Here are some thoughts that have been rolling around my head for a while. . . finally put them into a halfway coherent post:
Should theology be the focus of inter-faith discussion?
I don’t think you will hear or see the heart of most people through investigating the theology of their religious affiliation. This sort of theology is dumb because it doesn’t speak for the believer who does not fully understand and participate in a theology, and it is blind because we can’t really understand other beliefs by looking at how they compare to the the approved theology, that we don’t really fully understand. Plus, its clear that people who get a lot of things wrong about God still have powerful experiences with Him.
You are not going to really understand Mormons even if you understand all of the clever answers to tough theological questions apologists or theologians gin up. Just as I won’t understand Evangelicals by understanding their theologians’ clever answers to tough theological questions. So Evangelicals and Mormons may be looking in the wrong place if they are out to understand and not just criticize. Even the criticisms are going to miss the mark, you may have biting criticisms of a particular theology that will not apply to those who don’t fully endorse or internalize it.
Looking at theology to criticize examine a group of religious believers is like trying to understand American citizens by reading their constitutional law cases.
If you are an educated Evangelical defending/explaining your faith on the internet, my guess is that you are coming from a Protestant academic perspective where lots of clever people have come up with really clever answers to their tough theological questions for the last thousand years. I personally think Mormons will catch up, but equally, I don’t think these clever answers will really help “bridge the divide” in understanding (or theology).
From my experience, the non-theologically focused, yet devout evangelicals that I meet interact with God in ways very similar to Mormons, which causes me to look past the some of the nonsensical things found in the standard theological answer clever answers believe about God and try to understand what the heart of their religion. Which is how they practice it, and what it does to them. I never really got interested in who they worship God until I decided to forget about the theological problems. I go over it to the point that most ‘sophisticated’ theological discussion bores me to tears. Yet individual and group experiences with God are positively fascinating.
Do the religious need to put theology aside to create an environment where we can be interested enough in the non-theological things to begin to really understand each other? I tend to think so.