Mormon/Evangelical Dialogue (Claiming Christ), Part One

It’s Super Tuesday!

And it is time for a rousing Mormon-Evangelical debate.

Tonight, with all the American politics raging among us, I just opened up a mail order on a new book, Claiming Christ(Brazos Press, 2007) by Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott.

After reading the introduction, I pause to quote McDermott:

Fundamentalists tend to read the Bible more literally, while evangelicals tend to look more carefully at genre and literary and historic context.  Fundamentalists question the value of human culture that is not created by Christians or related to the Bible, whereas evangelicals see God’s “common grace” working in and through all human culture.  Fundamentalists tend to restrict their social witness to protests against homosexual practice and abortion, but evangelicals also want to fight racism, sexism, and poverty.  Fundamentalists often want to separate themselves from liberal Christians (which sometimes means evangelicals), while evangelicals are more willing to work with other Christians toward common religious and social goals. While both groups preach salvation by grace, fundamentalists tend to focus so much on rules and restrictions (do’s and don’ts) that their hearers can get the impression that Christianity means following  behavioral rules.  Evangelicals, on the other hand, focus more on the person and work of Christ, and personal relationship with him, as the heart of Christian faith (10, emphasis mine).

As a fundamentalist, I put in bold italics the sentence that is the huge heart issue for me.  If someone does not confess Jesus is Lord and embrace the heart of the gospel, I do not consider this person a Christian.  I separate myself from Marcus Borg and his “liberal Christianity.”  The person and work of Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, is everything to me.  And yes I will separate from other “evangelicals” on this issue.

Thinking of heart issues . . .


  1. This is huge!

    If you consider yourself a conservative Christian and you want someone with conservative values in the White House you must vote for Romney. Dr Dobson said in a statement yesterday that a vote for Huckabee is essentially a vote for McCain and if McCain wins the nomination he won’t vote.

    Listen to his statment:

    Now pass this information on to your fellow Christian friends.

  2. Ama,

    This is interesting. Thanks for the link. I have had Dobson’s thoughts mentioned to me before.

    My trust is in the Lord for whatever happens at the end of this year in America.

  3. Let’s define terms before we debate, shall we?

    “The word “liberal” in liberal Christianity does not refer to a leftist (or rightist for that part) political agenda or set of beliefs, but rather to the freedom of thought and belief associated with the philosophical and religious paradigms developed during the Age of Enlightenment.

    “Liberal Christianity, broadly speaking, is a method of biblical hermeneutics, an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings. Liberal Christianity is not a belief structure, and as such is not subject to any Church Dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church Dogma. A liberal Christian, however, may hold certain beliefs in common with traditional, orthodox, or even conservative Christianity.”
    (Wiki: Liberal Christianity)

    “[Marcus] Borg does not believe that the bible has to be taken literally if it is to be taken seriously, an idea he developes in Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, subtitled Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally. Indeed, he purports that truths can be found in the many messages and metaphors of the Bible stories even though he states that such stories may not have actually happened at all. Rather than asking what the events in certain New Testament stories actually were, he challenges his audience with another question – what effect must this man Jesus have had on the people he came into contact with for so many rich stories to have been written about him after his life?”
    (Wiki: Marcus Borg)

    Borg is more of a progressive Christian than a liberal one. And yes, there is a difference.

    Todd – direct question – in your own words, please define “liberal Christianity.”

  4. Todd,

    The part of the quote which you “bolded” seems to be saying that fundamentalists are not as ecumenical as other evangelicals in the sense that they are not willing to work with other groups and persons to accomplish “social justice”. I think that is an important point and I think Stephen Robinson’s experience related in “How Wide the Divide” in the introduction (which discussed how he and several LDS Bishops attended a community meeting which was fighting against pornography, but the fundamentlist evangelical pastors there protested and threatened to walk out if the LDS representatives didn’t leave) is a good example of this problem.

    I want to read this book (although I haven’t read anything by Millett really), and I am surprised I haven’t heard any reviews since it came out.

  5. Dart, I would stand side by side with an LDS bishop in placing my community opposition against a porno shop in town and the victimization of women by men’s lusts. Believe me. (I would like to get more involved with LDS bishops, but I don’t want to them to be afraid or offended when I desire to kindly jump into theological discussions about God and the gospel and their personal salvation.)

    But I am fervently opposed to McDermott calling a “liberal Christian” a Christian, when he or she (theologian, pastor, or layperson) opposes the very deity of the Christ and his supernatural work.

    Yes, I consider that a fundamental component of Christianity as well.

    It is almost like McDermott is placing me as a bad guy for even pointing that out. Those unloving fundamentalists . . . how dare they love Jesus Christ that much to even interrupt the pseudo, ecumenical, religious unity.

  6. Todd,

    I realize your willingness to cooperate on social and moral goals held in common with LDS Christians (I wasn’t implicating otherwise). But I simply think you may be reading too much into the quote by McDermott–for even he wants to maintain certain “boundaries” for Christianity and certainly believes (from what I have briefly read) in the deity of Christ and his saving mission. I don’t think he is saying to just ignore theological differences. I think his point is simply that many fundamentalists are so focused on maintaining their exclusivity that they fail to deal properly with their “fellow man” (as well as in inter-religious dialogue). I think you are simply reading too much into his quote.

  7. I’d just like to know what exactly you aren’t finding Christian… still waiting for that definition.

  8. Dart, would McDermott or N.T. Wright allow me the right to deny Borg being a Christian based on his publicized statements or would they say that is against the “rules of kindness and love” because it shuts down all dialogue?

    I tend to think they would both rule me out, place me on the sidelines, and continue to carry on their scholarly discussions.

  9. Tate, have you read any books by Borg or any of his group before I enter this discussion with you? (which I am happy to do, by the way). I won’t avoid you on this.

  10. Yes.

    So let me bring to light some of his quotes that bother me.

    And where he and N.T. Wright say, “Oh, don’t bother with Todd Wood; he is just one of those fundamentalists gnashing his own teeth.”

  11. Todd,

    You have the right in our free country to call anyone non-Christian if you so choose–but don’t expect other people to use your very narrow view of what “Christian” means (since it seems to exclude LDS Christians, Catholics, and many other Christian groups, including other evangelicals).

    I really just don’t know how Todd Wood can really judge everyone else’s personal faith and relationship with Jesus, but if you want to create your own personal philosophical doctrinal litmus tests for so doing and then apply them to everyone else you are welcome to do so. I don’t need your approval, and I am happy that Jesus won’t quiz everyone on lots of detailed philosophical doctrinal questions before he lets them into heaven.

    Everyone else who disagrees with your terms and tests still has the right to call themselves “Christian” if they so choose in our free country also (including myself and other LDS Christians, and also Catholics, etc.).

    And I think McDermott has the obvious right to still call some “liberal Christians” *since that is the typical term used to describe them.* Moreover, virtually everyone is “liberal” to fundamentalists–even other fundamentalists would say some other fundamentalists are “liberals”.

  12. Dart, if I had Todd Wood’s way, I wouldn’t be narrow. Again trust me on this one. And if you think there would not be the natural tendency in me just to sentimentally embrace every Tom and Harry as Christian, just ask my wife. 🙂 It comes easy for the people-loving, people-pleasing part of Todd Wood to just sit around the camp fire and sing with everybody. Does anybody want a smore? I love it when everybody is smiling. I have plenty of marshmellows to go around.

    But then I read the Bible . . . and there are some verses in there that are very troublesome to me as I wipe the chocolate from my lips. What? There is a narrow way. But Lord, who will want to believe Your narrow way? Why can’t I preach that everyone is going to be one big happy family, all ending up in the same sphere of eternal bliss?

    And if I were to really let Todd Wood have his way, I would say, “God, I think some things that you have recorded in that Bible are not kind, not compassionate–they are narrow and unjustly exclusive.”

    Dart, do you think God would have every right to look at me and say,”Todd Wood, who in the world are you to judge My words, My understanding, and My purposes?”

    But biblical scholars and Christian laymen do it all the time, and they don’t even care.

    Tate, three times already? Are you trying to strike me out before I even get up to the plate? (smiling)

    Consider this:

    Jesus, A New Vision (HarperCollins 1987)

    “The popular image is most familiar to Christian and nonChristian alike: the image of a Jesus as a divine or semidivine figure, whose purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and whose life and death open the possibility of eternal life (2). . . . The popular image has its roots deep in the past, indeed in the language of the New Testament itself. Among the gospels, its primary source is John, probably the most loved and familiar gospel. There Jesus speaks of his identity in the most exalted terms known in his culture, especially in the magnificent series of “I am” statements: “I am the light of the world,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” “Before Abraham was, Iam.” The self-proclamation of his own identity in the “I am” statements is buttressed by other passages in John: “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” “I and the Father are one.” In a single verse, the fourth gospel sums up Jesus’ identity, purpose, message, and the proper response to him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (3). . . . The popular image, certainly, is widely accepted. Yet as an image of the historical Jesus—of what Jesus was like as a figure of history—before his death—the popular image is not accurate. Indeed, it is seriously misleading (4).

    Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (HarperCollins, 1994)

    “By the end of [Borg’s] childhood, the ingredients of the popular image of Jesus were in place: Jesus was the divinely begotten Son of God who died for the sins of the world and whose message was about himself and his saving purpose and the importance of believing in him. Indeed, John 3.16, that verse I memorized as a preschooler, expressed this childhood image perfectly: Jesus is the divine savior in whom one is to believe for the sake of receiving eternal life.

    I believed in that Jesus without difficulty and without effort. I now understand why it was so easy: I received this image of Jesus in what I have since learned to call the state of precritical naivete–that childhood state in which we take for granted that whatever the significant authority figures in our lives tell us to be true is indeed true. But this state of childhood belief was not to last” (6).

    The Lost Gospel: Q (Seastone, 1996)

    “Written in the 50s of the first century, only a couple of decades after the death of Jesus, Q is significantly earlier than the four Gospels of the New Testament. Mark, the earliest of these, was written around the year 70; Matthew and Luke followed a decade later; and John probably in the last decade of the first century” (13).

    Tate, in this book, supposedly the “original sayings of Jesus” are laid out for us. Do you think like the Jesus scholars that this book should be an authoritative dogma for your life?

    The God We Never Knew (HarperCollins, 1997)

    “Fundamentalism as a conscious and deliberate insistence on the literal and historical factuality of Scripture came into existence early in the twentieth century. Rather than being “traditional Christianity,” it is a modern reaction to the worldview of the Enlightenment. I agree with its rejection of the modern worldview as an absolute, but I cannot agree with its attempt to establish the Bible as source of divinely guaranteed factual knowledge” (8n8).

    Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (HarperCollins, 2006)

    Since the writing of Jesus: A New Vision, 20 years ago, Borg would now say in this book: “I would say I see Jesus more fully now—but that is for others to judge” (2).

    And Tate, I don’t know everything in Borg’s heart (only the omniscient God does), but I do judge his words in reading this book. And here is my judgment: Borg is not beautifully compassionate to the portrayal of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Far from it. Just look at the scripture index in the back of the book for proof, comparing John to the other gospels. It’s sad.

    My fallible definition (I just dreamed it up today for you, Tate) : Liberal Christianity is a growing branch of religion in America that claims to be in the center of Christianity but rejects the necessity of God the Son dying for sinners and rejects the Bible as factual revelation of Deity. And to put me between a rock and hard spot, liberal Christians come up to me with a smile and say, “Todd, let me worship with you. And if you get upset over my unbelief, then let me declare that you are not an authentic follower of Jesus Christ, you self-righteous fool.”

    But I don’t understand that . . . because I am not the one rejecting the absolute necessity of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    What righteousness does Todd Wood have? Really?

    Guys, I just finished teaching the end of Isaiah 43 last night. What is the case that I will plead before Jehovah someday? What is the self-justification that I might offer? My only plea will be the righteousness of the suffering, sacrificial Servant. And yet I am the awful guy for passionately encouraging others to make this their heart dogma as well.

    [For more books on even “a more respected theologian” in Borg’s vein, read John Dominic Crossan: The Historical Jesus (HarperCollins, 1991), Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperCollins, 1994), and Who Is Jesus? (John Knox Press 1996), etc.]

  13. Todd,

    You said:

    “But I don’t understand that . . . because I am not the one rejecting the absolute necessity of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

    So it is salvation by correct understanding of the correct theory of atonement after all? And here I thought it was about faith in Christ and personal relationship (something not very easy for others to see, huh?). I feel sorry for everyone who can’t be saved and truly benefit from the atonement because they cannot articulate or understand your theory of atonement which seems to be little more than the penal substitution theory and imputation of righteousness (as Luther understood it). Its unfortunate Paul and the NT writers and almost all early Christians will be barred from heaven on such a view. Oh well.

    Todd, you don’t seem to understand that your theory of atonement is just that–a theory. There are much more adequate ways of understanding, in my judgment, Jesus’ salvific role and the nature of his atonement without all the anachronistic readings the Reformed/Lutheran tradition forces onto the NT authors and without all the philosophical problems (some of which are quite morally reprehensible in my view) that attend penal substitution/imputed righteousness theory(ies). I really think you’ll enjoy Blake’s second book which discusses theories of atonement at length.

  14. 1. And here I thought it was about faith in Christ and personal relationship.

    It is. Borg and I would agree on this. But where he and others would say, “He [Jesus] is a good man” (John 7:12); I am yearning for a confession from their hearts that goes way beyond this. I am asking them to trumpet to the world, Jesus is God.

    2. I think the N.T. writers see substitution, Dart. But it is not just the N.T. writers.

    What do you think of Isaiah 43? Do you see any remote idea of substitutionary ransom in verses 3-4?

    Or am I being dupped by Western thinking, creedal formulas, and reformation theology when I see the idea of substitution in that ancient text?

    3. Hey, I just received in the mail Blake’s first book.

  15. Todd,

    I do indeed think you are saturated by Lutheran/Reformed thinking and that it limits your interpretations of the biblical texts–but I bet you already knew I thought that. I think this is unfortunate, since I believe there are much more moving, complete, coherent, and inspiring views of Atonement than the penal substitution/imputation of Christ’s righteousness views to which you subscribe.

    I am glad you finally will be able to read some of Blake’s more fleshed out and closely argued views. I first read his first book on my mission actually (almost 2 years ago) and I have been heavily influenced by many of his views (as I am sure you have been able to tell). I haven’t read the book in a while, but my favorite chapters are the last two that deal with the problems of traditional Christology and important LDS contributions to a coherent Christology.

  16. In upcoming posts on HI4LDS that might intersect with Blake’s first book, let me know. In case I miss anything.

    And of course, I have to tell you, Dart. I see corporate and individual election in that first paragraph in Isaiah 43.

    I am heavily influenced by Isaiah right now. 🙂

    And on this particular thread, I would like to introduce the first chapter of Claiming Christ, dealing with Bibliology (Inspiration, Sufficiency, Authority, Canonicity).

    Stay tuned.

  17. McDermott wrote, “I would say that scripture is literally true only when its authors intend it be read literally” (9). I agree 100%. But I also hold steadfast to the idea that Genesis 1 and 2 can “be taken as straightforwardly historical accounts.”

    Chapter One – Biblical inspiration, authority, sufficiency, and canonicity

    I am running into difficulty over the section on “Sola Scriptura?” I am left with the impression that Jonathan Edwards was hypocritical in his stance on scripture authority. I don’t think the classic American theologian would deny the use of our God-given reasoning abilities and imagination in the process of hermeneutics, but I don’t think that this particular sentence by McDermott does full justice in the dialogue with Millet: “But in practice he [Edwards] seemed to operate with the assumption that the Bible can be read only through and with tradition” (17). The typology of Edwards’ theology seems more anchored in N.T. data rather than tradition. What do we do with passages like John 5:46-47, John 8:56, etc. Could it be that the very words of Jesus are the pointing stick for classic Edwardian theology?

    I agree we all use tradition and creeds. But to their detriment, some utilize t&c more than others. For instance, I despise the term, “creedal Christian.” For in our church articles of faith, you would find these words, the Holy Bible is “the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.” And maybe it would be advantageous to flesh this out a little bit more, seeing how we live and minister in the I-15 corridor. But as a radical independent here in the West, I would humbly and eagerly agree with McDermott on this: “It is a positive virtue to learn from wise and godly readers who have gone before us.” Especially in American church history, the ancients are solid teachers for my soul compared to much of the contemporary and popular.

    Millet is clear on the fact the LDS reject the concept of scriptural inerrancy (which is a big gulf between LDS friends and me). And he concludes his dismissal of the doctrine with these words – “Essence, not infinite detail is what matters” (35)

    What is that suppose to mean? Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists get too caught up in the details of the wonderful words of life? They shouldn’t love the words of Christ in John’s Gospel that much? Just stick with the more general message? Conversation loaded with details always reveals the intensity of love toward the person or the doctrine. Likewise, detail is crucial for scholarly interpretation, and Mr. Millet knows it.

    I reject the bibliology of Barbara Brown Taylor. And I think it is unfair of Richard Bushman to declare without qualification, “For all their learning and their eloquence, the clergy could not be trusted with the Bible. They did not understand what the book meant. It was a record of revelations, and the ministry had turned into a handbook. The Bible had become a text to be interpreted rather than an experience to be lived. In the process, the power of the book was lost” (39-40).

    Who was Joseph Smith talking to in order to give Bushman this impression? Enlightened liberal scholars?

    In the conclusion of this first chapter, I question #1, #3, and #5 where evangelicals and Mormons agree (45). (And btw, I have noticed that McDermott ends almost all of his “Rebuttal and Concluding Thoughts” with sentences affirming agreement. No wonder LDS find him pleasant for dialogue. It is always a happy ending. 🙂

  18. Sorry I haven’t responded Todd, I have been rather busy at my own blog for a change.

    I will try and comment on the book you are reading and your comments in the near future.

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