2007: Criticisms of McDermott & Millet: Dialogue Meets Apologetics / Summa Theologica

This post provides an evaluation by a thinker encouraging more dialog, of Evangelical reaction to Robert Millet and Gerald McDermott’s book “Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate”.
See the original of this post at Summa Theologica at this link.
Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair
Gerald McDermott and Robert Millet’s book “Claiming Christ” has recently been published and as any one could predict, critiques from several Evangelical commentators has begun to appear in print and on the web.

In this post I am not going to offer a review of the book, but rather, I would like to offer some brief observations of the larger dynamic of joint Evangelical & LDS publications. Ten years ago in the aftermath of How Wide the Divide a similar situation occurred. It is here where efforts at Dialogue come into contact with the wider Christian apologetic community. Generally speaking, Dialogue does not interpret the statements of others in order to defeat or vanquish the other person as an opponent, but rather, Dialogue seeks to better understand the other person. That understanding may eventually be applied to evangelistic purposes which I think is legitimate and, I might add, much more fruitful than the traditional apologetic methods of refutation. However, when dialogue results in a book co-authored by an Evangelical, like McDermott, naturally and in accordance with past precedent, the Christian apologetics community will want to see if the book maintains the traditional distinctions on Mormonism. They want to make sure that Mormonism is properly distinguished from traditional Christianity and that nothing has been conceded in the enterprise of dialogue. This tension is quite real and it will yet to be seen whether responses from the Evangelical community will be different in the wake of ’Claiming Christ’ than the responses received after How Wide the Divide was published. I recall Paul Owen’s observations of reactions to How Wide the Divide:

One prominent radio personality called the book an ‘abomination’ and suggested to his listeners that they boycott the publisher… A married couple who run another apologetics ministry in southern California managed to get the book banned from a large Christian bookstore chain… One Evangelical apologist, who was gracious enough to let us see a prepublication copy of his review, has described How Wide the Divide? as ‘one of the most disturbing and troubling books [he has] read in a very long time.’

How anyone could find this book to be all that disturbing and troubling is most difficult to understand. Was it disturbing to those within the countercult movement because the two authors were courteous to one another? Was it the fact that Robinson’s views did not sound weird enough? Or was it simply the fact that each writer allowed the other to describe his own religion on his own terms rather than according to the standards of countercultists? Why is it that so many in the Evangelical world cannot seem to see the value in having a competent Latter-day Saint scholar describe his own belief system? Is it really the case that Robinson and Blomberg did nothing to contribute to a clearer understanding of the issues dividing us? Did neither author make any valid points worthy of commendation? It is quite difficult to believe that they did not. What we find to be “disturbing and troubling” is the manner in which so many countercultists have attacked this book without giving it a fair hearing. Whatever its faults, it has merits that deserve mention. A failure to mention the book’s virtues along with its vices demonstrates a basic lack of objectivity and integrity.

I would be good to take notice of the attention to the kind of response that Claiming Christ receives. This may be a good indication of the changes that have been made since How Wide the Divide. If history is any indication, then one must simply expect that the apologetics community will respond to a book like Claiming Christ. It is inevitable.

The question, of course, is how will they respond? Will they respond the same way as they did during HWTD, or will there be a different response? It is much too early to tell, and we will know better the result with more time.

In many respects, so far, things don’t seem to be too different. Just as Blomberg was interviewed by Evangelical magazines and asked to confirm and clarify his views on Mormonism to an anxious audience, Christian apologists have also asked McDermott to clarify his statements and justify them. The legitimacy of the whole dialogue seems to be still viewed by many as a suspicious enterprise. Indeed, the adjective ”disturbing” was again invoked by another blogger in reference to the discussions of Claiming Christ. For the majority of apologists, dialogue is simply another means to legitimize Mormonism.

I’ve thought about citing these examples from various blogs, but to be honest, those who are involved in these conversations already know about it, and quite frankly I’m not sure much is gained with a notable ping-back.

However, I do think that while the Christian apologetics community (and I understand this is a somewhat nebulous term) doesn’t seem to have changed its approach and methods, it does seem somewhat better informed due to the efforts of those individuals who have personally engaged in dialogue with Latter-day Saint scholars. As a result, I tend to believe things have changed and that the responses from Claiming Christ are not nearly as extreme as those received from HWTD. Unfortunately, the modus operandi of traditional apologetics does not foster an appreciation of a long-term ongoing dialogue.


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