Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

Me & the Evangelicals: I grew up in Kansas, on the edge of the Bible Belt, but knew hardly anybody who was a believing Evangelical christian in the way that I was a believing Mormon.  I can only remember one kid who was a preacher’s kid who seemed as into his church as I was mine.   I was a missionary in Southern California. When I was called, I was really bummed that I had to go stateside and English speaking. But looking back it was really a great time. Lots of people to talk to, fantastic weather, and all kinds of cultures and religions, and no language to hassle with. But one thing that being a missionary here did was sour me to Evangelical Christians.  I spoke with hundreds of them about religion, and even baptized a few of them. For the most part, I was not particularly impressed with their religion. To a dyed-in-the-wool Mormon,  they had strange theology, a weird emphasis being saved, were overly political and prayed funny.  But what really turned me off was–of course– the anti-Mormon element among many Evangelical groups. I had many many lovely conversations with Evangelicals when they really opened up about their faith in their lives, but some of the most wacky, intense situations I had on my mission were with Evangelicals who seemed both afraid and aggressive toward me. I felt this sort of off-putting fear in various degrees from most Evangelicals.  My fellow missionaries and myself would often mock or deride “born-agains” for their weird behavior and absurd biblical interpretations and theology.  They were easily and happily dismissed. (Yes, I see the irony.)

So from my more mature Mormon perspective, Tim– the owner of the blog–appeared a refreshing difference. Over the years I came to find out that he is an articulate, passionate, reasoned believer who takes his religion extremely seriously yet has a lot of tolerance and a good sense of humor. I think his personal life demonstrates he has a real commitment to living as a Christian. I have met the man, and he carries a really good spirit with him.  Even though I don’t accept his theology, he strikes me an admirable disciple of the sort of Christian love that I really do believe in.  And he didn’t seem that afraid of Mormons. (For all I know most devout evangelicals are like Tim, I just wasn’t interested in getting to know them on their terms.) He definitely seems to be against the Church, but genuinely seems to care about showing Mormons something that is demonstrably precious to his life.  I think this puts him on about the same level as I was as a missionary. This made the discussion interesting and engaging.

And I think the discussion is important, even though I’m a non-believer in any recognized form of Christianity. There are things that you can learn from believers that skepticism can’t teach you. And its easier to be skeptical of words than a hug or a handshake. I’m a lawyer who studied philosophy; I can pick apart arguments, but its harder to argue with tangible Christianity in life.

So from my new perspective–that of person seeking a new way to engage in Christianity–I think that the Mormon/Evangelical discussion may be a way to discover how Christianity is working for different believers.  As my Mormon bias sheds away, I am much more interested in how each individual’s chosen brand of Christianity helps them to be better disciples of Jesus– how it transforms them or helps them transform themselves– even if they happen to be Mormon or Evangelical.  I think that the Mormons and Evangelicals here may have something to teach me– and each other— if they can look past the that I don’t/can’t seem to believe their theology and share in concrete terms what the Spirit is doing in their lives to make them better Christians.

So, for those that care to share: What advice can you give to someone like me– who is probably not interested in adopting your particular theology (no matter how correct you think it is) but wants to know what gives you the ability to love deeper and wider?  How does your surrender/devotion/prayer/faith/theology help you love others better even when it might be painful, uncomfortable, or inconvenient?  .

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24 thoughts on “Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

  1. For me, it is freedom. The freedom that Christ died to give me. Freedom from the religiosity/spirituality project…and freedom for the neighbor.

  2. Wow. Great question!
    First, my heart is gladdened and warmed by your recent “born-again sort of experience of sorts.” And I’m glad Tim has been a positive influence on you.

    In answer to your questions: I read the Bible a lot. It strengthens my faith, which in turn strengthens the power of my prayers, increases my peace, increases my love for people, increases my desire to do God’s will.

    Secondly, I pray quite a bit. This increases my peace, increases my love for people, and increases my ability to resist temptation. When I first undertook increasing my prayer time from 2-3 minutes per day to 15 minutes per day, it was extremely hard. I didn’t know how in the world I was going to fill 15 minutes. However, the next day I did it, I began to feel the Holy Spirit helping me. Thoughts started to pop into mind of things I could pray for, the words seemed to come out easier.
    Eventually I increased my prayer time to an hour per day. In the last 10 years I’ve learned to pray more as I go about my daily tasks.

    Also, praying in tongues is a big part of my prayer life. I don’t know what I’m saying but God does. The more I do it, the more I feel peace, love, and happiness, sometimes to the point of ecstasy. The more I love, the more I feel loved. You can operate the gift of tongues (supernatural languages) simply by faith. That is, by believing you can do it. If you don’t believe you can do it, meditate on the Bible verses that talk about it or find a good book about it until your faith gets to where you believe you can do it.

    Also, listening for God’s voice is a big part of what has transformed my life. If I sincerely want to know what God wants me to do, and I ask him for guidance, he gives me a sense of knowing what his will is. The more I yield to his will, the more clearly I hear his voice.
    His voice is usually a subtle urge, an impression, a sense of knowing. One minister guarantees that you will hear his voice in the form of thoughts or inaudible words if you focus on Jesus, relax, and listen for spontaneous thoughts. It works!

    Following is an example of something God/Jesus said to me. It’s a combo of thoughts, impressions, and words that came to me from the Lord:

    “You’re getting better at relaxing. Keep working on it. You can just bask in the acceptance you have in me, in the forgiveness you constantly live in because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Just relax and enjoy it. Relax and just move with the breeze of the Spirit. What you accomplish by my Spirit, and the reward for that [accomplishing something by the Spirit is in itself a reward], is just a bonus—a bonus on top of the future in heaven which is secured for you.
    You don’t have to worry—worry that I am irked with you or frustrated with you because what you accomplished didn’t live up to the expectations that you imagined I had for you.”

    His voice is always full of love for you—love that is far greater than any human has ever loved you. No condemnation, no put-downs, no beating around the bush. He gets down to your level. He has a sense of humor. He loves as a friend, as well as your Lord.

    God bless. . . .

  3. I think most Christians would say that ultimately it is Jesus that allows people to love wider and deeper. I would echo that. For me this has played out in a few concrete ways.

    I always recommend that people get a good modern translation of the Bible and read it because it made a profound difference in my life. It allowed me to see Jesus in a way I had never seen Him growing up LDS. I wasn’t really looking for this, it just happened. I no longer saw the Bible as a series of proof texts and I no longer saw it through LDS tinted glasses. This was profoundly different for me. At the time I was losing my faith in the LDS church, this profoundly reoriented my thinking and most likely saved me from doing some stupid things (which are too personal for a public website).

    Another concrete way this has impacted me is that the entire history of Christianity opened up to me. It gave me a new community to be a part of, both a church to be a part of, but maybe even more importantly a community that spans a wide chunk of space and time. In that community I found new heroes and people to admire. Seeing how Christianity played out in their lives influences me to love wider and deeper. But even more basic than that, it just was reassuring to have people to admire again. When I only knew the official version of LDS church history, Joseph Smith was a big hero to me. On my path out, I lost that. What was more surprising to me was how devastating it was. But, Christianity has given me new people to be examples of the Christian life.

    If you are looking for something more theological, the doctrine of the Incarnation and Christology in general are inspirational. The idea of God becoming man, for no reason other than love, is a beautiful doctrine. You can still see it in Mosiah 15, but lots of stuff has been layered on top of that which obscures the basic idea. God came down not because He lacked a body, not because some previous plan played out thousands of times before required it, not because he needed a mortal experience, but for no reason other than love of His creation.

  4. Jared C — I enjoyed reading the part of your life story you shared. One of my initial reactions is that neither evangelicalism nor Mormonism at their worst are very appealing religions; both can be shallow (although in different ways) and filled with judgmentalism that’s not all that Christlike. I’m glad you got beyond that and are able to look for the good, of which there’s plenty to be found.

    As to your specific question, I’d say the LDS faith has impressed on me the realization that the world isn’t divided into two groups of people, the “saved” and the “lost,” but instead that we are not only all members of God’s family in more than a figurative sense, and that God has infinitive patience and wisdom as all of us navigate a journey that we chose to be on. We can’t know where other people are on that journey, how much light they have received, nor the desires of their heart. And believing that helps me to be less judgmental and more sympathetic to people, and the knowledge that God’s wish for me is that I become like Christ in every way possible helps me to come closer to seeing people in the way God sees them.

  5. Jared, I’m excited for what God is doing in your life! Having gone through a similar process about three years ago, I can tell you what helped me make the transition and continues to enrich my personal interactions with God.

    First, I agree that a modern Bible translation is a must. I bought several different translations and just started reading. That, naturally, lead to questions which lead me to read theology. Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. it didn’t matter. It was very freeing to read different opinions about scripture knowing that all had a deep love for God. Each tradition brought something new and exciting to my understanding of God and strengthened my faith.

    Second, when I left the LDS church I felt a void because I had lost what I head been raised to believe was a connection to the original church as founded by the apostles. I no longer believed the LDS church to be that church, but I still felt the loss. What filled this void and greatly strengthened my prayer life was the discovery of the English prayer book tradition. Praying the prayers of my forefathers each evening and feeling the presence of not only the Holy Spirit, but of those saints who have gone before me gives me courage to continue forth in this new Christian journey.

  6. What filled this void and greatly strengthened my prayer life was the discovery of the English prayer book tradition. Praying the prayers of my forefathers each evening and feeling the presence of not only the Holy Spirit, but of those saints who have gone before me gives me courage to continue forth in this new Christian journey.

    A few years after leaving Mormonism, my wife and I went to an Evening Prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer in one of the smaller chapels at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I sensed immediately that I was hearing authoritative Christianity for the first time.

  7. Thanks for the kind words. I feel sufficiently buttered up. 🙂

    I’m not sure the question can be removed from theology. Ideas have consequences and theology lends a direction in transformation. C.S.Lewis said something like “I don’t believe in the sun because I can see it, I believe in it because by its light I can see everything else.” (I’m sure that’s a terrible recreation and well out of context, but it conveys my point.)

    That being said, I’ve learned quite a bit about this from Dallas Willard. In his book “Renovation of the Heart” he notes that spiritual experiences don’t in and of themselves tend to be transformational. They encourage you to change, but they don’t often create change. Instead he encourages the practice of spiritual disciplines.

    Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline” is an excellent resource for properly practicing a number of disciplines and provides insight into why we practice them. I’ve found immense help in following his instructions.

    Another resource is “The Practice of the Presence of God” based on Brother Lawrence’s life. Lawrence was a monk who was tasked with menial duties such as dish washing, but found a way to transform his life into an expression of worship in everything he does. It’s a very encouraging and helpful book.

  8. @theoldadam- I have sensed this freedom in you Steve. Your consistent iteration of the principle “It is finished” is encouraging to me. It is remarkably empowering to recognize that if you want to follow Jesus, God is not going to judge you on your path– at all. You no longer have to worry about measuring up, just really believe in being like Jesus and that’s it. I see the principle in a lot of areas in my life. When I was wrestler in high-school and college, you secured your spot on the starting team by challenge matches (called “wrestle-offs”) with other wrestlers in your weight class that happened before each meet. It was always unnerving to me to have to fight for my spot on the team– and I performed much worse in these matches. It was difficult to have the mental freedom to just focus on wrestling the opponent in front of me while worrying about losing the status of being “qualified” to compete for my team. I didn’t wrestle like myself, and I struggled with fear as well as the person intent on beating me.

    I personally think that following Jesus takes courage– more than I have on some days. The Sermon on the Mount reads to me like an extremely daunting challenge. Your focus has a lot to offer those who approach it from a Mormon perspective. It’s far easier to meet that challenge authentically, when I remember that God must love us as much as we are tasked with loving others. I don’t (shouldn’t) need to worry about hiding my sins– I should just worry about being a Christian.

    It’s great to know that we have our spot on the team secure when we face Jesus’ challenge toe-to-toe.

  9. “True Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude”
    ― William Wilberforce

  10. @Cal-

    Thanks man, I appreciate the openness. I like the idea of praying more and praying in tongues. I came to a point a while back where prayer didn’t make sense because I didn’t really trust the process. I didn’t think my own words would have any impact on God and I abandoned the notion that God was going to give me something merely because I prayed for it. I gave up the idea that God had a particular end in mind for me — other than the life that lay in front of me. I also lost faith in my ability to interpret spiritual experiences concretely.

    Prayer in tongues–or some similar practice–may be a solution. I have tried it once– and I can see the attraction, but was too self-conscious and suspicious of the practice to go beyond a try. In theory prayer in tongues seems very inviting. Here is process of trying to connect with the supernatural by letting out the feelings inside– even when you can’t properly express those feelings. The fact that you don’t have words may be the only way too express the inexpressible. And prayer in an unintelligible language may be a way to prevent judging what I am saying. Frankly, most of what I said in prayer in my life seems nonsense to me when I break it down. It was certainly meaningful to me, but when I put the prayers and answers to prayers into words I think it ultimately pushed me off the practice. If I can get over the self-consciousness it may be a way for me to start praying again.

  11. Jared,
    Thanks for sharing.

    For me, it’s a triptych of daily scripture reading (I’m using the Daily Office now), prayer and reflection. This ultimately helps me in my continued realization I am no less of a sinner than those around me, believer or not. This in turn instills a certain humility and has led to loving those around me regardless of their faults. Or probably more accurately “regardless of my arrogance” 😉

    I still feel terribly “inconvenienced” when called upon to help, assist or just love that “not so loveable person”, until I reflect on the fact that most of the time I am probably “not so loveable” to others as well. And yet, God’s forgiveness and love has been given to me, a sinner, without any expecations for payback. Even more, there is a future promise that is so enormous, that it instills a deep gratitude. The least I can do is love others, imperfectly as I am. But it honestly doesn’t always come easy. Although it has become more natural and easier with time.

    I’ll go back to lurking in the shadows now 😉

  12. @David Clark,

    I appreciate your sincerity– sincerely. I like the idea of reading the Bible in modern language. Its something that I started doing on my mission. I made sure to buy my girls (who remain active Mormons) NIV bibles when they started reading. If we are serious about knowing what Jesus said, it makes sense to have the Gospels in their most understandable form. I used to make my kids watch the Gospel of John ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377992/ ) just so they would get familiar with the Gospel story and concepts.

    I also like the idea of embracing the wider Christian community. This is something that I am probably only now beginning in earnest– mainly because it was hard to know how to view Christians who clearly believed things that I didn’t. Beginning to abandon the practice of judging somebody else’s theology is helping me to accept all the ways that Christianity can play out in human life. I think the Mormonism I learned is actually quite helpful. I lost my view of Joseph Smith as an unmitigated hero long before I stopped believing in the Church. My Dad– a bishop/stake president/mission president type, was always reading and had Dialogue and other questioning Mormon (and even semi-anti-mormon books around. Knowing Joseph’s true story– even while believing in the goodness of the Church– has helped me me less judgmental of other figures in Christian history and more ready to admire those who I might find some fault with.

    I also like the doctrine of Incarnation. I think its worth some more meditation. I agree that the thought is fascinating and compelling. How does God show up in the form of a “poor wayfaring man of grief?” What does it mean that it happened? How does that effect how I see other people–whose core nature is a vessel that could hold the creator of the Universe? What does it tell me about what it is to be human and what God is to humanity? I think this line of thought is worth more pursuing.

  13. Jared: On the idea of incarnation, may I suggest “On the Incarnation” by Athanasius if you hadn’t read it already. It was impactful for me personally.

  14. Also, take a look at C. S. Lewis’s Miracles and, to be perfectly frank with you, the Athanasian Creed. I have intended to write a post about this myself, but the Christian doctrine of the incarnation and Mormon theology of Jesus Christ’s mortality are radically different and have huge implications for life, the universe and everything.

    Even the way you talk about it, Jared, when you refer to a “core nature is a vessel that could hold the creator of the Universe” betrays a thoroughly Mormon understanding of Jesus’s manhood and godhood that is simply not what the orthodox doctrine of Incarnation is about.

  15. I agree, I do have a pretty Mormon understanding of the concept of incarnation. Frankly, I still believe that the concept is a pretty sound way of viewing Jesus. . . but I should look into the orthodox doctrine more.

    I am interested to know your thoughts on how it plays out with your life.

  16. @Eric-

    Thanks. I agree that there is a lot of good inside and outside Mormonism. It has really been hard for me to know how to categorize how I should feel about this in my mind. I like what you are saying about the way Mormons view the state of human salvation. The Mormon concept of different kingdom, higher and lower law, and universal opportunity for salvation still resonates. I really like the emphasis away from the salvation question to the discipleship question. I think a lot of Mormons substitute compliance with discipleship- but the focus on following principles to transform life still makes a lot of sense to me.

  17. @Michael-

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    What filled this void and greatly strengthened my prayer life was the discovery of the English prayer book tradition. Praying the prayers of my forefathers each evening and feeling the presence of not only the Holy Spirit, but of those saints who have gone before me gives me courage to continue forth in this new Christian journey.

    I like this thought. Connecting to a larger group of believers seems to be a very good step for me, if not a fundamental part of being a follower of Jesus (as I understand it). Mormons often dismiss other believers in the same way I used to dismiss Evangelicals–But unity is an imperative to Jesus. Connecting to those in the past who were not Mormons in a more open way seems like a good start on figuring out how to be closer to the greater Christian community.

  18. @ Mick,

    Thanks for coming out of the shadows. . and your thoughts.

    I still feel terribly “inconvenienced” when called upon to help, assist or just love that “not so lovable person”, until I reflect on the fact that most of the time I am probably “not so lovable” to others as well.

    What pretty much floored me the other day was the dreadful realization how delusional I can be about my level of Christianity. I think I do a pretty good job dealing with those close to me, but I am always shocked to realize the gap in care and love I have between those who are my blood and intimate companions and those that aren’t. I feel like I am no better than any non-Christian on that front. And its a puzzling task to balance all concerns in order to be more loving to those you are not biologically, legally, or emotionally tied to. I like your advice–keeping in mind my own faults allows me to judge others less when they don’t meet my expectations of lovableness.

  19. @Tim,

    Wasn’t trying to butter you up– but now I wish I had something more to hit you up for.

    I appreciate what you are saying about theology leading to practice. The Lewis quote is: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I agree that singular spiritual experiences are candles rather than the sun. Candles are often very beautiful and bright (in context of a dark room) but sometimes they can’t even illuminate the room you are in. Perhaps the reason I am not an orthodox Christian or a Mormon is because both leave a lot of dark spots for me. But I think you have put your finger on what I am interested in pursuing– practical spirituality in pursuit of Christian ideals. I will check out the references you give.

  20. Jared C.,

    “It’s great to know that we have our spot on the team secure when we face Jesus’ challenge toe-to-toe.”

    Well said!

    And the freedom goes beyond “believing in being like Jesus”, to the point of just being yourself! Jesus is fully aware of who and what we are. That He is in us, is enough. He will complete the good work that He has started”, and we are free to live, love, laugh, cry, and to care for our neighbor (and here comes the scary part)…or not! Because, like you said, we are already on His team. And maybe every now and then, we will want to care for the neighbor…even at our own expense…without mulling it over. That’s freedom!

    Thanks, Jared.

  21. Jared,
    Very interesting article. I commend you on your journey. As you were discussing with Steve, I too find great comfort in knowing that it’s not about me, it’s about Christ dying on the cross.
    I also find great comfort in communion at Church and the historic liturgy. For Advent on Wednesday, we did the Vespers Service of Light. As Kullervo mentioned sensing authoritative Christianity when he attended a Vespers service, I too sensed that something “real” was going on as I worshipped and reflected on the last supper and Christ’s death on the cross the first time I experienced this kind of worship on Maundy Thursday about three years ago. As the confirmands came forward that day for their first communion I knew I wanted to be a part of what was happening there. And as Tim said, I can’t separate theology from the peace I get from knowing I am a forgiven sinner when in the worship service the pastor announces the forgiveness of sins – and knowing it is as if Jesus Himself were saying those words to me. Knowing I am forgiven and have communion with Christ when I go forward for the Lord’s Supper. Knowing that when I take communion it can’t miss, I am receiving Jesus forgiveness.

  22. I love this. God is doing an awesome work in you. I define myself as a Christ-follower, and really just get my interpretation of what that is by studying the Bible, praying about it, and listening to other’s through the lens of Scripture. I don’t define myself in any way but Christ-follower. As for how I am able to live with myself believing this to my core…..God’s Grace. It’s all about Grace to me. It’s hard to even fathom being loved so much, but He loves us with and everlasting love, and His Grace covers over me in a way I can never understand. Philippians 4:7 And, the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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