Living by the Sword

I don’t want to disrespect Slowcowboy or any other Christian that hangs out here with this post, but something is under my skin.

TO EVANGELICALS: If you want to have any influence whatsoever with Mormons you have to adopt the same approach they adopt toward you. i.e. “Bring all the TRUTH you have and let us show you MORE.” Not, “You have it wrong and you are going to hell if you don’t shape up.” This is not about theology, it’s just human relations.  I am not pointining any fingers here, but from what I know of the love of God and the truth in Christ, traditional Christians should not be afraid of Mormons. Yet,  90% of all the inter-faith dialogue I see among Christians is complaining, arguing and fear-mongering.  If Evangelicals spend their efforts resisting the evil of bad theology, they are going to be as effective at winning souls for the TRUE Christ as the Spanish inquisition. Resisting bad theology is not teaching good theology. 

Mormons are not traditional Christians for a reason.  The more Evangelicals try to tear down LDS theology and claim that Mormons are not committed to Christ, the more Mormons feel completely secure that Evangelicals are part of the crowd in the great and spacious building mocking those who seek the love of God in Christ. This approach keeps people in the Church more than it leads them to whatever view of Christ Evangelicals have.  The folks that attack Mormonism come across like self-serving dumb-asses. Resisting Evangelicals come across as part of that crowd that Mormons think are clearly apostate. Why, because attacking anybody is blatantly un-Christian.

From a LDS perspective, and the perspective of a whole lot of non-LDS Christians, there is nothing to be proud of in Christian theology, and nothing to be proud of in Protestant theology. The most Protestant nations on earth are also the harbingers of death, destruction, and mayhem. It is arguable that the holocaust was an all-too-direct result of the Reformation. There is a strong case that the “whore of all the earth” is the traditional Christian Church.  The LDS don’t use this approach much because it is completely ineffective in converting Protestants, but that is not because it is not completely reasonable to see the church this way.  From the LDS the field is white, but most of it is choked with tares.

Mormons don’t see traditional Christianity as a reasonable alternative because they don’t believe they have everything that traditional Christians have and more. When I was a missionary, it was all too easy. I would stack up the LDS approach against anything out there. And it had nothing to do with theology.  If you take the ordinary run-of-the mill deist, they are going to find the LDS view just as reasonable as the Evangelical view.

Why am I saying this?  Its because I have skin in the game. I actually think Evangelicals have something the LDS do not have, but I fully believe that most Christians I have met don’t have what many Mormons have.

I WANT ENLIGHTEN MY LDS FAMILY TO CHRIST. If they want to be Christian, they should more fully join the body of Christ.  I think it is obvious that they do not need to leave the Church in order to accept Christ in an Evangelical way, just like Catholics don’t need to become Calvinists in order to be Evangelical. I believe the LDS should wake up to a richer and deeper view of redemption, but in the six years I have spent following the conversation I don’t see how Evangelicals are going to help them do that.  And the problem is not the Mormons. They need people that can see to lead them, not people that are blind to the Spirit that they follow, that they are sure leads them to Christ and God.  There are plenty of people in the Church that would be willing to embrace and teach a more grace-filled theology.  One of the greatest barriers to this is that those that try to teach them grace can’t get past their pagan theology enough to break spiritual bread with them. The boundaries are more important than the Gospel.  I don’t think the truth Mormons learn from the Spirit is AT ALL incompatible with the truth that Evangelicals know from the Spirit and from scripture.  I don’t think you have to name all of your errors in order to embrace the truth. I don’t think you have to give up all of your cults or culture to embrace the truth.

Evangelicals often try to save Mormon’s souls from the wrath of a God that Mormons know loves them. You can’t convince a Mormon that God will send them to hell.  Evangelicals should be focusing on saving Mormons from the wrath they hold in their hearts for their own souls and the hell they put themselves through on earth. God has nothing but love for the Mormons, and He routinely shows this (even if they don’t quite understand the breadth and depth of that love).  I can’t see why Evangelicals can’t follow suit.

Scared of Hell: Evangelicals don’t really know if they are saved?

Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?Hell Awaits You!

I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.  I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail.  So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever.   If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus,  you are going to suffer for your  sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you.  Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.”  An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom.  They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church.  Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.

Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me.  Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell.  People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone.  It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved.  And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternationJust as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough.  And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher.  It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.    

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The Universalist Pope?!

Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer.  Catholic Online  gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”

A quote from the article:

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity.  If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world.  The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief.  Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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You are SAVED (from Hell)!! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t: Part II

One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from.  For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else.  I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.

To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell.  A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their.  The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.

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You are FORGIVEN! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t. (Part 1)

Universal sin is, perhaps, the fundamental building block of the Christian Religion.  Without sin, there is no need for the atonement of Jesus, the central focus of both Mormons and Evangelicals.

C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin.  (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection.  Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans.  While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life.  Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to.  Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others.   This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.

What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.”  Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)

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Metaxas and Keller Fireside

Tim Keller and Eric Metaxas have become two of the most respected voices within Evangelicalism in the last 5 years. This video is a “fireside chat” the two had at the New Canaan Soceity Washington Weekend in 2012. They discuss Creationism & Evolution, how to define a “Christian”, hell, Rob Bell, universalism, and personality driven Evangelicalism. I highly recommend that you see this video and get a flavor for how Evangelicals approach these controversial topics

Keller makes reference to a paper by Richard Bauckham on Christian Universalism that you can find here. Keller says it’s the paper that Rob Bell should have read first before writing “Love Wins”.

Quick Links

Here are three quick links I thought readers would be interested in

Learning Proper Manners for the Religious Roundtable: Kuyper and Convicted Civility
How one Evangelical has been influenced by Abraham Kuyper in religious discourse.

Francis Chan Dominates Top 10 NYTimes Best Sellers
A discussion of Chan’s latest book “Erasing Hell” and his view on the reality of Hell.

Edward Fudge on Alternative Third View of Hell

Fudge is the preeminent Christian scholar on Annihilationism.

More on Love Wins

The controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his new book “Love Wins” continues to boil in the Evangelical world. Here is a video from Bell discussing the book. I’m mid-way through the video.

The Gospel Coalition supplied a lengthy review that makes a clear case for disagreement with Bell over his use of scripture, his view of Christian history and his conclusions.

For Whom the Hell’s Bell Tolls

Popular Evangelical author Rob Bell posted this video over the weekend to promote his upcoming book “Love Wins”

The video is certainly provocative, Bell is a master communicator and this hits every nerve it’s meant to expose. What no one really expected was the controversy that would erupt by Monday morning. A number of other prominent Evangelical authors decided to deliver their early reviews of the book via twitter and kicked over a hornet’s nest.

I thought Tony Jones offered a thoughtful review of the controversy and of Rob Bell’s standing in Evangelicalism. “Christianity Today” took the opportunity to explore the varying views on hell, annihilationism and universalism.

I’ve enjoyed the material I’ve seen from Rob Bell. I understand the anxiety he and this video creates for many Evangelicals but I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve at least actually read the book. For the moment I’m more disappointed with John Piper and Joshua Harris than I am with Rob Bell, but that could change after March 29th.

The Least of My Brothers

My wife has dedicated her life to the issues surrounding poverty and world hunger and specifically what Christians can do about them.  So it was to my surprise that she illuminated to me a reading of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats that undercut every take on it I had ever heard.  But it also offered a relief to a conflict it seemed to offer in regards to our salvation not coming about “by our works” (so that no one can boast).

I hated this song, but my view of this parable was largely influenced by the very guilt-inducing rendition offered by Christian folk singer Keith Green. If you’ve never heard of Keith Green, you will gain an enormous amount of insight into late 70’s – early 80’s Evangelical culture by listening to this one song.

What was new to me was a new look at the words “brothers of mine”

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

It seems that this was not the only place in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus had used the word “brothers”.  In fact a distinct pattern can be found.  Matthew consistently records that Jesus called his disciples his “brothers.”

Here are just two quick examples.

Matthew 12: 48-50

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 28: 9-10

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

It’s likely that when Jesus said “least of these brothers of mine” he pointed straight at his disciples. This flips the entire meaning of the parable from being about what Christians do with the oppressed to being about what people do with oppressed Christians.

Please, don’t hear me saying that I think Christians are now off the hook for caring for the “the least”.  The rest of the scriptures are full of admonitions to feed, clothe and advocate for the oppressed.  In fact I think Christians should feel justified to go on caring for others as if they are caring for Jesus. But this parable isn’t about that, this parable is about the final judgment.

Green had it right at the end of his song; the only thing separating the sheep and the goats was what they did.  What he missed was that they were being judged for what they did . . . with those who were carrying the gospel of Jesus.

Five Preachings on Hell

Perhaps the most offensive Evangelical doctrine to both Mormons and non-Christians is Hell.  It seems unfathomable to some that a loving God would send (or allow) people to go to a place of eternal punishment for a lifetime of sins.

Conversant Life is a popular Evangelical website.  Once a week, they’ve been posting these teachings on Hell from different Christian leaders.  I thought I would borrow what they’ve done and give everyone a quick snapshot of the various ways Evangelical leaders speak about Hell.

Erwin McManus

Mark Driscoll

Tim Keller

John Piper

N.T. Wright (okay, perhaps not an Evangelical)

Salvation & Rewards According to Evangelicals

This is a crude diagram that I made in Microsoft Paint which shows how I view evangelical soteriology, especially features which I believe will be of interest to Latter-day Saints:

(Trogdor the Burninator comes from; drawing retrieved here. All the crappy stuff was drawn by me.)

Any questions?

I don’t claim to be an expert on theology, even my own theology. I’m just now enrolled in my first ever theology class which is set to cover Christ, Humankind, Sin and Salvation, but we haven’t gotten to talking about the “salvation” part yet.

Listed below are some of the scriptures from my personal study which have influenced this interpretation. I welcome correction from the other evangelicals.

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What happens after we die?

This question is generally a fundamental question for believers and non-believers alike, often both groups are pretty certain about what its going to be like.  I am both unsure of a good answer to this question and very skeptical about those who have sure answers both Mormon and Evangelical.

Instead of going through all of the “orthodox” or “official” ideas on the subject, I think it would be profitable to understand what the readers of this blog believe on the subject and why.  I am primarily interested in the basis for the beliefs and the details behind it.

I think there is actually solid scientific evidence for life after death or the life of a spirit outside the body.

I also have solid belief and spiritual experience evidencing God in my life based on numerous experiences as a fully practicing LDS.

However, despite all this, I am very unclear of what is going to happen when we die.  As far as I can see, all we seem to have is a brief and uncertain view of the afterlife, and there are many interpretations.  I base my own concepts on two primary ideas.

  1. God loves us with a love that that is at least similar to what we can understand, e.g. good parental love.
  2. God is just according to a concept of justice similar to what we understand.

Frankly, these two concepts cause me to disbelieve a lot of what is said about the afterlife so I would also be interested to know who believes these principles and  how everybody squares their belief in the afterlife with them.

I am also interested in how primal your belief regarding the afterlife is in the foundation of your faith.  Some become Christians out of fear of hell, others become Christians because Jesus is good and touches them and they never develop any fear of hell. Some are strong LDS because they want to go to the Celestial Kingdom- i.e. the best place, and some want to go to the Celestial Kingdom simply as a by-product of their LDS experiences.

For me this could be a helpful exercise for LDS and Evangelicals, and anybody else, to examine their own personal feelings about this issue while getting new perspectives on this very important area of faith.  Or it could just be a good way to kill some time during the day.

I know I am not offering a lot of my own feelings but I am really at a loss to offer any confident opinions.  I appreciate your thoughts in advance, Thanks for sharing!

You’re Going to Hell

A rather distasteful aspect of mainstream Christianity is the idea that people are going to Hell based on their beliefs. I say “distasteful” because people outside of my faith tradition don’t like it. I don’t like it either. But I believe Christ to be who he says he is, which means he’s trustworthy. Jesus talked more about Hell than anyone else in the Bible. I feel like Peter after some of Jesus’ other difficult teachings, “where else am I to go?” If Jesus’ teachings are true, then that means I have to accept them even if they are distasteful.

Some comments were made under another post about the theology of Hell. I thought I’d clear some misconceptions up and bring the topic into its own post.

ilmarinen said:

I as an “open-minded” Mormon wouldn’t consider “evangelical” Christianity simply because it describes God in a way that it is near diabolical, at least to my understanding. You don’t believe in Christ, you are going to hell. How can it make sense that he puts you in a world that is filled with confusion, extremely easy not to make the “right” choice of believing in the Trinity, and then punish you for eternity for screwing up during the 50-70 years you hung around earth. It doesn’t make sense that any sort of loving God would condemn you to hell for eternity for much of anything you BELIEVE as a stupid mortal human on this earth.

I think this mischaracterizes the Evangelical position. It may be nuanced but profound to us at least. We don’t believe that anyone is going to Hell because of belief. We believe people can’t be with God because of sin, their actions.

Only actions have the power to remove us from God. Only belief (in Christ) has the power to reconcile us to God. Mormons believe the same thing. They just believe that people have the opportunity to believe in Christ either here on earth or later on in spirit prison. If someone in spirit prison refuses to believe in Christ he is no closer to God than the person who refuses to believe here on earth.

To which Seth responded:

Tim, but what about the logistics of it? That still isn’t a clear answer for the African girl born in a mud hut during the 5th century who never had a shot at accepting Christ in mortality or not. This life is your only shot at accepting Christ? Really?

Paul makes it clear in Romans 2 that all people have some knowledge of God and will be judged based on their own knowledge but there is no other name they can be saved by but Jesus Christ.

“If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.” (Romans 2, from The Message)

Some basic things to keep in mind:
1) ALL have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) That means everyone is going to hell.

2) God loves his creation and doesn’t wish anyone to perish. (2 Peter 3:9)

3) God sent his Son so that no one would have to perish. (John 3:16)

4) People perish for refusing to believe the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10)

4) Christ is the only judge. (2 Timothy 4:1)