The late Lutheran Bishop is well known for his articulation of various principles related to understanding other religions. These include:
(1) When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.
(3) Leave room for “holy envy.”
Stendahl is perhaps best known for the last item, that of "holy envy," the attempt to find something that you value in another religion and even wish was found within your own religious tradition. The Bishop practiced this in his own life, including helping to arrange a press conference at the opening of a Mormon temple in his native Sweden and speaking favorably about his appreciation of the Mormon ritual connection between the dead and the living. Stendahl then appeared in a Mormon video, Mormon Temples: Between Heaven and Earth, where he articulated his views on this subject. In the video clip that accompanies this post you can see a segment of the temple video, and hear Truman Madsen describe Stendahl's efforts at expressing "holy envy" in connection with Mormon death rituals. I want to express agreement and disagreement with Stendahl, and in so doing point Mormons and Evangelicals toward another area for dialogue.
First, I strongly support Stendahl's principles for religious understanding, including and especially holy envy. I can point to elements that I appreciate in other religious traditions that I wish was found within my own Christianity. I've even commented previously on the poor way in which Western Christianity deals with death, and in my view Mormonism, Paganism, and transformational festivals like Burning Man do a better job of addressing death and grieving, and maintaining a sense of ongoing connectedness between the living and the dead. I disagree with their larger views and practices on the matter, but there remains a lot to envy in this area. Evangelicals should practice holy envy whenever possible in regards to other religious and spiritual traditions.
Jesus the Temple (Baker Academic, 2010). Perrin argues that there were a number of counter-temple movement's in Palestine in the time of Jesus, including John the Baptist's, Qumran, and the Jesus movement itself. Perrin writes:
If both John the Baptizer’s following and the early Church were counter-temple movements…, then this grants basic plausibility to the hypothesis that Jesus, who straddled both groups, also saw his own mission and destiny in similar terms. In other words, … Jesus found the temple of his day to be corrupt, [and] inferred from this … the onset of messianic tribulation, and then finally saw his own calling as a response to this divinely ordained crisis (78).He argues argues that "the idea of Jesus as temple dates back to Christ himself and that he saw his following as the new temple movement, the social and confessional boundaries of which were marked off by allegiance to him." This makes for an interesting consideration in light of the theology of the book of Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament where Jesus is not only presented as temple, but also as High Priest and offering as well.
If Perrin's analysis holds up, and represents an accurate representation of Jesus' self-understanding and New Testament theology, then it is seemingly at odds with the theology and ritual associated with Mormon temples. It would make for a fascinating topic for discussion between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints.