Evangelical Wants to Keep Mormon Moment Alive

By: Mormon Heretic
November 11, 2013

2012 brought a lot of interest in the LDS Church due to Mitt Romney’s campaign for President of the United States.  Now that the election is over, many feel the Mormon Moment is over.  Christianity Today’s Ed Stetzer put out an article this week advocating that evangelicals “not let the Mormon moment pass completely.”  I have to say, I was a bit surprised, and somewhat pleased, to hear an evangelical want to keep the Mormon Moment alive.  (I would have thought they wanted Mormons to fade away.)  Here are some other points Stetzer made.

  • He applauded the Billy Graham Evangelical Association for removing Mormons from their list of cults.  Stetzer said it is ‘unhelpful to lead with the term “cult” when discussing Mormons‘ because most people think of a cult in sociological terms rather than theological terms.’  Stetzer says “Mormonism fits the definition of a theological cult, but it is not helpful to lead with that term as most people do not make the distinction.”  What do you think of his rationale?  What exactly is the difference between a sociological cult and a theological cult?  Does Stetzer believe Catholicism, Buddhims, or Judaism are theological cults?
  • He still thinks Mormons shouldn’t be called Christians.  “I simply call Mormonism what it is: another religion, distinct from Christianity, with kind, gracious people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  He quoted himself on a previous post on his distinction.

The obvious question is, how divergent can your views be and still be a part of a faith group (in contrast to forming a new one)? Can you believe, for instance, that Muhammad is not the prophet and still call yourself a Muslim? The vast majority of Muslims would say you cannot. For Christians, calling yourself a Christian while not believing God has always existed as the triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is just as inconceivable. That’s what Mormonism does. It’s not a Christian denomination. It is a different religion.

I’m not sure that I follow his Islam example.  Mormons, like evangelicals believe Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior, etc.  So I think his comparison to Muhammad is off.  While evangelicals and Mormons agree that we have different beliefs about the Trinity, to me that is not a reason to say that Mormons are not Christians, though it is obvious that Stetzer disagrees with me on that point.  (I respond that the word Trinity–or triune God–never appears in the Bible, so to me the Trinity is a non-biblical doctrine.  I agree that Trinity has centuries of historical support among traditional Christians.)

I guess this hearkens back to the issue in the First Century when Christ’s early followers were considered Jews.  It really wasn’t until the 2nd century that Christians considered themselves separate from Judaism.  Should Mormons make a similar break?  Terryl Givens has also advocated that Mormonism should be referred to as a new religion, so Stetzer isn’t alone in this thought.  Should Mormons embrace the concept of a new religion, rather than simply being another Christian denomination?  Are we so different that we shouldn’t accept the Christian name anymore?  From Stetzer’s perspective, it would be as if Christians preferred to call themselves Jews rather than Christians.  Stetzer says

Mormonism is a different faith or religion. Three out of four Protestant pastors (and it’s higher for evangelicals) agree that Mormons are not Christians.

The problem is that most Mormons want to use the Christian label without believing biblical, Christian theology.

What do you think of Stetzer’s positions?

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24 Responses to Evangelical Wants to Keep Mormon Moment Alive

  1. ji on November 11, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    Dr Stetzer is one who takes the Lord’s name in vain. He assumes for himself the right to say who is, and who is not, a follower of Jesus Christ.

    That being said, I think we sometimes unnecessarily stick our neighbors in the eye and we sometimes don’t well know our own doctrine. Sometimes we emphasize that which doesn’t need to be emphasized.

    Doctrine and Covenants 20:28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

    Mosiah 15:5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.

    Alma 11: Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

    2 Nephi 31:21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

    Mormon 7:7 And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

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  2. Jeff Spector on November 11, 2013 at 5:09 AM

    I have a word for what the good Doctor is attempting to do. STUPID. It just promulgates the ridiculous arguments from the past make by ignorant people. Nothing more.

    The irony is that his so-called Christianity is actual the Hellenized version of early Christianity that more closely resembled Greek religions rather than the Hebrew-based religion as taught by Jesus. So, if anyone is preaching a false religion, it is them.

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  3. dba.brotherp on November 11, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    When I think back to my youth, we (Mormons) didn’t care that others excluded us and thought that we were not Christians. We were the *only* true church and opposition was good. Now, we want to be included and I think that it has to do with American politics.

    For some reason, we want to hitch our wagons to the ultra right wing of the Republican party even though they will NEVER accept us. We think if that if they just “got to know us” they would accept us, love us, and let us be come into their political fold. However, we now see that they still view us as a cult. Sure we are not a “sociological cult” but instead we are a “theological cult.” What kind of BS is that?

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  4. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    Mormonism is different than Christianity even though it includes a version of it. Docternally I think of Mormonism as Christianity plus. But in practice we fall quite short of their loving acceptance and charity with our pronounced consertivism, our strong focus on OT bright line rule enforcement.

    Is Mormonism a cult? It is focused so strongly on controlling behavior that it’s layered indoctorination and strong emphasis on obediance beginning in early childhood amounts to mind control in some perhaps many people. Questioning and thinking for one’s self is given lip service allowing a proof texting defense of this issue but in practice it is strongly discouraged, there is only one right answer and that is Mormon-think expressed in Mormon-spreak.

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  5. Jeff Spector on November 11, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    He’s just the new wave, story is the same.

    Howard,

    If the Church is so interested in controlling behavior, then why is more than 2/3 not active? And, they don’t control my behavior, nor my thinking. I do.

    Just a ridiculous statement. If we have some members who turn over their agency to the Church, that is just plain wrong. The Church does not ask for that.

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  6. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 9:11 AM

    Well the why of 2/3 being inactive is explained by many, many things including pressure for missionaries to make their numbers, baseball baptisms etc! But part of it is probably related to being controlled. There tends to be an exodus during the late teens and early twenties when people are becomming sexually active and hormones often win the tug-o-war with podium hellfire and damnation.

    Jeff, as I recall you are a convert, did you experience the Mormon indoctrination as a child I’m discussing above?

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  7. downtown dave on November 11, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    It is true that Mormons believe a different gospel than the Gospel of Christ that the Apostle Paul preached. A question I have is, if Joseph Smith said God told him all of the creeds that existed during his time were an abomination, why would Mormons want to be associated with Christians now?

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  8. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    …why would Mormons want to be associated with Christians now? Love one another?

    Do you view Christians as bad?

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  9. The Other Clark on November 11, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    For the first 150 years of our history we emphasized that we were NOT a protestant denomination (e.g. Pres. Monson’s story at navy boot camp where he refused to be classified as a Catholics or protestant–even for sunday non-denominational services.)

    Now we’re adamantly insisting that we ARE another Christian denomination. While only the prophets know the true reason for the switch, I suspect it’s because a strong, united religious front is needed to confront the moral issues of today’s society.

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  10. Kullervo on November 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    The irony is that his so-called Christianity is actual the Hellenized version of early Christianity that more closely resembled Greek religions rather than the Hebrew-based religion as taught by Jesus. So, if anyone is preaching a false religion, it is them.

    You know what makes that true? Saying it over and over again!

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  11. MH on November 11, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Howard,

    I know it is one of your pet topics to talk about the obedience culture in the LDS Church, but I don’t think that is what Stetzer is saying at all. Refering to the obedience culture is a sociological definition. Stetzer doesn’t see this as an accurate representation of the LDS Church. By that definition, then some Pentecostals that say that wearing jeans is bad puts them in the cult status too, and I doubt greatly that Stetzer would classify Pentecostals as a sociological cult. There are plenty of Protestants that think premarital sex is flat out wrong. I think you’re missing the point of Stetzer’s argument, because he is not arguing what you are saying here.

    Stetzer’s point is about theology. Mormons believe differently than Protestants, Catholics, or Evangelicals. I think nobody disagrees with that statement, but that’s why he wants to call us a theological cult–though he says people confuse sociological (behavioral) with theological–as it seems to me you are doing. My question is whether Stetzer considers Judaism, Catholicism, or non-Evangelicals as theological cults too, or does he just single out Mormons? I wish he were here to answer.

    Mormon theology certainly does deviate with traditional Christianity. Just as Christians have similar theology with Jews, Mormons have similar theology with Christians. I guess I don’t mind saying we are an evolution of Christianity, but I would hope that the general public would view Mormons as an extension of Christianity in the same way Christians are an extension of Judaism. I’m not sure that the general public makes that distinction yet.

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  12. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    Well MH I did acknowledge the theological similarity and non-overlap in my first paragraph but went on to disagree with Stetzer regarding the cult influence, agreeing that it exists but seeing it as more sociological than theological in nature.

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  13. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    The point about confusing sociological (behavioral) with theological is a good one. I think that is what happens in the LDS church giving rise to the the obedience culture.

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  14. mh on November 11, 2013 at 4:03 PM

    Howard, remember that the lds don’t have a monopoly on obedience culture. Protestants have purity our abstinence pledges, and I was shocked to hearthat some Pentecostals don’t want members to wear jeans of any kind, let alone skinny jeans. Obedience cult ure is paraty off many religious traditions, such as orthodox Jews or the Taliban. Mormons are very relaxed by comparison.

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  15. Howard on November 11, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    Obedience cult ure is paraty off many religious… What does this sentence mean? Paraty? Mormons are very relaxed by comparison. That may be, we certainly don’t wear berkas (but we do ware hairshirts) that doesn’t make the Mormon obedience culture healthy. The biggest problem is it never ends. It isn’t an obedience lesson to be learned for the purpose of self discipline and self knowledge later to be transcended and built upon with greater lessons of which there are many. Instead it becomes the goal and the badge rather than the means to greater growth and in that way it becomes cult like, idol like and unhealthy.

    If the theology is cult like it is because it goes beyond the Bible in requiring irrational belief. Outsiders would say it’s because we follow Joseph but I have never felt that we followed him significantly differently than Jews followed Moses.

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  16. Geoff - A on November 11, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    I think he has a hide telling people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ they are not Christians, but I’ve been told I’m not a Mormon because I don’t believe all the conservative culture that comes with the church, so all I see is that conservative American culture does not make one very inclusive.

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  17. brjones on November 11, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    There is no set or official definition of christianity, so no one has the right or authority to tell another person or group that they are not “real” christians. That said, it’s kind of like a group of kids forming a club and giving it a name and excluding all the other kids from the neighborhood. The other kids are free to make their own jackets with the name of the club on the back, and technically no one can tell them they’re not in the club, but are they really in the club if no one in that club wants them? Mormons think worshiping christ makes one a christian. Most christians believe it’s belief in the traditional doctrine of the trinity. It’s an artificial distinction, and doesn’t have any meaning to anyone either on the inside or the outside. Calling onesself a christian does not make it so and telling another person they’re not a christian does not make it not so. A more relevant question, I think, as many of the comments have pointed out, is why the church and its members are so eager to be recognized by mainstream christianity. Especially when not so long ago they would have felt that such acceptance meant they were doing something wrong. Additionally I would point out, as others here have done in the past, that many (perhaps most) members of the LDS church don’t consider members of other mormon groups (of which there are many) “real” mormons. What’s the difference?

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  18. Nate on November 11, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    I think Jeff, Jj, and some others are being a little unfair to Ed Setzer. In his article he says this:

    “I simply call Mormonism what it is: another religion, distinct from Christianity, with kind, gracious people who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

    For me, it warms my heart to think that Ed is genuinely concerned about me, and wants to teach me the gospel. That means we have something in common, because I want to teach him the gospel too! How can we expect Evangelicals to leave us alone and accept us as “saved” Christians according to their doctrine, when we ourselves don’t leave Evangelicals alone, nor do we consider them “saved” in our highest heaven either.

    It’s also refreshing to hear Evangelicals talk about Mormons in a sweeter, more condescending way than the typical defensive, fear-mongering, born of their insecurities about militant Mormon proslyting. Now they just feel sorry for us. But at least they are no longer scared of us. They even have started to see that we do some good things too, in spite of our damned state.

    And in the end, I think Mormons DO need to hear the gospel from Evangelicals, because there is too much works, and not enough grace in our culture. I think it is perhaps the influence of Evangelical culture that has shaped the transformation of LDS atonement theology along the lines of Robert Millet and Steven Robinson, who have tried to find populist ways to articulate our unique blend of works/grace that somewhat accomodates the Evangelical position.

    While I believe that Evangelicals are missing important pieces of the puzzle, I do think their emphasis on Pauline grace is beautiful, true, and should be included more in the LDS paradigm.

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  19. Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer) on November 11, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    MH,

    Good question.

    But, no, I don’t think Judaism (for example) would be a theological cult of Christianity. Actually, I could see Jews saying in the first century that Christianity was a theological cult of Judaism (if that phrase existed then).

    Here’s the definition from one of our evangelical study bibles (sorry, I can’t indent):

    [A] religious movement that claims to be derived from the Bible and/or the Christian faith, and that advocates beliefs that differ so significantly with major Christian doctrines that two consequences follow: (1) The movement cannot legitimately be considered a valid “Christian” denomination because of its serious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy. (2) Believing the doctrines of the movement is incompatible with trusting in the Jesus Christ of the Bible for the salvation that comes by God’s grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9). [ESV Study Bible, p. 2631]

    So, that would be Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

    But, again, words change meaning over time. Cult is a good example. Today, it just does not mean the same thing it did before Jonestown. And, I don’t think Mormons are anything like those kinds of sociological cults. Actually, I would think that groups like the FLDS Church would fit the more common definition of cult, if I understand the FLDS, but the LDS would reject their practices just as evangelicals would reject Jonestown (which came out of a one-time evangelical group).

    Thanks for the thoughtful interaction.

    Ed

    P.S. Nate, I don’t feel sorry for you (grin), but other than that, I loved your comment.

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  20. Will on November 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    MH,

    We are not Christian. We do not accept the Trinity or the Council of Nicea. We believe the un-butchered version of the bible (KJV) as long as it is translated correctly. We have our own testament of Christ in the Book of Mormon. We believe in the book of Commandments (D&C) is from God. We accept President Monson as the only mouth piece (for the entire population of the world) for God on earth. We believe God (the final word) told Joseph Smith not to join any Christian churches as the were an abomination. We believe any church that is not the Church of the Lamb of God is the whore of the earth and is the Church of the Devil. We baptize (via proxy) people who have died, who declared they were Christian (some even accepted Jesus as their Savior) because we see their baptism as invalid. We send 18/19 year old boys and girls to teach, mostly those that accept Christ, that we have the only true church. We require, in order to join, that one must accept what God told Joseph; and, again ask if ones accepts this is the only true Church in order to enter the Temple.

    We view ourselves as an exclusive (only true church) club, so why are we offended when someone points that out. We do not belong to the Christian club. We do believe in Christ, but under our exclusive terms. We can’t have it both ways.

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  21. MH on November 11, 2013 at 11:24 PM

    Ed, welcome! I’m so glad you joined our conversation! Thanks for the answers–I was wondering exactly what you meant. Cult is such a loaded term, and I’m glad to hear that groups like the Billy Graham Evangelical Association are distancing themselves from such a pejorative term.

    Howard, that sentence should have read “Obedience culture is [part] of many religious traditions, such as orthodox Jews or the Taliban. Mormons are very relaxed by comparison.”

    Nate, “sweeter, more condescending way…” I don’t really want to be treated condescendingly. I like the baby steps that Stetzer is taking, but I’d prefer to be treated with respect and equality, rather than sweet condescension. I also agree that Protestants have shaped Mormonism, and I do think that Mormons have over-emphasized works over grace. From that perspective, I think the Mormon-evangelical conversation is helpful. However, I do think that Mormons have perhaps acquiesced too much, especially in regards to theosis or exaltation. I don’t think that doctrine should be de-emphasized as much as it is. I don’t think Mormons should necessarily act more Protestant just to get along if it means jettisoning fundamental and distinct LDS doctrines.

    Will, I’m a little ambivalent about whether Mormons should claim the Christian title, or stake out a position as a new religion as Ed suggests. In many ways, new religion has some appeal, but this over-emphasis on Mormons not being Christian doesn’t seem entirely accurate. I don’t know that most people understand that Mormons evolved from Christianity. If that were more common knowledge, then I think it would be fine to stake out the claim of a new religion.

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  22. Jeff Spector on November 12, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    “Actually, I could see Jews saying in the first century that Christianity was a theological cult of Judaism (if that phrase existed then)”

    How ridiculous this is. If anything, Jews would have classified Jesus as another Rabbi with a following and His own interpretation. That was quite common in these times. If wasn’t called Christianity until many, many years later.

    I wonder what “historic Christian theology” actually is given that most Churches don’t even practice a theology close to the teachings of the Savior and Heavenly Father. Charity, for example, is absent.

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  23. BD on November 16, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    I think Stetzer is extremely generous in dealing with a sect that is in great theological error.

    When non-LDS Christians say that Mormons are not Christians, in large part, they are returning Mormons the same treatment they heap upon all non-LDS Christ-followers. Indeed, when the founding premise of Mormonism is that all of Christendom is apostate, its sects all wrong, its professors all corrupt, and its creeds an abomination (Joseph Smith History 1:18-20) well, it seems to me you’re saying that the only real Christians are Mormons. In fact, I’ve been to many LDS services and they LOVE to talk about other churches. “Other sects,” they call them, not once using the word Christian…

    Sidebar: Please, don’t tell me that the fact there are so many “sects” in Christianity proves the LDS church is true, because it DOESN’T…except in the minds of those who buy Joseph Smith’s story. The LDS church–and all of its schismatic offshoots–are just more “sects,” so that proves nothing.

    So why, when you won’t extend a non-LDS Christ-follower the courtesy of the word “Christian,” why should you expect it?

    Certainly, before they received the name “Christian” in Antioch (Acts 11:26…not exactly ages and ages after Jesus Christ walked the earth, to be sure)…Christians would have been thought of by many as a heretical sect of Judaism… a “cult,” in the pejorative sense of the word.

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  24. log on November 17, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    I guess I’m not so much concerned with whether one sectarian or another is willing to call me a Christian as with whether when Christ calls His saints in His name I will hear and respond.

    To put it even more plainly, I honestly don’t care what other men think of me; God alone knows my heart. To seek approval from men is a sign of spiritual weakness and immaturity, and is one of the tried and proven paths to hell.

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