Session Three: The Legitimacy of Mormon/Evangelical Dialogue, and Should We Even be talking?
Dr. William Heersink (Professor of theology and missions, Salt Lake Theological Seminary)
Ten years ago, an LDS friend of mine handed me a book, How Wide the Divide? This book was a landmark volume.
Twenty five years ago, a campus pastor felt burdened to start a school. It was called the Utah Institute for Biblical Studies, now Salt Lake Theological Seminary. The founder was kind, seeking to understand LDS in a holistic context and culture. And today, we would love to have students, even LDS students, pursue our studies offered.
Fifty years ago, an evangelical tuned into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He sent a large contribution. They refused his money. He made a phone call and connected with Richard L. Evans.
In their conversations, they felt their needed to be a lot more interchange. The Richard L. Evans Chair for Christian Understanding was established. The first person to hold that chair is Truman Madsen, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School, student under Krister Stendahl and Paul Tillich.
William Heersink asked Truman Madsen to come up to share a few things about this particular chair.
They gave me a chair but not a desk. Richard Evans told this evangelical: We had more in common than in separations. And this man said, “The two greatest Christians he ever knew was Billy Graham and Richard Evans.” The responsibility of the chair: “Your assignment is teach that there are other good Christians but also to convince others that we are Christians.” This chair has now expanded to three in the chair. Robert Millet, and one to Asia, and one elsewhere. “Does this get us started Brother Bill?”
And now back to Dr. William Heersink . . .
I first heard about my dialogue partner 30 years ago. We had dialogue on the Westminster Presbyterian Campus. One day, the Presbyterians spoke. The next day, the LDS spoke. Truman Madsen understood the questions. He knows our language. He was very concerned and motivated that we understood things in a proper way.
I value so much of the conversations that I have had. It is this kind of dynamic that helps us see real people.
Should we even be talking? My first response, “Should we even be asking that question?” On the other hand, I want to pay attention to the threats or risks.
1. The threat of war . . . war of words. Barriers that build up instead of bridges.
2. The threat of surrender . . . perhaps one of those in the party can be especially persuasive or manipulative.
3. The threat of superficial truths. An unwritten or unspoken treaty that we will only talk about the safe stuff.
What about these threats? As followers of Jesus should we be paralyzed by fear? No, we are faith-based not fear-based. Mature love casts out fear. In my experience, we have found that many of those threats have not risen. Have the conversations changed us?
I respect people who do reject this.
But here are some positive things.
This kind of dialogue is scriptural.
Dialogomai – most often in the book of Acts where Paul shares Christ.
This could mean dialogue. I. Howard Marshal and Craig Blomberg (two N.T. scholars). Dialogue is rooted in the very heart of scripture. How did God want to communicate with the world?
In the most interactive way, Jesus communicated God’s word to us. Logos – word, dia – between, through, and thorough.
Among evangelicals, missions went to ecumenicism, then went too far. Bill quoted that it is in Jesus alone that there is salvation, Acts 4. This created skepticism. Yet in 1974, the great world missionary congress in Switzerland met.
John Stott emphasized dialogue. Note his book, The Christian Mission, a whole section on dialogue. This does not have to mean syncretism. Dialogue creates humility, general respect for others, authenticity, and integrity.
We have solid theological support for this endeavor.
Also, dialogue gives the context for the most effective testimony for Jesus.
Urgency of dialogue
Sometimes we have these questions. Who won? Where we really real? Was I honest? Was it worth it?
It is an aching kind of feeling. Visceral. We should be able to embrace one another in our sincere faith in Jesus. Could that gap be bridged?
What is Jesus thinking about this?
And then I think of the warnings. Yet on the other hand what about that other group that was casting out demons. Jesus praises them.
In the prayer of Jesus in John 17, he prayed for himself, for the twelve, and for those that would believe, and that they would be one.
We as evangelicals are not ready to wipe out differences, but should not we be talking and praying that those differences be resolved? The goal is not to be identical.
It is not uniformity.
Dr. Truman Madsen (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Brigham Young University)
He shared two stories to give the principles of inclusion. At least, let us be friends. I believe this is happening more than ever.
A General Authority, in effect, said this last night, “This is important. This is bigger than I thought. And I support this.”
We need each other, especially when a world is catapulting to catastrophe. We need each other. Standing together. Not just sitting.
Here are points of agreement.
1. Family is central. Fatherhood. Motherhood. Parenthood Crucial in the design. The family is in trouble. Actually, it is in freefall. Can we not stand together on this? Building love in the home rather than estrangement.
2. We are increasingly concerned with the academic interest that is far and away secular. A professor at Haifa University said about the students, “They are so blankety, blankety secular.”
Paul Tillich is looked upon as one of the greatest Christian theologians. But read carefully, he wanted to redefine religion, redefine God. He is more secular.
We speak of a personal God and a personal relationship with God. Even the Ivy leagues that were used to train ministers is now almost 100% secular.
3. Jesus pleaded for unity. The ecumenical movement – they agreed to talk. Those who are called to discipleship must love your enemies.
Chaim Potok, the author of the book, The Chosen, came to BYU. A student asked him, “Do you love us as much as we love you?” He replied, “What is there not to love?”
4. Richard Evans – For 42 years, he wrote that two minute, the Spoken Word message, but he was forbidden by CBS to get specific. His commitment was Jesus is the Christ. We live in the latter-day saints. And we need each other.
He spoke about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Isaac Watt’s hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, at the Garden Tomb. The caretaker there said that this hymn was instrumental in turning him from atheism to Christianity.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a gift far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.
My witness to you is that this would have fulfilled the life expectations of Richard Evans. Jesus Christ lives. This is the core of what we share, and in a measure, what we have in common.
Conclusion : We need each other. And to give you a definition of the kingdom of God; it is not limited to the organized LDS Church. The kingdom of God is for all man seeking him. Even in the millennium, our understanding is that there will be multiple faiths and religions. Let us postpone judgment and leave it in the hands of Christ.