulty, personal agenda, the old "poison the waterhole" trick which, in essence, attempts to cook a spiked soup to influence an audience against a particular author's composition before the audience considers the evidence themselves (in this case, the audience could not consider the evidence because it was not even released!) Unfortunately for Taylor, the very soup he himself refuses to eat (Worthen's piece because, in his view, it's tainted) he turns around and concocts a brew of his own special recipe to feed to his readers.
In Taylor's view, Molly Worthen is obviously agenda-driven. (In fact, this isn't the first piece Molly Worthen has offered striking sparks among the young Calvinists. Her 09 New York Times profile on Mark Driscoll entitled "What Would Jesus Smack Down?" caused a few YRR to cough up blood). Hence, she should be read with caution.
On the other hand, Taylor himself sets up a particular lens through which to read Worthen, a lens which obviously casts serious doubts--even condescending doubts--on Worthen's journalistic integrity. Why? Is it not so the reader will obviously come to the same conclusion as he--Molly Worthen is agenda-driven? Hence, she should be dismissed, in his estimation anyways, along with her less than stellar--even condescending--view of Al Mohler.
Why Justin Taylor thinks readers need to be warned about Molly Worthen's alleged lopsided view of Al Mohler stands as a curious sidebar to the entire young, restless, and Reformed movement, since on all accounts, the YRR are touted as highly intellectual and theologically astute. I mean, if Taylor is correct, and Worthen is so obviously tainted--albeit at times only subtly so--nevertheless, could they not see through Molly Worthen's bias without Taylor's blowing the trumpet even before the story was released to the public?
Apparently not...at least in Justin Taylor's view. He felt it necessary to frame an opinion for them.
Moral to the story: spiked soup cooks in several different pots
With that, I am...
P.S. I have a few more thoughts I'm putting together on the Mohler story in CT
UPDATE: For another view essentially agreeing with Justin Taylor see Trevin Wax's article
Another attempt to dismiss Molly Worthen's article as nothing more than a hit -piece on Al Mohler is Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Jim Hamilton, who actually implied an apology from Worthen is appropriate!
A fourth outrage on the Christianity Today article covering Al Mohler is by Kevin DeYoung