Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

Forgive the provocative title.

Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.

After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In John, Jesus gives this definition:

34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)

Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :

John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.

So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.

It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?

So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?


Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:

As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.

An inside LDS Perspective on this Topic from David Haight

and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)

Another tangent:
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?

A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian:

Parchment & Pen

64 thoughts on “Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

  1. Pingback: Am I really a Christian? are you? « Guide for My Perplexity

  2. Even Satan has a theologically correct view of the Trinity.

    He’s a very orthodox fellow. Which is why I don’t tend to prize orthodoxy all that highly.

  3. I agree with you Jared. There is so much more to being a Christian than a simple confession of the mouth. There are a great many who cry “Lord Lord” who do not know Him by word or deed.

    This, in particular, is why when I discuss the heresy found in the Mormon church I do not focus on the heresy of individual Mormons (or Evangelicals for that matter). Instead I’m interested to know if the organization and its teachings line up with the Bible and historic Christianity. To find individuals who are off base on any number of theological concepts is like fishing in a barrel (no matter what kind of fish you want to hook).

    BUT to say that actions matter does not negate the fact that ideas matter as well. Right actions come out of right belief. One action that I think we can assume true believers will do is to study the words of Christ and the Bible (as you are doing) and try earnestly to come to as good an understanding of Him as possible, throwing off all false prophets along the way.

    Seth brings up an excellent point, that Satan has a correct understanding of the nature of God (roughly). Satan knows God, but knowledge of God is nothing in and of itself. The desire to submit to His will defines a true follower. But how can someone choose to follow God’s will if they do not first know who He is in some way? How can they know his will all the more deeply if they do not get to know Him all the more deeply?

    Is listening to a false prophet the way to know God and do His will more deeply (for you or for me)?

  4. I don’t really believe in heresy. I think that the doctrine expressed in the Gospels basically makes the concept irrelevant. Either you follow Jesus or you don’t. What you think he is is not particularly important. If you follow him you will know if he is from God. If you don’t, you will be building your life on a sandy foundation as far as he is concerned, no matter what your faith is. Its hard for me to see how “historic” Christianity matters, i.e. the orthodoxy that ultimately prevailed 100-200 years or so after after Jesus lived. Based on my understanding of how the bible came about and the basis of inspiration, people have the tools to write new scripture now that is more inspiring than what was put down 1900 years ago.

    I think the Jesus of John 14 teaches this very powerfully:

    15″If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

    i.e. the Spirit of Truth is going to be with those who follow the New Commandment (Love as he loved)

    Jesus Continues:

    21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
    Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”
    Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. “

    Those who “keep his Word” will dwell with God and will be guided by him. I think following any “prophet” true or false can distract you from following the teachings of Jesus. I think the prophet you follow is not particularly relevant if you, at the same time, put into practice the teachings of Jesus.

    (By my estimation, Joseph Smith appears as inspired as any Biblical author I have read. I think that even if he was heretical, if you follow his teachings in D&C 121 and put into practice the Sermon on the Mount, you are going to be a Christian and will be entitled to have God dwell with you. )

  5. “…I’m interested to know if the organization and its teachings line up with the Bible and historic Christianity.”

    Well, I’ve heard many people tell me that the whole Evangelical insistence on the Bible being “infallible and inerrant,” on having a “born again experience,” and a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ are new ideas, things that have only come about in the last hundred years or so. According to their view, these ideas are not a part of historic Christianity. As far as whether or not these ideas are in alignment with the Bible, that would depend on how you are interpreting the Bible.

    “Right actions come out of right belief.”

    What you are not saying to the LDS on this blog, but what I know Evangelicals believe (at least I was taught this as an Evangelical) is that, without the “right” belief system in place, it is impossible to produce “right” actions. (where “right” is defined as actions that are pleasing to God) Any good deed that any non Christian person does is useless, because they do not have the correct belief. I can’t agree with this anymore. Suppose you have a Buddhist person, who favors the teachings of Jesus Christ as he pursues enlightenment. (My Buddhist friend has told me that Jesus is considered a “Buddha”) He lives a simple live, giving most of his money and volunteering his time to the poor. When he dies, he leaves his entire estate to help build an orphanage/hospital for Rwandan children. Now, according to EV’s, he will burn in Hell, and all his works were useless.

    But were they—really?

    Why don’t you ask the people he helped all his life, and also the Rwandan children who were fed, clothed, educated, and got medical treatment because of him? Even though his works were insufficient for salvation according to the Evangelical view, if you look at it another way, his works have eternal significance. He chose of his own free will to do them because he loved Jesus Christ above all other possible examples of enlightenment his religion offered him.

    Right now, I’m pondering whether or not the “fact” that he is burning in the Evangelical Hell says more about the character of the Evangelical God than it does this man’s personal devotion to Jesus.

  6. One scriptural passage you (Jared C.) could have mentioned is the parable of the sheeps and the goats in Matthew 25.

    What Jesus seems to be saying there is that those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked are the ones who will have eternal life, and those who don’t won’t.

    He doesn’t say that only those who accept him as their personal savior (or, for that matter, who participate in all the ordinances of the LDS church) are the ones who have eternal life. He doesn’t even say you have to know who he is. He doesn’t even say anything about faith being involved — in this passage, it’s pure works.

    Of course, everything has to be looked at in context, and this passage obviously isn’t the only thing the scriptures say about soteriology. But, clearly, Jesus here is saying at the very least the right actions are a big part of what it means to obtain eternal life.

  7. Jared C wrote:

    “From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included…”

    That is how I view it, too.

    A Christian is a person who obeys the commandments and has faith in Jesus Christ, who was/is God.

    There is a misconception that Jesus Christ did away with the commandments (often called the Ten Commandments) when he was died for are sins. The law of Moses was ended, not the commandments of God when Jesus Christ died on the cross.

    The Ten Commandments were spoken in God’s own voice DIRECTLY to all the people of Israel, Exodus 19:19, 20:1, Deuteronomy 4:12,33,36, 5:4,22,24. These are called the “commandments”. When Paul wrote about the “law”, he was referring to the Law of Moses, which is the ADDED statutes and ordinances about unclean foods, animal sacrifices, and so forth, that were given INDIRECTLY through Moses.

    Paul wrote that the ADDED law was to last only “til the seed should come to whom the promise was made”, namely Jesus Christ:

    Ezekiel 20:24-25
    24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had
    despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and
    their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.
    25 Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good,
    and judgments whereby they should not live;

    Galatians 3:19
    19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of
    transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the
    promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand
    of a mediator.

    Note carefully that the “law” was ADDED because of TRANSGRESSION against the Ten Commandments. It was ADDED until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and then it was removed. But the “commandments” remain.

    What Paul taught is more plain from this version of his teaching:

    Acts 13:16,39
    16 Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said,
    Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience.
    … 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all
    things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of

    Paul wrote at a time when the problem was convincing people that the Law of Moses had been ended, and convincing them that atonement by animal sacrifices had been replaced with atonement by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But Paul did NOT teach that the Ten Commandments had been ended, but rather he affirmed them. For example:

    Romans 13:9
    9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not
    kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false
    witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other
    commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying,
    namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Ephesians 4:28
    28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him
    labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that
    he may have to give to him that needeth.

    Ephesians 6:1-3
    1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is
    2 Honour thy father and mother; which is the first
    commandment with promise;
    3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long
    on the earth.

    1 Corinthians 7:19
    19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing,
    but the keeping of the commandments of God.

    Paul continued to cite the Ten Commandments, without the least hint that they were “done away” or “abolished”.

  8. I agree.

    Jesus himself scrupulously kept the Law of Moses.

    The TRUE Law of Moses that is. He felt free to ignore the misguided additions of the scribes and Pharisees. But the original LAW, in its original intent… he kept it quite well.

  9. I believe that Christians are those who believe in Christ and do his will.

    However, if you’re trying to distinguish between those who truly are Christians and those that aren’t, lets go back to the scriptures. It’s really quite simple just as the Savior said: “by their fruits ye shall know them.” -as it states in Matthew 7:20.

    Have you ever been around someone who just makes you feel good? You just love being around them because they make you feel good. You can’t help but to love them. You may not even know them very well, but there is definately a glow about them.

    On the other hand, have you ever been around someone who doesn’t make you feel good. It could even be the guy in front of you in line at a gas station. You just don’t get a good feeling. It could be some one you know who always leaves you with a not so good feeling, or “bad fruit”, bitter tasting.

    I believe that a true Christian would be someone who loves all men, just as Jesus Christ. He would not see this religion, or that, he would see sons and daughters of God. He would love all of them, and they would know it, because they feel it. He would not stir them up to anger, but love them and serve them.

  10. A Christian is a person who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ taught his followers to obey his commandments. The commandment to love your neighbor is only one of those commandments. It is not listed along with the other nine commandments in the Bible.

    Jesus Christ taught his disciples: “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This was not a new commandment.

    Leviticus 19:18
    18 … thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: …

    The historian Josephus confirms that the Jews had developed
    a superstition about not writing the commandments in their

    Antiquities of the Jews
    Book III, Chapter V, Section 4
    … And they all heard a voice that came to all of them
    from above, insomuch that no one of these words escaped
    them, which Moses wrote on two tables; which it is not
    lawful for us to set down directly, but their import we will

    The following was translated into the English language from metal plates by James J. Strang, who was Joseph Smith’s legal successor:

    “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: thou shalt not revile him, nor speak evil of him, nor curse him: thou shalt do no injustice unto him; and thou shalt maintain his right, against his enemy: thou shalt not exact rigorously of him, nor turn aside from relieving him: thou shalt deliver him from the snare and the pit, and shalt return his ox when he strayeth: thou shalt comfort him when he mourns, and nurture him when he sickens: thou shalt not abate the price of what thou buyest of him, for his necessity; nor shalt thou exact of him, because he leaneth upon thee: for in so doing thousands shall rise up and call thee blessed, and the Lord thy God shall strengthen thee in all the work of thy hand.”

  11. John 7

    Does a person have to believe that Jesus is more than just a good man to be a Christian (v. 12)?

    May a person believe that Jesus acts independently from the Father and maintain a Christian label (v. 16)?

    May a person believe that Jesus is not altogether eternally righteous and be a Christian (v. 18)?

    Can one believe in Jesus, deny the existence of a Father, and be a Christian (v. 28)?

    Can one deny Jesus’ preexistence and be a Christian (v. 28)?

    Can one deny that Jesus is the ultimate Prophet and still be a Christian?

    Can one deny Jesus’ glorification and still be a Christian (v. 39)?

    And then we get in to John 8 . . .

    Can one deny that Jesus is the great “I AM” and be a Christian?

    And so forth . . .

    I don’t know how one can divorce biblical propositional truth from right and necessary Christian living.

  12. And yes, for those who do not want to follow the will of Christ, what kind of sheep are they?

    True sheep have a double mark . . . the submissive ear (they hear) . . . and the submissive foot (they follow) – John 10.

  13. Todd,

    I think a Christian does not have to believe in those specific propositions in order to be a Christian.

    My argument is that there is only one requirement to be a disciple of Christ, i.e. endeavoring to put Christ’s words into practice and by loving one another.

    The reason why “propositional truth” is not important is that Christ promises that you WILL have an understanding of the essential propositional truth if you will endeavor to do his will and obey that commandment.

    How do you get the understanding? –> God himself comes and dwells with you.

    If you don’t endeavor to keep his commandments, arguably you will be blind to the supernatural understanding that is mentioned in John 7.
    2 Peter seems to be talking about the supernatural understanding that seems to be all that matters:

    “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

    (5)For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

    (8)For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. ”

    It seems that, according to the bible, the “knowledge” comes from “Divine Power” rather than assent to a theological proposition. The prerequisite for knowledge is not having the correct understanding of the Trinity or even the bible, but to endeavor to practice christian virtue.

    So, in short, if the Gospel of John is, in fact, true and reliable, I don’t think you have to agree with any “propositional” truth, including those propositions contained within the passages themselves, since supernatural understanding will sort everything out. If you are a devoted follower of the commandments of Jesus, I think you will have all of the knowledge you need to be fruitful. I think that according to the Bible, if you have correct knowledge that does not make you fruitful, it simply doesn’t matter to God.

  14. Tim said: ” Right actions come out of right belief”

    I think Jesus is saying that right belief (or understanding) only comes out of right actions.

  15. Jared, I think you’re reading this passage of John in a vacuum without context to the religion and culture Jesus was talking to and without the voice of the rest of the New Testament.

    You’ve found a passage to confirm your bias and have neglected the rest of it.

  16. I have listed several passages in John and I may be reading this in a contextual vacuum (I am a 21st century lawyer not a first century Jewish peasant) But I am a bit puzzled with the accusation:

    What is my bias? I am happy to give it up if it is hindering my capacity to understand the truth.

    What does an unbiased interpretation John 14:21 look like?

    What do these passages really mean if not what they clearly appear to mean to me?

    What part of the “rest of it” is inconsistent with my interpretation?

  17. He means confirmation bias. In other words, you know what the answer is “supposed to be,” so you give greater weight to evidence that supports your preconceptions or pre-convictions, and ignore or minimize evidence that undermines your existing beliefs. We all do it.

  18. by “rest of it” I mean other passages from the Gospels and New Testament.

    I’m not saying that this passage is wrong by any means. I’m saying it’s a part of a larger teaching, not the whole of the teaching. The message of Jesus is not summed up in the Book of John.

  19. Kullervo,

    I understand. Sure, we all have bias, but I don’t really know how its “supposed” to be. I mean, I don’t even have any evidence for my point of view except what is written in the Gospels, which are fourth or fifth hand quotes from Jesus.

    My bias is probably against theological orthodoxy in general (both Mormon and Evangelical). But the “bias” and “vaccuum” allegations are the classic hermeneutical red herring. Without a counter-interpretation demonstrating the bias and the proper context its simply saying “you’re wrong”.

    Regardless of my bias, I think the overarching question is, are these promises attributed to Jesus reliable and are they only reliable if you have a “correct” understanding of who Jesus was vis-a-vis God. If they are reliable regardless of what you believe, doesn’t that turn the current “who is really Christian” debate on its head?


    You said: “The message of Jesus is not summed up in the Book of John.”

    Really? Wasn’t that the entire point of the book, i.e. to sum up the message of Jesus. The author conceivably could have written a lot more of what he said, and admitted as much, but chose not too.

    But, regardless of whether or not the entire message is found in these passages. I am really trying to understand this particular message. What should we make if it? (Found in John, 2 Peter, Matthew, arguably in the epistles of Paul as well). I am very open to be shown that I got it wrong and how.

  20. I want to give you a good answer but I’m buried. Writing up a worthwhile answer is about #15 on my list right now, but I’ll get to you as soon as I can.

  21. I believe the Anglican (and a fundamentalist). . .

    has a good answer when he concludes at the end of his essay:

    “But orthodoxy must not be dissevered from orthopraxy. Maclaren, of Manchester, tells us, in one of his charming volumes, that he once heard a man who was of a very shady character, but was sound on the atonement. But what on earth is the good of being sound on the atonement if the atonement does not make you sound? Anyone who reads his New Testament or understands the essence of apostolic Christianity must understand that a mere theoretic acceptance of the atonement, unaccompanied by a penetration of the life and character of the principles of Jesus Christ, is of no value whatever. The atonement is not a mere formula for assent; it is a life principle for realization. In that we agree with Goldwin Smith. But is it not a fact that, wherever the atonement is truly received, it generates love to God, and love to man; evokes a hatred and horror of sin; and offers not only the highest incentive to self-sacrifice, but the most powerful dynamic for the life of righteousness?

    “To the soul that beholds the Lamb of God, and finds peace through the blood of the cross, there comes a sense of joyous relief, a consciousness of deep satisfaction, that is newness of life.

    “Yes, a Christianity that is merely a system of morals, and the best only of natural religions, is not worth preserving. A Christianity without a Christ Divine, an atonement vicarious, and a Bible inspired, will never carry power. A devitalized Gospel, a diluted Gospel, an attenuated Gospel, will conceive no splendid program, inspire no splendid effort. It never did produce a martyr; it never will. It never inspired a reformer, and it never will. The two religious poverties of the day, a lost sense of sin, and a lost sense of God, are simply the result of this attenuated Socinianism that is becoming so prevalent. No minister of Christ has any right to smooth off the corners of the cross. At the same time, a Christianity that is merely orthodoxy, or an orthodoxy clasped in the dead hand of a moribund Christianity, is one of the greatest of curses. A Church that is only the custodian of the great tradition of the past, and not the expression of a forceful spiritual life; a Christian who is simply conserving a traditional creed, and not exemplifying the life of the living God, is a cumberer of the ground. A dead Church can never be the exponent of the living God, for the test of every religious, political or educational system, after all, as Amiel says, is the man it forms (Amiel, p. 27).


    This is historic, fundamental Christianity.

  22. No, problem :-), I look forward to your thoughts if, or whenever, you have time to put them down.


    I like the quote. I am not arguing that the Jesus of John and Matthew is telling us that what you believe doesn’t matter. There are clearly a lot of strong claims he is making, and lots of points he is making about this life and the next. What I am saying is that the best/only way to understanding what Jesus was trying to say, to really be enlightened, you have to tap into the power that he promises in these passages. He is clearly talking about a something supernatural, not simply a code of ethics.

    I like what is said because it seems to provide both a method of verification of the doctrine as well as a path to enlightenment that can be tested through practice.

    Jesus was saying these things in a time of intense theological debate about critical issues, including whether or not there was a resurrection or afterlife. Life was dominated by theological standards, creeds, laws, interpretations. I don’t think they ever stopped. You can see the differences in the gospels themselves, through comparing the message of Mark vs. John etc.

    I think why I think these passages are critical is that Jesus is shown lifting the discussion above the debate about the law, by distilling the law and pointing to to a practical, l concrete way of settling the questions in the minds of his disciples.

    The fact that there is not a focus on creeds with regard to discipleship I think should be instructive to us today. Is there a big difference in Mormons and Evangelical arguing about the trinity and the Pharisees and Sadducee arguing about the resurrection of the dead or any number of other issues. The fact that there is little or no engagement in that sort of discussion seems to be a decent model for us.

  23. This kind of feels like a variation on the old faith v. works debate, and I can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis’s words on the matter: “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw up the sponge. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good action must inevitably come.” He goes on with those ideas, and you can read more of the context here.

    I do know that we’re not talking about raw faith v. works so much as faith in the correct theology v. works, and on that I’d like to quote what a friend of mine, JP Holding of Tekton, said to me in e-mail once: “If proper understanding of the Trinity is required for salvation, there’s going to be like, 12 people in the New Jerusalem. At least they won’t have to worry about the streets getting dirty!” Given even the accepted divisions within evangelical Christianity, such as Calvinism v. Arminianism, I find it very difficult to believe that having things wrong about Christ automatically disqualifies one from salvation. I’ve simply known too many folks who were passionate and devout followers of the Lord without ever understanding much about theology.

    I’m not saying that I don’t think theology is important, or that we should not attempt to educate and explain to others how evangelical teachings on Christ and God differ from LDS teachings on Christ and God. I am saying we should stop automatically assuming our Latter-day Saint friends are going to hell and all of the spiritual experiences they claim are null and void just because they believe in “the wrong Jesus.” If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, maybe, just maybe, it’s a duck.

  24. The oneness of trinitarian relationship is the chief topic of John’s Gospel. And it rocked the worlds of the Pharisees and Sadducees, unifying them together in murderous hatred toward the Messiah.

  25. Truly Seth.

    And how can this man be God when there is only one God to the Jews?

    And yes, there is the secondary, lovely harmonious music in John’s Gospel – how can fallen, time-bound creatures of the earth enter into this eternal trinitarian oneness?

    ClobberGirl, I just don’t know what to do with the “Christians” who say the author’s message of John’s Gospel is corrupt or full of redaction additions/glosses never intended by Jesus. This creates problems.

    Why did Joseph Smith passionately cross out key words and phrases in the Gospel itself? Ouch. He understands, and he categorically rejects, chapter after chapter on specific heart issues.

    Am I allowed to do that with his writings in 2008?

  26. Clobbergirl,

    I like what you(and C.S. Lewis) say about the issue. You are right, I am not really talking about the Faith/Works debate per se. It takes a great deal of Faith to endeavor to follow Jesus’ teachings.

    Faith is an active belief. Jesus doesn’t seem to endorse anything less. My point is that Mormons can have a passionate, active faith in Jesus and lay claim to these promises in John even if they do have a terribly mangled understanding of God. Jesus and Peter promises that God will dwell with them and make their faith in Jesus profitable and make them understand that their sins are forgiven, etc.

    My point it that the only essential theology follows from what God tells those people. Other stuff seems to not to be necessary to lay claim to the promises in Johsn.


    The same scholars that have dug up and provide “evidence” of Jesus’ resurrection also have a consensus that “John” had more than one author and probably was changed by the second (it was not originally called the Gospel of John and was almost certainly anonymous when it was written) Do you have to have a correct view of who wrote the Gospel and how to be a Christian?

    “Why did Joseph Smith passionately cross out key words and phrases in the Gospel itself? Ouch. He understands, and he categorically rejects, chapter after chapter on specific heart issues.

    Am I allowed to do that with his writings in 2008?”

    Why did he do it? probably because he thought the Author(s) got it wrong. (Just as the second author of John did) As Paul said to the Corinthians, nobody knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” I think that considering how John came to us it would make sense to revise it if the Spirit directs. Nobody is forced to believe the changes Joseph made. No Mormon thinks you are going to hell if you reject them.

    And you are allowed to do that with his writings in 2008. If the changes you make have as much spiritual credibility as what Joseph said then more power to you!

    If anybody has the same amount of contact with the spirit as the second author of John, (somebody who lived decades after Jesus) then why shouldn’t they be able to revise the story and theology if it needs correcting.

    That is really the heart of Mormonism, that God, here and now, can and is able to tell you what you really need to know. You don’t have to rely on ancient writings (or modern) since the promise of Christianity is that God is here now, with us, through his Spirit and can reveal the truth of all things.

    I think Jesus was killed because he was seen as a heretic who challenged the social order, had passionate followers, and made dramatic public statements of defiance to the political power. Its hard to say that it was pure theology that got him killed. Especially when Him dying was an integral part of God’s plan.

    I think one lesson we can take from the incident is that we should be a bit more charitable to those who are heretics. . . we may be persecuting some of the “good guys”.

  27. An aside on the authorship of the Gospel of John:

    I think wikipedia gives a good summation of current scholarship.

    See the section on Authorship.

  28. “ClobberGirl, I just don’t know what to do with the “Christians” who say the author’s message of John’s Gospel is corrupt or full of redaction additions/glosses never intended by Jesus. This creates problems.

    Why did Joseph Smith passionately cross out key words and phrases in the Gospel itself? Ouch. He understands, and he categorically rejects, chapter after chapter on specific heart issues.

    Am I allowed to do that with his writings in 2008?”

    I’m not a fan at all of Joseph Smith’s changes to the Bible, nor do I care for what I see some Latter-day Saints do today–arbitrarily decide for themselves what passages are “mistranslated” and which ones are inspired, though I think you could argue that some evangelicals have similar ways of twisting the Scripture. However, judgment on the salvation of such people I leave in the hands of God.

    Latter-day Saint appeals to textual criticism when dismissing or redacting parts of the Bible are problematic because some of the biblical passages duplicated in the Book of Mormon are condemned as interpolations by textual criticism. For example, the ending of the Gospel of Mark is quoted in Mormon 9:22-24, meaning that the interpolation must be inspired if not authentically Marcan. And if Mormons can believe interpolations are inspired, well, so can I.

  29. Clobbergirl said:

    “And if Mormons can believe interpolations are inspired, well, so can I.”

    Again, I like what you are saying on this point. I generally think that it takes a very complex explanation to, in any consistent way, explain the way scriptures come about, if you assume them to be the inspired word of God. I think the standard Evangelical and the Mormon explanation of why their scriptures are sacred is far too simple to fit with the actual facts on the ground. (i.e. the myth of eyewitnesses writing down what they heard and saw of Jesus in the Gospels, and the mystery of how Joseph got the words from the Book of Mormon. )

    I think that the message of of John can still be 100% inspired even if it is not a “documentary” account of the life and words of Jesus. Likewise, I can believe the Book of Mormon is inspired even if we find a bit of Joseph’s thought coming through in the “translation”. But I think you have to rely on a theory of revelation/inspiration to get you there in both cases. I think Mormons are further along in coming up with a reasonable theory than the Evangelicals, but I don’t think they are there yet. At least I see a lot of holes.

    The beauty of these particular passages to me, is that they provide a way for people to test the words by practice. The Jesus of John lays out a formula for enlightenment that allows even the non-believer to exercise faith and test it. (I think it dovetails into Alma’s classic sermon on Faith in the Book of Mormon (Alma.) It allows me to overlook the theoretical “proof” and go straight to something I can test by practical experiment.

    I think that Jesus here transcends the theological debate almost entirely.

  30. Yes. Evangelicals are Christians (at least their churches are Christian, if only nominally).

    Individuals amy or may not be. That’s God’s call…not ours.

    They often have a wacky self-focused, rigteousness, program going on, even unwittingly, but they do believe that Jesus was God and paid the price for our sin, and outwardly anyway, they will state that there is nothing else that nee be done to attain salvation.

    It is by God’s grace alone.

  31. Hmm, I’d forgotten I was posting here in August of last year. I can’t even remember how I found this place.

    Anyways Jared, I posted a comment at Reclaiming the Mind, but it’s awaiting moderation.

  32. theoldadam,

    You say you would like a Mormon to come and engage the discussion on your blog. But what for?

    Why do you want a Mormon over there?

    Is it so you can witness to a Mormon and try to convert him? Because I’ll be up front with you – I’m not interested in converting – months of debating with the guys at Mormon Research Ministries didn’t do it. Neither has years of debating with Evangelical bloggers either.

    Or is it so you can challenge false ideas and demonstrate to your fellow Christians how wrong Mormons are? Because I’m not interested in going over there and getting dogpiled either.

    Or is it so you can practice your witnessing techniques and hone your debate skills? I can respect this well enough, but I’m stretched a little thin at the moment and not sure I’m up for a “rumble.”

    Or is it to learn more about Mormonism and try to accurately portray it? Because judging from the comment section on that thread you linked to, the folks over there are not really interested in doing anything, except complain about how wrong Mormons are. It looked more like a group counter-cult strategy session than anything else.

    I’m not interested in wandering over their just so I can be the target dummy for a Protestant live ammo test.

  33. Seth,

    I would like a mormon to point out (using scripture) where they are right and we (those of us who question Mormon beliefs) are wrong.

    That’s all.

    It’s not my job to convert anybody.

    The folks that frequent my blog, debate amongst each other in a civil manner, and do their best to not get persona. Not that it never gets a little rough.

    If you don’t feel you would be doing any good over there, then maybe you are right.

    No problem at for me.

    I appreciate the chance to even scratch the surface on the topic.

    Thanks, Seth!

    – Steve

  34. Jared C

    Now this blog is a completely different topic. And a very interesting one at that as well. 😉

    The answer, I believe, is “Some”

    Just as much as the same answer would apply to Mormons, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, you name it.

    Why ?

    I personally believe that a “Christian”, a follower of Christ, should probably accept the following
    1) There is one God, creator of all things
    2) We are sinful, have separated ourselves from God
    3) Nothing can make us right with God, except for the blood of Christ (Substitutionary atonement)
    4) This acceptance is demonstrated in our lifestyle

    In other words, some solid orthodoxy, coupled with orthopraxy. One without the other doesn’t quite work.Evangelicals tend to stick to the first three only. Catholics tend to skip number 3 and focus on 4.

    If you just do what Christ teaches, you’re maybe a good person, an ethical person, etc but a lot of people do that, without being a Christian. And as a human we would never be able to be perfect in that as God/Christ is calling us to do. We’ll always be grumpy, annoyed, sometimes yell or partake in gossip. And that is not what God/Christ is calling us to do. We can never be perfect in this life. Hence we need something (or rather someone) to make us right with God. In His loving provision, we have Christ.

    Ultimately it’s God’s sovereign call. Matthew 7.

    There’s a famous quote I really like, yet don’t recall whose it was “I will be surprised at whom I will meet in heaven. But I will be more surprised at whom I won’t meet”.

    Some reading on this topic that has helped me and perhaps can be of assistance to others:
    Mark of a Christian, Francis Schaeffer
    Imitation of Christ, Thomas A Kempis
    On why Christ is the answer ? On the incarnation, Athanasius

    Hope this helps clarify my position Jared… I have really enjoyed the discussions here and on the other blog.

    In Him

  35. Jared

    Thanks for the link. Very interesting article. And very true (to some extent).

    There’s been a couple out there recently. Check out internet monk on the decline of the evangelical Church. MCP also commented on that iMonk article on Parchment and Pen.

    Where I think Seidel goes somewhat off track is that throughout the article Seidel almost emphasizes works more than Faith. Which is where we differ. Examplified by this quote:

    “I can live life based on a clear example, cleansed of the aspersions cast upon me by the world. To be a Christ-follower, I must give up all to follow Him and serve others in love and grace in every situation.”

    Even though this is true, it’s only partial. If it is sufficient to be made right with God to live according to Christs teachings, then my question is “How much ?”

    60% , 80 %, 99.99 % ?? Or 100 % ?? If it’s 100%, we’re all doomed since no one of us can ever do the things Christ commanded. We’re just substituting Mosaic Law with “Christ Law”. “Do this and you will be made equal with God.”

    I think the history as demonstrated in the OT made it very clear we can never be holy as He is calling us to be. He wants us to realize we can’t do it without Him. As a Holy God he demands a sacrifice for atonement where we go wrong. To atone with a Holy God, the sacrifice itself had to be Holy. Since no man is Holy….Christ couldn’t have been “just a man”. It calls for the Christ Himself to be “Holy”. And since no one is “Holy” besides God… logic tells me Christ = God.

    People claim Mark and Matthew never said this. (You did it in another post as well). It’s quite a popular statement these days, not in the least influenced by scholars like Bart Ehrman. I think it’s a wrong interpretation.
    Mark 2, Matthew9. Christ says “Your sins are forgiven”. As a Hebrew, Mark and Matthew would have known exactly what that meant. Only God can forgive sins. For Jesus to make that statement, He claimed He was God.

    I go back to my 4 items above. One without the other is like trying to sit on a four-legged chair, with one leg missing. You can claim it’s still a chair. All I’m doing is pointing out you’re missing a leg 😉

    It’s not an “either-or”, it’s all four legs combined.

    Concerning Seidel, he’s right to point out that the current evangelical Church has looked in many, many wrong places these days. Some have indeed become “a religious fanatic bent on using the government to impose my morals upon others.” Other have come to accept “Prosperity gospels”. And I do concur those are quite worrysome, not to say non-Christian.

    But let’s not throw out the Divinity of Christ and focus on works just because some “Christians” have gone down the other path.

    In Him

    PS: I’ll have some time later today and early tomorrow morning. After that, I’ll be a week in the “wilderness” camping with kids, so no computer.

  36. “Mark 2, Matthew9. Christ says “Your sins are forgiven”. As a Hebrew, Mark and Matthew would have known exactly what that meant. Only God can forgive sins. For Jesus to make that statement, He claimed He was God.”

    Does not follow.

    If God appears to me, today, and says that my friend Joe’s sins “are forgiven” and then instructs me to go and tell him so… well, that works just fine doesn’t it?

    How do you know that Matthew and Mark didn’t intend Jesus’ to be acting in exactly the same role?

    Not that I’m disagreeing with the Christ = God point you are making. But we have to be logically correct here.

  37. Seth,

    Good point… up to an extent.

    One has to look at it from the perspective of a 1st century Jew (or as much as we could) and read the entire passage.

    Making that statement in that culture was quite controversial. Only GOD can forgive sins.

    Today, if you would show up and tell me my sins are forgiven, I would ask you “How do you know ?”, “What do you mean”, etc… And then you may answer something “Well God told me so”, etc…

    If you read the entire passage in both gospels (also throw in Luke 5 for good measure), there was none of that. The immediate conclusion of the bystanders was “Blasphemy ! Only God can forgive sins !”. No questioning of “How does he know” or “What does that mean”. They knew exactly what Christ meant.

    So your point is well taken. But I’m afraid a little out of context.

    I think it’s not only logically correct, it contextually correct.

    I just found a good quote by D.A.Carson (although I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says)

    “a text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text”

    now THAT I can live with 😉

    In Him

  38. Sorry for the second post, but this may clarify.

    Good Bible exegesis is not..
    “What is my point/understanding and can I substantiate it with a passage”

    It should be
    “What was the writer’s culture, understanding and what could he have meant with the passage”

    Since a 1st century Jew’s understanding was that only God can forgive sins, or at least that is what history teaches us, the passage becomes obvious in that context.

    Our question is nowadays, “Can someone else forgive sins ?” and hence we try to find passages to substantiate that thought. It’s reading INTO the text not FROM the text.

    Hope this clarifies
    In Him

  39. If you read the entire passage in both gospels (also throw in Luke 5 for good measure), there was none of that. The immediate conclusion of the bystanders was “Blasphemy ! Only God can forgive sins !”. No questioning of “How does he know” or “What does that mean”. They knew exactly what Christ meant.

    Wrong. We can’t possibly know what the immediate conclusion of the bystanders was.

  40. The real question is, what is Mark trying to say by writing the incident the way he did. (Mark is recreating the incident, not transcribing a recording of it).

    One problem with the biblical exegesis of almost every Evangelical and every Mormon I meet is they try to interpret the Bible as a whole, and ignore the message of the individual writer, which includes their differences.

    We have to assume that Mark left stuff out for a reason. . . he was not as explicit as John about Jesus being God because he didn’t believe the same way as John.

    Although Jesus forgave sins, he didn’t say he was God, in fact many times he explicitly distinguished himself from his father.

    Its hard to believe that Matthew would have more information about what actually happened than Mark, which was the basis of the new Gospel.

  41. Bingo. Even if the gospels are authentic, and even if they are largely reliable, they were still written by authors with personal biases, and they’re not transcriptions.

  42. Kullervo,

    Thank you for the correction, yet the comment is semantics.

    Mark 2:6-7: “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

    Matthew 9:3: ” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” ”

    Luke 5:21: “21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” ”

    Granted, the words “Immediate bystanders” were chosen wrongly. Only Mark mentiones the scribes were actually sitting there. Doesn’t however negate the reaction to Jesus’ words of “Your sins are forgiven”.

    I do agree with your earlier comment that “you know what the answer is “supposed to be,” so you give greater weight to evidence that supports your preconceptions or pre-convictions”

    I hope I’m not.
    I’ve sailed an ocean of my own and have tried to stay away from pre-conceptions. Except that my journey started in the Roman Catholic church. And the conclusions I have reached on my voyage thusfar, I am willing to defend and explain. But I do welcome anyone else’s conclusion and ideas. I think it’s a never ending journey and we’ll only find out who’s right and who’s wrong on the other side. Pray we’re all right and that it doesn’t really matter 😉

    Perhaps I should start a blog of my own 😉

    In Him

  43. Thank you for the correction, yet the comment is semantics.

    Maybe you don’t really know what “semantics” means.

    I’m saying that you are drawing a pretty radical conclusion from a very specific sequence of events (and non-events), as recollected by a bystander.

    That the Bible generally happened the way it’s written down is not an unreasonable claim. That it happened specifically, word-for-word the way it was recorded is preposterous.

  44. Mick,

    I think you have it excactly right.

    The authors of Holy writ go to great lengths to tell the reader (hearer) that Jesus is God.

    Just because every jot and tittle may not fall directly from God’s own lips doesn’t mean that the story in the Bible is not true.

    It’s true all right, and it needs no extra revelation. None.

    – Steve M.

  45. “It’s true all right, and it needs no extra revelation. None.”

    Unless you are talking about the Gospel of Mark, which apparently needed extensive revision and addition by Matthew.

    Or the Gospel of John, which was revised at least twice.

    It was a long process to come up with the “crystal clear” doctrine that you swear by.

    I like the Mormon approach better because, conceptually at least, holds that the ultimate truth is found only through the Spirit.

    Of course most all Mormons I know are equally fundamentalist when it comes to reading the Bible.

  46. If you took out the Gospel of Mark, or if you took out the Gospel of John, there is still plenty in the Bible to point to Jesus as God and Jesus as the only One who will, or can save us.

    But if you start adding things that do not amplify, but detract from that, you are asking for big trouble.

    The message of the Bible is clear. A child can understand it in it’s simplicity.

    It shows us our need of a savior, and it shows us the Savior we need.

  47. Kullervo

    “Maybe you don’t really know what “semantics” means”

    Perhaps not. So would you be so kind as to explain what it means to someone who is blogging in what is not his native tongue ? Nor his secondary language as a matter of fact. The order would be Flemish, French, German and English. So I apologize if I misuse words on occasion.

    Websters tell me this:
    “the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.:”

    But all pun and vicious comments aside.

    Concerning the comments on Christ’s divinity where made by “immediate bystanders”, as I mentioned, and your reaction that that is wrong since we don’t know what the immediate bystanders thought…. I consider a “meaning or an interpretation of the words or sentence ‘immediate bystanders'”… that would for me classify it as “semantics”.

    “That it happened specifically, word-for-word the way it was recorded is preposterous”

    Not any more preposterous than claiming that Joseph Smith received his words via divine revelation ???? If God exists, and He is all powerful and all knowing.. why is it preposterous ? Perhaps not something we can grasp with a finite human mind and logic. Perhaps illogical to the finite. But perhaps not impossible.

    I guess until we find a document that dates from 70 AD and we find the missing “Q” document we’ll never agree ? And I believe Joseph Smith’s writings have gotten some “re-editing” as well or am I wrong on that ?

    Once again, I am not attacking anyone in person or discrediting their faith. I’m trying to point out what I believe.

    Are evangelicals really Christian: Some
    Are Mormons really Christian: Some

    Who will know ? God… Matthew 7… but perhaps this was edited as well and perhaps we humans can make the judgment ??? (and that last statement is meant as a joke… 😉

    In Him

  48. Michael, you can take it as a compliment that your posts were well-written enough for all of us to think English was your first language. I did anyway.

  49. Not any more preposterous than claiming that Joseph Smith received his words via divine revelation ???? If God exists, and He is all powerful and all knowing.. why is it preposterous ? Perhaps not something we can grasp with a finite human mind and logic. Perhaps illogical to the finite. But perhaps not impossible.

    If I believed that Joseph Smith received any divine revelation at all, I’m sure that would be a vicious sting.

    Impossible ≠ preposterous. Sure, it’s possible that God inspired the writer to remember things identically, word-for-word. But it’s so unlikely that unless you can point me to somewhere where God explicitly says that he does so (and “all scripture is God-breathed” doesn’t get you there by half), you’re grasping at theological straws and placing your faith in the intricacies of a text, not in god.

  50. Seth and Steve,
    Thanks for the kind words and support. Yet Seth, it has been pointed out to me (even by my American wife) that I misuse words on occasion. So feel free to point it out, lovingly 😉


    Once again, well pointed out that impossible preposterous.
    Preposterous: “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense ”
    Imposssible: “incapable of being or of occurring”

    I would say it’s possible because it’s so contrary to reason !

    I am placing my faith in God, not in the text.

    Yet somehow it’s the text that has pointed me there. Even more, it’s the only text I could find that made any sense whatsoever.

    Perhaps I’m grasping at theological straws. But I have still to find someone who can tell me that Christ is NOT God. Just because it’s preposterous, doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Just that its “Contrary to reason”.

    Do me a favor. Read “On the incarnation” by Athanasius. I’ll read it again as well this week while I’m away from the computer. Perhaps we can have a debate about that. He made a lot of sense to me.

    In Him

  51. Old Man,

    Why don’t you throw out John instead of Mark. . .

    Don’t you think if Mark thought Jesus explicitly said that he was God the Father, that he would have mentioned that in his Gospel?

  52. Jarhed,

    Matt. 1:23

    Isaiah 43:10

    Rev. 1:7,8

    You can throw out the whole Bible if you want (and replace it with made up fiction) but, in the begining was the Word.

    Jesus is that Word.

    You can believe it, or not.



  53. Jared,

    Mark said it…. as a Hebrew… trust me… he said it.

    Ask a practicing Jew today in the 21st century who can forgive sins. God alone. Via the rituals of offerings called Qorbanot. Different offerings for different sins. Since the Temple destruction and following the writing in Hosea and 1Kings, Jews have accepted repentance, prayer and good deeds as means of forgiveness. (PS Check out for information about Judaism)

    I brought this up to indicate that it’s obvious for a Jew, even today in the 21st century, on WHO can forgive sins.

    Christ saying He could is self-explanatory for a Jew.

    And please don’t go back to the editing argument. It’s been debated about the gospel of John, not about the synoptic gospels. Perhaps Q can be an argument, but until we find an extant copy, I’ll decline to accept it as an argument.

    For the three others to mention it, I would say it’s important enough to recognize.

    In Him

  54. Jared,

    It’s debated.

    He was likely Hebrew, potentially a follower of Peter. Some have suggested is the cousin of Barnabas from Acts 15. Eusebius mentions that Papias adhered to this, although we have no writing from Papias.
    It could have been written in Latin although it’s definitely Hellenistic in nature. Some scholars debate the original language would have been Greek.
    You’re correct on the geography, Rome and Antioch have been suggested as places of writing.

    Regardless of that debate. All three synoptic gospels have the same passage. And yes Mark is likely a source of the other two. But if it wasn’t important, the line would likely have been omitted from one of the two other ones. I think the gospel writers understood the importance of the claim.

    For some good information (and a ton of links) on the writings:

    It’s a lot better than wikipedia and the links will keep you busy for a while. I haven’t read all of them either 😉

    God Bless

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