Are "we evangelicals" guilty of bearing false witness when it comes to explaining Mormon doctrine?

By Bill McKeever

It is a rare event when a Christian theologian/philosopher is allowed to speak in the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square, but on November 14, 2004, Dr. Ravi Zacharias was given such an opportunity as he addressed the topic of Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Unfortunately, much of what Dr. Zacharias had to say about the depravity of man, the necessity of the cross, the inability of man to save himself, and the all-sufficiency of Christ has taken a back seat due to remarks made prior to him taking the pulpit.

Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has been one of a handful of scholars who has been engaging Mormon scholars in an informal and private setting for several years now. Because of his relationship with several BYU professors, he was asked to give some brief remarks. He began by saying how thrilled he was to participate in what the Mormon Church had billed as “An Evening of Friendship,” but he then turned his attention on sins that he perceived had been perpetrated by Evangelicals:

“Our public relations between our two communities have been–to put it mildly–decidedly unfriendly. From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebears hurled angry accusations and vehement denunciations at the Mormon community – a practice that continues from some evangelical quarters even into this present day. And I think it is fair to say that some Mormons have on occasion responded in kind. Friendship with each other has not come easily for our two communities.”

Granted, Dr. Mouw did not have the time to elaborate on the above remark, and certainly feelings in the Christian community were strained regarding Joseph Smith’s strange new doctrines. However, it would have been nice had Dr. Mouw at least given the audience some hint as to the seriousness of Joseph Smith’s charges back in the early 1830s. Let us not forget that Smith claimed that God Himself appeared to him in a vision and, together with Jesus Christ no less, proclaimed that “all the churches” were wrong and that “their creeds were an abomination.” It was Smith who ushered in this idea that Christianity had sunk into a complete apostasy, a corruption so deep that it could only be solved by a restoration. The LDS Church has not backed down on this issue. To this day LDS leaders still maintain that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church on earth.” Just two weeks prior to the Zacharias event, BYU professor John Welch gave a talk at BYU titled “…All Their Creeds Were an Abomination. A Brief Look at the Creeds as a Part of the Apostasy” (Given on October 30 2004, reported in the 11/6/04 LDS Church News, p.5).

Dr Mouw continued:

“On a personal level, over the past half-dozen years I have been a member of a small group of evangelical scholars who have been engaged in lengthy closed-door discussions about spiritual and theological matters with a small group of our LDS counterparts. We have not been afraid to argue strenuously with each other, but our arguments have been conducted in a sincere desire genuinely to understand each other – and in the process we have formed some deep bonds of friendship. I know that I have learned much in this continuing dialogue, and I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe. We have made much of the need to provide you with a strong defense of traditional Christian convictions, regularly quoting the Apostle Peter’s mandate that we present to people like you a reasoned account of the hope that lies with in us-but we have not been careful to follow the same Apostle’s counsel that immediately follows that mandate, when he tells us that we must always make our case with “gentleness and reverence” toward those with whom we are speaking. Indeed, we have even on occasion demonized you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is “really” trying to accomplish in the world. And even at our best, we have – and this is true of both of our communities-we have talked past each other, setting forth oversimplified and distorted accounts of what the other group believes.”

It seems clear that Dr. Mouw’s conclusion (“that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community”) comes out of conversations with LDS scholars at these closed meetings. However, Dr Mouw fails to elaborate what exactly he is talking about. Instead, the impression is given that evangelicals have never taken the time to carefully read and evaluate what Mormon leaders have actually written and have never taken the time to actually talk with members of the LDS Church to hear their point of view. Instead he paints this erroneous picture that Christian pastors, missionaries, and ministries have done nothing more than build straw man arguments. In essence, Dr. Mouw’s unqualified comments gave Mormons all they wanted to hear, which is the idea that Christian evangelicals have been lying about them all along and now an evangelical leader is admitting it. I know from the mail we have received at MRM that this is exactly how Mormons are interpreting his comments.

Have there been cases of ill treatment on the part of Christians towards Mormons? Have there been times when Christians have erroneously said things about Mormon beliefs and practices? Yes. But is Dr. Mouw characterizing the average Christian lay-person on the street or taking a swipe at Christian ministries and apologists? People who innocently make ignorant statements are not generally accused of bearing false witness. Therefore I have to conclude he meant the latter.

Dr. Mouw then proceeded to encourage evangelicals to take part in celebrations scheduled for 2005 that will commemorate the 200th birthday of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith.

“In just a month and a half we will greet the year 2005, which marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith. During this year there will be many occasions to pay special attention to Joseph’s life and teachings, and I hope many in the evangelical community will take part in those events.”

Such a statement left many Christians cold. Was he really implying that Christians should actually join Mormons in celebrating the birth of a man who taught some of the most abominable heresies? After all, isn’t Smith’s moral behavior considered reprehensible even by today’s decadent standards?

Dr. Mouw then went on to actually quote the Doctrine and Covenants:

“I personally take great encouragement from words that Joseph Smith uttered on the occasion of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1830: “we know,” Joseph said, “that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.” And then he added: “And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, and we know also that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their might, minds, and strength.”

For Dr. Mouw to assume Joseph Smith meant the same thing as evangelicals when he speaks of justification is an inexcusable and egregious error. Anybody who has had an effective dialogue with Mormons knows the importance of defining terms. Apparently Dr. Mouw did not do this when he assumed Smith was giving an orthodox statement. Consider this definition of justification as explained on page 50 of the LDS Church manual Doctrines of the Gospel that is published by the “Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”:

“What then is the law of justification? It is simply this: “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” (D. & C. 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done. (1 Ne. 16:2; Jac. 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; D. & C. 98; 132:1, 62.)”

The above statement was taken from page 408 of Bruce McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, Apostle McConkie went on to say:

“This law of justification is the provision the Lord has placed in the gospel to assure that no unrighteous performance will be binding on earth and in heaven, and that no person will add to his position or glory in the hereafter by gaining an unearned blessing. As with all other doctrines of salvation, justification is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but it becomes operative in the life of an individual only on conditions of personal righteousness.”

Does Dr. Mouw really think this represents the evangelical position?

As expected, Dr. Mouw’s comments were met with strong opposition within the Christian community, and he was approached privately by many Christians who were disturbed by his stereotypes. In response, Dr. Mouw issued a clarification that he hoped would put things in perspective. We offer his response below in bold type with my comments interspersed at appropriate places.

Mouw then said:

To all who are disturbed by my comments at the Tabernacle:

I am pasting below the text of my actual comments at the Tabernacle event.

The critical concerns raised are threefold, and I will offer at least an attempt at clarification regarding each: Some of this will be a repeat of specific things I have already written to some of you.

First, some folks have asked who the “we” is that I apologized on behalf of when I said that that “we” evangelicals have sinned against Mormons by bearing false witness against them. I certainly did not mean to imply that every evangelical has sinned in this regard.

Mouw’s defense is difficult to swallow for the simple reason that he has made similar claims prior to November 14th. For instance, he made a similar sweeping accusation in the foreword of the book, The New Mormon Challenge. On page 11 he wrote,

“I will not speak for the LDS folks here, but as an Evangelical I must confess that I am ashamed of our record in relating to the Mormon community. To be sure, there are deep differences between our worldviews. I strongly disagree with what I understand to be traditional Mormon teachings about God, about human nature, and about what it takes for a sinner to get right with God – matters on which the Latter-day Saints differ not only from standard Protestant teachings but from Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions as well. But none of those disagreements give me or any other evangelical the license to propagate distorted accounts of what Mormons believe. By bearing false witness against our LDS neighbors, we evangelical as have often sinned not just against Mormons, but against the God who calls us to be truth-tellers.”

If Mouw really meant to say that “not every evangelical has sinned in this regard,” why did he not come out and say so publicly? He could have done it back in 2002 when he wrote the above foreword, and he could have easily done it on November 14th if that was the thought he really wanted to portray. Mouw’s comments were planned ahead of time and written down. This was no oversight. He was understood to mean exactly what he said. His comments were not lost on Carrie Moore, a reporter for the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. The next day an article appeared in which she stated:

“But what many Utahns may remember most distinctly is the sermon that came before it. Taking the pulpit to speak of the event’s historic nature, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw addressed a capacity crowd of several thousand, offering a stunningly candid apology to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and noting that “friendship has not come easily between our communities.” He dubbed the evening “historic” and apologized that Evangelicals “have often misrepresented the faith and beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.” “Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you,” he said, adding both camps have tended to marginalize and simplify the others’ beliefs. Historical animosity dating back to the founding of the LDS Church by Joseph Smith in 1830 has heightened in recent years between the two groups, particularly in the 1990s, when several high-profile evangelical leaders asserted that “Mormons are not Christians”” (“Evangelical preaches at Salt Lake tabernacle,” 11/15/04).

The same pattern held true in the LDS Church News. The November 20th edition ran a story titled “Ravi Zacharias Speaks at Tabernacle.” Most of the article was devoted to the comments made by Mouw and Robert Millet. In an article with 1089 words, only 104 were devoted to what Dr. Zacharias actually said.

Suppose I were to address an African-American gathering and say that we whites have sinned against you blacks. Who would deny that this is a correct assessment? But who would think that I was speaking about and on behalf of all white people?

Personally I find such apologies to be nothing more than symbolism over substance. No one has the right to apologize for another person’s transgressions. While a person may certainly express his or her displeasure with bad behavior on another person’s part, to apologize on their behalf means absolutely nothing. Still, Mouw expresses his naiveté if he thinks Mormons will not interpret his words as a blanket confession. Living here in the Salt Lake Valley I can tell you that is how his words are being interpreted.

MOUW: There is no question in my mind that there has been a discernible pattern of sinning against LDS folks in this regard. I could show, for example, how Walter Martin oversimplified Mormon teachings in his much-read books. But here is an obvious example of more recent vintage: when Dave Hunt writes a whole book whose main thesis is that Mormonism is Satanic in its inspiration and practice, I think this is bearing false witness.

Dr. Mouw does not make himself clear. What exactly does he believe these men have “oversimplified,” thus making them purposeful prevaricators? Doesn’t this statement also question the credibility and wisdom of Dr. Zacharias since he is the general editor the newest edition of Martin’s, The Kingdom of the Cults? I haven’t read the book written by Dave Hunt, but I can’t help but ask, “Does Dr. Mouw honestly believe Mormonism was inspired by God?”

MOUW: On a more technical point, I have received emails in the past few days where evangelicals have said that Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God now is. Mormon leaders have specifically stated that such a teaching, while stated by past leaders, is something they don’t understand and has no functioning place in present day Mormon doctrine. Bob Millet has made the same point to many of us, and Stephen Robinson insisted, in the book he co-authored with Craig Blomberg, that this is not an official Mormon teaching, even though it can be found in non-canonical Mormon writings.

This paragraph is absolutely unbelievable. When have Mormon leaders specifically stated that “God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God now is” something “they don’t understand and has no functioning place in present day Mormon doctrine”? This couplet was coined by fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow who insisted he received it by special revelation. In a nutshell it embodies two primary themes of the LDS faith.

In 1997, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked more than once about Snow’s couplet that concisely explains the concept that God was once a man and that man can become God. On page 33 of our book, Mormonism 101, Eric and I reported on this incident:

In 1997, Don Lattin, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, asked Hinckley the following:

Lattin: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

Hinckley: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.

Lattin: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?

Hinckley: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can. (cited from The San Francisco Chronicle, “Musings with the Prophet,” 4/17/97).

Several months later President Hinckley still sounded confused. On 18 1997, a public television program titled Road to Salvation featured the LDS Church. In the broadcast, interviewer Richard Ostling noted, “President Gordon Hinckley says the concept of God having been a man is not stressed any longer, but he does believe that human beings can become gods in the afterlife.” Then, in the 4 August 1997 edition of Time magazine, reporter David Van Biema wrote on page 56: “On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain. ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it…I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”

Are we really to believe that Gordon B. Hinckley, the prophet, seer, and revelator, of the Mormon Church, was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t sure if this concept was still taught in his LDS Church? The evidence says no. In fact, the doctrine that God was once a man was reiterated just a year prior to his interviews by the very man who Mouw said denied this teaching to him personally – Robert Millet!

In an Ensign article titled “The Eternal Gospel,” Millet stated,

“Knowing what we know concerning God our Father — that he is a personal being; that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as our own; that he is an exalted and glorified being; that he was once a man and dwelt on an earth – and knowing that this knowledge was had by many of the ancients, should we be surprised to find legends and myths throughout the cultures of the earth concerning gods who have divine power but human attributes and passions?” (Ensign magazine, July 1996, pg. 53; also cited in Mormonism 101, p.34).

Furthermore, the LDS Church manual Gospel Principles states on page 305,

“Joseph Smith taught: ‘It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God’… He was once a man like us.”

For those who still believe this is not taught today, I suggest they log on to the official web site of the LDS Church. Click here, open “Unit Ten” and go to page 305.

In the “I Have a Question” section of the February 1982 edition of the Ensign (p.38), a person asks,

“Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—’As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be’—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?”

Gerald Lund, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy (2002-2008), responded by saying:

To my knowledge there has been no “official” pronouncement by the First Presidency declaring that President Snow’s couplet is to be accepted as doctrine. But that is not a valid criteria for determining whether or not it is doctrine.”

Generally, the First Presidency issues official doctrinal declarations when there is a general misunderstanding of the doctrine on the part of many people. Therefore, the Church teaches many principles which are accepted as doctrines but which the First Presidency has seen no need to declare in an official pronouncement. This particular doctrine has been taught not only by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, but also by others of the Brethren before and since that time.

Lund went on to say:

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself publicly taught the doctrine the following year, 1844, during a funeral sermon of Elder King Follett: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46.)

Once the Prophet Joseph had taught the doctrine publicly, Elder Snow also felt free to publicly teach it, and it was a common theme of his teachings throughout his life. About ten years before his death, while serving as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Snow incorporated his original couplet into a longer poem…

It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.

This article can be read in its entirety here.

So who is bearing false witness? Evangelicals who get their information directly from books, manuals, speeches, and periodicals approved by authorized LDS leaders, or Mormon professors who take it upon themselves to contradict those sources?

The Ostlings, in their book on Mormonism, reported that Mormon leaders insist that the idea that God is omnipotent, omniscience – and much unlike what we are or could ever be – is more accurate than the simple notion that we are all becoming gods like God the Father is.

Again, precise definitions are in order. There is no question that Mormons have used words like omnipotence and omniscience. The question is how are these words defined and do these definitions make sense in both a historical and evangelical context? In the tri-theistic godhead of Mormonism, can we really assume there are three all-powerful beings? Can we really hold to the historical definition of omnipotent and still believe, as Spencer Kimball taught, that Mormons who become Gods will also be omnipotent? (See page two of The Miracle of Forgiveness, 3rd paragraph.) Is it really possible to have more than one omnipotent being at the same time?

MOUW: A number of LDS writers have been formulating the “becoming God” theme in terms that are common in Eastern Orthodoxy: that “we shall be like Him” in the sense of I John, but that we will never be Him.

First of all, it is not up to “LDS writers” to formulate the “becoming God theme.” Doctrine is the job of the First Presidency. It is not up to LDS lay members, and it is not up to church employees who happen to teach at LDS schools. Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson made this very clear when he said,

“Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church. If Church members would remember that, we could do away with a number of books which have troubled some of our people” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.317; also cited in the LDS Church manual Teachings of the Living Prophets, p.25).

But since Dr. Mouw brings up Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling, let us look at what this excellent book actually says. On page 307, the authors note that

Millet cites the second of Smith’s ‘Lectures on Faith’ as evidence that the prophet taught progressive exaltation early…’they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.’ This God, writes Millet, is clearly ‘one who desires to glorify his children and make them even as he is.'”

The Ostlings continue,

“In recent years several Mormon scholars have sought validation for their belief in deification by citing evidence in C.S. Lewis, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the writings of the early church fathers” (p.307).

The Ostlings then spend the next six pages quoting Eastern Orthodox scholars who make it abundantly obvious that the LDS concept of deification is not at all close to the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. When Mormons like Millet continue to make such a comparison, who is bearing false witness?

MOUW: Another point: I have been told by many evangelicals that Mormons believe that the atoning work of Jesus Christ was accomplished in Golgotha and not at Calvary. Bob Millet has demonstrated from Mormon writings this [that?] this is not true – if the Cross had not occurred, he says, we could not be saved.

The mention of Golgotha is confusing since Golgotha is synonymous with Calvary. I am sure that Dr. Mouw meant to say Gethsemane. Let me also point out that I am fully aware that Mormon manuals and leaders are now making sure they mention the cross. Given the inconsistency among LDS spokespersons, such comments appear to me as nothing more than damage control rather than an actual repudiation of past teachings.

Twice in 2002 the Ensign magazine carried articles that pointed to Gethsemane as the place where Christ took upon himself the sins of the world.

In Gethsemane the Savior took upon Himself the sins of the world and the weight of the world’s sorrows” (Johann A. Wondra (Area Authority Seventy), “Finding Hope in Christ,” Ensign Magazine, December 2002, p.8).

“As terrible as Christ’s suffering on the cross was, perhaps it was not as great as His suffering in Gethsemane. When he sweat drops of blood as He bore the weight of all the sins of mankind, the great agony of the Atonement took place” (Joseph C. Winther, “Because of His Love,” Ensign Magazine, April 2002, p.19; also cited in Improvement Era, 8/1916, pp.942).

Are we to understand that Mormons are now saying Jesus only atoned for a portion of mankind’s sins in Gethsemane? Jesus did not “sweat drops of blood” on Calvary, so this cannot be pointing to the cross. If, as Joseph Winther says, “He bore the weight of all the sins of mankind,” what would be left to atone for on the cross? I think this is a fair question since page 57 the LDS Church manual Gospel Fundamentals states,

“In Gethsemane, Jesus suffered for the sins of all mankind, as if they were His own. His suffering for all of these sins was greater than any of us can understand…On the cross, He finished suffering the penalty for Adam’s disobedience and for our own sins.”

Consider also the following statement from Mormon novelist, Orson Scott Card,

“I don’t believe that the manner of Jesus’ death had anything to do with either the atonement or the resurrection. That’s why we Mormons don’t use the symbol of the cross on our churches — to us, crucifixion was merely the method that the Romans used to execute those of whom they wanted to make a public example. Had the death been by lethal injection, the effect on our salvation would have been the same. I believe that Christ’s real suffering was the anguish he felt as he bore the horror of complete spiritual separation from God — taking upon himself to an infinite degree the torment that is the natural spiritual consequence of sin. The remorse and despair we feel (or will feel) to varying degrees because of our disobedience to or rejection of God, he felt so utterly that we cannot imagine it. In this context, what was done to his body was almost a distraction. Many people have borne as much.” (“Orson Scott Card on the Passion of the Christ,” Meridian Magazine web site, retrieved 11/27/04).

Admittedly, as a lay person, Card’s opinions carry no more weight that Robert Millet’s. I include them here merely to show that faithful Latter-day Saints do believe the cross is not all that significant.

MOUW: Here, for example, is how the LDS writer Glenn Pearson described the requirements for salvation in a popular Mormon book of the 1960s: “There has to be down payment of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Who has a broken heart and contrite spirit? One who is stripped of pride and selfishness. One who has come down in the depths of humility and prostrated himself before the Lord in mighty prayer and supplication. He has realized the awful guilt of his sins and has pled for the blood of Christ to be made a covering to shield him from the face of a just God. Such a one has made the down payment.”

A down payment? Surely Dr. Mouw does not really believe that being stripped of pride and selfishness is a requirement for justification. While this condition is certainly found in the Book of Mormon (Alma 5:27-28), it is not a requirement in the New Testament. I have yet to come across a Mormon who will admit that he is stripped of all pride. If that is the norm among all Mormons, it can be safe to say that, if the Book of Mormon is authentic scripture, no LDS will inherit eternal life. Bear in mind that Glenn Pearson is not a general authority. His opinions do not carry theological weight for the LDS Church.

MOUW: In none of this am I saying that Mormons are “orthodox Christians.” But I do believe that there are elements in Mormon thought that if emphasized, while de-emphasizing other element, could constitute a message within Mormonism of salvation by grace alone through the blood of Jesus Christ. I will work to promote that cause. Most of you will disagree with that approach. But at the very least admit that we have not always been fair in our wholesale condemnation of Mormonism as simply a false religion.

This paragraph is confusing. Is Dr. Mouw asking us to accept Mormons as “Unorthodox Christians”? I am sure that members of the LDS Church will no more accept this label as they accept the conclusion that Mormonism is not Christian at all. My question is, why are we being asked to emphasize a Mormonism that the First Presidency has never endorsed? Salvation by grace alone in the Mormon vernacular means nothing more than being resurrected from the dead, otherwise known by Mormons as immortality. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie insisted that “Immortality comes by grace alone, but those who gain it may find themselves damned in eternity” (Mormon Doctrine, p.671). It is intellectual dishonesty to act as if we are in agreement on these issues when our definitions make it clear we are not.

If Mormonism denies or distorts all of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, should it not be condemned wholesale? Isn’t that what constitutes a false religion?

MOUW: Second, some folks are upset about what they took as a call from me for evangelicals to join in the celebrations of the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth. I can see how people heard me say that we evangelicals should join in “celebrating” Joseph Smith’s birthday, but that is not what I intended to say. Instead I said that I hoped that many evangelicals would participate in those events that would allow us all to “pay special attention to Joseph’s life and teachings” during this year. I was thinking and speaking too much as an academic on this one, and I know that doing so created unnecessary confusion. For example, I am going to take part in a special conference at the Library of Conference [Congress?], where I will respond to an LDS scholar’s views on the contribution of Joseph’s theology. Those are the kinds of events where there can be critical give and take, and I see this bicentennial year as a time when we evangelicals can try to sort out the good from the bad in Joseph’s thought.

What made so many people upset was that this was said in a highly public setting. How can evangelicals honestly participate in such events without speaking bluntly about Smith’s false doctrines and dubious lifestyle? Wouldn’t this offend their hosts? If evangelicals attend but remain silent on these matters, couldn’t Mormons view their presence at such an event as somehow consent to the purpose of the event? What is to be gained by participating in such an event if truth is to be squelched?

MOUW: There are some of his writings, for example, that sound quite orthodox, and others–such as the King Follett Discourse–that have views that are far removed from anything in the Christian tradition.

Teachings that “sound” orthodox are not necessarily orthodox. Again, definitions must be clear. Will Dr. Mouw demand from his LDS counterparts that they define what they mean? Or will he continue to make assumptions based on his personal positions?

MOUW: But ordinary evangelicals do not have opportunities to engage in those kinds of serious theological panels–thus I was talking too much as an elitist! At the same time, I would think this would be a wonderful opportunity to put on some events in Utah, perhaps in cooperation with local LDS folks, where people talk together about some basic themes in Joseph’s thought.

Perhaps the reason why ordinary evangelicals are not invited to such events is because ordinary evangelicals tend to eschew beating around the bush. I personally cannot fathom participating in any event that is intended to glorify a false prophet.

MOUW: In our quiet dialogues, for example, we — evangelicals and LDS together — find many of his earliest statements to come close to a traditional Reformation (and Epistle to the Romans!) emphasis on salvation by grace alone, the unique substitutionary work of Christ on the Cross (and not just in Golgotha) and so on.

The problem with this assumption is that it is based on the idea that Dr. Mouw feels he is allowed to interpret the Book of Mormon apart from the commentary of Mormon prophets. Again, I can assure you that salvation by grace alone means nothing more to them than a bodily resurrection of the dead. If the mention of salvation by grace in the Book of Mormon is really intended to be understood as an evangelical would understand it, why is it that no Mormon leader concurs? While I would be the first to agree that some LDS leaders have broken the rules of hermeneutics in order to draw conclusions more in line with later teachings of Joseph Smith, it does seem a bit presumptuous to insist that Mormons should interpret the Book of Mormon in a way that contradicts how Mormon leaders interpret it.

Again, though Dr. Mouw uses the word Golgotha, I assume he means Gethsemane.

MOUW: The statements from D&C that I quoted, for example, sound straight out of an evangelical sermon.

They sound the same because Dr. Mouw is erroneously appropriating his personal definitions to a Mormon document. He draws this conclusion because he fails to understand how the Mormon defines these terms. No evangelical should agree with the LDS definition of justification; for this reason, Dr. Mouw should not have quoted it in the context he did.

MOUW: My own view is that instead of arguing primarily about the things we find offensive in Mormonism, it would be good to spend some time reflecting together about what we mean when we both say that Jesus alone saves,. and that he paid the debt for our sin on Calvary.

But again, the Mormon Church does not at all teach that Jesus alone saves. In Mormonism Jesus is merely necessary and is not all-sufficient! If Mormons really believed Jesus paid the total debt for sin, why are works so important to them? It was Dr. Mouw who injected the comment by Glenn Pearson. Notice Pearson’s use of the phrase “down payment.” Why does a Mormon have to make a “down payment” if the debt is paid in full?

MOUW: For the record: I do not believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God; I do not accept the Book of Mormon as a legitimate revelation; I do not believe that temple baptism saves; I do not believe that all people will be saved. And it is precisely because of this that when my good friend Bob Millet says that his only plea when he gets to heaven is “the mercy and merit of Jesus Christ,” I want to respond by saying with enthusiasm, “Let’s keep talking!”

If Robert Millet is giving the impression that salvation is only by the mercy and merit of Christ, then how do you explain his remarks in the Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon? In volume one, page 295, he and Joseph Fielding McConkie write:

“Indeed, it is only after a person has so performed a lifetime of works and faithfulness—only after he has come to deny himself of all ungodliness and every worldly lust—that the grace of God, that spiritual increment of power, is efficacious. In the language of Moroni: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).”

Notice carefully the conditions. A person must perform a lifetime of works and deny himself all ungodliness and every worldly lust. Then, and only then, does the grace of God become efficacious. Notice the order: first works, then grace. This fits perfectly with the LDS teaching of repentance. According to page 67 of the LDS Church manual Gospel Fundamentals,

“Our Father in Heaven does not sin, and He does not allow people who sin to live with Him. To live with Him we must repent of our sins. To repent means to feel sorry for our sins and stop doing them.”

In his book, By Grace Are We Saved, Millet wrote,

“Salvation by grace alone and without works,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained, “as it is taught in large segments of Christendom today, is akin to what Lucifer proposed in the pre-existence…They both come from the same source; they are not of God” (pp. 72-73).

How many examples must we produce to show that Millet’s concept of grace is not even close to the biblical position? Is this statement any different than that of 12th LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, who wrote:

“One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation”? (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p.206.)

It should be pointed out that Kimball’s quote is also found on page 36 of the Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121 and 122, published by the LDS Church.

MOUW: I hope this helps a little. I am deeply sorry for causing distress in the evangelical community. I make no apology for wanting to foster gentle and reverent dialogue with Mormon friends. But I want people to be upset with me only about things I really meant to say–and I failed on this occasion, on one important point, to make my case clearly enough. Blessings!

I certainly can’t fault Dr. Mouw for his desire to foster gentle and reverent dialogue among LDS academics. However, theological dialogues are a lot like marriage counseling; they tend to go nowhere unless both parties are completely candid. Since it is apparent that the BYU professors involved in these discussions are not being fully honest with how they portray what LDS leaders have actually taught, how can we expect anything positive from such dialogues?

In my personal opinion I think Dr. Robert Millet has already hinted as to how far such talks will go. In his review of Jon Krakauer’s controversial book titled Under the Banner of Heaven, he wrote,

“The fact is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no inclination whatsoever toward ecumenism and no desire to compromise one ounce of its doctrine or history in order to court favor among other religionists” (BYU Professor Robert Millet, “Church Response to Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven“).

Are evangelicals listening?

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