Puzzling Evangelical/LDS Conversation

Steve posts a Bob Millet email on “Unfolding Relationships with Evangelicals.”

Craig Blomberg provides a resounding trisagion amen in the thread.

May I be honest?

I am puzzled, scratching my head, while ministering with and among others in the I-15 LDS corridor. 

I am just a small, fallible, sinful Idaho spud, not understanding everything around me; but some of the things Bob says are not right.

Is it loving to say that?

31 comments

  1. No,Todd, it isn’t loving to do a hit and run like you do here. What is not right about what Millett said? Making the allegation, you have the obligation to point out what you have in mind and show how it is wrong.

  2. I’m afraid I have to agree with Blake here, Todd. If you are going to raise criticism you have to state exactly what you find objectionable. Are you disagreeing with the specific issues raised on evangleical-LDS conversations that Bob discusses, or are you taking issue with Bob’s doctrinal views, or something else? It isn’t at all clear what you’re objecting to. In addition, I’d like to see evangelicals become more balanced in their critique by beginning with a statement of what they might actually find positive and agree with before moving to criticism.

  3. Blake and John, quickly, don’t you think that conversion has everything to do with the glory of God in conversation?

  4. Of course, and I don’t see that as being in conflict with the various forms of LDS-Evangelical dialogue, even where some may disagree with either party in the discussion, or more specifically, with aspects of Bob’s recent commentary on it. I’m still waiting for specifics about what is not allegedly right, and with this new query of yours, how you see this as related to (positively or negatively) the glory of God in the process.

  5. Something more substantive? Well, this is all very chummy, dialogue, understanding, hands-across-th- divide and all and I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade – but:

    Mormonism teaches that all other churches are apostate, that Mormonism represents a restoration of sound Christian truth and alone has the authority to speak for God. The mandate for Mormons is to convert everyone else to their faith, either in this life or the next (in itself an unbiblical teaching). Truly, the rest of us are not “those other Christians” as is so fondly believed by some, but those apostates who teach and profess “creeds that are abominable to God” (JSH 1:19). We, like the pitiful preacher in the service of Satan once portrayed on the temple film, teach things that are muddled and incomprehensible and need to turn from our futile and apostate ways and believe Mormonism. If Mormonism was true, frankly, I would be glad to hear such a message and be saved from my folly!

    Christians, on the other hand, are warned frequently in Scripture to beware of, avoid, give warnings about and guard against “different gospels” (Galatians 1:6/9, c.f.) Just as Mormonism teaches that ours is an apostate and corrupted gospel, with no authority and abominable to God, so Christians regard Mormonism as no gospel at all because it is “a different gospel to the one we received”. It is our mandate to witness to those involved in the counterfeit religion of Mormonism and bring them to know the true gospel as preached by Paul to the Galatians. If Mormonism is not true then we cheat Mormons of an eternal inheritance by seeking dialogue instead of witnessing.

    Mormons like to refer to us as “traditional Christians” but this is misleading. We are not “traditional Christians” but Christians. Differentiating between Mormons and “traditional Christians” is itself a deception, leading people to think that there are two types of Christians, i.e. Mormons and “traditional Christians”. Christians who subscribe to this idea are lending their weight to this deception. Mormons are not Christians, only Christians are Christians.

    Mormons are not Mormons in the same way that Baptists are Baptists, Methodists are Methodists or Pentecostals are Pentecostals. They are not a denomination and there are not merely denominational differences between them and Christianity. They are different from Christianity on every fundamental of the faith, i.e. the nature of God, the person of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, the purposes of God in Creation, the nature and Fall of Man, the nature of sin, the work of the Cross, the means of redemption, the fate of man and the Bible which teaches us about these. In all this they challenge and reject Christian teaching.

    It is hard to see what constructive purpose such dialogue as is being celebrated here can serve if we fail to recognise these things. Of course, on a personal level we must have dialogue if we are to get on with our Mormon neighbours and if we are to share the gospel with them. However, we must avoid giving the impression that because we can get along we can somehow find common ground of any sort, not least because that is not the agenda of Mormonism, no matter how they might protest otherwise.

    Gordon B Hinckley is cited as an example of one who sought dialogue with Evangelicals. He is famously quoted as saying that Mormonism doesn’t tear down other religions (an oft-repeated and palpable untruth) and of offering all to come “bring what you have and see if we can add to it”. That, itself, should sound alarm bells for Bible-believing Christians. Nothing can be added to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. He is also famous for peddling the message that Mormonism, “seeks to make bad men good and good men better”. The gospel of Jesus Christ seeks to make dead men live! How on earth can this message of Mormonism add to that?

    By all means let us work together with all kinds of people of all creeds and nationalities for the common good. There is much that can be gained from being co-workers in a common civic cause, co-belligerents in a war against injustice. But we must beware of any efforts at being co-religionists with those who preach another gospel.

    Christians must remember what God had to say to the Churches in Pergamum (Rev.2:14-16) and Thyatira (Rev.2:20-25). We need to be reminded of his words of commendation to those who “do not hold to Satan’s so-called deep secrets”; warnings to those who “pretend to be [believers] but are not” (3:9); encouragement to believers to “hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (3:11) and especially his warnings to those who are “neither cold nor hot” (3:14/15).

    These last, I suspect, are the ones who will rub along with any fellow-traveller prepared to keep them company on the road and these we must avoid the most because they present the greatest danger to Christians with their message of “peace, peace”.

  6. Mike, you’re not “traditional Christians”, you’re “creedal Christians” and since you choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of the philosophical abstraction that is the one-substance Trinity of the creeds, you follow a “different Gospel” than that which was first established by Jesus Christ and his Apostles in Early Christianity. Therefore, the injunction to beware those who follow after a different Gospel than that which was preached by the Apostles applies to you and not to Latter-day Saints, who subscribe to Biblical Christianity including the belief that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God.

    You are correct to note there are differences between yourself as a creedal Christian and the beliefs of Latter-day Saints. This stems from the fact that Latter-day Saints hold to the Gospel as preached by the Apostles rather than the Gospel as conceived by Catholic politician-bishops centuries after the death of the Apostles.

    As I have often pointed out to Todd, the one-substance Trinity that you creedal Christians worship does not appear in the Bible. Rather, it results from a syllogism that can be supported by the Bible assuming that the nature of God really is a philosophical abstraction and that God is an alien to us as his children. (And that, for some reason, God created billions of utterly depraved human beings just so that the great majority of them could burn in hell for eternity.) But the syllogism that you worship is not the only legitimate reading of the Bible and, since it requires an elaborate extra-biblical artifice for its existence, it is not the most likely explanation for how there can be One God in the Old Testament but a Son of God in the New Testament.

    So, yeah, Latter-day Saints worship a different Jesus than you. We worship the New Testament Jesus and you worship the Jesus of the creeds.

    Thanks for pointing out the differences.

  7. Mike, you are disingenuous and dishonest yourself. I suppose you justify it because all people are utterly depraved and you are saved — once saved always saved, and all that un-Biblical nonsense.

    Gordon B Hinckley is cited as an example of one who sought dialogue with Evangelicals. He is famously quoted as saying that Mormonism doesn’t tear down other religions (an oft-repeated and palpable untruth) and of offering all to come “bring what you have and see if we can add to it”. That, itself, should sound alarm bells for Bible-believing Christians. Nothing can be added to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. He is also famous for peddling the message that Mormonism, “seeks to make bad men good and good men better”. The gospel of Jesus Christ seeks to make dead men live! How on earth can this message of Mormonism add to that?

    President Hinckley never preached that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was adding anything to the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

    It is curious, however, that you as creedal Christians have added so much to the simplicity of the message of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross through your adherence to the perplexities of the Trinity and other un-Biblical abominations such as election to salvation/damnation.

    Properly understood, the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows all the dead to live again — the Resurrection is Christ’s unconditional grace to all who have ever lived, for the purpose of allowing all people to stand before God to be judged in the flesh for their works, whether they be good or evil. Those who have chosen through their own free will to accept Jesus Christ, and who have shown that this is their conviction through baptism by those holding the proper authority and striving to the best of their ability to follow Christ’s teachings, will be clean from all sin thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ when they stand before God to be judged.

    However, we must avoid giving the impression that because we can get along we can somehow find common ground of any sort, not least because that is not the agenda of Mormonism, no matter how they might protest otherwise.

    Latter-day Saints believe that all people are children of God and are full of the spark of divinity. They therefore have substantial amounts of common ground with all people in the world, who are our brothers and sisters in a literal, family sense. Having faith in Jesus Christ and doing God’s will is the “agenda” of Latter-day Saints (just like it was the agenda of the earliest Christians).

  8. “Mormons like to refer to us as “traditional Christians” but this is misleading. We are not “traditional Christians” but Christians.”

    Actually “traditional Christians” is a pretty good descriptor, since the main thing you have going for you is the fact you’ve been around a while.

    Mike, I never liked Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement either. It makes the Restored Gospel of the LDS faith sound like a mere upgrade or an accessory that you attach to whatever belief paradigm you happen to be carrying around already.

    That’s not what the Restored Gospel is. The Restored Gospel is the central paradigm, it is the other faith traditions, beliefs, and teaching that add TO US. Not the other way around. We are a young faith, and we stand to gain a great deal by being polished, enriched, even corrected by the other great faith traditions. But it is Mormonism that provides the central framework for knowing the one true and living God. Namely the following:

    1. God is not either dead or an absentee landlord, but still speaks today – despite many Christians’ attempts to contain or tame Him within the covers of a mere book.
    2. God is not unknowable and unapproachable, but can be understood by those who sincerely seek Him.
    3. We are not alone – and neither is God. In fact, we are family.

    So President Hinckley’s statement was not really accurate. Mormonism is not a mere upgrade, or even a serious transmission overhaul. It is the actual vehicle. Those of other faith traditions are welcome to be a part of it and help us build something truly worthy.

  9. Aquinas, here is one particular issue so bothersome to me.

    Bob: Interfaith relations is not about conversion

    Bob is pushing for this to be some kind of interdenominational conversation. And I am wondering what Greg Johnson and John Morehead and Craig Blomberg think about that.

    I don’t think Bob has experienced heart conversion toward the true, loving Christ. He has no faith in the God whom I serve. And the problem is that he has heard the evangelical gospel over and over and over and over and over and over again. Is the evangelical/LDS discussion at such a treasured level, that an evangelical cannot come up to Bob Millet in love and say, “Bob, if you don’t repent, you are going to die and go to hell” without being condemned for “hurting feelings” or “shutting down the dialogue.”

    This is serious stuff. People need to believe the LORD of scriptures. Time is short for the older men (and younger men) wrapped up in evangelical/LDS discussion.

    Thinking of heart issues . . .

  10. Thing is Todd, Millet already knows that some evangelicals think he’s going to hell. It’s not going to work on him. It doesn’t work on me.

    In fact, I’ve never met a Mormon or ex-Mormon in my life for whom that phrase worked.

    After a while, it starts to sound like a vain repetition.

  11. I realize that, Seth. Many Mormons and ex-Mormons, especially, shrug their shoulders when I mention biblical phrases like “repent” and “hell”. In fact, one of the sisters in our church family shared with me this past Sunday over the LDS co-workers challenging her beliefs about hell last week. Those who believe in a literal, eternal hell of torment are the “radical unorthodox” in the I-15 LDS corridor. How dare God be so perfectly just as He proclaims eternal punishment in the Bible.

    You are right in the observations. For today’s American Christianity(ies), it is “vain repetition”. We have come full circle in our American enlightenment and enriched spiritual dialogue. Those who speak of hell in American conversation are the loveless Pharisees – tis an unspoken rule for proper interfaith relations. Puritan and pilgrim theology of our American forefathers is greeted with yawns and smirks.

    But where Craig delivers a three-fold “amen” to the human friendship with Bob, I end just praying more.

    Here is my prayer, today: a heart throb, a three-fold cry to the Triune Jehovah, “Awake, awake . . . awake (Isaiah 51:9)” and destroy the rahab and tanninbehind the false Christianities and political systems/agendas in America and internationally which block the path of the future redeemed.

    The stakes are high, Seth. People need more than just interfaith dialogue, they need deliverance from bondage. Only then, will sorrow and mourning flee away.

    For the one ransomed, set free by grace alone from sin, death, and hell: there is a song to sing. We hang all of our hopes upon the substitionary work of Yahweh’s suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. In Christ alone.

    In glorifying God, hell must be a necessarily component of the discussion for gospel conversation and conversion. To not properly believe, glorify, and worship the sacrificial Lamb is an eternal offense. Just ask the Father.

    earnestly, not vainly, thinking of heart issues . . .

  12. I think the problem is that the God of many evangelicals and the hell of many evangelicals is not “perfectly just.”

    This isn’t a matter of people who want a softer, wussier God to coddle and indulge their postmodern egos. This is a matter of wanting a God who is even worth worshiping to begin with.

  13. Seth, you hit the nail on the head on one of the key heart issues between LDS and “traditional Christianity”. This God of traditional Evangelical doctrine is terrifying. It can shake a man to his core.

    But Seth, what would you think of a local judge that let a murderer go with no punishment or just some community service? If a man hates his brother he is guilty of murder in the sight of God.
    What would you think of a local judge who allowed rapists to go free. Jesus said, to lust after a woman is to have committed adultery with her in his heart. The God of the Bible is a just God and He must punish sin.

    If we are accountable to our civil government for these offenses, how much more accountable are we to the Maker of the universe?

    This is why on Sunday morning, our little fellowship sings out in praise and worship as condemned men set free by the unspeakable mercy and love of God through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

  14. Here is my prayer, today: a heart throb, a three-fold cry to the Triune Jehovah, “Awake, awake . . . awake (Isaiah 51:9)” and destroy the rahab and tanninbehind the false Christianities and political systems/agendas in America and internationally which block the path of the future redeemed.

    Todd, I must say you really are sounding like a Muslim fundamentalist here. This is a really dangerous prayer — if for no other reason than the fear that you might decided to try to “help” God with the destruction you so desire.

    You pray to ask God to destroy people and belief systems that differ from how you have chosen to interpret the Bible through extra-Biblical constructs. I pray to thank God that He saw fit to establish a country like the United States of America under a divinely inspired Constitution that should have the power to prevent such people from destroying the rights and freedoms of groups that differ from themselves once they obtain political power.

  15. People need more than just interfaith dialogue, they need deliverance from bondage. Only then, will sorrow and mourning flee away.

    Todd, are you sure that you are not the one who is in bondage? It is bondage to a philosophical construct that is not required by the Bible (and to the numerous derivative transformations of doctrines that has come along with it) but that has been enforced through blood and horror for more than a millenium and a half.

    Just imagine breathing the free air of worshipping God in his true form — as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also our own Heavenly Father. Just think of knowing that God wants you to share in his existence with him as a joint-heir with Christ and has made it possible for you to do so — to be exalted and experience the full measure of the spark of divinity that resides in you, despite your efforts to suppress it through creedal Christian doctrines of the utter depravity of man and his eternal alienation from a one-substance Trinity-as-God. It’s powerful doctrine and gives us ample reason to be truly grateful that God saw fit to reveal it through the ministry of Jesus Christ at the time he sojourned on earth and then to restore it again to the world in the last days.

    By the way, go read 2 Nephi 2 and you’ll see a very nice sermon on the Fall, the Atonement, and the need for opposition in all things.

  16. re # 15, Christopher, that is an exceptionally flimsy argument.

    You don’t really consider an analogy of man and civil government to man and God to be valid, considering creedal Christian doctrines, do you?

    The God of the Bible is a just God and He must punish sin.

    So how does your belief that God made us all sinners play into this? What is just about God creating us to sin and then punishing us for doing so?

    At any rate, do you actually believe that Latter-day Saints believe that man will not be punished for his own sins if he does not have faith in Jesus Christ and repent of those sins, and be baptized by immersion for the remission of those sins? Your comment seems premised on such a misinformed understanding of LDS beliefs.

    Rest assured, Latter-day Saints believe that man will be punished for his own sins (but will not be judged for Adam’s transgression). Latter-day Saints believe that only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, i.e. the grace of Jesus Christ, can man be forgiven for his sins and stand spotless before God.

  17. John f., three quick things on this early, beautiful Thursday morning in Southeastern Idaho – we have about an inch or two or newly fallen snow – incredible, isn’t it, for May 1:

    1. Would the prophet be allowed to pray today for the rejoicing over the destruction of rahab and tannin? Or must this living, inspired prayer and its divine answer to be regulated to the Old World and no further?

    2. Is the United States government the inspired agency, wedded to the Church, for the work of latter-day saints?

    3. I have been reading the Book of Mormon. Where is Yahweh’s suffering Servant?

  18. #18 Make no mistake, the concept of Jesus Christ as Judge is by no means a foreign concept in the Bible.

    “So how does your belief that God made us all sinners play into this? What is just about God creating us to sin and then punishing us for doing so?”

    I have never heard of anyone who believes this.

    Please correct me if I am wrong here but I was under the impression that many LDS reject the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. So what do you do with your sin?

    John, I’m not trying to win an argument. I am genuinely curious.

  19. Todd,
    We got about three inches of snow up here in Ashton last night. I am ready for another trip to California.

  20. TT, I will check it out. Thanks.

    Chris, after the “Idaho 4 His Glory” conference this Saturday in Ashton, I should do some cross country skiing. I need to pack my teles.

  21. No Christopher, we don’t reject the substitutionary Atonement of Christ.

    But we don’t think that’s the end of the story either.

    Christ’s grace in Mormon theology is sufficient in the same way it is for many Protestants. You get resurrected, you inherit some degree of a glorious afterlife (once Christ returns to earth a second time that is). But our view of “heaven” is layered: Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial (the highest).

    Telestial is for the wicked who did not accept Christ. Liars, adulterers, etc. The Holy Ghost presides over this level, and it is glorious beyond mortal comprehension or description, but still lesser than the other two.

    Terrestrial is for honorable men and women who did not accept the Restored Gospel – the LDS Church with its rituals and ordinances. Great place and blessed with the immediate presence of Jesus Christ himself.

    Celestial is the highest degree of glory and is only available to those who accept the ordinances of the Restored Gospel. This is the most glorious of the destinations and enjoys the physical presence of God the Father. Eternal family bonds, and eternal progression are reserved for those in the Celestial Kingdom.

    LDS ordinances and moral injunctions are largely directed at achieving this highest degree of glory. So we do believe in the Atonement. In fact, we make it even more unconditional than most Protestants – since we don’t believe that even a confession or belief in Christ is necessary to have the Atonement in-effect. You’re bound for somewhere good, no matter how faithless and wicked you were (“Sons of Perdition” are an exception, but I’m not getting into that for now). But that’s not the end of the story for us.

    This is were Protestants get all mixed-up about us trying to earn a Protestant-style “salvation.” It doesn’t help that LDS often use the word “salvation” interchangeably with “exaltation” (which refers to life in the Celestial Kingdom).

  22. Seth, thank you. Your answers are very helpful. Again, you are right when you say…

    “This is were Protestants get all mixed-up about us trying to earn a Protestant-style “salvation.” It doesn’t help that LDS often use the word “salvation” interchangeably with “exaltation” (which refers to life in the Celestial Kingdom).”

    Here are some questions I have in relation to your comments.

    Telestial is for the wicked who did not accept Christ. Liars, adulterers, etc. The Holy Ghost presides over this level, and it is glorious beyond mortal comprehension or description, but still lesser than the other two.

    You’re bound for somewhere good, no matter how faithless and wicked you were

    In eternity there is no punishment of sin only varying degrees of reward and glory? Are you saying there is no justice in this world or the next? This disregard for law would not be acceptable if done by a local judge, how much more would it be unacceptable for the King of Kings who will one day judge the world?

    What do you do with Romans Chapters 1 and 2?

  23. Having not read Romans 1 and 2, let me try to respond anyway.

    First off, I haven’t given the whole picture.

    When we die, we aren’t immediately judged and assigned a kingdom. Instead we enter the spirit world. Brigham Young taught that this “spirit world” is right here among us. It is not until Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of the just, and then the un-just, that we are finally judged and assigned a place.

    However, this spirit world is not experienced the same by everyone. For the righteous, it is a place of happiness, anticipation and joyful labor in ministering to those who have not heard of Christ in life. For the wicked, it is a place of dread at the coming judgment and sorrow for their sins. When Christ spoke to the thief on the cross about being in “Paradise,” it is the former that he was referring to. “Hell” or “Purgatory” is synonymous with the second state.

    So, the scriptures are often a bit tricky to read in this light. When a verse speaks of hell and torment, you’ve got to first identify what stage it is talking about. Is it talking about the final destination? Or is it simply speaking of the temporary holding pattern otherwise known to Mormons as “spirit prison” or “paradise” (depending on what kind of life you led)?

    So there’s that.

    But also keep in mind that the final destinations are not all tea and skittles either. Those in the Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms will experience intense regret and self-disappointment that they were not willing to accept God enough to live with Him. There is also the negative of having no increase or chance of progression. So don’t think there’s no downside.

    It is probably useful to note here that some LDS general authorities have expressed the opinion that there is a possibility of progression between kingdoms. But this is not a part of current Mormon orthodoxy. Absent future prophetic clarification on the matter, I cannot call it established doctrine.

    Finally, I should mention that I do not think the Celestial Kingdom itself is necessarily always “happy.” At least, not in the sense that we use the term. In the book of Moses, it gives an account of the prophet Enoch speaking with God face-to-face. Enoch is shown a vision of the wickedness that fills the earth and sees God weeping. Enoch is taken aback that a perfected and almighty being should ever have cause to weep. God then informs Enoch that He weeps for the wickedness and suffering that those who reject Him must suffer.

    We are called to become as God. Obviously, it’s not always going to be happy. There is loss, there is sorrow in heaven. The sorrow is a part of the richness of being truly perfected. I disagree with C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce” where he suggests that the joy of heaven is so great that all concern for those lost will be swallowed up and removed in heaven. We will sorrow for those we have lost. Perfected or not. In fact, it will be because of our perfected state that we will be able to truly sorrow as God does.

  24. Furthermore, all are given a true and full chance at accepting God and His Son Jesus Christ. Whether in this life or in the spirit world. All are given a chance to accept God or not.

    My own feeling is that the final judgment will not be a matter of God saying “you want in? well, too bad – you have to go here instead.” Instead we will judge ourselves. We will enter the kingdom that we most desire. To one who has not accepted God fully, the Celestial Kingdom would be unbearable. They would be happier elsewhere – and there they will go. Of their own desire and accord.

  25. Seth, your comment # 26 makes it seem like you have never read Romans 1 and 2 when obviously what you meant is that you have not reread them specifically for purposes of responding here.

    I would be careful about things like that on a blog like this where as a Mormon there is a strange presumption against you already from the outset that you have not read the Bible nor are aware of its content or doctrines.

  26. In eternity there is no punishment of sin only varying degrees of reward and glory? Are you saying there is no justice in this world or the next? This disregard for law would not be acceptable if done by a local judge, how much more would it be unacceptable for the King of Kings who will one day judge the world?

    Christopher, you don’t really consider an analogy of man and civil government to man and God to be valid, considering creedal Christian doctrines, do you?

    I don’t think continuing this discussion will be worthwhile until both Christopher and Todd read 2 Nephi 2. Frankly, failure to do so will come very close to constituting bad faith in this discussion.

  27. Hmmm… OK John. To clarify, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the New Testament in its entirety. And there’s been a lot of research on the side as well. But I don’t have the books memorized such that I could give an off-the-cuff response without looking them up. I just re-read them and I think the concern was addressed well enough in comment #26.

  28. Seth, that is a much better way to phrase it. That leaves no doubt that you have read the New Testament numerous times and that you are intimately familiar with its content (and in all those readings you never saw anything that would require “one substance” as a solution to the presence of the Son of God in the New Testament, I would guess — that’s my experience anyway).

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