How Do We Talk to Each Other When We Don’t Know Who We Are?

Guest post by Seth:

Religiously savvy readers (probably most of you) will have heard of “Vatican II” – the landmark gathering of Roman Catholic leadership that attempted, among other things, to modernize the liturgy and bury the hatchet between Roman Catholics and other major Christian faith traditions, including Protestants (see the resulting Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965). You still see flare-ups over the role of faith vs. works and the role of the ecclesiarchy, as well as the obligatory pot shots at “Mary-worshiping.” But by and large, after centuries of rather nasty feuding, both faith traditions have come to terms with the reality that both of them are, after all, “Christians.”

Richard Mouw, President of the Fuller Theological Seminary has recently suggested that it may be high time that the LDS Church had its own Vatican II equivalent (albeit much watered down) – a watershed redefinition of Mormonism vis-a-vis the rest of the Christian world. You can read his article making the call on Beliefnet here. Essentially, Mouw calls on the LDS Church to give its official blessing to the kind of dialogue currently being conducted by LDS scholars such as Robert Millet and Stephen Robinson and Evangelical counterparts such as Craig Blomberg, Gerald McDermott, Paul Owen, and of course, Mouw himself (let me know if I’ve left out any key players).

Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack did a write-up on Mouw’s article here. After quoting a vague and non-committal response from LDS representatives, she notes that not everyone sees a reconciliation in the cards, quoting respected Mormon history scholar – Kathleen Flake. The key excerpt is as follows:

The differences between Evangelicals and Mormons is more than theological, says Kathleen Flake, who teaches American religious history at Vanderbilt University. It’s also organizational and systematic.
Evangelicals are only loosely organized around a set of principles; not least emphasizing the primacy of the Bible over theology, Flake says. Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, “are tightly organized around an enlarged canon of Bible-based narratives. These are loosely employed to express personal conviction of God’s contemporary and revelatory immediacy.”
Mouw’s invitation for official, Vatican II-like negotiation makes sense, she says, “only if you think that Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints have a theology sufficiently systematized to speak definitively. It seems to me that neither does.”
Talking is good, Flake says, “but it’s never going to be official, only academic.”

Professor Flake’s statement rang a bit true for me and got me wondering what we are doing here. I remember remarking that discussion of theological issues between Mormons and Evangelicals is difficult because “the Evangelical movement has multiple personality disorder, and the Mormons have a sort of institutional amnesia.” Neither of our traditions really has a firm identity that can be pinned down.

If you try to pin down many Evangelicals on uncomfortable or questionable doctrinal stances, they’ll claim that that may be true for SOME Evangelicals, but it is not something they subscribe to or wish to be affiliated with. Likewise, when you try to confront many Mormons with the same sort of things, they’ll claim that’s not what the Church is now, and will seem fairly unaware of how firmly the controversial points were adhered to by their forebears and the institutional Church.

Like I said – schizophrenia and amnesia. It makes it really hard to talk to each other, except on an individual, case-by-case basis (at least I know what I believe, and so does Tim…). Maybe that’s enough. Certainly it’s a modest and achievable goal. But it’s bound to leave us all feeling a bit dissatisfied on occasion. I’ve seen more than one Evangelical reject certain versions of Mormonism that don’t suit their preconceptions by claiming “that’s not what normal Mormons believe.” For instance the essays of Mormon scholars like Millet and Robinson often get rejected for not accurately reflecting the “common Mormon view” (whatever that is) or the official view from Salt Lake. Likewise, when Evangelical ministers promote stuff like the recent “Evangelical Manifesto” I myself have to wonder if they really have the voice of the movement, or whether they are just one among many competing factions.

The LDS Church is a long way from anything resembling Vatican II. It seems largely uninterested in complex theological problems and still keeps even its most respected scholars (Robert Millet would certainly qualify) safely at arms length.

On the Evangelical side, such united positions seem fundamentally and structurally impossible, since one of their foundational beliefs is a rejection of any sort of authoritative magisterium which could possibly speak for the whole.

Oh well… At least we can still talk on a case-by-case basis as individuals. But it makes it hard when neither of us have an official orthodoxy to which we can be held. I personally love books like the landmark “How Wide the Divide?” by Robinson and Blomberg. But as I read through such books, I find myself wondering how much credence to give to either man’s theological views. Is that really what Evangelicals think? Or is it just his angle on the religion? And vis versa.

To me, it seems we’re both doomed to inhabit this uncomfortable theological no-man’s land for quite some time. The sort of official validation Mouw is seeking for may be a long time in coming.

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34 thoughts on “How Do We Talk to Each Other When We Don’t Know Who We Are?

  1. Mormons and evangelicals both certainly know who they are. The problem is that they define themselves by a non-matching set of parameters.

    Mormons (at least the mainstream CoJCoLDS) define themselves by membership in and obedience to an ecclesiastic hierarchy, and a common narrative that traces back to Joseph Smith.

    Evangelicals, on the other hand, define themselves by mutual acceptance of fundamental theological propositions.

    That’s the problem: we talk about “Mormon” and “Evangelical” like they’re just two Christian denominations, but they’re not even the same kind of thing.

    We’re not really comparing apples to oranges here; we’re comparing apples to blue.

  2. Better yet, we’re comparing “spheres” to “blue,” but thinking that we’re talking about two different kinds of fruit.

  3. Excellent point, Seth. And as a Mormon, I can attest that all other Mormons will agree. {wink}

    I think you said it best in another post: “[the Apostle] Paul can go jump in a lake.” I don’t come to this blog to critique Tim’s views or his church, or to defend my church or my beliefs. I come because of what I learn about my own beliefs—by thinking and responding to others’ viewpoints.

    kullervo: “spheres to blue…” Well put.

  4. Not a bad point Brian.

    I will admit to a nagging guilty feeling on occasion that I’m just using Tim’s blog as a personal spiritual redefinition project.

    Immanuel Kant would be so disappointed with me.

  5. This is an excellent post, Seth. Kullervo, I think you hit the nail right on the head.
    This is not an academic, theoretical debate for me. This debate hits me right in my soul. The problem is, both “sphere” and “blue” are trying to make converts out of each other, and what happens AFTER the conversion is made?

    “Evangelicals…define themselves by mutual acceptance of fundamental theological propositions.”

    And how. I guess my problem, I could accept some beliefs, but not others, as there were just some Evangelical beliefs which went against my core values, beliefs that I had carried with me from my youth, and that I believed in my very soul.

    One example is the “purpose of life” For Evangelicals, at least the ones I was with, the purpose of life is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s not about being happy, it’s about being holy. For me, 2 Nephi 2:25 sums up what I still believe, ultimately, about the purpose of life: “…Men are that they might have joy.” (And I don’t believe this verse means that we will always be giddily happy and never have struggles or problems.) I believe that Jesus said the exact same thing when He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
    There came a point in my life when I knew that my Evangelical beliefs were getting in the way of my achieving any kind of real joy in my life. I ultimately came to realize that I still believed in free agency, personal responsibility, and the need to choose the right. We cannot expect Providence to just “give” us God’s plan for our life without any effort on our part.
    In my opinion, Evangelicals seemed to expect that converts from LDS and other Restoration churches were just supposed to forget everything about our lives, and totally accept all the new propositions we were given, “because the Bible says so.” If we didn’t, we didn’t really love Jesus or we didn’t love Him enough. I disagree with this.

  6. I think this definitional mismatch is why someone can actually be a Mormon and an Evangelical at the same time.

    It would be odd, for sure: from the Mormon standpoint, the Morvangelical would have beliefs and ideas about doctrine that are false, but this wouldn’t jeopardize his standing in the Church or his identity as a Mormon as long as he fulfilled his membership obligations. He might be the kind of “Kirtland Mormon” that Tim talks about, but having the right beliefs isn;t actually the core defining point of Mormonism.

    On the other hand, Evangelicals would be alarmed and would wonder why the Morvangelical was a member of a religious organization that was so dangerously riddled with heresy, but as long as the Morvangelical had the right beliefs about Jesus, God, and salvation, the Evangelcial would have no argument. Membership in such in an organization would be extremely puzzling, but ultimately, an Evangelical is not defined by his organizational membership.

  7. And how. I guess my problem, I could accept some beliefs, but not others, as there were just some Evangelical beliefs which went against my core values, beliefs that I had carried with me from my youth, and that I believed in my very soul.

    But none of those things you mention are core Evangelical beliefs. I keep being under the impression that your experience as an Evangelical was really bizzare and atypical.

  8. “But none of those things you mention are core Evangelical beliefs. I keep being under the impression that your experience as an Evangelical was a really bizzare and atypical.”

    Well, Kullervo, I would just very respectfully disagree with you on that. That quote I made previously, about the Evangelical belief in the purpose of life is to “Glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That is VERY Evangelical. It carries over into every aspect of an Evangelical’s life, and affects their worldview and all the decisions they make. In the book, “American Prophet the story of Joseph Smith,” there is a quote that says, “Mormonism succeeded because of the failure of other religions.” It goes on to say (I have to paraphrase now) that people wanted to get right with God, to live a better life than they were living. The typical Christianity of the day just said that wherever you were in life, you just had to put up with it, because that was God’s will. Mormonism offered an alternative: “Come with us. Get right with God, and live a better life.”
    I do agree with you about the concept of the Morvangelical. But in practice, it is impossible to live as a Morvangelical in the Evangelical world, because Evangelicals will deny your conversion experience, and your faith in Jesus.

  9. Even though conversion isn’t a purpose of this blog, attempted conversions are going on around us all the time–by both sides. Over the years, I have really begun to question whether or not it is really realistic for Evangelicals to expect large numbers of LDS and other Restoration people to convert. The same thing can be said for the LDS side. All the talk on this blog, whether we admit it or not-the idea of potential conversion is always going to be there in the background. Any talk of unity or dialogue between Evangelical and LDS–I believe in it, but the Evangelicals want to make converts ultimately. I would assume it is the same for LDS.
    There was a statistic quoted several months ago about the counter-cult movement’s success rate in converting LDS. I can’t remember the exact number, but it seemed extremely high- of the number of people who deconverted from the LDS church, but who ended up athiests. If I were a counter-cult person, I would feel deeply ashamed of this statistic, and would want to do something about it. I even recall one person posting on this blog that it didn’t matter because: “The LDS weren’t really worshipping Jesus anyway, so it doesn’t matter–they were always going to Hell, so nothings changed. I just think this is the most heartless and cold-blooded attitude, and I have to ask myself, “Is this the love of Christ?”
    The two groups, LDS and Evangelical, are so different: they can’t even agree on something as basic as the purpose of life. Again, I’m all for dialogue and getting along. I just don’t know how realistic it is.

  10. Yeah, sorry but I still don’t really think you know what you’re talking about, Lisa.

  11. Well, that’s your right. But I’m a million times happier being who I am and believing what I believe, than I ever would be as an athiest. I think that, for me, would be a fate worse than death.

  12. Thanks for the kind post, Seth. I can certainly say that I worded my parts of How Wide the Divide? to try to represent both the theological unity and diversity in our movement. Stephen made it clear at several points when he was taking views that were not held by all or even most LDS but that he perceived to be growing in acceptance.

    There are quite a few other key players, even if most haven’t published on the topic. Beginning with no later than the Ravi Zacharias talk in the Mormon Tabernacle in 2004, the General Authorities from (then) President Hinckley have been aware of our numerous private dialogues. Any official clarifications from official Church Leaders, especially concerning doctrines not explicitly stated in the LDS canonical works, would be of great help to all of us in both communities, even if no formal council like Vatican II were ever convened. And they are very much aware of Rich’s article and desires.

  13. I took a class from Stephen Robinson in which he said, “I’ve finally convinced Craig Blomberg that I’m a Christian, but he’s still not sure about the rest of you people.”

    Does that mean that Robinson is a Morvangelical?

  14. The problem is that Mormons and Evangelicals both think of themselves as “fruit,” while substituting definitions for “sphere” and “blue”

    In other words, Mormons and Evangelicals fail to understand each other because they fail to understand themselves, but only because they don’t realize that their own parameters for self-definition are idiosyncratic. Thus, naively, they each look at each other–and everyone else–through their own self-definition lens.

    Mormons look at other Churches and evaluate them in organizational and hierarchical terms: does the church claim authority and what is its source? where does doctrine come from?

    Evangelicals look at other Christians and evaluate them based on theological propositions: what is the Church’s doctrine about x?

    And thus they completely misunderstand each other, not because they don’t understand themselves, but because they don’t realize that their own schema isn;t universally applicable.

  15. in my sunday school experiences, i have heard claims preceded with “well this is not doctrine, but…” more than i have heard anybody purport to make solid claims. (and when they do the latter, i usually find myself thinking “no. that’s not doctrine.”

    for a church that so often uses the rhetoric of possessing the ‘true doctrine’ (with the occasional rhetoric of excluding those who go against this ‘true doctrine’), nobody seems to know what exactly this ‘true doctrine’ is. and when somebody claims to know (whether lay or in the hierarchy) there is always a counter-claim or reason to doubt it’s claim of being true doctrine.

  16. Well, you’re not the first one to realize this, or to become completely exasperated by it.

    And it’s one of the reasons that Evangelicals continuously misunderstand Mormonism.

  17. Lisa, as an evangelical I am very sorry for your experience. But I do think your points bring up a good distinction between beliefs and experience. If you have wrong beliefs, but a good experience, is that better than having right beliefs and a bad experience? Ideally, we would want both, of course.

    For example, if you were on a plane about to crash into the ocean, does it matter that you have creamer in your coffee or a parachute? The creamer might make your experience on the plane better for the moment, but ultimately I’d rather take the parachute.

    If evangelicals are correct in their beliefs (and I use the word “if”), then does it matter what our experience is with evangelicals? What will save you in the end? Correct beliefs or a happy life?

    I belong to a very fine, accepting, grace-filled, evangelical church. Are we flawed, yes. Do we fight sometimes, yes. But we love and are happy. The evangelical purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever doesn’t seem sad to me, but happy. “Enjoy” Sounds like the experience you had didn’t have joy in it. I don’t think that is normal though.

  18. Josh, I still believe in the Bible as God’s word, and I still believe that salvation is by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone. My position on the Bible is very similar to that of my husband, a United Methodist. He is a lifelong United Methodist Christian, but he is not a born again Evangelical. My marriage to him is an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the Evangelicals that I was associating with. I agree with the opinions of some LDS I have read, that it is impossible to be truly happy and fulfilled in life without having children or a family. I agree with the LDS in the importance of marriage and the family, but not for the same reasons. For me, it has nothing to do with eternal progression or celestial marriage. (I am born 5th generation RLDS, we do not believe in such things.) But there is nothing in the RLDS worldview that says that God wills people to be single, that it is an acceptable path in life. Lifelong singleness is a tragedy, like getting a terrible disease. I wasn’t able to make the change, I couldn’t think of it the way the Evangelical women around me did. It was important for me to get married, or at least try to find someone. The minute I looked outside the Evangelical world, I found someone, someone who met my highest ideals. I was not going to throw away a chance at happiness because of how some Evangelicals choose to interpret the Apostle Paul. And I have no regrets. It worked out better for me anyway. Can’t really see myself married to an Evangelical now anyway. To the Evangelicals I was around, “Glorifying God and enjoying Him forever” meant that I was supposed to be happy in Christ alone, even if I never married or had children. Think about it. All my family is RLDS, according to EV’s, they’re all going to hell. I have no family or children on earth, so I’m lonely here. What do I do when I get to heaven, then? To me, it was nothing to look forward to at all. I hated my life. Then one day, I found my way to an LDS ward. I met friends there. They helped me get back on my feet. Part of me really wanted to join, but I couldn’t, because deep down, I don’t believe LDS doctrine. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the LDS people tho–for picking me up when I was down. I had a dream while I was attending that ward. I saw myself with my daughter. I didn’t even know my future husband then. I’ve never had a dream like that, not before or since. Having dreams and spiritual experiences is very important in RLDS life, but I’d never had any growing up. I was at a crossroads in my life. I was considering going back to the Evangelicals before I had that dream. Looking back on it now, I believe God sent me that dream to give me hope and courage to stay on the right track. My LDS friend thought surely my dream meant I would join the church and have a child under the covenant. I was sorry to disappoint them, but I just couldn’t do it, as much as I loved them. It wouldn’t have been honest, and I know LDS value honesty above all. I have emailed the historian Jan Shipps once. She was kind enough to reply to me. She told me that there were MANY like me, people who are in the no man’s land between the LDS and Evangelicals. People who, although not comfortable with LDS beliefs, are also not comfortable worshipping anywhere except an LDS ward, or in my case CoC. She is quite a well known scholar of LDS history, and she is also a United Methodist.
    It is eight years since that dream, and the daughter I dreamed about is now sleeping in her bed in the next room, and I will always be grateful to God for bringing me through that part of my life. But I have no intention of ever going back to the Evangelicals.

  19. Thank you for your response Craig. It’s been a while since I read “How Wide the Divide?” But it was a real eye-opening experience for me and is probably one of the main reasons I’m here on this blog. I’ll have to revisit it sometime. Currently, I’m working through “Claiming Christ” by Millet and McDermott, so I don’t know when I’ll have time, but…

    I can appreciate the desire for a bit more theological clarification from “the Brethren” in Salt Lake. But I think it should be noted that – in my own opinion – our Church is at its best when it is not on the road to orthodoxy. I don’t claim any particular authority for this view, nor do I ascribe it to anyone but myself. But I think there is a real strength in Mormonism’s status as a living and evolving theological work-in-progress.

    I think our faith ought to be in the business of opening doors, not shutting them.

    Admittedly, this is a deucedly uncomfortable position. You never quite reach the point of where you can feel like “yes, these are the bounds of God’s doctrine.” It also gives many of our critics ammunition as they attack the lack of certainty to be found in certain corners of Mormon doctrine. But ambiguity is the hallmark of an adult life. Certainty is something I haven’t had since high school.

    While I mourn the loss of innocence there, I have also come to accept a little uncertainty as the cost of truly living in a world full of ideas. I feel similar to Joseph Smith when he asserted:

    “I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled.” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 5:340)

    Mormonism should not be a religion at rest theologically, I think. I’d rather not see our leadership in the business of shutting the doors to heaven. If that means a bit of theological discomfort for me, so be it.

    Just my own raw opinion.

  20. But then again, perhaps I’m misunderstanding you.

    It would be interesting to see some examples of “doctrinal clarifications” you would like from LDS leadership.

  21. Seth, thanks for the post. I think you point out some key issues. Realizing these problems is one of the reasons I try to focus on core doctrines. It’s really not important to me that we agree on predestination, baptizing for the dead, degrees of glory, wine/water for communion, total immersion, or a host of other issues (that Evangelicals may even disagree on). What’s really getting in between us is what I think we need to be talking about.

    I will admit to a nagging guilty feeling on occasion that I’m just using Tim’s blog as a personal spiritual redefinition project.

    Feel no guilt at all. I think this whole blog is a spiritual definition project for everyone. What is a Mormon? What is an Evangelical? What is a Christian? What does it mean to know the Father and the Son?

    Kullervo, I think you pointed out an excellent distinction that Mormons look for authority and Evangelicals look for theological distinctions. I’d like to point out that the need for authority is a theological question itself. As much as I think Mormons would like to distance themselves from theological definition they are bound to them just as all men are.

    Lisa, I’ll readily admit that if you were run over by an Evangelical concept in excess and I can imagine how it might happen in a denomination or a local congregation. But I don’t think your experience is universal or core to all Evangelicals by any means (I can hardly imagine someone saying that marrying someone outside of a specific denomination is being unequally yolked). I also think from reading your post over the last 6 months or so that you hold the propensity of running concepts to excess all by yourself and don’t really need anyone’s help. I think in general that you might need to be aware that you sometimes choke on the bone while sucking the marrow. (just the perception of some guy typing on the internets)

  22. Mormonism should not be a religion at rest theologically, I think. I’d rather not see our leadership in the business of shutting the doors to heaven. If that means a bit of theological discomfort for me, so be it.

    Just my own raw opinion.

    Seth I wonder how you align your notion of Mormon ambiguity with your respect for Boyd K. Packer? Especially given his involvement in the excommunication of Mormon intellectuals in the mid-90s.

  23. Kullervo, I think you pointed out an excellent distinction that Mormons look for authority and Evangelicals look for theological distinctions. I’d like to point out that the need for authority is a theological question itself. As much as I think Mormons would like to distance themselves from theological definition they are bound to them just as all men are.

    And I think you’re still doing exactly what I said Evangelicals do.

    I’m not really talking about “authority” necessarily. I’m saying that Mormon self-identity comes from membership in an organization, and Evangelical self-identity comes from shared belief in a set of theological propositions.

    Theology is important to Mormons, but primarily because it is a marker for organizational membership. They may say “we’re Mormons because we believe x,” but what they really mean is “we believe x because we are Mormons.” Ditto for things like the Word of Wisdom: they’re important (from an identity definition standpoint) because they’re the things that members of the organization do.

    Likewise, Evangelicals are also concerned about organizational membership, but only inasmuch as religious organizational membership is a proxy for belief in a given set of theological propositions.

    Mormons are concerned with authority primarily because of its implications for membership in the organization. Yes, it has huge theological ramifications, but I woudl argue that the theological question is actually separate from the organization question.

  24. Tim said:

    I can hardly imagine someone saying that marrying someone outside of a specific denomination is being unequally yoked.

    I can, very easily.

    Like Lisa, I didn’t have a good experience as an evangelical. As narrow-minded and judgmental as many Mormons are, I’ve seen just as bad (and worse) among evangelicals. (I’m not saying that’s the majority in either case.)

    I once had a good friend who spent about a year trying to figure out if she should marry someone. Her problem was that she believed in eternal security and he didn’t, so according to her reckoning, be believed in salvation by works. To her, that was a deal-breaker. He ended up converting to her way of thinking before they married.

  25. Yeah, Mormonism does sort of act more like an ethnicity than a religion sometimes doesn’t it?

    Well, I’m trying to parse my words very carefully here, because I’m not talking about just group membership. All religions deal with group identity, and Evangelicals are no exception.

    What I’m trying to say is that in Mormonism, membership in the group is primarily defined by membership in a particular organization, whereas membership in the Evangelical group is primarily defined by professiong belief in theological propositions.

    I’m trying to delineate between “group” and “organization,” and I’m not sure if I’m doing a great job.

  26. kullervo: I think you said it very clearly here:

    I’m saying that Mormon self-identity comes from membership in an organization, and Evangelical self-identity comes from shared belief in a set of theological propositions.

    Theology is important to Mormons, but primarily because it is a marker for organizational membership. They may say “we’re Mormons because we believe x,” but what they really mean is “we believe x because we are Mormons.”

    Let me emphasis that last bit: “we believe x because we are Mormons.”

    There’s a deep paradox that exists within Mormonism. On the one hand, we believe x because we are Mormon; i.e., religion is everything. In fact, a certain way of looking at Mormon belief is that the LDS Church, by virtue of being the sole source of the priesthood, stands as a gate to salvation for everyone. We might say, “If you aren’t baptized into the LDS Church in this life, we’ll get you in the next!” Again, religion is everything.

    But on the other hand, we have this strong sense of individual religion—one of the most important messages from Joseph’s vision is that the individual can go to God directly. Then we have the teaching that it is really the family that matters eternally; the church hierarchy doesn’t even exist in heaven. In other words, I belong to the Church of Me and My Wife, not the LDS Church.

  27. Mormonism with regard to the priesthood could be compared to a religious order or fraternal organization. A group of people who make certain specific commitments and covenants within a certain organization. In this way we are similar to the Masons but more focused on religion. Mormons define themselves by their covenants, your level of Mormonism is often determined by your fidelity to certain constructions of covenant responsibilities. Of course Mormonism has also acted like an ethnicity because of the cultural accoutrements that have grown around the tight knit group. (I know complete non-believers who still consider themselves Mormon because of this) However, I think those cultural connections fade a bit with members of the church across national, ethic, and cultural lines.

    I would imagine that, as Lisa points out, there is more to being Evangelical that simple ascent to certain religious propositions. I think the Evangelical Manifesto seems to indicate there is more to it than that. I don’t know that the theoretical Mormon Evangelical could really exist. Maybe Tim would be able to give us more insight on whether this is possible from his perspective.

  28. I would imagine that, as Lisa points out, there is more to being Evangelical that simple ascent to certain religious propositions.

    I never said that’s al there was to being an Evangelical, but that it’s the primary marker of being “in the group.”

  29. Trying to define “evangelical” is like that game we played in the pool with a vasline coated watermellon back in my youth group days-everytime you thought you had it the darn thing slid out of your arms! Using an LDS term, I have a testimony of the Spirit-I believe there will be plenty of suprises when we get to heaven! Some evangelicals won’t be there and some LDS will be. A saving faith in Jesus is a simple thing really-my wife is a special ed teacher and the children in her class may not be able to argue the finer points of theology-but they love God and they know Jesus died for them. In the end-that is enough.

  30. Tim, sorry you didn’t like my post. But if a noted historian like Jan Shipps says that I am not alone, that my experience is not unique, and that there are others like me, then I think I’ll take her word for it over yours. And I have one question that I would like for you to please answer. I have said time and time again that my husband is NOT a born again Christian. He has never had a born again experience. He freely admits this. He doesn’t believe in them–well, he believes in them but he calls them “peak” experiences and says that they can happen in a variety of contexts, not simply religious. You could have one climbing a mountain, for example. So, according to the “standards” that I always thought Evangelicals held, my husband is not a Christian. Doesn’t matter if he’s a member of a certain church. Doesn’t matter that he’s read his Bible every day since college (he’s in his fifties now) doesn’t matter that he prays every day. He has not prayed the “prayer of salvation” he has not “given his life over to Christ” in the sense that Evangelicals always talk about. He had believed since childhood, and he has always followed, but he doesn’t follow the Evangelical rules for how life ought to be lived–attends church only when he wants to. So, tell me, have Evangelicals relaxed their standards so that you don’t have to “come to Jesus” “believe in the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God” and attend fellowship every Sunday? If so, this is news to me.

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