Do you ever get frustrated with those who seem to say that Mormons are doomed because they’ve got some detail of theology wrong? Our failure to understand and accept Trinitarian notions is a common example, along with a host of scriptures where critics find that their interpretation differes from ours – thus demonstrating that we “worship a different Jesus” or are nonchristian or just simply doomed to suffer in hell. That Eternal Salvation Quiz is a tough one – one wrong answer and you’re doomed.
One of my favorite books for addressing such issues is How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation by Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997, 228 pp). Blomberg is an Evangelical Christian scholar who takes on a series of topics in conversation with Professor Robinson from BYU. It’s a fascinating read as they civilly discuss the similarities and differences in their beliefs. This book can dispel many misunderstandings among our fellow Christians who have been deceived into thinking that we don’t believe in Christ. It can also be helpful for Latter-day Saints seeking to better understand and defend our religion.
Here are a couple excerpts from Stephen Robinson in a section on Christ and the Trinity:
Evangelicals often accuse Latter-day Saints of worshipping a “different Jesus” because we believe some things about Jesus than cannot be proven with the Bible. However, I would point out that John thought Jesus was crucified before Passover (Jn 19:14, 18:28), so that the Last Supper was not the Passover mean, while Matthew, Mark and Luke say Jesus ate the Passover with the disciples and was crucified the morning after (Mk 14:12; Mt 26:17-19; Lk 22:13-15). Is John (or the Synoptics) writing about “a different Jesus,” or do they simply disagree on the details concerning one Jesus? If some Christians think Jesus had siblings and other Christians think he did not, or if some think he stayed in Egypt for years while other think it was merely weeks or months, do they worship different beings? If I think Jesus liked his veggies and you think he didn’t, are we therefore talking about two different people? . . . This charge, that people worship “a different Jesus” if they disagree over any detail of his character or history, is simply a rhetorical device, a trick of language. (pp. 136-137)
Brother Robinson asks some good questions here. I’ve seen abundant recent evidence that for many of our religious opponents, the answer to these questions would be “YES – of course you’re not Christian if you disagree with us on some detail.” One Christian critic recently told me that Satan’s main tool is slipping in a little error with a lot of truth, just like adding a drop of poison to an otherwise wholesome plate of food. If 99% of our faith is right but we have 1% error, then it’s from Satan and we’re not Christian . I quickly gave up on that person lest I shake his faith completely by exposing him to the fact that significant portions of his faith be shown to be not only in sharp disagreement with other equally legitimate Christian faiths, but also to have questionable and apparently man-made origins. And I have seen MANY critics, including ministers and supposedly highly educated people, take a single verse of scripture such as John 4:24 (God is spirit) and use their interpretation of that verse (often not even appreciating that significant interpretation was being done!) to argue that we aren’t Christian because we interpret it differently. And the irony is that their interpretation is typically based on theological and philosophical developments that came centuries after the Bible, leading to conclusions and perspectives that would be highly bewildering to men like Peter and Paul of the New Testament.
So yes, Brother Robinson, if two alleged Christians differ on some detail about Jesus, it’s clear that one of them believes in a different Jesus and is headed for eternal damnation. Actually, both of them if they are Mormon. You see, our actions have nothing to do with our eternal state, just the accuracy of the theology in our heads, and since Mormons think they have to believe in Christ AND seek to follow Him (the correct is just “believe”), they lose all benefit of believing due to the fatal error of thinking they should also follow and obey. Nice try, but Mormons lose. They and anyone else who don’t score 100% on the Eternal Salvation Quiz (ESQ) will suffer in hell forever. So study up!
Robinson also addresses a number of issues where Latter-day Saints aren’t fully comfortable with Evangelical views. The issue of the Trinity is a great example. Robinson notes that key terms in the creeds (such as inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, insperably, and subsistence) aren’t in the Bible, so how can they fairly be used as a test for biblical orthodoxy? (p. 137) “If the biblical teaching about the Trinity really is imprecise or ambiguous in some respects and may as a result be coherently interpreted in more than one way, then by what authority do the councils “amend” it?” (pp. 137-138). Is there a risk of men adding to scripture here?
I would also ask if the Bible is the ultimate authority and all that we need, then how is it that our sola scriptura Christian brethren condemn as nonchristian because we don’t fully agree with the language in post-Biblical creeds hammered out by bickering men four centuries after Christ? Robinson points out that the LDS view on the nature of God has pretty strong biblical support.
For example, in support of the subordinationist view of the LDS and of the early Church Fathers, I can refer among many other passages of scripture to John 14:28, where Jesus flatly states, “My father is greater than I.” What biblical passages can the “orthodox” cite that state in equally clear language the opposing view as formulated at Nicaea and Chalcedon, that the father and the Son are “eternally co-equal”? There are none. This view can only be arrived at by first accepting the Greek concept of deity and then working backward to reinterpret the Scriptures. Latter-day Saints perceive this as the tail wagging the dog of Scripture. (p. 138)
Again with some irony, those who demand acceptance of post-biblical creeds to be considered Christian also commonly condemn Mormons as nonchristian cultists because we have “added” something to the Bible. Do any of our critics sense something awkward in that position?
Robinson makes a wise statement on p. 141:
If we would each admit that we share a common acceptance of the Bible while rejecting the other’s additions to it (the councils and creeds on your side and the revelations of Joseph Smith on mine), we would find we share far more than we dispute. This could serve as a ground for cooperation, dialogue, and increased tolerance and respect. . . .