Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cramming for the Eternal Salvation Quiz: One Wrong Theological Answer and You're Doomed

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. . . .

18 comments:

Granny said...

An exceptionally great post today. I always appreciate Jeff's insights.
This reminded me of a sermon I heard many years ago. Hadn't thought of it in ages. This televangelist, whose name I don't remember, announced he had chosen to speak on Numbers 23:19, but it turned out to be only part of 19. He spent the whole half hour loudly proclaiming that "God is not a man!" and railing at whoever might suppose He is. Nothing about "...that He should lie." GOD IS NOT A MAN, so there!
This in turn reminded me of a neat Baptist brother in Minnesota who has a newletter I really like. He draws cartoons on Bible subjects; gently teases people for odd attitudes, has some great camping cartoons; lots of fun stuff, all clean; great newsletter.
The cartoon I'm thinking of has a minister preaching. This minister asks the congregation to go to such and such a book in the Bible (I don't recall which), then turn to this a verse, find this particular sentence, find this particular word, then focus on the letter "R" which he announces will be the topic of his sermon.

I hope these aren't too far off-topic, but you know how old ladies can be when their memories fire up.

Anonymous said...

In dealing with the differences between "Christians" and Mormons one of my favorite approaches is to ask the following series of questions: Do you believe the Bible is the word of God and is correct? Yes. Do you believe that God and Christ are one being and is a spirit? Yes. Do you believe Christ died and was resurrected? Yes. After He went back to heaven did he keep His body? Yes, I think so. Then you're saying that God/Christ has a body? Well, I don't know but Mormons can't be right.
I have even been told that He puts His body on when coming to Earth so his followers won't be frightened by a ghost and then takes it off back in Heaven! I think I'll stay wrong.

Anonymous said...

None of us are Christians (i.e., know that we are claimed by Christ) until judgment day where we find out if we are His sheep (on the right hand) or soon to be cast out goats (on the left hand).

Russell said...

So why do any of us follow any tenets at all? If we cannot know, then we should just live life as we find it expedient--complete with all the money-mongering and promiscuity.

I should hope that if a God exists, then he would give some clue as to how we should spend our borrowed time.

malkie said...

I'm not a christian, and no longer a mormon, but I "can't leave mormonism alone". There - now I've said it. Anything I say now can simply be dismissed as the rants of an anti who is trying to stir the pot.

But Jeff, is it really true that those who claim that mormons worship a different Jesus are just quibbling about details? Has not the official mormon view of Jesus historically been very different from that of more "traditional" christians? Is this not one of the things that has distinguished mormons from (other?) christians?

If the question were simply one of minor details, would the other christians make such a big deal of it?

Aaron said...

I think a point of the post was following Christ isn't about the extensive knowledge needed. It is about the extensive faith,love, kindness, charity etc... needed. True faith in Christ will generate these needed godly attributes. Not being able to argue who he really was or wasn't isn't important.

Anonymous said...

I think a point of the post was following Christ isn't about the extensive knowledge needed. It is about the extensive faith,love, kindness, charity etc... needed. True faith in Christ will generate these needed godly attributes. Being able to argue who he really was or wasn't isn't important. In my experience this is missed by many.

Huston said...

Egad, man! Surely you meant to title this entry "You're Doomed," as in "you are doomed," not "Your Doomed," as in...there is a doom which we own. A rare slip from the usually fastidious Mr. Lindsay!

Doug Forbes said...

I had some success with the following scripture.

Mark 10: 17-21

[17] And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
[18] And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
[19] Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
[20] And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
[21] Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

No mention of homoousios there. Maybe that was an oversight.

Mormanity said...

". . .the official mormon view of Jesus historically been very different from that of more 'traditional' christians?"

What differences are there that would be relevant to the issue of being Christian? I admit, we believe that He has given other scripture beyond the Bible, has spoken to other prophets, etc., but all that the Bible teaches about Him we affirm. In my opinion, the differences used to deny our Christianity are typically differences of modern Christianity from ancient Christianity. If we aren't Christian for believing that the resurrected Christ had a physical body and was the Son of God, the Son who stands at the right hand of God the Father as a distinct Being, then we are in good company with most of the earliest Christians before the theological battles fueled by Greek philosphy that led to the post-biblical creeds. I feel that we are on sound footing when we proclaim that our understanding of God and Christ is closer to that of early Christianity than we find in the creeds.

Mormanity said...

Fixed the type in the title. Oops! Thanks for letting me know.

Josh said...

One the one hand we say, minor differences in theology shouldn't keep you from heaven - it depends on the life you live. But on the other hand, we say that unless you recieve the ordinances through the LDS church, you can't reach the celestial kingdom - it doesn't matter how good you were. Sounds like we want it both ways.

Pops said...

I wouldn't say that, Josh. Christ himself sought out John to be baptized. He didn't go to just anybody, nor did he rationalize that he didn't really need to be baptized. He simply obeyed.

Because we don't understand why authorized ordinances play such an important role in God's economy is not a really great reason for assuming it must be a mistake.

Another way to look at it, though, is that persons who develop Christlike attributes in this life, who worship Christ, who seek and receive the blessings of the atonement, but don't receive the authorized ordinances, may receive them later.

It's easy to do the ordinances and fill out the paperwork. The hard part is becoming like Christ.

Adam said...

"It's easy to do the ordinances and fill out the paperwork. The hard part is becoming like Christ."

Well put!

Many people accuse us of being less-than-merciful in our view of post-earth destinations (ie, that only "Mormons can go to Heaven").

As far as I'm concerned, the most merciful thing I've ever heard is that ANYBODY can repent and accept the Gospel AFTER this life (in the Spirit World) in order to go the Celestial Kingdom. Not only that, but pretty much EVERYONE, whether or not they receive Gospel, will receive at least some glory after this life (Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial) - not exactly the black/white, heaven/hell, damned-if-you-don't doctrine many of our well-meaning Christian brothers teach.

Those who are offended by the LDS view of the after-life clearly don't understand it in its entirety.

Kerry Shirts said...

Jeff,
I appreciate your comments from Robinson on the Trinity. I just posted my 2 new podcasts on my blog about this Trinity doctrine being used to throw out Mormonism from Christianity. It's rather futile.

Best,
Kerry
(The Backyard Professor)

Trevor said...

The true danger in judging others "Christianity" based on their doctrinal orthodoxy arises from changing from what Christ taught about discipleship. Christ rejected those who said "Lord, Lord" but who did not ACT in a Christlike way. This should be simple enough for anyone to understand, theology degree or not. Can you imagine any religious controversy ending in violence if Christ's most basic teachings were followed? How much easier is it to kill or harm someone, for example, once you add to the Bible Calvinism's creed of "total depravity" and apply it to your opponent and then add "permanent salvation" to free you from the fear of hellfire as a consequence of your actions. Is it a coincidence that terrible abuses of human rights have occurred so frequently in societies dominated by Calvinists? Think South Africa (Dutch Reformed), Northern Ireland (Presbyterian), American South (Southern Baptist).

Ujlapana said...

Why are modern Mormons so intent on being called Christian? Brigham Young and his contemporaries had no problem decrying Christianity and praising Mormonism as its contrast. Why is popularity in the eyes of the world suddenly such a priority?!?

By the way, I suspect the bigger issue for informed Christians is the henotheism, not the Trinity. That's what makes it such a different religion at its core.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.