Making peace between Joseph Smith and Saint Paul

I came to the conclusion years ago that the difference between Mormons and Evangelicals was the difference between taking Paul’s philosophy and taking Joseph Smith’s seriously. If the LDS Church wants to be what it claims to be, I think it behooves them to think though and reconcile these differences in a way to keep the theology of both men intact, even if they have to be viewed within different metaphysical paradigms. My view currently is that the failure to reconcile these differences without discrediting what Paul said is a grave mistake. I think that the historical antagonism between the LDS and Paul’s theology has been as unhelpful as the LDS policy of denying the priesthood to people of African descent.

In my mind, Paul and Joseph Smith are very similar figures. Both assumed authority within their Christian communities because of supernatural experiences with Christ, and claims that they spoke and wrote under the authority of the Holy Spirit.  Both were religious geniuses, able to bring the patterns of ancient scripture to spectacular effect in promoting their new worldviews.  They both claimed to bring to light hidden knowledge from God that was hidden in the past due to false traditions perpetuated by the hard-headed, and hard-hearted.  Both claimed to speak the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Counting the Cost of Discipleship (notes from my underground)

I was looking through my journal and saw some thoughts I wrote down three years ago, I wrote these before sinking into a very dim atheism, this entry was part of my last effort to hang on to the Christianity I had when I was LDS. I think I was grasping at whether it made sense at all to consider ourselves Christian disciples.  Now I realize that it does not make sense to even to attempt Christian discipleship without more than a mere belief that you believe in Christ – a state of grace is necessary. I open them up for discussion to reveal something about how many faithful Mormons see the task of discipleship:

My Journal, September 1, 2012:  Pascal mentions that things are different for Christians now because primitive Christians had to devote themselves to the kingdom of heaven, to forsake all safety and security, in essence, to throw their lives away.  Becoming a Christian was about throwing your life away. It would destroy your career prospects, make you an enemy of the state, risk all of your life and property. It meant a hell of a lot.  What this tells me is that Christianity is simply not for everybody.  We simply cannot expect people to be Christians like this. It’s a very difficult task. But its always marvelous when we do see people approach life with this sort of abandon. Continue reading

Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons

Our friend charismatic protestant friend Cal has taken a position– beleaguered by most non-Mormons here–that Mormons are Christians.  Although no longer a believer, I thought I would try to clearly lay out the argument for Cal’s position aimed at Protestants.

For purposes of the discussion, I am assuming the truth of the Five Solae, the Nicene Creed, and the and the Bible.

I propose that these three premises are true:

1. Jesus prayed for and sought as a goal before God the unity of those that believe in him through the testimony of his disciples, i.e. the New Testament. (John 17: 20-23:

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The New Testament does not make orthodox theology a qualification for inclusion in unity. Jesus was not limiting fellowship or unity to the orthodox.  He is talking about orthodoxy or unity of creed or belief–Jesus established no creed, distilled his message and rarely made it explicit. He warns against false teachers, but Jesus put the focus on distinguishing false teachers based on their fruits– i.e. you will know them by their behavior and effects on the church not (necessarily) their theological errors. 

3.  Mormons believe that the text of the New Testament is the truth.  

Given these premises, my conclusion is that Protestants should embrace Mormons as part of the group that they are challenged by Jesus to be unified with, and seek to come to complete unity.

Notice that I am assuming what Protestant’s believe is orthodoxy to be correct but the strength of the argument holds on a practical and ethical level.  But there is no orthodoxy regarding how unity can and should be achieved. That is an open question.  I suggest that even if the path to reaching unity is unclear– efforts toward unity will lead–ultimately–to a greater prevalence of salvation and faith in Jesus more effectively than efforts toward disunity–which are, generally, the order of the day.  

Romans 9

This review of Romans 9 is provided by Aaron, an Evangelical Christian.

In an effort to make myself even more unpopular among some of the regular visitors of this blog I have offered to cover Romans 9. 🙂 Actually, it seemed like a providential opportunity, since on Reformation Sunday I preached a sermon on Romans 9:1-23 at a church in Santaquin, UT. I predict that what I will promote here is, for most of you, completely foreign to the worldview that you were brought up with. I only ask that you make a valiant effort at understanding the text itself before approaching the issues using traditional philosophy.

I also want you to know that I have an emotional and spiritual connection with this text, for a number of reasons. You see, Romans 9 and I have a history together. It was a source of controversy in my college days. It was something I originally vehemently disagreed with. It was something that, once it clicked, was hard for me to handle with maturity. But it was also something that, in the long-run, explosively enlarged my view of God and catapulted me forward with a confidence that God was far bigger than I ever imagined. A big reason why I am in Utah today (and not closer to family on the East Coast) is that I believe that the God of Romans 9 can effectively call people to himself, including Mormons.

My theology among evangelical Christianity: I am a 4.5 point Calvinist who maintains that God has a desire for all to be saved and that ethnic Israel still has a privileged future. Many Calvinists are confused over the former issue (or worse, are “hyper-Calvinistic”), and some Calvinists outright reject the latter claim. Calvinism (inasmuch as it refers to belief in unconditional election, etc.) has gone from being the dominant view in the Reformation to a minority position today in evangelicalism. See however a related book:

Sources: I not only quote from the commentaries of Tom Schreiner and John Piper (Calvinists) on Romans (,, I also loosely borrow phraseology at times without always including a citation.

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Defending John Calvin

When I was in high school, the music world suffered a cataclysmic event. It was discovered that Rob and Fab didn’t sing their own music.  Milli Vanilli was a fraud.  A number of my friends who owned their cassette tapes (yes I’m that old) suddenly stopped listening to their music all together.  I thought this was strange.  Never had my friends been to a Milli Vanilli concert and it wasn’t likely that they ever would attend a concert.  They only listened to the music on the radio or on their walkmans.  So it really didn’t matter who was singing, if they liked the music on Monday, they should still like the music on Tuesday.  Nothing had changed about the quality of the music.  The only thing that was wrong was the picture on the album cover.

I’m not a Calvinist.  When I first heard Calvinism described to me I found it offensive.  Later as I encountered some dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist I was caught off guard by how sound some of their arguments were.  I’m still not buying it, but I understand why people are attracted to its tenets.

The most  obnoxious Christians I have encountered have either been Reformed Baptist or Fundamentalist Pentacostals. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Calvinist don’t try to find more attractive ways to present themselves or their beliefs.  It’s the kind of theology where you feel you’re being given the middle finger while it’s explained to you.  That being said, most Calvinist are not jerks and I respect the rigorous defense of the faith and the Bible that they pursue.

Some recent arguments have been made against the character of John Calvin.  I’m not entirely up on all of the details, but it seems he may have sent a political (not religious) opponent to burn at the stake.  Not a rousing example of a man of Christ. While I’m certain that Calvin’s sins have been forgiven, he may have lost a few crowns in heaven for that unfortunate  incident. To be honest, I haven’t really looked into the story, but for the sake of argument I’ll just assume Calvin was completely in the wrong and is a murderer.

I don’t at all think that Calvinist should abandon Calvinism because of John Calvin’s personal foibles (as egregious as they are).  If he were still alive and pastoring, I would absolutely recommend that his parishoners either leave his church or remove him from ministry.  But I don’t think his theological ideas must be abandoned any more than I think the Declaration of Independence has to be tossed aside because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves or the civil rights movement was misguided because Martin Luther King Jr was an adulterer.

John Calvin was not the only proponent or originator of Reformed Theology (as it’s some times called).  It’s likely that if John Calvin hadn’t expressed his views, someone else most likely would have.  He just happens to be the most popular presenter of his ideas at his time in history.  Calvin also did not claim that Calvinism’s authority was found in his personal character.  Instead he argued that it was found in the authority of scirpture and a reasoned approach to scripture.  If scripture and reason have no authority, than neither does Calvinism.  If Lindsay Lohan discovers the truth of Calvinism, and it is true, it still holds even if she finds a new way to crash and burn every other week.  Al Gore can burn a barrel of diesel fuel on his lawn every night and be the biggest hypocrite in the world, but if his scientific arguements are correct, the earth is warming due to man made causes.  What Al Gore does in his personal life doesn’t make the science any less true.  Only science makes his claims false.

I recognize that Mormons may immediately say that “Well then, why are you picking on Mormonism for the things Joseph Smith did?”  I think the situation is totally different.  Joseph Smith claimed the authority of his teachings came from his own status as a True Prophet of God.  This means that we have the right and obligation to look into his personal character to verify his claims.  We need to not only investigate what he taught with that self-proclaimed authority but we need to see how he leveraged that authority in his personal life.   If a prophet is producing “bad fruit” I think we have good reason to reject his authority and his teachings.

I think the situation is also different for another reason.  If you confronted Calvinist with John Calvin’s sins, they would more than likely say that he was in sin and that he should not have acted that way.  Getting a Mormon to actually own the facts that Joseph Smith did anything that an outsider would call questionable is a monumental feat (though it’s been easier since “Rough Stone Rolling” was published).  To get them to say that Smith was wrong or sinning in any area of his life is practically impossible.  I think this proves my point that Joseph Smith’s prophetic status is directly tied to his character.  Smith didn’t claim to be perfect, but finding a Mormon who can name a specific reason he lacked perfection is something I’m not holding my breath for.