What Do We Do With You

I’d like to highlight an internal conversation that has been taking place in the Evangelical community for the last couple of years. The basic point is: we are somewhat at odds as to what to do with Mormonism. For the past 150 some-odd-years the typical response has been to offer nothing but hostility and firm rebuke to Mormons for following a false prophet and in the process accepting false doctrine.

The easiest way we have found to do this is the highlight the moral failings of Joseph Smith, to show the falsity of the Book of Mormon as an actual historical story and to expose a great many inconsistencies in both the history and doctrine of the LDS church.

Several years ago, Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries started encouraging Evangelicals to view Mormonism not as a cult but as a culture. As such we should find culturally appropriate ways to share our message with Mormons as we would in any “foreign” mission field. There are many who feel that Standing Together is watering down the gospel rather than fighting against falsehood.

An article was recently published in an Evangelical journal, highlighting many of the failings of Standing Together’s methodology. John Morehead recently wrote a rebuttal to that article. You can find it here

John has chosen to moderate the comments on his blog (wisely I think). But Todd Wood at “Heart Issues for LDS” is hosting a discussion between John Morehead, myself and Aaron Shafovaloff, a staff member of Mormonism Research Ministries (a traditional counter-cult ministry). If you’re interested in that conversation you can read it here.

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5 thoughts on “What Do We Do With You

  1. Just for clarification, I’m not really in the fray at Tom’s blog to represent MRM, but rather just giving my own personal feisty thoughts. I’m a newcomer, while Bill, Lane, and Eric are the ones to provide a better, more level-headed response representative of the ministry as a whole.

    For the past 150 some-odd-years the typical response has been to offer nothing but hostility and firm rebuke to Mormons for following a false prophet and in the process accepting false doctrine.

    I think this is a caricature of what has been going on, since the traditional countercult community has had plenty of people doing more than just offering rebuke and theological hostility. Rebuke is part of a larger picture and package of things that go on, including relationships of friendship and behind-the-scenes dialog. The myth is that many of these elements are new. I think the problem is that so many people are disconnected from the traditional countercult community and therefore are more prone to falsely stereotype it and create a straw man out of it (such as with an iconic figure like Ed Decker). I would love for people to hang out with people like Keith and Becky Walker of Evidence Ministries and get a feel for their commitment to delivering compelling information, especially God’s word, and yet also reaching out with a genuine relational interest. Another great example of the evangelism I root for is a lot of what is going on in Ephraim, UT, at the college house by Snow College. This mixture of friendships and delivery of tough apologetic information and beautiful gospel truths is not only compelling, but effective. A lot of folks over there would simply laugh at the idea of giving much of that up, because not only do they see biblical precedent for it, but they also see lives changed. And I don’t simply mean Mormons and Evangelicals being friends. I mean people being actually converted.

    … started encouraging Evangelicals to view Mormonism not as a cult but as a culture.

    We need to get rid of this cliché. For one thing, it puts forth a false dichotomy between a cult and a rich culture. One can appreciate a rich culture while at the same time recognizing what have been traditionally recognized as cultic tendencies (paranoia over exposure to opposing materials, parasitical missionary work dependent on existing Christian foundation laid, etc.). In fact, that Mormonism is such a culture unto itself lends to the larger package of things that might lead one to call Mormonism a cult. The term does have some baggage, so it needs important qualification, admittedly.

    My main beef is that we should hold onto:

    – The value of providing both positive and negative apologetic information, which plays so obvious of an important role in the lives of many.

    – The value of publicly maintaining the borders between Mormonism and Christianity. The public continuously needs to be educated on the differences between the two religions. This among other things prevents a lot of nominal Christians from converting to Mormonism, and it challenges people (especially Christians) to examine their own beliefs for the first time and ask fundamental worldview questions. It also helps Mormons to better see the seriousness of the dividing theological issues.

    – The value of evangelizing strangers. One tenet of the ST crowd seems to be that we can’t have meaningful religious interaction without a pre-existing, well-established relationship of trust. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard to build such relationships. I’m saying that I think we’re erroneously and myopically treating them as prerequisite to meaningful evangelism.

    – A paradigm of sowing and reaping with the crucial importance of the word of God being explicitly communicated. No traditional countercultist is expecting a Mormon to comprehensively abandon the Mormon worldview and suddenly become a Christian. It’s a process, but the word of God plays a central role in conversion, even if it takes God working through people, through relationships, to water what seeds have been planted. Some evangelistic interactions are more about sowing, and others are more about reaping. Oh, the body of Christ needs to be more united in this! It’s a team effort and we shouldn’t despise the various gifts and roles at work.

    – The urgency of it all. The urgency of the weighty truths of the gospel and the eternal consequences of our response to them should compel us to get really creative to reach out to the 2.3 million people of UT. Whether we’re at a Wendy’s with a warm hand on a friend’s shoulder, or we’re going door to door talking to people about Jesus, we need to have a Christ-like dynamic of both compassion, patience, and urgency. Today is the day of salvation. This kind of attitude admittedly doesn’t mesh well with the passive contentment some seem to have with mere Christian/Mormon syncretism.

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

  2. “I think this is a caricature of what has been going on, since the traditional countercult community has had plenty of people doing more than just offering rebuke and theological hostility.”

    Maybe so, but if you are doing that, I’ll tell you right now that its pretty-much being drowned-out by your extremist brothers and sisters.

    As things stand today, my personal perception of the evangelical position on Mormonism is that we are a dangerous, dishonest, brainwashed bunch of cultists who should be ridiculed, opposed, and ostracized at every opportunity. Sure, you meet nice people like Tim here who are trying to be civil and Christlike. But it’s kind of rare to find an evangelical who both “cares” and cares to be civil about it. At large the evangelical population seems to be composed of two types:

    1. Those who are actively and aggressively trying to de-legitimize Mormonism and

    2. The rest of evangelicals who basically don’t care (the vastly larger group).

    What emerges is policy-by-default. Since the moderates in, say… the Southern Baptist Convention aren’t speaking up, the anti-Mormon message becomes the “official” message. Until I see high level evangelicals publicly distancing themselves from trash like “The Godmakers” and other anti-Mormon tracts, I am unlikely to change my view on what the official evangelical position on my faith is. And an obscure mumbled apology that never even registers on the public radar ain’t going to cut it either.

    Likewise, I think you have some tough work ahead of you before most Mormons view the counter-cult movement as anything more than a sanctimonious hate group.

    It would probably also help if you dropped the “cult” label, but that’s just me.

  3. I’ll share my (hopefully) brief response to Aaron’s comments above.

    First, I’m glad to see Aaron recognize that his comments are indeed “feisty” at times, and bordering on the rude and sarcastic. Hopefully we can move beyond this.

    Second, while Aaron thinks the counter-cult does more than offer rebuke and theological hostility, surely there is more to it than that, however, the major component of its paradigm for understanding new religions and responding to them is the heresy refutation approach. This model lends itself well to theological contrast and refutation which often results in a simplistic view of new religions as cults and heresies, and which is often followed by rebuke and hostility.

    Third, as to alleged stereotypes of the counter-cult community, this has not taken place in my critique of it for many years. I was a part of the staff of Watchman Fellowship, served as vice president and president of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, and thus was an intimate part of the counter-cult for many years. I utilized the heresy-rationalist paradigm, and had relationships with many of the principle folks involved in the movement. I understand it quite well, and my critique is accurate and well informed.

    Fourth, while Aaron wants to move beyond the alleged dichotomy of cult vs. culture, the counter-cult community cointinues to label itself with reference to the former to which it is opposed, and has yet to seriously interact with the cultural or subcultural aspects of new religions as presented, for example, in Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, New Religions as Global Cultures (Westview Press, 1997), and which served as the starting point for the issue paper by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization’s group that addressed new religions in 2004. The paradigm of the counter-cult is heresy refutation, not intercultural understanding or cross-cultural communication. This is not to say that those new religions which claim or have a connection to traditional Christianity should not involve a consideration of their teachings and practices, but it is a matter of emphasis. It is the counter-cult community’s lack of consideration of cultural issues related to new religions that perpetuates the alleged dichotomy of concern to Aaron.

    Fifth, a holistic approach to new religions from those of us who value intercultural considerations includes a contextualized apologetic when appropriate. Thus, there is no lack of apologetic content, but simply a recognition that apologetics is ancillary to missions and cross-cultural considerations, and an apologetic must be contextualized appropriately.

    Sixth, Aaron perpetuates the misrepresentation of Standing Together’s views in regards to evangelism in that while it emphasizes and favors relational approaches it does not do so at the expense of dialogue with strangers. Relationships are the best context for the sharing of important ideas and this accounts for ST’s emphasis.

    I hope the above helps provide some kind of counter-point to Aaron’s position.

  4. The analogy that I’ve heard that I like is that if someone has a crooked stick, you don’t try to explain how crooked the stick is, you show them a straight stick.

    Apologetics are great. Being friends with people involved in a cult is great. But what is going to save people is preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14).

    Jesus came to bring division (Luke 12:51). If the gospel we’re preaching doesn’t make some people mad, and get some people saved, we’re not preaching the truth.

    Thanks,
    Bill

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