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.

Mormonism Demystified

I listened to a recent podcast at On Being, by Krista Tippett. She interviews religious thinkers of every stripe. I like Tippett, definitely on the happy liberal unitarian side, but positive and fair.  In 2008 she interviewed conservative Mormon apologist Robert Millet (Audio /Transcript).

In the wake of the Romney-Jeffress discussion over Mormonism, seeking a less “orthodox” voice she interviewed Joanna Brooks. (Audio/Transcript)

Tippet described Mormonism and how she sees Brooks as a good representative:

“A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.

I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. HerAsk Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes.
And Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.

I thought Brook’s perspective was a refreshing alternative to apologists like Millet’s.    I find her as a good example of one who remains faithful to Mormonism despite serious problems with the way the Church represents its ideals.  Mormonism with its authoritarian structure stuck on top of a very expansive, revolutionary, and often undeveloped view of the world has produced many who live the faith while dealing with many internal contradictions.

Hard Issues Move Us Forward

I just listened to this 2008 interview from “The Drew Marshall Show“.  It features Mormon scholar Robert Millet and Evangelical scholar Jim Beverly.  I really liked this interview.  Beverly and Marshall ask Millet a number of questions I would put to any Mormon if I were to have an hour long discussion with them.  In many ways their discussion mirrored a recent post I wrote that clarifies a number of misunderstandings that Evangelicals have about Mormonism.  They also touched on a number of topics that cause problems with Mormon truth claims.

At the end, Dr. Millet says “We only make progress when we can talk about the hard issues.  We may not come away agreeing on everything but at least we can come away with more a little more respect for one another’s view.”  I agree wholeheartedly.

Give it a listen.

Direct Link

Ravi Zacharias at the Mormon Tabernacle

In 2004 Ravi Zacharias was allowed to speak in the Mormon Tabernacle. This video includes the entire program from that event including Richard Mouw’s controversial comments.

Probably my favorite line from the sermon was “Once you get to heaven and see Jesus Christ, you won’t care to have any other roommate.”  That so expresses my impression of the banality and baseness I find in the Mormon promise of eternal marriage.

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

The Top 10 Things Jesus Would Say to Mormons

as told by Dr. Craig Blomberg in a sermon found here (paraphrased)

  • 10. I admire your devotion to your families, to your wards and to giving generously to your church
  • 9. I never intended anyone to believe in me and act in any way they please. You are right to reject that idea.
  • 8. Please don’t judge me based on unkind things done by some who profess to know me.
  • 7. I applaud your restored emphasis on Bible study. Please note when you read the Book of Mormon how often it says I am one God in three persons and how often it says that salvation comes by my grace alone.
  • 6. It is tragic how often my churches have fought with one another, but no one who has ever rejected all of the existing churches and tried to restart my church has ever gotten it correct.
  • 5. I liked what Joseph Smith was doing at the beginning a lot more than what he was doing at the end.
  • 4. I never established any priesthood or ordinances that required you to be part of One True Church to receive them.
  • 3. I LOVE your good deeds, but PLEASE don’t count on them to earn you anything. (Blomberg notes that in his discussions with LDS scholars everyone on both sides of the table agrees on this one).
  • 2. On judgment day all that will really matter is that you have accepted me as Savior and Lord. . . and it has to be both.
  • 1. I love you and really do want you to be part of my forever family.

What do you think? I think he hit all the major items I’d hope to hear from Jesus in regards to Mormonism (as if I could dictate what he would say).

Are Evangelicals Being Duped by Millet’s PR Spin

Yesterday afternoon I made a call into the Frank Pastore radio show to defend Richard Mouw’s comments that we Evangelicals need to apologize to the LDS. Frank acts like his an expert about Mormonism, but it’s obvious that he’s not saying anything that wasn’t given to him by Walter Martin and Ed Decker. It’s quite clear he hasn’t done any of his own research or come to any of his own conclusions (reading the Book of Mormon being a bare minimum to talk authoritatively about Mormonism). He’s kind of got a “Walter Martin said it, that settles it” attitude. It’s no surprise to find out that Walter’s daughter, Jill, is influencing his rhetoric, because EVERYTHING he said was right out of her playbook from the last couple of months.

Part of Frank’s diatribe was against an event at Mariner’s Church called “A Mormon and Evangelical in Conversation“. This is something that Greg Johnson and Robert Millet have done over 50 times now. (it’s influence on me is obvious) The two stand up and present the similarities and differences between Mormonism and Evangelicalism. Pastore was contending that Greg Johnson was selling out Evangelicalism and that Robert Millet was running all over him. But all of the callers that actually attended the event said that Johnson held his ground but it was Millet who made huge concessions. Many were quite surprised to hear Millet say that salvation comes by grace alone (a keystone of Evangelicalism).

Pastore chooses to ignore this and implies that Millet is just part of the vast LDS PR machine. He believes that Millet is not at all sincere in that belief but is just saying it to confuse Evangelicals into believing that LDS are no different. This accusation is just silly in my mind. First off, Millet has just as many critics on the LDS side as Johnson has on the Evangelical side. It’s quite clear that his comments are controversial in some LDS circles that reach all the way up into the 12 LDS Apostles.

Second, if Millet is confusing Evangelicals with his comments, he’s doubly confusing Mormons. 99.999% of Evangelicals have now idea who Greg Johnson is. They don’t consider him any sort of authority figure in Evangelicalism. But many many Mormons know exactly who Robert Millet is and what position he holds at BYU. They read his books and listen to what he says. If he tells Mormons that salvation comes by grace alone, and he doesn’t get disciplined, then Mormons are inclined to start believing that he is right. It’s of relatively small consequence if some Evangelicals believe him (because they think Mormons are heretical on a number of other topics), it’s a huge victory though if Mormons believe that Millet is right. That means other Mormons are going to start believing and living out salvation through grace alone. This is a MAJOR step in bringing Mormonism out of heresy.

What Pastore fails to understand is that Mormo doctine has a large oral tradition. A great deal of Mormon doctrine is not really written down in precise technical and theological ways. What many Mormons believe to be doctrine is often what they hear Mormon authorities and other teachers repeating. So if Mormons hear Robert Millet say that “salvation is by grace alone” or that “the Father did not have physical relations with Mary” then they start to believe that this is what Mormon doctrine is. What Pastore also fails to understand is that it really doesn’t matter if this is a contradiction to what deceased Mormon leaders said. It only matters if it’s a contradiction to what current Mormon leaders say (and right now NO ONE is publicly contradicting Millet, not even his critics).

I believe God is capable of making something big happen in the LDS church. I also believe that we are starting to see some early glimpses of it. I’ll admit that I’m an optimist about it. Pastore and others are looking at the same things I see and instead are choosing to view them cynically. In my view, grace is irresistible, even if Mormons are lying about their belief in its power, I believe they will come to embrace it. It’s too powerful to pick up and play pretend without it affecting you.

He’s No Apostle But He’s Got Influence

It’s becoming unquestionable that Robert Millet has considerable influence on the LDS church. This is somewhat significant because Dr. Millet is not a General Authority nor an Apostle of the church. In 2004 in his book “Getting at the Truth” he was the first to state that Mormon doctrine can only be called true doctrine if it passes 1 of 4 test. They are:

1) is it found in the 4 standard works
2) was it taught recently at General Conference
3) is it found in current LDS curriculum
4) is it announced as a revelation or proclamation

This was thought for a time to be Dr. Millet’s own criteria for defining what is and is not doctrine. But recently the church itself seemed to endorse this very criteria in this press release (which is not doctrine). If this is in fact they way to conclude definitively what is or is not Mormon doctrine that means we now know for sure that the following are not Mormon doctrine: Adam-God, Blood Atonement, King Follet Discourse, The Curse of Cain, Mary having physical sex with God the Father.

As an Evangelical I find this evidence of Dr. Millet’s influence to be quite encouraging. I’m encouraged because there are few LDS scholars who are as friendly to Evangelicals as Dr. Millet. To see that he’s not just friendly, but that he clearly has influence is very encouraging.