Last night I was able to finally attend “A Mormon and an Evangelical in Dialogue” featuring Greg Johnson and Robert Millet. The event was held at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. I was excited to go and see this event for myself and thought it was important that I finally get to attend. It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Millet for the first time. I also got to meet Sarah for the first time, who had just moved to California the day before. I enjoyed chatting with both of them after the event and getting to know them on a more personal level.
From previous reviews of the event I expected the conversation to be on the surface level of the differences between Evangelicals and Mormons. But I did not find that to be the case. The two men dove head long into authority claims, the role of grace and works in salvation, the nature of God and whether or not Mormons are Christians. Because of time constraints none of discussions could be fully developed, but I was satisfied that they at least addressed what I think are the most important distinctions.
I think the two men added a new section to their dialogue where they made predictions about the future and stated what they hoped to see from Mormons and Evangelicals in 20 years. I wasn’t taking notes so forgive me if I don’t pass on their responses with great accuracy. Johnson stated that he liked to see the LDS church clearly teaching salvation by grace alone and not by works (I’m really fuzzy about what he said so I could be totally off). Millet said that he’d like to see groups of Evangelicals and Mormons gathering together for Bible study without compromise of either of our belief systems. He specifically mentioned how great it would be to see Evangelicals and Mormons diving into the book of Romans together.
For four years I’ve been waiting to ask Dr. Millet a question and I finally got my chance in the Q&A portion of the event. I explained that in the Traditional Christian understanding our salvation is by grace alone and our works are counted toward our glorification. I wanted to know if it would be appropriate in Mormon thought to describe salvation by grace alone but exaltation by works. Seth basically asked him the same question two years ago, so I was interested to see how his response might have changed in that time.
Dr. Millet responded that it was an interesting thought but that it’s impossible to separate salvation and exaltation in that way for Mormons. He again affirmed that salvation was an individual affair but exaltation was for the entire family. He made sure to clarify what the New Testament states that works are an essential expression of faith and without them there is an evidence of a lack of faith. But as clearly as I have ever heard a Mormon state it, he said that our works have nothing to do with our salvation. I was pleased to hear him state it so straight forwardly without any nuance.
I followed up by asking him if he were given the opportunity to speak at General Conference this October if he could and would use those same words in his talk. He more than once stated that he could do so and would be happy to do so if ever given the opportunity to speak.
In a subsequent question for Dr. Millet he stated that he had no problem with the Apostles Creed and only minor difficulties with the Nicene Creed (specifically the three persons of the Trinity being one substance). He went on to explain how satisfying the idea of Social Trinitarianism was to him. This prompted a followup question. “If you have so little difficulty with those creeds, why is the word ‘abomination’ applied to them?” He agreed the word was a strong one and said that some of Joseph Smith’s responses to other churches was in light of the way Mormons had felt picked on and the way the creeds were used to divide and exclude. He clarified that the word ‘abomination’ was spoken by God but Smith’s actions and attitudes toward other churches were his own.
I was glad to attend. It wasn’t without cost for me to drive up to Santa Barbara, but it was worth my time. If you’re able to see them make this presentation I would encourage you to make the effort.