At a recent meeting of Public Affairs people in Orange County, participants were given the assignment to read Stephen Robinson and Craig Blomberg’s book “How Wide the Divide?” and Robert Millet’s book “A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints”. This post is excerpts from an e-mail that I sent to them letting them know what insights they might receive from the reading.
Steve St. Clair
Hello, Orange County LDS Public Affairs Directors and Interfaith Relations Directors,
Our reading assignment before the next meeting, — to read or familiarize ourselves with Robert Millet’s “A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints”, and Steve Robinson’s “How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation”, —rightfully deserves some thoughts and comments. Why should we use our precious time to become acquainted with these works? There are a number of answers.
We could read these books to learn about LDS doctrines and beliefs – the “Theological” approach – and they would do a superb job, because they are part of the Church’s emphasis on Jesus Christ and on letting our scriptural sources have priority in determining our doctrines over teachings from a hundred and fifty years ago, when the people’s circumstances and the Lords needs were different. But if that is all we found there, we would have missed everything.
We could read them to look for great defenses for problems that other Christians have about our history or beliefs – the “Apologetic” approach – and find them better at providing these answers than other books. We would be right, but again, missing the most important points.
We could read them to look for amazing examples of how many of our so-called unique doctrines are taught by other Christian thinkers, including major protestant reformers and many evangelical thinkers today – the “Are Christians Becoming Mormon?” approach of Truman Madsen – and we would be amazed at the evidence. Our teaching of there being multiple levels of rewards in heaven (three degrees of glory) was insisted upon by John Wesley (who actually used the term “degrees of Glory”) and also famous evangelical author Dr. Bruce Wilkenson in his book “A Life God Rewards.” Our teaching of baptism for the dead – our answer to the question of the “fate of the un-evangelized” – fits in perfectly with a number of Christian thinkers, including a best known evangelical biblical commentator a hundred years ago. But if this was our purpose for reading them, we would have missed the most important point.
These books show these things beautifully. Most importantly, they do it in ways that make them least offensive to our other Christian neighbors, and in ways that encourage them to look for ways to include us rather than exclude us.
Read the chapter in Millet’s book on “The need for a Restoration” as perhaps a perfect example. He describes very appropriately the apostasy and the restoration, and explains in depth what we mean by “the only true and living church.” And then he does the thing that I’ve not heard before, and certainly other Christians haven’t heard clearly from us. He talks about what we DO NOT MEAN by “the only true and living church.”
We do not mean that men and women of other Christian faiths are not sincere believers in truth and genuine followers of Christ.
We do not mean that they are worshipping a different Jesus than we are.
We do not mean that we believe that most of the doctrines in the Catholic and Protestant churches are false, or that the leaders of the various branches of Christianity have improper motives.
We do not mean that the bible has been so corrupted that it cannot be relied upon to teach us sound doctrine and provide us with an example of how to live.
We do not mean that God-fearing Christians who are not Latter-day Saints will not go to heaven.
We do not mean that Latter-day Saints desire to do their own thing, or face social challenges alone. We strive earnestly to work together with men and women of other faiths to stand up and speak out against the rising tide of immorality and ethical relativism that are spreading in our world.
This section of my copy of the book is worn out from use in discussions with other Christians, and nothing opens doors with Evangelicals like using this.
Millet and Robinson also describe the apostasy in terms that do not unnecessarily over-emphasize its depth and breadth, but show an amazing number of quotations by LDS prophets and apostles that show great appreciation for the reformers and the work they did. Many have described them as an almost necessary preparatory part of the restoration, doing in their time exactly what the Lord wanted them to do. This is also a frequent theme in general conference talks today.
Brothers Millet’s and Robinson’s descriptions of the words that the Lord told Joseph smith at the time of the first vision (which are of course offensive to other Christians) can be seen in different ways, and they make a strong (in my opinion, convincing) case that the “abominable creeds” the Lord was talking about are not the creeds of the various Christian churches in Joseph’s day, but the creeds set up during the third through seventh centuries that got the definition of the Godhead all wrong. They describe the “professors” who were all corrupt not as all the leaders of all the Christian churches then and now, but as the ministers of the churches in Palmyra at the time who did not accept Joseph’s story of a restoration.
I have had conversations with some people who have begun this reading assignment, and who tell me that Steve Robinson’s book is difficult reading. It is. He’s one of the smartest people in the church, and in a dialog with one of the smartest Evangelical scholars on earth, and talking about hard subjects. I would suggest a selective reading. Read each of their introductions to the entire book; then find the one or two page “joint conclusion” at the end of each chapter; and then read their joint conclusion to the whole dialog, beginning on page 189. You will have everything important, and will recognize the remarkable agreements that have been found. Another approach would be to read Steve’s book for Latter-day Saints, “Believing Christ”, which teaches us how to approach our religion in the same way, and from our perspective.
Brother Thorkelson, if there are any of either of these books left unsold by our November meeting, please let me know and I’ll buy them from you. I will have them in the hands of Evangelicals in our area within a few weeks. I have found that knowledge that these books exist, and some familiarity with their teachings and concepts, opens more doors and breaks down more walls than ANYTHING ELSE with Evangelical and conservative Christians at colleges and universities, at mega-churches throughout the county, and at every one of the hundreds of small and medium Christian churches that are found everywhere in every stake in the county.
Love & Best Wishes,
LDS Interfaith Relations Co-Director, Orange County
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