The Baptist Preacher’s Prediction (Spring LDS General Conference 2009)

General Conference is just around the corner.

Though I am no prophet who foretells the future, may I offer a simple prediction on American Mormonism during this chilly spring in Idaho?

For the LDS Institutionalized Church in America, the pull will not be toward an evangelical Mormonism.  Some evangelical leaders might have fond hopes, Greg Johnson, Craig Blomberg, others, etc.  But it won’t happen.

No, American Mormons will not become more and more Evangelical Mormon.  Here is the realistic story:  American Mormons will increasingly morph toward an Agnostic Mormonism or for some, even towards a “civil” Atheistic Mormonism.

Let’s see how things progress in future generations for LDS in the United States of America.

There might be coming a day when many LDS will consider Jesus “a Jewish apocalyptic prophet” but obviously not deity, for that clearly contradicts both American biblical scholarship and their human reasoning.

45 comments

  1. Your post reminds me of some of the folks at Sunstone and StayLDS.com. John Dehlin has redefined faith and hope to being essentially a desire or wish for something to be so. He basically has coached people to stay in the Church with the wisdom of “forget truth and start focusing on what’s good“. And the way this has fleshed out in his guide to surviving the temple recommend interview is interesting (no, infuriating).

    But that kind of approach seems like a massive surrendering in the heart to the notion that the truth isn’t accessible and relevant enough to shed blood, sweat, and tears over. It smacks of a fundamental loss of integrity.

    On a related note, I heartily recommend Vanhoozer’s chapter on truth in this book.

  2. It may have had significant edits since I last read the document on John Dehlin’s personal web site, but here is the document I was thinking of.

  3. Perceived moves toward Evangelicalism of late are really nothing more than an INTERNAL Mormon re-discovery of the Book of Mormon as a key and central text (pushed ever since Kimball).

    As for your “either-or” alternative of either inerrancy fundamentalism, or agnosticism/atheism…

    Come on Todd. Really now. Those are the only two options?

    That kind of thinking Todd, is exactly the problem with American religion today.

  4. I consider you “delightfully awesome LDS” Seth, because you’re the first pro-polyandry Mormon I ever met.

    Well, I haven’t really met you, but you know what I mean.

    @the topic: I can see Mormonism becoming more agnostic on some things, but I don’t think they’ll become atheist (if that means what I think it means). They’ll draw a line long before that. Mormons are very good at drawing lines.

  5. Well, why not throw my theory in the ring: NEITHER a primarily head toward the ev.’s or head towards agnosticism, but head in MAnY directions, all allowed as long as you don’t come out strong against Salt Lake. Look closely at Catholicism: you can hold to the Latin (only) Mass, OR you can preach Jesuit liberation theology…..hey, just don’t overtly curse the Vatican, and nobody is asking for your scapular…..
    or your used-to-be-a-St.Christopher medal……. I look at the LDS and I see the same thing: just don’t go strong OUT LOUD against the hierarchy, and they’ll make a place for you.

    Todd: I think you make too much of the current atheism and agnosticism flave. If someone were to go this route, which many have, it makes more sense just to bolt altogether. As for the LDS institution, they are so flexible and adjustable, it makes more sense for them to just adapt to the buffet table of beliefs being spread before people and go with it. Continuing revelation plays into this quite well, I think.

    that’s GERmIT’s after dinner take

    I’m collecting the marshmallows so as not to waste my burning effigy 🙂

  6. PS: the panache, or what’s left of it in todays culture is quickly fading…within a generation or at most two, the ev’s will have lost its favored position, although they will still number in the millions. they will not be “the big deal” that they have been the last few decades….my point being, that there will NOT be the “follow the leader” attraction to become like the loser voted off the island…..

  7. by “panache” above, I was referring to the ev.’s…..although the LDS will suffer by “association” from the culture at large which doesn’t know better

  8. Seth, read this book:

    Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) (HarperCollins, 2009) by Bart Ehrman.

    And then tell me what you think about it – that would help me better answer your pointed question.

  9. I read halfway through Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus.” I agreed with a lot of his critiques of inerrancy.

    However, I am well aware that has since become an agnostic and left Christianity. He claims it is primarily because of “the theodicy” I believe.

    I haven’t read “Jesus Interrupted.” However, I am not willing to follow Erhman to the agnostic conclusions he has taken the Bible. But the reason I am not willing to do so is mostly because of my confidence in Joseph Smith and his powerful and direct personal witness of Christ’s status and divinity.

    I might pick up Ehrman’s new book. I felt like half of “Misquoting Jesus” was more than enough for me to get the general gist of his argument (I was too busy for much more than that).

    By the by Todd, I also read halfway through “The Prodigal God” before I started getting overdue notices from the library and had to turn it back in. But I will finish the book. Probably after I buy my own copy.

    I actually bought a copy for my highly orthodox LDS father as a gift when my parents were visiting a couple weeks ago. He’d read through most of the book by the time he left our house. He felt wary of some of the minor Evangelical propaganda points – as I did (like where Keller tries to get us to assume that early Christianity was some sort of informal “non-religion”). But he enjoyed it very much and even bought a copy of the book to give to someone else he had in mind (a compliment of the highest order, if you know my dad and how picky he is about books).

    He agreed with a LOT of the book and found its message powerful and insightful. But his primary gripe was that the book seems to deny the opportunity for repentance to the sinner, and instead, like an overbearing parent plucks the sinner out of trouble without allowing him the wonderful blessing of being able to repent and turn unto God.

    I tend to be on the same wavelength there. Sorry Todd, but you’re just never going to convince us stubborn Mormons that humans are not inherently capable of choosing God freely.

    But I’ll have to have a go at “Jesus Interrupted” sometime.

  10. Seth, LDS scholarship should love this book by Ehrman . . .

    (1) It is a book chalk full of all the latest alleged Bible contradictions that Ehrman claims pastors in America cover up.

    (2) “The Trinity is a later Christian invention, . . . (p. 260)

    (3) etc. and etc.

    But where my LDS friends trust Joseph (of course, how many will in future generations?), I trust the Spirit’s testifying to my heart of Jesus Christ through the dynamic, ancient scriptures.

    Sincerely, I don’t think that modern day LDS revelation through the Prophet and Apostles solves any of the difficulties proposed by Ehrman and the historical-critical stream of American biblical scholarship.

  11. I am going to have to disagree with you. It seems personal revelation is still at the heart of Mormonism, and this requires a God who is alive and well and communicating with man.

    On the other hand, I see evidence all around that Mormonism is becoming more evangelical like every day.

  12. Todd, it is amazing how little you understand Mormons and Mormonism after all of your supposed contact with them. That you could even write this reveals that you know very little about us.

    Most Mormons have a testimony of Jesus Christ that has been made manifest to us by the Holy Ghost. We find your position about an inerrant Bible utterly ridiculous but that doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in it as scripture and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Of course we don’t share your belief in the extra-biblical, One-Substance Trinity but that doesn’t mean we’re agnostic in any normal sense of the word. Of course, if you’re redefining agnostic to mean anyone that doesn’t believe in that particular philosophical abstraction, then most Mormons already fit the bill and it’s not an issue of waiting for future generations.

  13. Perceived moves toward Evangelicalism of late are really nothing more than an INTERNAL Mormon re-discovery of the Book of Mormon as a key and central text (pushed ever since Kimball).

    Aren’t you thinking of Ezra Taft Benson?

    I would readily concede that BofM is evanjelly (not evangelical) as it reflects so much of 19th century revivalism and Protestantism. If Mormons really believed a lot of it, they’d be monotheists, sloppy Trinitarians or even modalists, and quasi-Cambellites in their soteriology. The problem is that every apostle and prophet after Joseph Smith is considered to be, well, an apostle and prophet, and they have, through institutional channels, turned Mormonism into a relentless merit system, graciously assisted by the necessary grace of Christ which helps you along in your journey of proving your personal worthiness unto godhood over other spirit children who in turn will worship you for your achieved merit.

    It reminds me of a BYU prof at the last Standing Together conference bemoaning his church’s movement away from the early minimal view of Joseph Smith on the restoration (that the Methodists were merely lacking in their practice of the NT spiritual gifts). I just thinking to myself… It’s 175 years later, and we can’t go back to 1830. What’s happened is irreversible without institutional collapse or repentance.

  14. Nope Aaron, the emphasis on the Book of Mormon started with Pres. Kimball. Ezra Taft Benson kept going with it and gave it even more emphasis that Kimball did – so he’s the one popularly remembered in connection with the policy. But it did, in fact, start with Kimball.

    I don’t consider another tired grace vs. works debate here to be a particularly good use of my time. I find the Book of Mormon quite consistent, and I have never read it as supporting the idea that we “earn our way into heaven.” That’s all I intend to say on the subject.

    If you want to spar on this issue, you’ll have to do it with someone else.

  15. Todd, maybe you’ve already made this clear, but I might have missed it: what do you mean exactly by “agnostic” in your predictions ?? that word means different things to different people; if you could flesh it out a little, I could understand your idea better

    thanks, bro
    GERMIT

  16. I don’t consider another tired grace vs. works debate here to be a particularly good use of my time. I find the Book of Mormon quite consistent, and I have never read it as supporting the idea that we “earn our way into heaven.”</blockquote

    Read my comment again, Seth, I think you misread me. I don’t believe the BofM teaches a crass merit system either. It’s more Protestantish than later LDS developments.

  17. John f, how many claim to be within the Mormon culture in your neighborhood?

    Let’s say just the five streets around you.

    You don’t think I have any ideas? I know LDS business men. I know about agnostic thought. Hmm . . . how much of the Book of Mormon is really true. I know about divorces among dads and moms. I know about quasi-belief and unbelief. I know about some of the teens and all their far-out declarations of what they really think about the Church.

    Are all the Mormons in Idaho Falls as religiously zealful as you, friend? Perhaps the bishops might wish they were.

    Perhaps LDS in England might be a little more zealful than the long declining religious culture of England.

    Germit: here is my idea of a tantalizing inward thought by an agnostic Mormon: “I don’t quite rest on many of the declarations of the Church whether from our Scriptures or our Prophets as absolute, bedrock truth for my life.

    And like some segments within American evangelicalism, some professing Mormons might as well be practical atheists. But they will still participate in Mormon activities.

    Ehrman’s position bodes very well for some. Mark it down. The attitude will increase in the days ahead.

  18. Todd, I am what anti-Mormons might call a “legacy Mormon” — among my ancestors are some of the first apostles of the Church including Willard Richards who was incarcerated with Joseph and Hyrum Smith when those two were murdered. I was raised in a Spencer W. Kimball-era orthodox Mormon home (meaning that the Mormonism of my parents was that kind of Mormonism that was indelibly characterized by Spencer W. Kimball’s unique prophetic guidance and the milieu of Church leadership from that period) in Dallas TX by two parents educated at BYU. I think, therefore, I have “credentials” to opine on what orthodox Mormons believe and think and can strongly suggest that you don’t know what you’re talking about with the original post here. The fact that I currently live in London where I’m the only Mormon in my whole neighborhood is completely irrelevant to whether I can state what I have stated in my comment above.

  19. john f: maybe you don’t care to get into speculation, and I’d respect that view, but do you have any major opinions as to what the LDS will look like in 20 or 30 years ?? Will there be any significant differences from your parent’s generation of Mormons and why ??

    again, this might seem a waste of time to you, but I was just wondering….

    GERmIT

  20. Germit, I see exponential growth. You yourself will accept the Restored Gospel and get baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God will cause righteousness and truth to sweep the earth as with a flood.

  21. John F: excellent……I’ve been hoping to move to a warmer clime…..though I guess I can’t demand that….

    any word on my hair or six-pack abs ????

    thanks
    GERmIT

  22. It’s interesting how one Baptist preacher claims not to be a prophet but attempts to prophesy nonethe less. His ludicrous claims of such a contrary change to the Mormon church denies the solid history of the church for stabilitiy and focus. This is the same Mormon church which as been more consistent in their values, policies, and actions than any other I’ve seen, in spite of the current social and economic climate. While other religions have embraced same-sex marriage, women holding the Priesthood, divorce, and sexual promiscuity, the LDS church has held strong to their core beliefs.

    Oh, and by the way, the focus on the Book of Mormon started back in the days prior to Christ’s birth, actually, not with a modern-day prophet. It is for this purpose that many lives were lost and much was sacrificed that we may have it today. It’s quite short-sighted to believe that it began with any prophet as recent as Spencer W. Kimball.

  23. Kellene: thanks for the post; I’m not Baptist, and maybe I should wait for a Baptist to step up, but waiting is not my strong suit….I think ill-timed humor is, but that’s another post…..

    about prophecy: most ev’s I’ve met see prophecy not as a ROLE or POSITION, but as a spiritual gift, and many see this as operating on occaision in what some call a “situational basis”; GOD gives a gift to fit the moment, based on needs, so the person who is acting prophetically today need not have that spiritual gift operating 24/7 the rest of his…..or her (quick shout-out to all you prophetesses out there, eh-hem, JACK)….. life. Also: many ev.’s see PROPHECY in a much wider context than just being predictive, there is also an admonishing , or warning element as well. Pesonally, I consider Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinneas (sp?) to have operated often in this more general sense of the word.

    this is not to get you to “swap prophets” but to help fill in the vernacular gap between your group and mine.

    enjoy the day…..while it is still day
    GERMIT

  24. Kellene, back in the 1910s through 1950s, the Doctrine and Covenants (or Book of Commandments as it used to be called) and even the Bible was emphasized far more than the Book of Mormon. As a Church policy, the emphasis on the Book of Mormon in LDS worship and teaching is fairly recent.

    This isn’t a big deal you know. Nobody said the LDS Church or membership had to be perfect. I’m sure God always valued the Book of Mormon just as much as it should be. The fact that the CHURCH had a few policy shifts during this period should not be upsetting.

    Besides, Ezra Taft Benson himself declared that the LDS Church as a people were under condemnation from the Lord for not valuing the Book of Mormon highly enough. Are you calling him a liar?

    And incidentally, Evangelicals believe that all spiritual gifts – including prophesy – are available to ALL believers in Christ. So it’s silly to criticize Todd for claiming a prophesy. Like other Evangelicals, I doubt he restricts such gifts to only formalized prophets in a set religious hierarchy.

  25. Seth , well said; and for those very few ev.’s or protestants that claim some sort of “special anointing” (i.e. not available to all), these are viewed….let me pause….viewed by GERMIT, at least with a truck load of suscpicion (and having lived thru some of these “anointed ones'” ministries, I have no apologies for my approach.

  26. Kellene ~ While other religions have embraced same-sex marriage, women holding the Priesthood, divorce, and sexual promiscuity, the LDS church has held strong to their core beliefs.

    Newsflash: the fact that your religion discriminates against women is not something to be proud of.

    germit ~ I am soooo not a prophet(ess). Not even. The only spiritual gifts I have are an attitude and a comfortable computer chair. I mean, I’m Pentecostal and I can’t speak in tongues. How sad is that?

  27. Jack: hmmm…..a tongues-less charismatic…..there are probably DVD’s you could buy to help with that…..have you tried trolling the cable channel between 3 and 5am 🙂

    PS: I want the chair…..

    GERMIT

  28. John F., American culture is changing. No doubt about it.

    And we will both see in the next 40 years how The Church will integrate or stand distinct from the morphing American religious culture of its birth. Does The Church like standing alone on issues? Does the next generation of LDS even like the book of Jeremiah? What about bloggernacle?

    Kellene, welcome to HI4LDS. I am warning you (smiling). I do hope to write a 95 theses for the 2009 LDS Prophet and Apostles. I will be pushing that they earnestly cling to the authority of biblical Truth and the scriptures’ fundamental core beliefs of Christ and the early apostles. I think you might be interested at least to read what I would propose. And feel free to jump in the discussion any time on this blog.

  29. Does the church like standing alone on issues ?

    Good question, but one purifying theme, in my estimation, for the church will be : WHAT ARE the ISSUES ?? I think we are seeing some big shifts in what many consider what is nearest and dearest to GOD’s heart. Maybe we’ve mixed some of what we THOUGHT were GOD’s big agenda items with the real thing.

    Christians are well served to return to the WORD, prayer, and true community, and make sure we’re on the right side of things.

  30. Todd, the whole Book of Mormon is a Book of Jeremiah to you — do you accept it and its message for the health and well-being of American (and any other) society?

    Mormons by and large “like” the Book of Jeremiah in the sense that they take it extremely, extremely seriously, and they view it as entirely supported by the content and trajectory of the Book of Mormon which displays the same type of downfall over and over again by societies that embrace an alternative version of God’s revealed religion over his prophets and reject the prophets that God has sent them in the process.

    To my mind, the Book of Jeremiah should be causing you to ask yourself what you are doing with the words of Latter-day prophets and apostles, particularly those who are serving in such capacities today.

  31. Let the ancient prophets and apostles speak. (And I will be listening this weekend to see if the Modern Prophet and Apostles quote Jeremiah, John F. What judgments will they be spelling out for our country? This should be interesting.)

    Will there be any new Modern Revelation and authoritative prophecy for all the people tomorrow and Sunday that should be included among the written words of Jeremiah?

    Nope.

    And everybody should take note of that.

    Let the authoritative messages of the ancient prophets and apostles be the judge for who would claim to be an authoritative prophet or apostle like them over my life today.

    Living here in the I-15 Corridor, I am eager for the American Moderns to lay out the nature and work of God Almighty. Let them dig deep and exegete thoroughly a message from God via Jeremiah. Or will they be like the leading prophets, and the priests, and the elders over the people that were anti to Jeremiah in chapter 18? No worries. We haven’t lost anything.

    The LDS Leaders are losing ground in America. But which one of them will admit it, publicly, this weekend.

    And here is the question: Will they stand their ground or will they change their tactics?

    Numbers are everything.

  32. Let the authoritative messages of the ancient prophets and apostles be the judge for who would claim to be an authoritative prophet or apostle like them over my life today.

    EXCELLENT

    GERMIT

  33. Or will they be like the leading prophets, and the priests, and the elders over the people that were anti to Jeremiah in chapter 18?

    No, that’s how you are, Todd.

    Look at it this way:

    Thomas S. Monson + Q12 = Jeremiah for 2009 [none of them has ever preached the Nicean One-Substance Trinity but rather the same message of strict obedience to God’s words and commands and sincere repentance for willful disobedience to his words and commands and for adherence to an alternative form of his revealed religion];

    You and Aaron = people of Jeremiah’s Jerusalem who mocked, scorned and sought to destroy Jeremiah and who claimed that Jeremiah was the apostate when in reality it was the people who had followed after an alternative to God’s revealed religion.

  34. Its incredible how those outside of the LDS church have this strange perception of the church.

    I was a ‘born again christian’ (ie. I publicly accepted Jesus Christ as my Personal Saviour) before I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS. This has never changed. He is still my Saviour today and always will be. But as Baptist Pastor Paul Washer has identified, most of America has gone through this experience. They say a prayer once or respond to a call to come forward to the altar and thats it..dah dah..were saved! What a shame thats not supported by the Bible!

    Evangelical Mormons. What exactly does that mean? Unrepentant Mormons? Mormon theology doesn’t teach salvation by works. It teaches salvation by faith and repentance. What is repentance? Acknowledging one’s sins maybe? Doing all one can to live a godly life possibly? Striving to live the commandments of God?
    Whats the alternative? Not repenting? Not living a godly life? Not living the commandments? Christ said if we don’t repent we will perish. What does the evangelical movement want to chage about mormons?

    Don’t be misled by the church wanting to extend the hand of friendship to our evangelical brothers and sisters. The LDS church will always be a distinct and seperate entity. There will be no absorbtion into the mainstream body of christendom.

  35. What I find disturbing and quite unfortunate is the usage of “Evangelical” as a pejorative term by some Latter-day Saints.

    Latter-day Saints who reflect on various approaches to topics such as salvation or scripture can come to positions that they feel best fit the tradition or the scriptures. Mormonism has accommodated individuals who have had different emphases or approaches to theological considerations. Not all Latter-day Saints agree or need to agree on these approaches.

    What I find disturbing is the trend on behalf of some Latter-day Saints in championing their views to label the views of other Latter-day Saints as “Evangelical” because they disagree with it. This has occurred at the academic level as well as the popular level, with unfortunate results.

    I think we should recognize this for what it is: ad hominem argumentation. It would seem the purport of language is to say that since Evangelical theology is terribly wrong, a Latter-day Saint who holds an “Evangelical” theological position is also seriously wrong. It is unfortunate that Latter-day Saints who disagree theologically with other Latter-day Saints feel compelled to label a view they disagree with “Evangelical” in hopes that this will give more credence to the view they espouse. The approach that Latter-day Saints should eschew anything just because it sounds like it could be believed by an Evangelical is misdirected and uncharitable. I think we need to seriously reconsider this rhetoric.

    What happened to the view that “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things”? Understandably, many Latter-day Saints want to make sure they maintain and preserve their unique religious and cultural identity. Yet, every religious community has this concern. I do not believe such a concern gives warrant or justification for using the term “Evangelical” in decidedly pejorative ways. We should manifest and express this concern with charity and civility towards, not only those outside our faith community, but those within our faith community. People of good faith can disagree theologically without resorting to ad hominem argumentation.

  36. Wanna know what I’m sick of? People who are ex-members of a religion thinking that makes them Jesus’s special little expert on their old religion.

    I don’t care if you’re an ex-evangelical turned Mormon or an ex-Mormon turned evangelical, having been a member of another religion does not automatically mean you understand crap about that religion. In fact it’s entirely possible that the reason you left was because you’re a moron and you didn’t understand crap about that religion.

    Message to the entire blogging community: please stop listing your “ex-member” creds in conjunction with stupid comments flaunting your ignorance. Thank you.

  37. Amen Jack.

    I listened to an entire NPR news story on the whole Prop 8 thing where the only people cited (about 3 of them) were all ex-Mormons. Apparently the news media believes in “ex street cred” too.

    Aquinas,

    I don’t think hardly anyone in America uses the word “Evangelical” correctly – me least of all. I use the word much too flippantly and as an intellectual shortcut that helps me avoid defining a group of people more accurately.

    It’s laziness. I’ll admit it.

  38. My friend Eric Huntsman (who teaches in the religion department at BYU) told me this in e-mail today about me calling him an “evangelical Mormon”: “I love being called an Evangelical Mormon: it is a sobriquet that I wear with pride.”

    So, not everyone hates it. If you get it from me, trust me, it’s a compliment.

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