German Technology: Making the LDS Church Even Truer

I have to admit, President Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk “The Gift of Grace” surprised me. But as I think about it, it was the logical move. When I was converted to a grace-based Gospel, I had the idea myself that the LDS church could vastly improve its teaching by simply adding Evangelical-style grace to the formula, and as Tim has proven, it barely produced a ripple. If the Church leadership doesn’t jump on this opportunity to make the church a more powerful force in the world by moving toward orthodoxy, I will know they have no hope.  If they do preach grace and salvation, they just might make themselves the true Church they claim to be.

If Uchtdorf pushed his neo-Mormon-Lutheranism down the throats of the correlation committee, the church will be in a great position to boost its power to spread to the third world.  Given how theologically wacky Brigham Young was, there should be no objection at all from the membership if the First Presidency started transforming into a full-blown Evangelical mega-megachurch. It has the media resources to put the pseudo-Christians at TBN to shame, and the organizational resources and financial support that should inflict most megachurches with a heathen lust. Whether or not move toward orthodoxy was accepted by the rest of the body of Christ, the LDS church could actually adopt the cutting edge of Protestant theologies, whatever would propagate faster in each individual culture.

Mormonism already has a competitive advantage over many Christian churches because its religious structure is much more akin to post-Christian paganism than Protestant churches.  They have the catholic capacity to mint new authoritative doctrine and tradition, and the nimble doctrine of modern-day prophecy to maximize their theological impact. This has got to play better in tribal societies that need a strong church structure within unstable nation-states.  For example, the Congo needs Mormonism badly, for social reasons as much as religious ones.  If Evangelicals got serious about teaching the Apostles how the preach the Gospel better, the Church could be a powerful force to spread hope to Africa.

The reason why Uchtdorf’s talk didn’t raise eyebrows is because grace-based theology is simply superior religious technology. From a religious perspective was as if this German airline pilot showed up with an iPhone 8 in a room full of flip phones.  Uchtdorf and other right-thinking church leaders could revise the entire church curriculum, most of the membership who has heard of the Evangelical gospel are all-too-happy to jump ship on Brigham Young and Co.’s archaic theology. Because the King Follet discourse has been kept from the canon, there is almost no need to even minimize it, simply allow people to believe what they want and preach the real McCoy in the correlated literature.  Any rift within the church could be countered with a form of Gamaliel’s counsel coming from the First Presidency.   The missionaries can integrate a grace-based message into the first discussion, and you will immediately dramatically increase the conversion rate.

The reason I think this is a good idea, is that the semi-pagan structure of the church, and allowance for further prophecy is a very important step toward bringing the Gospel to Islamic countries and pagan Europe.  The only evidence I have is a curious up-tick in Iranian-American baptisms in Southern California. (Muslims becoming anything like Christians is a very important phenomena in my book.)  By coming out with the truth behind Joseph Smith’s sex life, the church could distance itself from his later teachings yet maintain the “secret sauce” that is the Book of Mormon. Thus it could maintain its well-ordered authoritarian structure and true-church status all while moving to a more orthodox — and therefore more appealing — Gospel without jeopardizing unity.  I think they could become a force to be reckoned with in spreading the actual Gospel if they went this route.

I propose the Christian world act like Alma the Elder and push toward this new path in policy and doctrine.

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 5

At last, Part 5!  This is what we call in blogging “rounding third.”

I was sad to discover that this is not the first attempt at answering 50 bull dog questions. FAIR, the Mormon apologetics organization took at crack at answering those 50 questions for Mormons.  I also discovered that someone else is working at answering Trimble’s list.  What I learned from both sites is that reading these answers is even more boring than reading the questions.  Holy cow that’s bad news for you Greg.  That means I’m going to have to redouble my efforts at creative insults.  I assure you, they’re not meant for you, just the people who love to hate you.


Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post.  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

41. Who are the “other sheep that are not of this fold” referred to by Christ in (John 10:16) Hint: It’s not the Gentles.

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Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 2

I’m back at it with Part 2 in my quest to answer Greg Trimble’s 51 questions that might lead you to Mormonism.  Here is Part 1 in case you missed it.

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post..  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

On with the show!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


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Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 1

Retro styled image of colorful Volkswagen Transporter type 2 van

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Mormon blogger Greg Trimble recently wrote a blog article that has picked up a decent amount of social media buzz entitled “51 Questions That Might Lead You to Mormonism“. Running through his post it became quite clear to me that after 7 years of blogging about Mormonism and Evangelicalism I’ve discussed almost every single one of these in one form or another. I felt like Horsack from “Welcome Back Kotter”. It’s quite possible that I’ve actually written something about every one of these questions on this very blog. In the tradition of marathon runners and novelist throughout history, I’m going to do something that’s going to take a lot of time; I’m going to answer all 51 questions. That’s my pledge to you.

I’m going to break up my answers into multiple posts and I’m not quite sure if there will be 5 posts, 10 posts, or something in between. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to ask 51 questions than it is to answer 51 questions. Most people would just turn his post around on him and ask 51 questions that might lead you out of Mormonism. I learned a long time ago that that sort of thing is not my job. Other people have taken it on and I’ve found it doesn’t really line up with my goals in this space. My job is to dialogue with Mormons about the shape of our respective faiths and to clear the air of misconceptions and errant assumptions.

Before I begin I feel the need to discuss Greg’s list as a whole and give a little bit of context to the answers I’m going to provide. First off, Trimble’s list is quite frequently known as the “shotgun approach”. Rhetorically it’s a bit like bringing a bucket to a water balloon fight. It provides the emotional satisfaction of getting someone else wet even if 90% of the water falls on the ground. At that ratio, I think it’s fair to say that at least 5 of my responses are not going to be all that satisfying. They for sure won’t overcome a person’s decision to follow a personal spiritual experience in the face of other considerations. Continue reading

Serious Mormon Questions for Evangelicals

A frequent commentor named Ray has asked a series of questions. I appreciate these questions because they get at some of the most deeply seeded controversies between Mormons and Evangelicals. A full post (or book) could be written on each question so don’t expect my answers to be completely comprehensive, just an introduction to each issue. The comments section might be a great place to direct Ray and other Mormons to further resources on each topic.

You’ll notice that I will not make a lot of Bible references in my answers. This is not because my answers are not informed by the Bible but because I can answer these questions much quicker and make the length much shorter if I leave them out. To be sure, I can direct anyone interested to the Biblical texts that support my answers.

I have proposed that continuing in sin can cause some one to lose their salvation. Do you agree or do you think once saved always saved? What does “endure to the end” mean to you?

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Pride Goes Before the Fall

A couple of weeks ago the Evangelical world was set ablaze when the church planting network founded by Mark Driscoll, rebuked and removed Driscoll and his church from their organization.  Accusations of brashness, chauvinism and pride had frequently swirled around Driscoll. A confession of some inappropriate message board comments had proceeded this discipline step by the Acts 29 organization which felt that Driscoll and his church were still not responding to complaints lodged by people who had been mentored or employed by Driscoll. 

Yesterday Driscoll announced that he was taking a six week leave of absence to seek counsel of mature believers and to submit himself to his church’s disciplinary process.  I highly recommend this article from Christianity Today to supply more information on the situation. This has been an ongoing and developing story as was discussed previously on this blog.

I’m pleased to see that Acts 29 and Mars Hill Church has a disciplinary structure in place and are using it for something other that sexual and financial sins.  I’m also pleased to see Driscoll submitting himself to their processes.  This is a wait and see situation and I think Driscoll’s credibility is seriously on the line.

I’ve stated before that I’m not so concerned that leaders are fallible and sinful as I am with how they confront their accusers and reconcile their sinfulness.  King David lays out an excellent model for public repentance and I hope to see Driscoll express similar repentance.


Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,

    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.



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.  

The Weeping God of Teryl Givens

Teryl and Fiona Givens were recently on a tour of British ward houses giving a series of talks entitled “The Crucible of Doubt”. The point of the talk seemed to be to encourage Mormons who may be struggling with doubts. One attendee recorded the talk and shared it.  Another attendee took notes on the talk and shared those notes.  I’ll set aside the content of Givens’ apologetic arguments in order to focus on something he said about Protestantism. Continue reading

Explaining Jesus to a child – How should I indoctrinate my children?

indoctrinate_xlarge_xlargeWhen children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across.  We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias.  If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.

Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer — David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons.   Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.

But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.

Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church.   They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education.  I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical.  I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.

So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.

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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.

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Be afraid. . . be very afraid.

I saw this video the other day, and I have to say that it struck a deep chord. At first it made me very happy that BYU was finally allow some open social outlet for gay students to socialize.  Then it hit me how big a challenge it will be for Mormons and Evangelicals to deal with the fact of homosexuality.

Listening to these kids stories about how they discovered that they were gay in the context of being active, faithful mormons made me realize, perhaps for the first time, how ridiculously awful it would be to be a 12 year old mormon kid discovering that you were gay.  I remember how religious I was at that age, how devoted, finding out that I was gay would have been the ultimate betrayal and would have ended my spirituality or my connection to the Church.  And the nature of the reaction of my friends and family would be the test of whether Christianity was bunk or not. Perhaps the reason that when I was young, I never saw or heard anything like what I hear in the videos. Because it was not in front of me, it was really easy not to realize the crucible that the believing Mormon gay child is in. If I had, it would have been hard to stay Mormon or Christian at all.

Seeing the kids in the video, still very much engaged in Mormonism on a sincere level, It made my heart hurt. I don’t know really how I would be able to deal with it. My brother, who knew gay friends at BYU, and struggles with depression, told me with all sincerity that he would have certainly killed himself if he was gay. The straight majority in the church simply does not recognize the gravity of the situation.   These kids cannot be both gay and Mormon without seriously twisting something that is part of them.

The fact that homosexuality exists as a natural phenomena among those that are close to God within the faith throws a very powerful curve ball at both Mormons and Evangelicals. Unlike with heterosexuality, which is channeled and controlled, homosexuality must be eliminated, or certain deeply held tenants must be abandoned.

When it comes to Evangelicals or Mormons I don’t know who has the bigger problem. For Mormons, being gay shatters the careful conception of what the pinnacle of life on earth is all about (covenants, eternal marriage, pro-creation). In my experience, People don’t talk about being gay in Mormon Church, it is not accepted, most of what is said about it is by the vocal minority who is firmly anti-gay.    Evangelicals might have an easier time.  I think it may be easier to “sin” and talk about it, and even being an active sexual “sinner” and still feel connected to Evangelicals christianity.  Partly because Mormons may kick you out if you are at all open and unrepentant about it.  However Evangelicals seem to play a lot bigger part in anti-gay activism, because of the sheer size of the group in comparison with Mormonism, and the de-centralized nature, there are a lot more vocal bigots in Evangelicalism.

The problem is that both groups can be deeply un-Christian about how they approach the problem.  The black mark this leaves on Mormonism and Evangelicalism, in the eyes a gay person who embraces their sexuality, or to anybody else who holds their sexuality dear is difficult to overstate.   An institutional stance that is anything short of deeply empathetic and loving makes a church seem like a absurd charade of the love that Jesus spoke of.

The reason why homophobia may be intractable is that Mormons and Evangelicals should be afraid on an institutional level.  The fact of natural homosexuality requires institutional change if either group is to remain followers of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to see how either group provides a satisfying answer to the person who feels God in and through their experiences of sexuality AND openly embraces a “alternative lifestyle”.   Which means, no matter how spiritually compelling either Mormonism or Evangelicalism is, they are going to appear to be very limited or broken for anybody who understands that God wants some people to be gay AND close to Him.   Just as they have to tweak their theology to account for the unfathomable size and complexity of the universe, they are going to have to change in order to get in line with this reality.  Of course this very sort of change may cause foundations to crumble.

I never quite saw this fact before this video. Hearing and seeing the human problem is necessary to make non-gay realize it.  My guess is that more open, honest and loving discussions of homosexuality within Mormonism and Evangelicalism will mean dramatic changes within both, or simply a larger exodus from a faith that has lost touch with the real world.

At this point, if my child was gay, I would actively try to de-convert them from both Evangelicalism and Mormonism because, at least to this child, neither seem to be carrying the torch of Christian love and understanding.

Believers, what can be done?

Four Points of the Movement

I recently watched this lecture presented by Mark Driscoll entitled “Four Points of the Movement”. It was delivered to a conference of theologically reformed pastors and leaders.

I’m not part of the Reformed movement but I really enjoyed how Driscoll spoke to a number of issues facing Evangelicalism. Contextualization and Missional have been big buzz words for Evangelicals for a number of years and he speaks right to the heart of them. I was surprised to hear him take on cessastionism (the belief that the spiritual gifts are no longer in use) in the way he did. Direct and controversial as always, Driscoll gives a good snapshot of contemporary Evangelicalism and the ways he intends to confront the issues

There’s No Reforming a Protestant Church

This last week I was talking with a friend who now attends my non-denominational church.  We have a lot in common because we are both pastor’s kids from the same denomination.  He “out-lived” my denominational experience by attending one of its’ private universities and was a youth pastor for a couple of years.  He recently finished seminary and has plans on becoming a pastor again someday.  I asked him if he still considered himself a part of that denomination.

He said “no” and told me a little bit about his reasons.  He went on to say that for awhile he thought of staying on the inside and trying to reform it, but ultimately decided that reform would be too difficult to achieve.

Our conversation moved on to other things, but it occurred to me that reformation rarely happens in Protestant churches.  It doesn’t happen because there are so many other choices. When someone becomes disaffected they just leave and find something that suits them better.  Even leaving and forming an entirely new organization is much easier than reformation.

As I teased out the idea it occurred to me that Christian churches as a whole are rarely reformed.  Ironically most of Luther’s reforms for the Catholic church were achieved.  But only after he and many others left and set up sizable competition.   I haven’t done any research on it, but other than that and the Worldwide Church of God, I can not think of a denomination that was changed by reformers.  There are plenty of examples of denominations moving from point A to point B, but this is usually the work of a long slide rather than a sudden reformation force. Those changes typically occur over a lifetime rather than a decade (or less).

I’m not even sure that reformation has very much success in any religion much less Protestantism. So to all you reformers out there. . . give up. 🙂

By Whose Authority

Jared is fond of wrestling with the question of by what authority is “scripture” declared scripture. It’s a tough question for anyone of any faith and it’s of particular importance to our conversations here.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason recently took a couple of consecutive calls on his radio program dealing with this issue.  I think he does a good job of presenting the Protestant viewpoint. His basic argument is that the First Century Apostles had authority over the church and their authority extends to their writings collected in the New Testament. If it can be trusted to be authentic writings of the Apostles, then it has authority for us today.

He does a good job of flushing out the issues and I encourage you to listen to what he says in his own words.  What I appreciate about his program is that he takes time to give a complete answer (and in this case acknowledges that his answer may not fully satisfy).

A direct download of this portion of the program can be found here. Or you can download the entire program here.

A challenge to anybody who believes in the Bible: Does lack of unity make us less Christian?

Are we unified? 

I have thought about what the goal and purpose of the discussions we have on this blog and debates/discussions like Millett v. Johnson.    One goal that Christians could have would be to “become one” as Jesus seems to demand of his followers.  (Of course, one way to avoid the task is simply to deny certain groups the right to be His followers. )    As a critical thinking Mormon, who thinks Jesus’ request may be possible, I have the following questions for those who believe the Bible is the primary and final authority on religion: 

1. Is the Bible obviously trustworthy?  Can reasonable people doubt that the Bible is true and correct? 

Follow up questions: Assuming that the Bible isn’t obviously true, even after diligent reading and study,  what is the process by which we can find out if the Bible is trustworthy? What should we trust other than the text of the Bible to determine its worth? 

2. Is your intepretation of the Bible regarding the nature of God and Jesus the only possible reasonable interpretation? 

Follow up: If it isn’t the only possible reasonable interpretation and it is true that reasonable minds can disagree on the interpretation using the text alone is it possible to resolve these disputes? What are reliable places to look to resolve disputes in interpretation aside from the text of the Bible itself.  

3. Is your intepretation of the Bible completely free of possible undue influence of your own personal history, background, emotional temperment, community, or family? 

follow up: Our contexts and perspectives can often give us insight into things that others don’t have, and often can often lead us to wrong-headed positions.  If you think this may not be true for your clear-headed thinking, you should admit that others may have this problem.  If your own context and perspective may distort your inteprepetation, can we be so certain of our own position or uncertain that somebody may not have a clearer view from their perspective? 

My own conclusion:  

If you cannot answer “yes” to these four questions,and you are a believer in the Bible doesn’t it follow that the God of the Bible created (or allowed) reality where: 

(1) the truth of the “true” religion is not clear and obvious to all observers, and

(2) it is difficult to determine whether we have the capacity to see clearly from our perspectives

(3) the correct interpretation of the inspired writings we have are is not unambiguously clear 

(4) Differing intepretations, even on the most fundemental theological issues amongst even the most devout believers, are unavoidable

Thus, isn’t it unfair and unreasonable to assume that you are in a position to exclude believers in the Bible from fellowship of Christians solely based on your “correct” interpretation of the Bible?  If so, isn’t it unreasonabe (and un-Christian) to exclude similarly believing people from fellowship of believers because of differing interpretations?  

What unity must mean: 

I think John 17:20-21 is a remarkable passage:  

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that 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.

To an Evangelicals, it seems that unity among believers in “the message” or “the word” is (should be) a critical part of spreading the Gospel to the world. 

Given the text and the reality of ambiguity and uncertainty of interpretation, must not believers in the Bible seek and aknowledge some degree of unity with other believers in scripture prior to debating intepreptations of the Bible and despite differences in interpretation and belief

Shouldn’t we be one before the debate begins?

Mormons and Evangelicals, Can we rally around the Cross?

Recently I bought a couple of cool Ethiopian Orthodox cross in a flea market in Helsinki. I started wearing it. I have been reading the New Testament with my two daughters (8 years and 10 years) and I recently read The Last Temptation of Christ and the cross has been sort of a symbol for my renewed interest in what it means for me to be a Christian, so I have been wearing it nearly all the time for the last couple of weeks.

My wife questioned whether it was appropriate for me to wear it or use it as a symbol considering the prevailing Mormon position on the cross, i.e. we don’t use it as a symbol of Christ at all. I did some cursory research and found the standard justifications for not using the cross (i.e. that its a symbol of the torture and death of Christ by romans rather than the atonement and resurrection and that it is not an original primitive Christian symbol) but I could not find the origin of the tradition. I checked the handbook of instructions for priesthood leaders and found no reference to the cross. I am pretty sure that a prohibition against crosses is not in the Scriptures so it makes me wonder whether the prohibition might be hurtful to the cause.

So I have a bunch of questions.

For Evangelicals: What would your reaction be to Mormons using the cross as a symbol, would it make you all more likely to sympathize with Mormons as followers of Christ? (or would it be seen as more craftiness to dupe people into believing we are really Christians.)

For Mormons: is there any harm in allowing or even embracing the use of the cross? Is it “selling out” to gain acceptance from more worldly (less inspired) churches? Is a feeling of stronger brotherhood with other believers in Christ a good thing or a hindrance to the work of the restoration and the “gathering of the elect.”? Is there anything really doctrinally unacceptable with the cross, if so, where is the revelation that tells us this?

I am not sure of my own view yet so it would be interesting to hear from all who have anything to say.

(Forgive me if this was discussed previously I could not find any previous post on this with a search of the blog, but I might have missed it)

Not Sold on Sola Scriptura

This is an email I sent to some friends and some of their responses:

I don’t by any means wish to cast myself into Protestant heresy, and perhaps I’m choking on a definition that is too tight; but I don’t know if I completely buy into Sola Scriptura. So I’m offering this gem/turd in a hope to stimulate discussion and be corrected if I’ve got this wrong (and please don’t call me a damnable papist, my spirit is weak).

There are specifically two areas where I see my conflict with the doctrine.

  1. Should the way Christians have practiced their faith for 2,000 years be taken lightly just because it isn’t specifically spelled out in the Bible (following a corrupt Pope aside)? Isn’t there merit in following the practices/doctrines of those who have discipled us and passed their faith on to us? I certainly think that everything needs to be held up to the standard of the Bible, but where the Bible is silent should we not listen to our forefathers and give their words and deeds weight? (organized weekly gatherings on Sunday to name one quick example)

  2. The Bible itself is not self-defined. There is no where in its pages that explain exactly what is and what is not to be included in the canon. The New Testament gives us some lessons on the scriptures, but those are all in reference to the Old Testament. So maybe that’s something, we know what the Old Testament is and what’s it’s useful for, but how do we know that Paul’s letter to Timothy is also in the same category? The only way I can figure out is to borrow a line from a singing Russian . . . .TRADITION. The New Testament canon is a product of tradition. That is a historical fact. The Bible never once names its parts and from what I can tell the writers of the New Testament didn’t make a group decision to start putting something together. There are some very good reasons the canon tradition was started, but none of them are scriptural themselves. If we don’t rely on at least that one tradition, we don’t even have a Bible to solely be instructed and inspired by.

    One of the arguments for the historicity and inerrancy of the Bible is that the Holy Spirit protected, directed and inspired the collection of the New Testament. An acceptance of this theory seems to also be an acceptance that something more than the Bible can be inspired and authoritative for all Christians.

Let me know if I’ve got this wrong or if I just have a simplified understanding of sola scriptura. In the mean time I’m going to find some rosary beads.

The responses I received:

One of my professors in Seminary said that something can be said to be biblical in one of three ways. I’d have to check my notes to make sure, but I think the three ways were something like this.
1) The teaching is explicitly addressed in the Bible. (e.g. Idolatry is sin)
2) The teaching doesn’t contradict Scripture. (e.g. Playing drums in a church service is acceptable)
3) It corresponds with Scriptural teachings. (e.g. The church should oppose abortion because the Bible teaches that the unborn is a life)

So on sola scriptura, I think you can argue that many of our traditions are biblical. It doesn’t mean that we have to do only what the Bible explicitly says and if it isn’t in the Bible we can’t do it. It means that if we are doing some practice that compromises biblical teaching, we throw it out because the Bible is our sole authority.

Those are my two cents. I don’t think you said anything heretical.

I agree. I think your reasoning is good, but it’s based on a simplified understanding of sola scriptura (and maybe that’s the accurate one the Protestants meant, and my definition is incorrect). I don’t think sola scriptura is saying you can only do what it in the Bible and that tradition is bad. There is a pastor in Russia who has this simplified understanding of sola scriptura. He wont allow a youth ministry in his church because it doesn’t mention that anywhere in the Bible. That is not sola scriptura in my view. Sola scriptura means that the Bible alone is authoritative. Tradition can be helpful, useful, and right, but not necessarily so because of human fallibility. So it should always be checked with Scriptural principles. If it does not contradict the Bible, it is acceptable but also changeable.

Maybe I’m the one who needs to go back and check my notes, but I thought that sola scriptura meant that scripture was the HIGHEST authority, not the ONLY authority. I had recently heard the analogy that the bible was like the supreme court. Human traditions are then like the lower courts. If something controversial comes up, it gets taken up to the highest authority for a decision, which in our case is the Bible. The analogy works, as the Bible is silent on many things, which can then be decided on at a lower, or local chuch or denominational, or even (shudder) papal authority. As long as the decision isn’t “unconstitutional,” or unbiblical, then we can submit to the decision, if it has been made by someone in the church who has authority over us, like a pastor, elder, etc…

If you are arguing that tradition can be authoritative, then I guess I misunderstood. Sola scriptura, by definition, means Scripture alone. Scripture alone is our authority and not the traditions of the church. I see now what you are arguing about the canon being based on tradition and not on Scripture.
I think the argument about the canon is that what is canonical is also based on Scripture, not tradition. Some books that were accepted by early church fathers were rejected based on sola scriptura. They didn’t jive with accepted Scripture. One of the main criteria for books of the Bible is that it must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.
And my response:

Yeah, but there are plenty of books we think of as being consistent with the Bible but not scriptural. The criteria for the New Testament (written in the first century, by an apostle or close associate, etc.) is not scriptural per se. Each of the books being consistent with the others I can see as a self-validation process, but that is not the only test the books had applied to them. Is the decision to close the canon, for instance, a decision based on scripture?

The “Constitutional” theory brings some light to the issue, but in both cases there is still another authority over them. There is a bit of a chicken and egg thing going on. In the case of the Constitution, the Constitution has authority over individuals, but the collective majority has authority over the Constitution and can change and adapt it. As for the Bible, I’m not sure that we have it so clearly defined. We’d like to say that the Bible has authority over tradition, but did tradition get a “one shot” authority over scripture by defining the canon and then concede power? We don’t have a “take these 66 books thus-sayeth-the-Lord” from Jesus (THE ultimate authority) on this one, and if we did I’m sure we would have canonized it.

More on Protestantism

I thought these definitions were pretty good.  I got them from here.  According to these definitions I would best be described as neo-evangelical.

Pietism and Methodism

The German Pietist movement, together with the influence of the Puritan Reformation in England in the seventeenth century, were important influences upon John Wesley and Methodism, as well as through smaller, new groups such as the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) and the Moravian Brethren from Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.

The practice of a spiritual life, typically combined with social engagement, predominates in classical Pietism, which was a protest against the doctrine-centeredness Protestant Orthodoxy of the times, in favor of depth of religious experience. Many of the more conservative, Methodists went on to form the Holiness movement, which emphasized a rigorous experience of holiness in practical, daily life.


Beginning at the end of eighteenth century, several international revivals of Pietism (such as the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening) took place across denominational lines, which are referred to generally as the Evangelical movement. The chief emphases of this movement were individual conversion, personal piety and Bible study, public morality often including Temperance and Abolitionism, de-emphasis of formalism in worship and in doctrine, a broadened role for laity (including women) in worship, evangelism and teaching, and cooperation in evangelism across denominational lines.


Adventism, as a movement, began in the United States in middle nineteenth century. The Adventist family of churches are regarded today as conservative Protestants.[12]

Modernism and Liberalism

Modernism, Liberalism, or Sunderianism does not constitute a rigorous and well-defined school of theology, but is rather an inclination by some writers and teachers to integrate Christian thought into the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment. New understandings of history and the natural sciences of the day led directly to new approaches to theology.


Pentecostalism, as a movement, began in the United States early in the twentieth century, starting especially within the Holiness movement. Seeking a return to the operation of New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as evidence of the “baptism of the Holy Ghost” or to make the unbeliever believe became the leading feature. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized. Pentecostalism swept through much of the Holiness movement, and eventually spawned hundreds of new denominations in the United States. A later “charismatic” movement also stressed the gifts of the Spirit, but often operated within existing denominations, rather than by coming out of them.


In reaction to liberal Bible critique, fundamentalism arose in the twentieth century, primarily in the United States and Canada, among those denominations most affected by Evangelicalism. Fundamentalism placed primary emphasis on the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, and typically advised separation from error and cultural conservatism as an important aspect of the Christian life.


A non-fundamentalist rejection of liberal Christianity, associated primarily with Karl Barth, neo-orthodoxy sought to counter-act the tendency of liberal theology to make theological accommodations to modern scientific perspectives. Sometimes called “Crisis theology”, according to the influence of philosophical existentialism on some important segments of the movement; also, somewhat confusingly, sometimes called neo-evangelicalism.


Neo-evangelicalism is a movement from the middle of the twentieth century, that reacted to perceived excesses of Fundamentalism, adding to concern for biblical authority, an emphasis on liberal arts, cooperation among churches, Christian Apologetics, and non-denominational evangelization.


Paleo-orthodoxy is a movement similar in some respects to Neo-evangelicalism but emphasising the ancient Christian consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium AD, including in particular the early Creeds and councils of the church as a means of properly understanding the Scriptures. This movement is cross-denominational and the theological giant of the movement is United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden.

Understanding Protestantism

The diversity within Protestantism is immense. This is can make it quite difficult to understand the where any particular Protestant is coming from. Simply knowing what denomination they belong to does not answer every question because within a denomination there can be a great deal of diversity. Even reading the statement of faith from their own church may not give you a full picture because each Protestant has their own gifts and spiritual emphasis in their own life.

Instead of explaining the differences between Protestants, Catholics and Mormons. I’m hoping to give you a window into the conversations Protestants have between themselves. It will be difficult for me to cover everything in a blog post, but hopefully this will give you a good overview.

Renovare has observed 6 traditions of practice in Christianity. A well rounded Christian life would include all of them. Most Protestant denominations emphasize 1 – 3 of these over the others. A great deal of debate among Protestants is over emphasis of one of these traditions over any other. Some denominations represent some of these better than others. But their presence might be seen in any church regardless of denomination.

Contemplative: The Prayer-filled life

By God’s grace, I will set aside time regularly for prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading and will seek to practice the presence of God.

Holiness: The Virtuous Life

By God’s grace, I will strive mightily against sin and will do deeds of love and mercy.

Charismatic: The Spirit-Empowered Life

By God’s grace, I will welcome the Holy Spirit, exercising the gifts and nurturing the fruit while living in the joy and power of the Spirit.

Social Justice: The Compassionate Life

By God’s grace, I will endeavor to serve others everywhere I can and will work for justice in all human relationships and social structures.

Evangelical: The Word-Centered Life

By God’s grace, I will share my faith with others as God leads and study the Scriptures regularly.

Incarnational: The Sacramental Life

By God’s grace, I will joyfully seek to show forth the presence of God in all that I say, in all that I do, in all that I am.

In addition to these practices, denominations and churches are separated by worship styles, church government and theology. Worship style and theology are often the reason Protestants choose one church over another. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wasn’t willing to adapt to whatever form of church government was present in any particular church.

In very overarching terms these are the major theological conflicts in Protestantism:

Calvinist vs Arminian

A debate over free-will and God’s sovereignty in discussing who is and who is not a believer. The debate over “once-saved-always-saved” falls into this category. The two sides are most generally represented by Presbyterians and Methodist.

Liberal vs. Conservative

This debate focuses a great deal on how the Bible should be read. What level of nuance or literalism is to be carried into the interpretation of scripture. When the liberal theological movement started at the end of the 19th Century within academia there was a backlash on the popular level that created the Fundamentalist movement. The “mainline” denominations such as Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopalian churches tended to adopt liberal theology while Southern Baptist and Non-Denominational churches stayed with a conservative reading. It should be noted that in some cases there are liberal and conservative versions of specific denominations (ie. Presbyterian Church of the USA and the Presbyterian Church of America). Liberal churches more often focus on social justice practices while conservative churches more often focus on the study of the Bible (but not necessarily to the exclusion of the other in either case).

To throw a new wrinkle into the mess is the rise of a new movement known as the Emergent Movement.  It’s strongly influenced by Post-modernism and can be difficult to define as a result.  There are two basic expressions of post-modernism in the church.  The first is sometimes called “the Emerging Church” and is an attempt to rework the worship styles and modes of the church to appeal to a post-modern world. Theologically it remains conservative but might encourage exploration into other practices that might have been neglected by traditionally conservative churches.  The other is most represent by “the Emergent Village” which embraces Post-modern notions of truth.  Everything in the church (not just worship style and spiritual practice) is up for re-evaluation in Emergent churches. It is often criticized for reintroducing liberal theology with a new method of epistemology. Both variations (emerging and emergent) are finding their own expressions across denominational lines.

If I had to tag the LDS church with the categories above, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to discover that Joseph Smith was attending a Methodist church before founding the LDS church. The Methodist church at the time was focused on Holiness and Evangelical practice and had not yet adopted any form of liberalism. Even the LDS worship style resembles 19th Century Methodism. As the Community of Christ has returned to orthodoxy it’s been no shock to see them embrace liberal Methodism.  It will be interesting to see where the LDS church goes as many of its academics begin to explore liberal Biblical theology but the leadership of the church remains firm on a conservative reading of its other scriptures.

About our Debate

I thought Jared made some great points in a comment on another post. I didn’t want it to get “lost” in the comments section of that post, so I’m offering it here as it’s own posting. Thanks Jared.


A couple of things that I could add regarding the Mormon-Catholic-Protestant debate/dialog:

Naturally, devotees of these three faiths believe theirs is naturally better than the others. I think they each can make legitimate challenges to the others that are grounded in scripture, science, history, or intuition. I also think that there are believable arguments that appear to discredit all of them based on these same grounds. Some, but not all, of the arguments used by devotees and the irreligious alike unfairly draw from perpetual misinterpretations and ignorance of the doctrine and history of these faiths.

This said, I think the apologetics in all three faiths are advanced enough to counter almost all of the arguments against the faiths with explanations that the devoted can accept and feel comfortable with, generally because the core of the faith is not based on argument or reason that can be readily disputed. However, the apologetic arguments are not really convincing unless you shift your belief to the paradigm from which the arguments are made.

I personally think apologetics deals with the outer-trappings of a faith and overlooks the core, the reason for belief and the heart of the spiritual experience. I think it is a sort of comfort blanket that soothes us when we face the chaotic reality and uncertainty of the vast variety of human experience with the divine. It helps us think that we can ultimately understand and explain what is at other times admittedly ultimately unknowable and unexplainable.

I personally think my understanding of Mormonism explains the big picture of spirituality better than Protestantism or Catholicism, but my understanding is far from mainstream. But I can’ t reasonably think Mormons in general are any better or worse connected to God than other sincere followers of Christ. I would agree that many Mormons, including leaders, are stupid, ignorant and supremely uninspired. But that, of course can be said of all people. I think it is really the pot calling the kettle black to expect any other religion, scripture, or church to be free of such foibles, no matter what their claims to inspiration and infallablity.

Perhaps the most difficult problem in interfaith dialogue is to acknowledge and respect the spiritual experiences of devotees of a faith foreign to ours, even when their doctrinal paradigm is incommensurate with the paradigm that our experience with God has lead us to. Acknowledging that others may not just be under the influence of the ”devil” may leave our faith feeling vulnerable and without all of the answers. It forces us to make sense of a God of all people who is involved in each of these spiritual experiences, even as those who believe do not have the “right” picture of Him or whose prejudices may taint that experience. Such acceptance may allow us to give up our “resistance” to “evil” as Jesus suggests and may ultimately lead us to a position that will allow brotherhood and sisterhood across the sectarian boundaries.