2008: Drowning Questions with Living Waters / Robert L Millet

This is an article reporting a presentation by Robert L Millet at Education Week at BYU in Provo.

See the original of the article on the Mormontime.com website.

Thanks much,
Steve St.Clair


Robert L. Millet: Drowning questions with living waters
By Michael De Groote
Mormon Times
Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

A Baptist friend of Robert L. Millet told him he couldn’t figure out what Mormons believed sometimes. “It’s like trying to nail green Jell-O to the wall,” Millet’s friend said.

Millet, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, said in a presentation at Campus Education Week that being clear and consistent in our expression of our belief is important.

But this doesn’t mean members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have to answer every question posed to them. Millet said there is a difference between somebody who has a small question, somebody who is struggling and should get an answer from a priesthood leader and somebody who is just being antagonistic.

There is also a tendency to give “strong meat” when all the questioner wants is “milk.” He said it is like someone asking, “What time is it?” and getting instructions on how to build a Swiss watch.

He told about a missionary experience where he was talking with a woman who had just told him that she believed that bodies are like temples and that we should not use tobacco, alcohol, or even coffee or tea. She then asked what Mormons believe. “We believe in baptism for the dead,” Millet’s companion said. The woman closed the door.

“Here this woman had come to the door with her tin cup saying, ‘I thirst,” Millet said. “And we had said, ‘We can take care of that.’ And we dragged out the fire hose and drowned her in living waters.”

Millet’s companion had jumped in the middle without first teaching the prerequisites. If a person asks a difficult question about something that requires a foundation of understanding, begin with Joseph Smith’s first vision and build from there.

Millet presented several questions that people may ask about Christ and how members of the LDS Church might answer them. Two of those questions were about the church’s emphasis on Christ and how Jesus is the Son of God.

QUESTION 1: Isn’t it true the church has changed its emphasis on Christ as a public relations ploy? Why do you want to be Christians all of a sudden?”

There has been a greater emphasis, hasn’t there?” Millet said.

Millet noticed it as he grew up. He didn’t really know about the atonement until his mission. He noted that the church has even changed its logo to make Christ more prominent.

Part of the reason for the greater emphasis on Christ is because of opposition. In the 1970s a phrase began to be used that never would have been heard earlier: “Mormons aren’t Christian.” It started with anti-Mormon Walter Martin and picked up speed with the movie “The Godmakers.

“Most people who hear that attack don’t think that it just means that Mormons do not believe in the Nicene Creed or that they accept the Book of Mormon as scripture in addition to the Bible. What worries Millet is that most people who hear it think it means Mormons don’t believe the New Testament, the divine birth of Jesus, Jesus died for our sins and Jesus rose from the dead.

Part of the LDS Church’s invigorated emphasis on Christ is because of the “Mormons aren’t Christians” attack. But there is a deeper reason rooted in the scriptures.

Also in the 1970s, curriculum changed to use the scriptures in Sunday school instead of a manual. “As a result of that alone, brothers and sisters, and I pay tribute to you, the saints are far more scripturally literate than they have ever been before,” Millet said.

Add to this President Ezra Taft Benson’s emphasis on the Book of Mormon, and you have a much deeper knowledge of and belief in Christ.

QUESTION 2: Do you believe that Christ is really the Son of God?
This is a question that has suffered from speculation by members of the LDS Church, according to Millet. He quoted two scriptures, Luke 1:35 and Alma 7:7. “That is the only two scriptural passages I know of that describe how Jesus was conceived. I am not aware of any official declaration or official proclamation; I am not aware of any General Conference address by the brethren today or for the last 50 years that goes beyond that. Any effort therefore to explain how Jesus was conceived beyond Luke and Alma 7 is speculative,” Millet said.

A member of the LDS Church came up to Millet after an interfaith meeting in California. She was not happy and accused him of lying. “You told us that we believe in the virgin birth,” she said.

He responded, “I think we do.”

“No, no, you said we believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, and you know we don’t.”

“Yes we do.”

“No, we do not believe in that.”

“I’m afraid we do.”

“No! From the time I was this high I was taught that God had sexual relations with Mary, and that is how Jesus was conceived.”

“I am fully aware that that was taught by some people. I’m even aware of when (the talk that mentioned) it was delivered, and by whom. There are people who taught it, but it is not the doctrine of the church. The doctrine of the church is what is contained in Alma 7 and what is contained in Luke. We don’t know how that took place, and to go beyond that is to speculate.”

Millet was in a meeting of seminary and institute teachers about 30 years ago. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, was answering questions. One seminary teacher asked, “Elder McConkie, what should we explain to our students about whether Jesus was married?”

“Well, I don’t know, the scriptures are silent on that,” Elder McConkie answered.

“Yes, I know, but what should we tell them?” the teacher persisted.

“I said I don’t know.”

The teacher then quoted a sermon by Orson Hyde and asked, “What do you think about that?”

“You know I said I don’t know,” Elder McConkie said. “Do YOU know? Do you really know?”

Millet said the young teacher “kind of withered” and sat down.

Millet told how the church even came out with an official statement on the question in response to the interest that arose from “The Da Vinci Code” book and movie. The statement said, like Elder McConkie, that the scriptures are silent and that earlier opinions are not church doctrine.

“Where we get ourselves into difficulty in many cases with other people misunderstanding us, is we go beyond what we’ve been told and what we’ve been taught in authoritative sources,” Millet said. “Anybody can dredge up, dig up, something that was said by somebody in the past. The question though rather, is ‘What is being taught today?’ … This is a living church, and if you believe it is a living church then we pay close attention to the living prophets and we answer the questions like they answer them.”

For Millet, it isn’t enough that we follow the gospel, we also need to talk about it properly. We can’t just walk the walk, we need to talk the talk.


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