Sunday, August 24, 2008

An LDS Perspective on Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate

Reactions to Evangelical and Latter-day Saint interactions in book form have been mixed, with many Evangelicals unhappy with How Wide the Divide? (especially in the countercult community), and early reviews indicating that they area also apparently unhappy with Greg Johnson and Bob Millet's recent book Bridging the Divide. From what little I've seen, evangelicals appear more satisfied with the interactions between Gerald McDermott and Millet in Claiming Christ, but is it possible that in a volume that makes Evangelicals feel more comfortable about defining the differences between Evangelical theology and that of the Latter-day Saints that we may have talked past our dialogue partners?

One of the blogs that I enjoy is Summa Theologica - Interfaith Dialogue, a blog that comes from "aquinas," a pseudonym for a thoughtful and articulate Latter-day Saint who is appreciative of Evangelical-LDS dialogue. In our exchanges he shared his impressions of Claiming Christ and I asked if he'd consider responding to a few questions concerning his thoughts. The result may be found below. A humble reading of the following interview will benefit Evangelicals as they consider how their efforts at communicating theological issues are perceived by others.

Morehead’s Musings: aquinas, I appreciate your support of Mormon-Evangelical dialogue, and I think you have brought some helpful considerations and commentary to this topic on your blog. In our recent email exchanges you have shared some of your thoughts on the discussion between Robert Millet and Gerald McDermott in the book Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate (Baker Academic, 2008) that I think will be helpful for evangelicals and Latter-day Saints to consider. Let’s begin with the general and move to some specifics. What were your general impressions after reading Claiming Christ?

aquinas: John, thanks for the opportunity to offer my thoughts on the book. One of my immediate concerns was the format. Before reading the book I thought the subtitle “A Mormon-Evangelical Debate” was chosen more or less for marketing purposes. I didn’t really believe Millet or McDermott would be interested in “debating” their beliefs. I was surprised when I saw that the book begins with one side giving an initial essay and the other side providing a “response” followed by a “rebuttal” by the initial author. While religious debates can be useful, in practice they tend not to enhance mutual understanding. They tend to play to the audience. The advocates are not trying to understand the other side so much as they desire to prevail on a certain point. Despite its appearance, I consider these debates to be less a species of interreligious communication and more a form of “spectacle” where the purpose is to communicate to one’s own faith group the superiority or validity of one’s beliefs in opposition to the religious other.

Readers of Claiming Christ (“CC”) should notice that McDermott is not really speaking to a Latter-day Saint audience, nor is he trying to present Evangelical views to Latter-day Saints in a winsome manner. He is writing for an Evangelical audience. He states in the introduction that his goal is to challenge Millet’s assertion that the Christ of the Latter-day Saints is essentially no different from the Christ as viewed by Evangelicals.1 In doing so, one might argue that McDermott is engaging in classic boundary-maintenance—the same paradigm that has dominated Mormon-Evangelical discourse for years. To be fair, however, McDermott urges Evangelicals to abandon stereotypes and caricatures of Mormonism and attempts to offer a more informed critique. Now, ironically, Millet doesn’t play the corresponding role of debater in this book. Readers should notice that Millet is not primarily writing for a Latter-day Saint audience for the purpose of demonstrate the superiority of Latter-day Saint belief, which would be his expected role. It isn’t until the second chapter that Millet explains, “My purpose ... is not to convince readers that they should walk where I walk; it is to invite them to stand in my shoes for a season at least, and then to be in a position to make a meaningful and informed assessment of LDS Christianity.”2

Throughout CC, Millet does not respond to McDermott by using apologetic arguments or by citing the leading works in LDS scholarship. Rather, Millet prefers to relate personal experiences, stories, narratives, and rhetorical questions to achieve his goal of inviting the reader to “stand in his shoes.” Well, you can imagine the result that naturally flows from these disjointed goals of the authors and the debate format of the book. At times I feel the authors really talk past each other. The book would have been stronger had the authors given more consideration to their goals, and also explained why they opted for the format that they did. From my perspective, the format of the book was a step backward. After ten years of progress since How Wide the Divide? (“HWD”) was published, I expected more.

Morehead’s Musings: You said in our email exchanges that you felt as if McDermott was not as familiar with Mormonism as he could have been, and that their exchange did not come across as a mutually interactive dialogue. Can you address these areas a little more and provide some specific examples of your concerns?

aquinas: I would like to preface my remarks by acknowledging that in any book of this nature neither Evangelicals nor Mormons will be completely satisfied. We learned in the aftermath of HWD that many Evangelicals felt that both Craig Blomberg and Stephen Robinson were unqualified to engage in such a project. Latter-day Saint and Evangelical scholars expressed their lament that Robinson did not inform Blomberg of certain studies, and did not cite such studies in his responses. Such comments are inevitable. From the limited Evangelical responses I have read, Evangelicals were disappointed with McDermott’s views on inerrancy, which I had not expected. I felt Evangelical critics would be pleased with the debate format.

My substantive concerns began in the third chapter. McDermott writes: “The Mormon Jesus is a different God from the Father; he is one of (at least) three Gods; he was a man who once was not God; his nature is the same as ours; he is one whose nature and fullness we ourselves can attain; and he does not transcend the cosmos.”3 My initial response was that this language could have come from any typical anticult work on Mormonism. I did not find the kind of effort at translating theological terminology that I found in HWD. Neither Millet nor McDermott spend much time defining the terms God or gods. Millet gives the impression that it is official LDS orthodoxy that God was not always divine when this only one interpretation of Joseph’s King Follett Discourse.4 Perhaps because of this, McDermott fails to appreciate traditions within Mormonism. In other areas, for example, McDermott seems to not be aware that Latter-day Saints draw a distinction between Paradise and Heaven,5 and fails to engage works by David Paulsen and Blake Ostler in regards to the Trinity, the canon, and creatio ex nihilo.6 On the other hand, Millet also fails to point readers to Paulsen or Ostler’s writings which is odd given McDermott’s decidedly philosophical focus.7 At times McDermott cites Robinson in HWD but apparently did not consult any of the important critiques of HWD, including Owen and Mosser’s significant response published in FARMS Review.8 Rarely does McDermott cite Latter-day Saint scriptures when asserting Mormonism teaches such and such, but instead prefers to cite from either Millet’s works or the Encyclopedia on Mormonism published by Macmillan Press.

Morehead’s Musings: You have also said that you found the dialogue between Craig Blomberg and Stephen Robinson more helpful in HWD. Why is that? And in anticipation of Evangelical critics of that book, is your appreciation for HWD due to perceptions that Blomberg conceded quite a bit to Robinson in that exchange?

aquinas: First of all, HWD was criticized because it allowed an articulate Latter-day Saint to describe Mormonism to Evangelicals. This was perceived as a kind of affront to the countercult movement, which has enjoyed a kind of monopoly of explaining Mormonism to Evangelicals. In addition, I believe it was criticized for the very fact that it wasn’t a debate but rather a conversation. In the words of one observer, it was hard to see how anyone can “win” a conversation, but apparently critics felt there were winners and losers in the conversation.9 In my opinion, HWD, despite criticisms, is still the core text, and best model, for Mormon-Evangelical relations. The goal of HWD was not defeating the opponent but rather seeking to understand the other in conversation. Blomberg wrote not just for an Evangelical audience but was realistically speaking to a Latter-day Saint audience, something that is rarely done.

The format of HWD was far superior to that in CC. The pattern of “Evangelical Position,” “Avoiding Mischaracterizations,” “Evangelical Misgivings,” and “A Positive Conclusion” was extremely helpful and worked rather well with the caveat that I believe Blomberg and Robinson felt that if they were to do it again they would title the sections Robinson or Blomberg’s Position rather than the LDS or the Evangelical Position.10 The headings themselves explained the goals of HWD. The goal was to explain misgivings about each other’s doctrine and explain how to avoid mischaracterizations. The footnotes for HWD were comprehensive, offered extended explanation and put readers in contact with a greater body of literature.

CC lacked this structure and organization, but it would have been easy to reorganize the essays under these headings. Furthermore, Robinson and Blomberg were responding to each other’s essay regardless of who went first in order and the Joint Conclusion allowed the authors to fully refine their understandings. In contrast, CC’s pattern of Essay, Response, Rebuttal, left little space for actual exchange. The chapters offered no joint conclusions. Without a better structure I wasn’t exactly sure where the authors were going with their essays, and the rebuttal and conclusion forever left the reader wondering what the other side really thought. There was always an unsettled and incomplete feeling to the endings. I really don’t understand why the authors would abandon the successful format of HWD.

HWD focused on a few core areas in four chapters. Perhaps, CC tries to do too much by tackling several more themes (8 chapters) but never giving any of the topics an adequate treatment. In many places it is repetitive and some of the chapters should have been consolidated. CC does cover issues that HWD did not such as the sacraments and church organization, and this was helpful but I didn’t really feel much engagement on point. In regards to topics like baptism for the dead, McDermott, again in my opinion, offers nothing substantially different than common arguments (i.e. “second chance” to repent theory).11 The chapter on the Book of Mormon was quite disappointing and superficial.

Morehead’s Musings: After the release of HWD there was considerable discussion by Mormons and Evangelicals. What were some of the responses, critiques, and dialogues that you saw in the aftermath of that book that you’d like to see built upon in Mormon-Evangelical dialogue?

aquinas: I think it is important that anyone considering writing a book of this type consult the literature. Much has been written on these topics. Indeed, one of Owen and Mosser’s main criticisms of Evangelical responses to Mormonism, which still has validity, was the lack of engagement with LDS scholarship.12 In addition, Latter-day Saint writers need to acquaint themselves with literature outside their area of expertise and cite it appropriately. Latter-day Saint authors need to be aware of various traditions within Mormonism where faithful Latter-day Saints may disagree and explain this to Evangelical readers.

One of the challenges of Mormon-Evangelical relations is overcoming the Evangelical reliance on the countercult movement for their understanding of Mormonism. This has led to a situation where Evangelicals are constantly skeptical of engaging with Mormons. Stephen H. Webb, professor of religion & philosophy at Wabash College, tellingly remarked that when discussing the positive impact that CC had on him with other theologians. They warned him “about the potential treachery of engaging Mormons in theological debate.”13 A pparently, “[p]art of the problem has to do with the complexity and secrecy of Mormon beliefs. Mormon apologists can pick and choose their beliefs, playing up or down ideas that others might find odd or offensive.”14 Whether one agrees with the validity of this perception, it still is the perception. However, with the effort of many people involved in Mormon-Evangelical dialogues, this situation is largely improving. Webb explained “I trust [Robert Millet] in part because McDermott trusts him, which is to say, the book worked wonders for me.”15 We must take advantage of the insightful material produced by these exchanges. For example, McDermott discusses the prisca theologie in his essay but actually failed to appreciate Terryl L. Givens’s contributions on the prisca theologie at “The Worlds of Joseph Smith” Conference held in 2005 (McDermott was at the same conference), which would have greatly enhanced understanding.16 Of course, because it wasn’t a discussion for the purpose of mutual understanding, but a debate where McDermott was arguing that the LDS Jesus is not the same as traditional orthodoxy, there may have been less incentive to explore these issues.

Morehead’s Musings: You appear to have reservations about whether theologians are best equipped to engage in the kind of dialogue you would like to see take place between Mormons and Evangelicals. Why is this, and what disciplines and perspectives might add important dimensions to the dialogue process in your view?

aquinas: I only mean to say that we should be interdisciplinary in our approach and understand the contributions of religious studies, intercultural communication, sociology, etc., in our interreligious dialogues. As one example, McDermott claims that Mormons believe that Jesus was merely a mortal or that he was no different than us, and yet he cites a Barna Survey that concludes that “the people most likely to describe Jesus’ life as sinless were those who attend Pentecostal and Assemblies of God churches, as well as Mormons, while those least likely to view Jesus as sinless attend Episcopal, Catholic and Lutheran churches.”17 Now, McDermott needs to explain how Latter-day Saints, who have a theology that purportedly teaches them that Jesus is “no different from us,” empirically speaking, do not believe that Jesus is “no different than us.” In other words, theology should reflect reality. This is a devastating problem for McDermott in my opinion. We need to start using these sociological studies to “check” our theological conjectures.

Morehead’s Musings: You provided two interesting examples for your plea that we move beyond apologetic frameworks, even those that are largely theological in orientation but still informed in some senses by apologetic concerns, and you spoke of the examples of the Church Fathers and C. S. Lewis. In your view Mormons and Evangelicals talk past each other in these areas as they make their cases apologetically. Can you discuss how you see this taking place with these examples, and we might move beyond our present forms of interaction to break new ground?

aquinas: I’m not sure it’s useful to bar Latter-day Saints from appealing to the words of other Evangelical writers or other Christian thinkers like C.S. Lewis or from the writings of the early Church Fathers. The argument goes something like this: Since the early church fathers were not Mormon, then nothing Mormons quote from the early church fathers proves Mormonism. C.S. Lewis wasn’t Mormon, so C.S. Lewis is irrelevant to anything a Mormon has to say. Millet is utilizing the language of Christian thinkers and saying, “I can agree with this, this is what I am trying to say.” Millet is seeking out language which might convey his agreement in certain areas. In fact, this was already mentioned by Stephen Robinson in HWD, he writes, “When I read Clement or Irenaeus or C.S. Lewis and say, “There! That’s exactly what I believe,” Evangelicals usually answer, “No, that’s not what you believe at all.”18 Unfortunately, McDermott continues that tradition. McDermott explain in his public conversation at Roanoke College, “All [orthodox theologians] agree that we can never become gods ontologically. . . A recent study published by Oxford University Press has showed that the Greek fathers agree too, and that LDS scholars who claim the support of the Greek fathers for their view of deification cannot do so legitimately.”19

It isn’t that McDermott observation doesn’t have merit, but I hope that Evangelicals conversing with Latter-day Saints may come to see such language as an attempt to communicate. Perhaps this is an impossible request given the strong goals of boundary-maintenance in Evangelical apologetics. However, if Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals read the biblical data through different interpretive lenses, why should anyone be surprised if they read the early church fathers differently as well? It is clear, for example, that C.S. Lewis held to the traditional notions of creatio ex nihilo.20 Should this, however, automatically bar any Latter-day Saint from finding appeal in the words of C.S. Lewis, simply because Latter-day Saints do not hold to absolute creation out of nothing?

Evangelicals concerned solely with boundary-maintenance can always flash the creatio ex nihilo or the ontology card. But I do not think this is ultimately helpful for either Evangelicals or Latter-day Saints in dialogue. If Robinson or Millet is attracted to the language of the early Church Fathers or C.S. Lewis (even where real differences exist) it makes more sense to me to inquire more deeply into the appeal, rather than simply dismiss it as illegitimate.

Morehead’s Musings: This book presents an academic discussion of theological issues. But while such theological frameworks may appeal to Evangelicals who approach their faith and interactions with those of other faiths with this priority and framework in mind, it runs the risk of missing the mark in communicating meaningfully with Latter-day Saints. This is not to dismiss the importance of worldview and doctrine which are surely related to ethics and praxis, but what might be the (even assumed) frameworks that Latter-day Saints begin with, and how might Evangelicals begin from these starting points and then bridge the way to their concerns over theological discussion?

aquinas: This is a great question. If I may, I’d like to use the term metaphor rather than framework. We really need spend more time learning each other’s metaphors. I think McDermott “breaks” Latter-day Saint metaphors by projecting and imposing criteria and meaning from Evangelical metaphors. I’d like to offer three examples of this. Hopefully, this better explains what I mean.

First, McDermott makes the argument that the LDS Jesus doesn’t transcend the cosmos.21 The Latter-day Saint metaphor is that God creates by bringing order out of Chaos. Cosmos is order. Chaos is disorder, unformed the unorganized. God speaks to Chaos and it obeys. What McDermott really means is the LDS God doesn’t transcend Chaos because Chaos exists when God creates. I can see that point of view. But the metaphor only makes sense when Cosmos and Chaos are opposites. The metaphor doesn’t care or it doesn’t make an issue of Chaos pre-existing as a challenge to the absoluteness of God. The point is not who exists before: God or Chaos. The point is that it is God who is creating by speaking to the waters. The point in this metaphor is that God is God because of his creative powers. The Holy Ghost broods over the waters and brings forth heaven and earth from the primordial waters in Genesis. That is one example.22

A second example is the Latter-day Saint metaphor of the hidden, the fragment, the shard, the vestige, the remnant. Terryl Givens did an excellent job describing this view at the “Worlds of Joseph Smith” Conference.23 Mormonism emphasizes possibilities and potentialities, the recovery of truths and lost worlds, bringing forth hidden things to light.24 In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Lehi was given a book to read. Angels read to Joseph Smith heavenly versions of a Bible that man does not possess. Nibley once spoke of the Temple as a kind of divine library or repository of all knowledge.25 The metaphor is that of non-finality and dynamism, ongoing revelation and an open canon. Here, I think McDermott “breaks” the metaphor when he claims that Mormons have creeds just like Evangelicals.26 It may be the case that Mormons make too much of their anti-creedal heritage, but my sense is that McDermott’s assertion that Mormons have creeds just like Evangelicals really masks some of these characteristics of Mormonism that I’m talking about. It also overlooks the function of creeds as understood by Joseph Smith, which he believed set up stakes, allowing people to accept only so much but no more.27

If you allow me to make a reference to popular culture, Latter-day Saints might watch the opening scene of The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring movie and imagine early Christian history when we are told: “History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge. . . Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” Given Mormon metaphor of lost worlds and lost truth, Mormons might experience a connection between this scene and an apostasy narrative where truths were lost over time.

Now, when I say this, it is my hope that Evangelicals might respond by saying, “Hmm, that is interesting, maybe there is something to that, maybe LDS do see the potential, the hidden, the fragment, truths that are pieced together that reveal hidden worlds, the remnant, and the ruin.” But sometimes I feel the reaction from Evangelicals is to quickly respond: “Tolkien wasn’t Mormon. Tolkien wasn’t teaching Mormonism, or the so-called Great Apostasy. This scene wasn’t from Tolkien, it was from Peter Jackson.” Perhaps another reaction would be to gather several Tolkien scholars culminating in a book arguing that Tolkien never believed in Mormonism. I’m perhaps engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but the point is that such a response would be not appreciating and understanding the metaphor.

This metaphor runs all through Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Joseph reveals things that are hidden. The Book of Mormon is still a sealed book. The Nephites come across bones and people in a distant land and wonder about their history. They discover twenty-four plates among the ruins and exclaim, “Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates.” Nephi speaks of more revelation to come, even a vision of the entire history of the world. Joseph Smith received a revelation of a fragment of the parchment of John. The Book of Abraham abruptly ends, without any sort of conclusion, suggesting to the reader that there is more that we simply do not have. Worlds burst on to the scene and then end abruptly. We are only given slices of visions here and there.

A third example, which is probably more of a different paradigm, is the clash of the role of evidence and faith. For Mormons, evidence can never create a testimony ex nihilo. At best, evidence might support a pre-existing testimony but can never create one out of nothing. Evangelicals, it often seems, claim they put their trust in the scientific evidence and objective proof that Christianity is true. The Gospels, they argue, are historically reliable and provide the best proof that Christianity is true. Mormons simply cannot accept that faith and belief come from objective evidence and proof, otherwise what would be the difficultly in accepting the claims of Christianity? This is the opposite of faith for Latter-day Saints. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Bushman articulated well these ideas in his autobiographical work On the Road with Joseph:

Mormons wonder why all Christian don’t understand that we believe in the Book of Mormon on the basis of a spiritual witness. It is very hard for a Mormon to believe that Christians accept the Bible because of scholarly evidence confirming the historically accuracy of the work. Surely there are uneducated believers whose convictions are not rooted in academic knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work? We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journal to find out if the book is still true.28

So one of the reasons this doesn’t make sense for many Latter-day Saints is that it excludes a lot of people from having a viable and valid witness of the truth. It excludes all the early Christians who never had any archeological proof of the Old Testament. It excludes children from having valid witnesses of truth. It excludes elderly men and women, who may not be up on the latest scholarship and academic knowledge.29 It is simply difficult to believe Evangelicals who say their witness is based on scientific evidence and rationalism. As Bushman says, we think they believe as we do, but they do not. But perhaps this fits our respective paradigms. For someone who believes God has revealed everything that has given us complete and final truth, everything is in a final version. What else is there to do but look at all the truth? However, for someone who believes more is coming, and more will be revealed, we can’t wait until all the facts are in to decide whether to believe. We have to believe in something, even tentatively; otherwise we will never be able to have faith.

One of the problems with the debate format is that it doesn’t tend to encourage this kind of exploration into each other’s metaphors and paradigms, which is really necessary for significant understanding.

Last of all, if Evangelicals want to reach Latter-day Saints they should spend more time thinking about what is good, edifying, uplifting about Evangelical theology and doctrine and conveying that to Mormons. This is supported by the Mormon mission—to seek out the virtuous, lovely or praiseworthy. It is an article of the Mormon faith. The concept of goodness is one that Richard Bushman has tried to articulate to his audiences. In the Book of Mormon narrative, Lehi speaks of tasting the fruit of the Tree of Life. The prophet Mormon says that he “was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.” Joseph Smith talked about how the doctrines taste good to him.

Evangelicals, in my experience, sometimes misunderstand Mormons who talk about taste. They generally reduce this concept to that of flavor, and that this runs afoul of a kind of post-modernist, relativist position that you might like chocolate and I might like vanilla and thus we only have our preferences on which to rely. This is not what Latter-day Saints mean by tasting truth. It is not a preference or a flavor; it is taste at its deepest level. In the Book of Mormon account, Lehi didn’t measure the fruit of the tree of life, or merely look at it, or hold it, or prove its existence by argument or by archeological means, he tasted of the fruit, which was sweet and desirable to make one happy. It’s difficult to communicate taste to another person, it must be experienced. We can taste beauty and goodness in our lives.

As I said before, often the Evangelical position resists the notion that truth is contingent on beauty and goodness because it seems too subjective and post-modernist. Things can appear to be good and appear to be beautiful, but it doesn’t make it so, goes the argument. However, my sense is that Latter-day Saints simply won’t respond to this. The gospel must taste good or it is not true. The metaphor correctly understood I feel will be extremely useful to Evangelicals trying to communicate with Mormons.

Morehead’s Musings: aquinas, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book. I hope that the conversation can continue on this blog and your own, and that these exchanges contribute something positive to Evangelical-LDS dialogue.

aquinas: I hope to offer a more extensive review on my blog at some point. Lastly, I want your readers to know that while I have offered criticisms of CC, these criticisms come from a desire to see the dialogue improve and to continue. If anything else, some of my concluding thoughts after reading CC was “We need to keep talking!” I want to thank Professor Millet and Professor McDermott for sharing with readers the results of their communication and for contributing to the continuing conversation.


1. Claiming Christ, p. 8.
2. Claiming Christ, p. 54.
3. Claiming Christ, p. 64.
4. See Ostler, Blake T. “Bridging the Gulf.” FARMS Review 11.2 (1999): 103-177.
5. Claiming Christ, p. 212 “Even if baptism for the dead were permitted, there is nothing in scripture making baptism essential to any heaven. Quite the contrary, in fact; the good thief on the cross, who was not baptized, was told by Jesus that he would be in Paradise with him that very day.”
6. Blake T. Ostler, “Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought (review of Review of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, “Craftsman or Creator? An Examination of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex nihilo,” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast- Growing Movement, edited by Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen),” FARMS Review 17.2 (2005): 253–320; David L. Paulsen and R. Dennis Potter, “How Deep the Chasm? A Reply to Owen and Mosser’s Review,” FARMS Review 11.2 (1999): 221–264.
7. See Claiming Christ, p. 9. McDermott writes, “A third difference between this book and Blomberg and Robinson’s is that this one is more theologically oriented. Both Robinson and Blomberg are scripture scholars, first and foremost.”
8. Connelly, Matthew R., Craig L. Blomberg, Stephen E. Robinson and BYU Studies Staff. “Sizing Up the Divide: Reviews and Replies,” BYU Studies, 38/3 (1999):163-190; Mosser, Carl and Paul Owen, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation” [including Appendix: Hellenism, Greek Philosophy, and the Creedal “Straightjacket” of Christian Orthodoxy] FARMS Review 11.2 (1999): 103-177. Mosser and Owen’s article was significant because it was the first time Evangelical scholars had been published in FARMS Review.
9. See William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, “The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation),” FARMS Review 11.2 (1999): 178–209.
10. Craig Blomberg. “How Wide the Divide? Eleven Years Later, Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation.” Denver Seminary’s Women’s Forum, Feb 27, 2008.
11. Claiming Christ, p. 209.
12. Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” Trinity Journal 19.2 (Fall 1998): 179–205. “Third, currently there are (as far as we are aware) no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings.” P. 181.
13. Stephen H. Webb. “Review of Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate – By Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott.” Reviews in Religion and Theology, 15. 3 (July 2008) pp. 426-429 (4).
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Terryl L. Givens. “Joseph Smith: Prophecy, Process, and Plenitude,” BYU Studies 44.4 (2005): 55-68. Republished in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John Welch. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2006).
17. Claiming Christ, pp. 63, 71.
18. HWD, p. 209, ft 16.
19. Robert Millet and Gerald McDermott. A Public Conversation on “The Mormon Jesus” given at Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia, on September 20, 2005. (audio marker 12:43-13:15).
20. See Evan Stephensen, "The Last Battle: C.S. Lewis and Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30.4 (1997): 43-69. Stephensen explores Robinson’s usage of Lewis. See also Jordan Vajda, "Partakers of the Divine Nature": A Comparative Analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002). In his chapter “Theosis and Exaltation: In Dialogue” Vajda explains: “The aim of this chapter is to begin to clarify why Professor Robinson would find an equivalence to his belief in exaltation in the doctrinal writings of patristic authors as well as why his belief in an exact parallel would be challenged by his non-LDS friends.”
21. Claiming Christ, 75.
22. Mircea Eliade’s discussion of the cosmos and chaos could prove beneficial here. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987; orig. pub. 1957).
23. Terryl L. Givens. “Joseph Smith: Prophecy, Process, and Plenitude,” BYU Studies 44.4 (2005): 55-68. Republished in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John Welch. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2006).
24. Ibid., 60.
25. Hugh Nibley, “The Genesis of the Written Word,” New Era, Sep 1973, 38. Reprinted in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh Nibley. (Provo: RSC, 1978) 101-27 and Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present. CWHN 12. Don E. Norton, ed., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992): 450-490.
26. Claiming Christ, 19.
27. Ehat, Andrew F. and Lyndon W. Cook. (eds). The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1980): 256.
28. Richard Lyman Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary (Salt Lake City: Gregg Kofford Books, 2007): 15.
29. See for example the personal anecdote given by Robert L. Millet. “The Evidence of Things Not Seen” a BYU-Idaho Devotional given January 27, 2004. Millet’s story has been published in his books Getting at the Truth (2004) and A Different Jesus? (2007).

1 comment:

Seth R. said...

I'm getting the same impression of this book (I'm only a few chapters into it). The format is just confused and hard to read. I wasn't sure why this was, but I think Aquinas has nailed it.

McDermott comes looking for scrap and Millett simply isn't engaging him. It almost seems to mirror the problems of communication between the faith traditions generally.

For Evangelicals, orthodoxy is everything. But for Mormons, it's really almost a tertiary concern after a focus on ethics and historical narrative (via covenant-making). Thus, it is not really natural for an LDS theologian or scholars to speak in orthodox terms. When they do, they have to make a concerted effort - which Robinson managed well enough in HWD.

It has been said by more than one LDS scholar that Mormons do not have theologians. They have historians. For a Mormon, history really is the only theology we have that is native to us. Our eyes tend to glaze over whenever people start trying to get into philosophical line-drawing exercises. To speak to the philosophy-oriented approach of modern orthodox theologians takes quite a bit of Mormons artificially taking themselves away from their true religious passions and concerns.

Millet does not appear to be making a similar effort to speak in terms of orthodoxy in "Claiming Christ." He is speaking in the voice that is most comfortable to LDS - that of personal experience or "how I fit into the divine narrative found in scripture."

The result is satisfying for none. The Evangelicals leave feeling like they're being snow-jobbed (since their orthodox concerns are being ignored) while the LDS leave feeling picked-on by McDermott, who brings up concerns that are alien to them.

Robinson and Blomberg's book worked because it picked a paradigm and stuck with it. They committed to a discussion of orthodoxy, and tried to have it out. That worked.

If we could ever get an Evangelical scholar to abandon the cerebral obsession with orthodoxy for more than five seconds, Millet's approach will also work for a book. This is unlikely if you keep turning to Evangelical theologians for dialogue. I am convinced that they simply don't know how to abandon the orthodoxy, and I don't think they ever will for the foreseeable future.

The result is that the Mormons are the ones who end up debating on the Evangelicals' terms or not at all. It is the Mormon who must drop his or her experiential and historical approach in favor of the cold, forbidding, sterile, and unappealing analytical approach of modern Protestants. We give, or no one does. Because the Evangelicals do not seem willing to meet us on our turf.

This creates a dynamic where the Mormons are the ones who have to justify themselves in an Evangelical world and not the other way around. Evangelicals refuse to engage on Mormon terms or in ways that Mormons can relate to. So it is the Mormon scholars who must go, hat in hand, to the Protestant world and beg for a hearing - but only if they agree to behave themselves, and speak in properly orthodox language.