12 Years and More to Come

The journal, Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue, dedicated its most recent issue to Evangelicalism and Mormonism. It features two terrific articles I’d like to direct your attention toward.

The first written by Robert Millet, reflects on the meetings of Evangelical and Mormon scholars over the last twelve years. Speaking of the challenges the meetings have confronted he writes:

Third, as close as we have become, as warm and congenial as the dialogues have proven to be, there is still an underlying premise that guides most of the Evangelical participants: that Mormonism is the tradition that needs to do the changing if progress is to be forthcoming. To be sure, the LDS dialogists have become well aware that we are not well understood and that many of our theological positions need clarifying. Too often, however, the implication is that if the Mormons can only alter this or drop that, then we will be getting somewhere. As one participant noted, sometimes we seem to be holding “Tryouts for Christianity” with the Latter-day Saints. A number of the LDS cohort have voiced this concern and suggested that it just might be a healthy exercise for the Evangelicals to do a bit more introspection, to consider that this enterprise is in fact a dialogue, a mutual conversation, one where long-term progress will come only as both sides are convinced that there is much to be learned from one another, including doctrine.

Later, Millet writes:

In pondering on the future, there are certain developments I would love to see take place in the next decade. I would hope that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would become a bit more confident and secure in its distinctive theological perspectives and thus less prone to be thin-skinned, easily offended, and reactionary when those perspectives are questioned or challenged. In that light, I sense that we Mormons have to decide what we want to be when we grow up; that is, do we want to be known as a separate and distinct manifestation of Christianity (restored Christianity), or do we want to have traditional Christians conclude that we are just like they are? You can’t have it both ways. And if you insist that you are different, you can’t very well pout about being placed in a different category!

Craig Blomberg writes another article about the future of these meetings. He writes:

It is also time for people to stop learning only secondhand about people whose religious views at times differ from theirs. In a global village, there is no reason not to engage members of other religions or denominations directly.12 So much Evangelical literature on these topics is overly simplified, historically dated, not representative of the entire movements depicted, and/or downright inaccurate. Short introductions to complex belief systems almost inevitably distort, especially when the author has a particular dislike for a given movement. The biases may be semi-conscious, but they affect the results nevertheless. I have been recently reading for the first time a collection of fifty of the most important or famous sermons of John Wesley and realize how skewed my own theological education was in mostly Lutheran and Calvinist contexts as to what I was taught about Wesley’s theology!

Mormons likewise need to engage Evangelicals in far less confrontational settings than the classic door-to-door evangelism they are known for. They should invite Evangelical friends and leaders to fireside chats and similar forums, as I have occasionally experienced. They need to get to know the “silent majority” of us who are not nearly as “mean-spirited” (to use their preferred term for the most combative or polemical of us) as the anti-Mormons they are more used to encountering. They need to learn the breadth of Evangelicalism, so that we are not all tarnished with the same two brushes of “easy believism” and rigid Calvinism.

There are several other articles in the journal which I have not yet read, but all of them appear to be as thoughtful as the two I’ve linked to. I look forward to reading these others as well.


A Debate
Moderated by Hugh Hewitt and hosted by Craig Hazen

Get your tickets now before it’s too late! Two sections already sold out!
Saturday, April 4, 7:30 pm
Chase Gymnasium (with overflow sites on campus)
Biola University

$20 for Prime SOLD OUT
$15 for Balcony SOLD OUT
$10 for Standard BUY NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!


Witness one of the great debates of the new millennium. Devoted atheist, Christopher Hitchens, author of the bestselling GOD IS NOT GREAT, squares off with one of the most formidable debaters in the Christian world, Dr. William Lane Craig, on the topic: Does God Exist?

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Cosponsored with Biola Associated Students

Me & Mormons – Part 4

After my debacle with a couple of Mormon missionaries I was quite excited to hear that some one was having more success than I was talking with Mormons. Dr. Craig Hazen from Biola University had started to report that he had been invited to some forums with some LDS scholars and he found them quite encouraging. He stated the discussions were on a much higher level and much more positive than anything he had ever encountered with LDS ever before.

As a result of these on-going conversations, a book was being published to raise the bar on Evangelical and LDS dialogue. It was called “The New Mormon Challenge“.

When the book was released there was a conference for it held at Biola University. I attended the kick-off lecture and there for the first time heard Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries speak. I had been looking for a new way to talk with Mormons and Greg offered me what I was looking for.

Previously, Evangelical interaction with Mormons had been most influenced by Ed Decker‘s “The God Makers.” Which I think was simply an attempt to scare people away from Mormonism and condemn it to Hell. Johnson stated that the relationship between Mormons and Evangelicals had been nothing but antagonistic for a very long time. Instead of approaching them as Christian heretics we should simply view them as a different faith altogether with a different culture. We should enter into conversation with them as we would anyone in a foreign country with a different set of values than our own. Leading with friendship and relationship-building first.

Given that Jesus taught a life of grace and peace and the example of how he approached people outside of the Jewish faith, we hardly should need someone to tell us that in regards to Mormons. But the message was fresh and new to me. I resolved that the next time LDS missionaries came to my door I would first invite them back for pizza and get to know them. Then on a later date get into the particulars of our faiths. I figured any missionary who actually knew my name and a little bit about me would have a harder time bolting out the door at the first sign of hearing something they didn’t like.

Now all I needed was some Mormon missionaries to show up at my door. . . .

Me & Mormons — Part 3

For a couple of years I served at my church as a volunteer in the High School group. I would disciple and mentor about 8 – 10 high school boys every year and then help put on youth events and go on trips with the entire youth group. Occasionally we would have some Mormon kids show up to our Wednesday night Bible studies or whatever random events we were throwing. At times we would provide an open question time so that kids could ask any question about faith or doubt they wanted. We wanted to make sure that their questioning was validated and that they were respected even if they were struggling (and it was always a great teaching opportunity for kids who hadn’t thought of tough questions yet).

The Mormon kids (always boys, girls never visited) always pounced on the opportunity. Their questions were always very similar and the doctrine they always tried to label us with seemed to be what someone else said we believed rather than what we ourselves said we believed. The questions always had an agenda to them and always followed the same pattern. Now that I know a little bit more about Mormonism, my guess is that these kids were getting a certain set of questions and assumptions fed to them by their Seminary instructor. He was probably telling them, if you ever get to talk to a Protestant ask them this, then this and then this. . .

After reliving high school for three years I quit volunteering to go back to college. I enrolled in a Christian Apologetics program. The program was basically a great opportunity to audit some graduate level seminary classes without having to pay the big bucks or do any homework. It was a great program and a great learning experience. The program was run by Craig Hazen who is involved in some ongoing dialogue between Evangelical and LDS academics.

During this time my mom was asking me for help. She wanted to know how better to talk to Mormons. She was having LDS sister missionaries show up at her home; she would always invite them in and they would always end up in tears as they left. My mom has some seminary training under her belt and had been a Bible college professor while she was a missionary in the Philippines, so she knows her stuff, but is by no means confrontational. She was always frustrated that these girls would show up at her door and no matter what she tried, they would end up crying. I didn’t really have any good answers for her.

One day soon after completing the apologetics program I left my apartment and walked down the street to my car. Before I could make it I was rudely accosted on the sidewalk by a couple of Mormon missionaries. The words “rudely” and “accosted” may be an understatement. They yelled at my from about 50 yards away and came running up to tell me their good news. I wasn’t in a state of mind to talk with them and I was on my way somewhere else, so I attempted to cut the chase as quickly as possible with them.

Without giving a blow by blow of the conversation (which probably lasted 10 minutes) my tact was to show that a spiritual experience, no matter how profound should not contradict what the Bible clearly teaches. Just as I was making my point, while in mid-sentence one of the missionaries said, “That’s nice, we have to go,” and then literally sprinted away from me. His companion was soon in tow at the same speed. The word “sprint” may be an understatement. They both must have been in track.

After I gathered my jaw up off the ground I returned to my business and got in my car. I was extremely frustrated by so many aspects of the experience. I couldn’t believe the LDS church was sending out missionaries with such poor interaction skills. The only thing worse than how they started the conversation was how they finished it. I was frustrated with myself for having been so visibly annoyed by them and so quickly argumentative. Most of all I was frustrated that neither of us was expressing any genuine interest in the other. The missionaries had an agenda that they were intent on ram-rodding down my throat, and I had my own agenda that I was intent on ram-rodding down theirs.

My strongest thought in reflecting on everything that happened was “There has to be a better way. . . for both me and the LDS missionaries.”

Wow, We Can Get Ugly

I mentioned in a previous post, that there is a disagreement in Evangelicalism on how to approach Mormonism. If you would like to hear how heated it can become you should listen to these two episodes of the Frank Pastore show. There is definitely a wing that almost says if you don’t hate Mormonism as much as I do, then you must be Mormon.

I should give a couple of early indications of what you are going to hear. Frank Pastore in the last couple of years has been trying to do the Sean-Hannity-thing. He’s almost as good at it as Hannity which makes him sound like a really unpleasant person and not some one you would want to emulate as a Christian. In real life, he’s a nice guy (with a desire for ratings). Also, the advertising on the show is extremely over-sold. There are a LOT of commercials. You get about 2.5 hours of new content in 6 hours which is why I don’t listen to the show live. Be prepared to fast forward. I would edit it down, but I don’t own the copyright, so I’m not going to mess with it.

Regardless of who you are I guarantee that it will elicit a strong reaction from you. (and thus the success of the Hannity impersonation)

From August 15
1) Listen to the interview with Craig Hazen in the second hour. Notice how confrontational Pastore is with Hazen. Hazen throws in some key words in this controversy: jealousy and limited ministry resources.
2) Listen to how un-confrontational Pastore is with Jill Martin Rische.
3) The disparity between what Millett says in front of Evangelicals and what he says in front of LDS is big. I’m wondering why more LDS aren’t upset with Millett for distorting Mormonism.
4) It’s sounds like to me the issue isn’t that Greg Johnson isn’t distorting Christianity, it’s that he’s not going after Mormonisms unique claims hard enough.

From August 16
1) Listen to Jill Martin explain her own backstory to this controversy. She got left out of the clique.
2) Interesting that she rips Craig Hazen for praying inside the Mormon Tabernacle, Pastore says nothing. This despite Pastore telling Hazen the day before that he had no problem with the prayer.
3) Kurt Van Gordon hypocrisy as he accuses Greg Johnson of attacking his ministry while at the same time attacking Greg Johnson’s ministry. I have not heard every word out of Johnson’s lips but it’s my impression that he says nothing about what other ministries are doing. He personally told me, “they should keep doing what they are doing, I’m going to try something different.” I’m interested to know how many more conversations Van Gordon has been able to have with high ranking Mormons since 1991.
4) Van Gordon wants to know who and where Evangelicals are being confrontational with Mormons. How about going to Temple Square on October First.
5) Van Gordon alleges that Evangelicals are being won over to Mormonism as a result of Standing Together Ministries, but Mormons are not being won over to Evangelicalism. This is patently false and Greg Johnson can give names and phone numbers.

My own impression is that fewer and fewer Evangelicals are willing to participate in traditional Anti-Mormonism (or street Evangelism in general). This is putting a strain on some long standing ministries and they are lashing out at what they perceive to be their threat for ministry dollars. No money, no ministry. I think it’s gross how we can treat one another at times.

Hat tip to Summa Theologica