Is the New Life the same for Mormons and Evangelicals?

I was reading the foundational beliefs that define Evangelism according to the authors of the the Evangelical Manifesto (brought to our attention by Tim) and was struck by the Third:

“[W]e believe that new life, given supernaturally through spiritual regeneration, is a necessity as well as a gift; and that the lifelong conversion that results is the only pathway to a radically changed character and way of life. Thus for us, the only sufficient power for a life of Christian faithfulness and moral integrity in this world is that of Christ’s resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many people wonder why Mormons and Evangelicals can believe in miracles, in an unseen yet all-powerful god, in angels, prophets, etc. when there is so many reasons to be highly skeptical. At least one reason why there are believers because of the experience of the New Life.

The idea of a new life through Jesus is a central theme of the Book of Mormon as well. Alma 5 and Mosiah 5 are parts the more powerful sermons recorded in the book deals with this explicitly. In Mosiah, the newly converted explain after hearing a the sermon of a prophet:

” Yea, we believe all the words the which thou has spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2)

This is a real phenomenon in the LDS church, I have seen many people’s lives and characters change very radically after becoming converted to the Gospel. (I am still waiting for my “disposition to do evil” to leave however) To many Mormons, this phenomenon is primary evidence of the divinity of the LDS Church. It is not really a mystical experience from what I have seen, most of the change has very little to do with mysticism. It is talked about in very practical and psychological terms but most find the transformationi “supernatural” as the manifesto describes. People aren’t changed by mystical experience, they just find themselves and life different, they are able to do things they could not before, they feel different, they have more understanding or patience or love or less anger than they had before.

I have many questions about this “New Life”. Is how the Supernatural New Life of converted LDS differs from the New Life of the Evangelical? From my experience I am inclined to think that it is very similar. ( Correct me if I am wrong.)

Is the New Life an important evidence of the truth of the Gospel for Evangelicals?

Is a similarity of the new life in Christ in the two groups evidence of something?

13 thoughts on “Is the New Life the same for Mormons and Evangelicals?

  1. I find it interesting that many Mormons and some evangelicals (but more so among evangelicals, say, 40 years ago) tend to reduce the Christian life to the following of rules or of maintaining “correct” behavior.

    But the Christian life that Paul talks about, and the one talked about in Mosiah 5, doesn’t have a lot to do with following rules. Rather, it involves an inner transformation, a “mighty change” of heart as the Book of Mormon puts it. With this comes a desire to do good, a desire to become more Christlike.

    I don’t believe one has to be member of the LDS church to experience this “mighty change” or at least some major aspects of it. And, judging from I’ve seen by being at one time or other part of both the evangelical and LDS worlds, I’d agree with Jared C. that the experiences both varieties of Christians have, or can have, are very similar. (I’ve seen the same thing in some Catholics who take their faith seriously.)

    Is this evidence that there is something that is greater than us? Yes, I think so, but I couldn’t prove it scientifically.

  2. I think it’s kind of funny that Eric says that “following rules” is more of an Evangelical thing. Granted, Eric comes from a Methodist background, but generally Evangelicals look at Mormonism and see a faith of “rule following” and little effort from Mormons to claim salvation by grace. . . Any who. . . none of that has anything to do with this post. (and I’m well aware that the Mormons who visit this blog are big believers in salvation by grace).

    I think the “new life” is evidence to the believer that his faith is real. Occasionally it’s evidence to someone else.

    I absolutely agree with you that supernatural experiences do little to transform a person. Spiritual experiences have a great power to encourage a believer, but they do little to actually change their character. I’ve met several people who were radically changed after conversion (dropped addictions cold turkey) but the momentum for further change drops off quickly. I picked up on this after reading Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart. It’s a GREAT book in which he talks about HOW spiritual transformation takes place.

    Jared said:
    To many Mormons, this phenomenon is primary evidence of the divinity of the LDS Church.

    I’m guessing this was a slip. LDS do not find the church to be divine itself do they? (though I think I’ve encountered some LDS who do indeed). Can you clarify?

  3. Jared C, you pose interesting questions, but consider this from a larger perspective. What would be the incentive for an Evangelical to answer that they think they are the same or similar? Suppose an Evangelical answers that a Mormon could have a real and bonafide change of heart as a result of accepting the Restored Gospel. From my experience, this sounds much too close to admitting that Mormonism is a viable or legitimate Christian alternative. I’m not sure I see much incentive for an Evangelical, especially one who has a background in apologetics, to answer in the affirmative. Rather, the incentive is to distinguish in some way that there must be some significant difference between Mormons and Evangelicals, whatever it might be. This could take various forms. So, while I think you ask an interesting question, from my experience, I think it is also important to realize or appreciate that you may be putting some Evangelicals in a very awkward position to answer.

  4. Tim said: “I think it’s kind of funny that Eric says that “following rules” is more of an Evangelical thing.

    I didn’t word what I said very well.

    I think it’s more common is Mormonism than in evangelicalism these days. I think sometimes we LDS put so much emphasis on “choose the right” that we forget that it’s important first to get our heart right so that right actions can follow.

    What I intended to say is that reducing faith to following rules is done by some evangelicals as well, but orobably not as much as they did maybe a generation ago.

    Is that clearer?

  5. To answer Jared’s last question, I would suggest that yes, this phenomenon is evidence that grace is real, and a change of heart/rebirth through Jesus is a very real thing that occurs in the life of any who seek to be disciples of Jesus: Mormon, Evangelical, Catholic, etc.

  6. Thanks for the responses,

    Tim: I didn’t mean to insinuate that I or any Mormons think the church is God, it was a bad choice of words.

    I also agree that seeing visions or angels or having mystical experiences is quite different that a transformation of life and character. I would also agree that the transformation is generally only strong evidence to the person going through the transformation, they are the only ones in a good position to judge that their life is new. However I do think that this evidence is a very important part of the foundation of many people’s faith. (The Book of Mormon speaks to this as well, visions don’t always tend to change peoples’ hearts.)

    The question of the reputation of Mormons and Evangelicals as “rule focused” also is interesting, the common talk about “Born-Agains” as they are often called in Mormon circles is that it is a religion where you don’t have to be good because God saves you regardless if you believe in Jesus.

    Aquinas- I think the question may be a bit awkward for both Mormons and Evangelicals, I think there is a strong tendency to differentiate similar experiences in order to maintain the impression of superiority. Recognizing the similarity is important part of coming to understanding. I think Mormons have to recognize that Evangelicals can be extremely happy and fulfilled and transformed by their faith, and vice versa. That said, Tim seems to acknowledge that some LDS are (may be) saved Christians, even though the Church is “in sin”.

    I also would tend to think there are quite a few differences in the New Life experienced by Mormons and Evangelicals. It may be hard to get at that the heart of that in a blog however.

    Of course to many, the “new life” is simply a psychological phenomenon that could be brought about by almost any devoted practice. I think the fact that Mormons and Evangelicals experience the New Life as supernatural is significant. The fact that people experience these changes as something that is coming from outside of them is to me critical feature, and its what makes the changes a part of building faith in a personal God.

    For me, the fact that something outside of me is changing my life is stronger evidence for God than anything a scholar (or prophet) could tell me.

  7. Jared C, I suppose we will simply have to test that out depending on the comments received, which could perhaps be some kind of indication, at least of people who frequent this blog.

    Now, it should be kept in mind that “being happy” or “leading a fulfilled life” should not be made equivalent with being crucified with Christ, or crucifying our old selves, or becoming a new creature in Christ. I think this is fudging theological and psychological aspects of the human condition. As Lincoln suggested, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” But can it be said that a person merely decides to be born again or decides to be converted? The scriptures suggest to me that this isn’t the exactly the case and that there is some sort of divine interference in the life of the individual. So, I still think you need to be a little more nuanced and clear as to what you are inquiring and not equivocate on some of these concepts. In other words, are you asking Evangelicals whether Mormons can live a “fulfilled life” or whether they can be “born again”? In addition, to admit that Mormons might be born again despite the Church or in spite of Church’s teachings and doctrine seems to be a red herring. That’s like saying one admits that a Mormon can accidentally and inadvertently became born again during the time of being Mormon but that it had absolutely no relation or causal connection to the teachings of the Church. To be sure, it is definitely a more preferable position than deeming Mormons as incapable of being saved as if Mormon “genetics” made this a physical impossibility, or that Mormonism is some kind of soteriological firewall that prevents the Holy Spirit from reaching an individual, but it shouldn’t be confused as an answer in the affirmative by any means (but quite preferable to the alternatives).

    Should Mormons accept that people in other faiths can be happy? Why not? I don’t see how reality would lead a person to any other conclusion. Anyone who has simply walked around the planet long enough can see that people can be happy regardless of their religious affiliation or even lack thereof. It could be that some individuals are using the word “happy” in a more theologically drenched manner (there is regular happy, but then there is premium happy) but if that is the case it should be noted and explored.

    Not to mention the question of how does one go about answering you question? I can’t tell if you are making a social science inquiry or a theological inquiry, which I would posit demand different kinds of methodologies. I suppose an answer to your question might be based on one’s observation of Evangelicals and Mormons and making a judgment that they have a “new life” which supposes then that the “new life” is something one can observe, but the on the other hand you suggest only the person going through the transformation can judge that there life is new so I don’t know whether you are saying this can be observed or not. If you are making a theological inquiry then one can examine the texts to see if being born again is somehow articulated differently in the LDS scriptures or look towards ritual or some other religious expressions. Or, I suppose if someone truly experienced the “new life” both as a Latter-day Saint and as an Evangelical then such a person could tell the rest of us what it is like, if its different or the same, but this would be something we would have to accept on faith and trust their explanation (having not experienced both ourselves). Or you could interview Mormons and Evangelicals and have them explain their experiences, but then you would want to make sure you phrase the questions accurately and it might help to not asking them to distinguish their experience from the experience of a competing faith as this would introduce the bias of superiority that you mentioned earlier and skew the results.

  8. I think LDS and Evangelicals would admit that this “spiritual regeneration” is not simply happiness, or even necessarily related to happiness, but rather a form of enlightenment, seeing things in a new way in order to confront pain to have peace, to have “a broken heart an contrite spirit” to lose previous desires for evil , ” to have the image of God engraven on the countenance,” to have Jesus dwelling within you, etc. These can be happy things in happy circumstances but don’t remove believers from the effects of tribulation.

    As to a method for coming up with an answer and whether the question is theological or cultural:

    At root I believe it would be incredibly difficult to give a precise account of what is going on inside a person using current social science techniques. There are so many forces at play within a human being that its nearly impossible to give a precise account, especially if you posit unseen forces at work.

    There are those who believe that all religious experience can be boiled down to psychology and ultimately a complex reaction of neurons to environmental and genetic forces.

    Evangelicals and Mormons dismiss this line of thought and seem to both believe strongly in a “supernatural” event in the lives of believers. According to this manifesto this is a “necessity”.

    Thus the question really has nothing to do with culture, We must assume that such a supernaturally caused experience of spiritual regeneration, like revelation, will be affected by cultural and genetic influences. The question involves whether the experience is supernatural in Mormons and Evangelicals.

    I think this passage in the Manifesto struck me because I believe that if God is to make sense or even fit the biblical description he has to be available to all sorts and if Christianity it to maintain integrity in its biblical claims it has to be at work on the most personal level in peoples lives. I would suggest that the sort of experiential understanding of God through and experience with Divine power is a counterpart/ counterbalance to theological understanding e.g. I am pretty skeptical of most all of the claims of Christianity LDS and otherwise but its hard for me to deny or give a counter explanation for these sorts of experiences in my life.

    However I do have a hard time believing my experiences are substantially different from many others. My question is sort of a challenge to both groups.

    Do Evangelicals have to deny that Mormon “spiritual regeneration” is in fact supernatural in order to affirm the exclusivity of salvation within their theological camp?

    Do Mormons have to deny Evangelicals constant guidance by the Spirit in order to maintain their exclusive claim to the Gift of the Holy Ghost or spiritual authority of the priesthood?

    Whatever the theological explanation, it should be believable in light of the reality of experiences of the LDS and the Evangelical believers.

    I throw the questions out there because I am genuinely puzzled by this and can expect something that will make me think from this group.

  9. Jared C. asked: “Do Mormons have to deny Evangelicals constant guidance by the Spirit in order to maintain their exclusive claim to the Gift of the Holy Ghost or spiritual authority of the priesthood?

    I can’t point to scriptures offhand that say this explicitly, but I’ve been taught that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a sort of conditional entitlement to the companionship of the Holy Spirit. That certainly doesn’t exclude people without that gift experiencing the Holy Spirit; they just may not have received that entitlement.

    And as far as priesthood goes, the New Testament itself has examples of people who were performing miracles in Jesus’ name even though they didn’t have the authority to do so. While the priesthood is important (indeed, vital), I think it would be presumptuous to believe that God won’t respond to those from outside the fold who call upon Him.

    If I didn’t believe the Church’s claims of uniqueness were true, I wouldn’t be a member of the Church and I certainly wouldn’t invest the time, energy and money into its work that I do. But believing that the CoJCoLDS is the true church certainly doesn’t preclude God from extending his grace and mercy in other arenas as well.

  10. Jared and Eric, thanks for your clarifications is #4 and #6.

    To get a little deeper into the heart of the matter, I have no way of judging a Mormon’s “New Life” or transformation. Evangelicals are to some degree wrestling over defining these issues within our own context much less figuring who is and who is not a sheep outside of our own bounds. So I’m not going to get into categorically saying that no Mormon ever has ever had a transformational experience.

    I do think that there are many many behavior modification methods and a great number of them do in fact change people’s behaviors for what they deem to be better. I probably wouldn’t have to try hard to find testimonials from people who’ve tried Tony Robbins, The Secret, Scientology, B’hai and Buddhism. A system’s ability to change a person is by no means the only thing to judge a worldview on.

    I think genuine discipleship of Christ doesn’t just get at the behavior of people, but their hearts. As a friend of mine once expressed, “I can put a porn filter on my computer, but I want to be the kind of guy who just hates porn.” Porn filters are an excellent resource and I don’t condemn them, but to be like Jesus means not needing them at all.

  11. I would agree, with Tim. I don’t think merely maximizing our potential or changing for the better is what is being spoken of in the Manifesto or the Book of Mormon. I think that conversion and the New Life that is being spoken of is different than “Awakening the Giant Within”

    The idea is that it is God acting from outside imposing some changes on us through his Spirit. I would agree that its very difficult to determine if our experiences with outside forces making us new people is commensurate with others, but I think its worth looking into. I think that it is possible to compare experiences in a way where we can develop common ground. I don’t necessarily thin you have to give up any particular doctrinal positions about who gets saved or not to do so. I think the exercise could inform the doctrines we hold.

    One question for Tim, or other Evangelicals. Is it accurate to say that such a change of life is a “necessity” as per the Manifesto? If so, what does that mean?

  12. This is an interesting discussion.

    To throw another situation in the mix, I had a friend who became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. Over a period of years, he came to identify the “Higher Power” of AA with the Christian God (and eventually became an LDS bishop who continues to remain involved with AA). He would tell you that his conversion experience, his “mighty change of heart” occurred (or at least had its start) in AA; he developed that inner desire to lead a better life and believed it was something that came from without, not from within.

    Yet, at that time, there was no content, so to speak, to his Higher Power. He wouldn’t have called himself a Christian, much less Mormon, yet he had this sense of a Higher Power working in him and through him. Now, he would say, to use Jared C’s words, that higher power was “God acting from outside imposing some changes … through his Spirit,” even though he didn’t know it at the time.

    How this fits in with everything else I’m not totally sure, but I find it interesting in the light of what Jared C. has been saying.

    Tim said: “I think genuine discipleship of Christ doesn’t just get at the behavior of people, but their hearts.

    I agree entirely, and such is clearly the teaching of Alma 5.

  13. To throw another situation in the mix, I had a friend who became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous. Over a period of years, he came to identify the “Higher Power” of AA with the Christian God

    That’s not too surprising at all. AA came out of Protestantism. The 12 steps start making a lot more sense when you reattach the Bible verses to them.

    One question for Tim, or other Evangelicals. Is it accurate to say that such a change of life is a “necessity” as per the Manifesto? If so, what does that mean?

    I guess the question is “necessity” for what?

    To be a disciple of Jesus the answer is absolutely “yes”. If you expect to take on the character of Jesus, then your life must be radically transformed. As Dallas Willard says, you have to discover that you’ve been living in an upside down world. You have to change and be changed from a person whose natural inclination is sin, to a person whose natural inclination is holiness.

    Is it necessary for that transformation to be complete to be saved? No. Is it necessary for the church to be discipling people into it. Absolutely.

    Spiritual formation is something many Evangelicals have been putting a great deal of study into in the last 10 – 15 years. If you’d really like to learn more about what we think of it in detail (reflecting a lot on the church fathers) I would recommend anything by Dallas Willard or Richard Foster.

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