The Axioms of Religion, by E. Y. Mullins. Compiled by R. Albert Mohler and edited by Timothy and Denise George. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997. 297 pages.
This volume serves as a brief collection of Mullins’ various works. The primary work in the volume is The Axioms of Religion, but there are several other writings which are also included. The secondary writings include articles and lectures on specific issues faced by the quintessential Southern Baptist of the twentieth century. Another helpful element of this volume is the compiler’s pertinent introduction to the thought and career of Professor Mullins. In the introduction, Dr. Mohler not only relays the events of Mullins’ life but also attempts to assess his legacy for Southern Baptists.
Axioms is Mullins’ attempt at stating the fundamentals of the Baptist s faith. Written in a pivotal period of Southern Baptist history, Axioms not only clarifies the reasons for Baptist existence, but also demonstrates why Baptists are the best expression of true Christianity. Mullins’ approach is to present the basic principles or axioms of the true Christianity and then demonstrate how Baptists are the most faithful to these axioms. There are six axioms of religion:
The theological axiom: The holy and loving God has a right to be sovereign.
The religious axiom: All souls have an equal right to direct access to God.
The ecclesiastical axiom: All believers have a right to equal privileges in the church.
The moral axiom: To be responsible, man must be free.
The religio-civic axiom: A free church in a free state.
The social axiom: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is also a fundamental principle that unites the six axioms: soul competency under God. Mullins claims that the six axioms along with the concept of soul competency “express the truths and ideals which lie at the heart of all man’s higher strivings today.” For this reason, soul competency and the axioms serve as the beginning point for reshaping Baptists thought and practice to address the circumstances of a modern era. The purpose of understanding the axioms is not an effort to reclaim the past but is a necessary step in being proactive for the future.
The second part of the volume focuses on the contemporary issues that Mullins faces in his various writings. For instance, Mullins demonstrates how the historical figure of Jesus addresses the questions of Kant, Hegel, and empirical science. In “The Response of Jesus Christ to Modern Thought,” Mullins concludes, “Jesus meets and matches the autonomy of science and philosophy with the autonomy of religion” (P. 215). Mullins again addresses Christology in “The Jesus of ‘Liberal’ Theology.” He challenges the view of S. J. Case by saying, “In Jesus we have an incarnation of God, a redemption from sin. He is God, manifest in the flesh. Cases’s view is absolutely incompatible with such a conception of Christ” (p. 207).
Mullins also continued to address the issues that were confronting Baptists. To his six previous axioms of religion he adds a seventh. He argues that there is a civic axiom which is that the power of the state lies in its citizen. As in Axioms, he argues that Baptists provides the appropriate atmosphere for the relationship between a free individual and Christ, because Baptists strive to protect the rights of the individual. Mullins’ “The Dangers and Duties of the Present Hour” admonishes Baptists not to be divided over subordinate issues. He understood that in his day certain Baptists factions were being too prescriptive about what was proper belief on nonessential matters.
The strengths of Mullins’ work are numerous. He was a great apologist for Baptists principles as he understood them. He held that Baptists were in the best position to defend the truths of religion. Baptists had been faithful to Christian principles historically and that heritage should continue. Mullins’ legacy also included challenging the views of modernity that threatened basic Christian doctrine. There was no room for compromising the veracity of the Scriptures in an attempt to “modernize” the faith. Although he wanted the Baptists faith to address the issues of modernity, some principles were not negotiable. He states, “The authority of the Scriptures lies at the basis of our plea. We do not believe any form of Christianity which breaks with the Scripture as the revealed and authoritative Word of God…”
While Mullins has a plethora of strengths, he also has a clear weakness. His foundational approach to theology was similar to that of the liberal theologians whom he criticized. He based his theological positions on the premise of sense-experience, allowing human autonomy to have a central part in determining matters of truth. This shift away from divine revelation for the source of religious truth is the move that many modern thinkers made on their way to theological pragmatism and relativity. In his introduction, Dr. Mohler indicates Mullins’ tentative position by saying, “Though Mullins was no liberal in terms of doctrine, he stood near the liberals in terms of method.” Mullins made several attempts at safeguarding his thought from his progression. Foremost, he held doggedly to the inspiration of Scripture and its primacy for doctrine.
Mullins remains as a prominent figure among Southern Baptist theologians. He epitomizes the progressive growth among Southern Baptists during the twentieth century. His work Axioms is indeed one of the classics of Baptist literature.
Jason K. Lee
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Originally published in Faith and Mission, 17:2 (Spring 2000): 112-114.