Archive for the ‘Pander/Slander’ Category

A Response to Richard Mouw

BCT-Angel-Moroni5

by Robert M. Bowman Jr.
The May 2016 issue of the Christian periodical First Things (appearing online in April) includes an article Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, entitled “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.” As I will document here, the Institute for Religious Research figures largely in Mouw’s article even though he never mentions IRR (or me) by name. As the spokesman for IRR in past efforts by our organization to dialogue with and respond to Professor Mouw, I have a special interest in Mouw’s article and a direct responsibility to offer this response.

The focus of Mouw’s article is on the question of whether Mormonism is still committed to the view of God represented by Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” Mouw’s main claim is that the LDS Church is quietly moving away from the notion that God was a mortal man who became exalted to Godhood in a process open to us as well. Mouw recognizes that this doctrine is incompatible with Christianity but insists that Mormons are doing what they can to retire this false doctrine.

If only it were so.

In this article I will be critically reviewing Mouw’s article, correcting the historical record, explaining the issues, summarizing the evidence as it pertains to those issues, and responding to Mouw’s arguments.

MouwInterview

Richard J. Mouw

Richard Mouw: Dialogue with Mormons but Not with Their Evangelical Critics
Mouw begins by giving a brief recitation of the history of the Snow couplet. Joseph Smith’s father had told Snow that he would become “as great as God,” an idea that Snow felt he came to grasp four years later, leading to his formulation of the couplet. He reports that Parley Pratt “not long after that” affirmed that “God, angels and men are all of one species” and that Joseph Smith taught that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man.” (The order here is a little misleading: Snow composed his couplet in 1840, Joseph Smith delivered the sermon quoted in 1844, and Pratt published his book making the quoted statement in 1855.) Mouw admits that this view “denies an essential Jewish and Christian teaching,” namely that God is ontologically unique, a fundamentally different kind of being than humans, and that we will never become the same kind of being as God.

Yet Mouw argues that this doctrine, which he admits was taught by Joseph Smith as well as by Snow and Pratt, need not divide evangelicals and Mormons, because Mormons are at least in the process of abandoning it. As I shall explain, Mouw’s argument blithely ignores facts that have been presented to him and that flatly disprove his claim.

Mouw recounts the history of this controversy as follows:

I’ve been involved for a long time in an Evangelical-Mormon dialogue. When that dialogue began fifteen years ago, we were told by the Mormon participants that the Lorenzo Snow couplet has no canonical status in Mormon theology. I reported that assessment in print, arguing that the apparent denial of any ontological difference between God and man in the Snow couplet need not prevent Evangelical-Mormon dialogue.

Right away, Evangelical “countercult” groups responded in a sharply critical way. One issued a “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” stating that “the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present.” An extensive critique appeared in an essay by Ronald V. Huggins, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw.”

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle (2004)

This account is rather misleading. Mouw’s original statement denying that the Snow couplet had no canonical status in LDS theology was made in an email in late 2004, following his controversial remarks at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004. On that occasion, Mouw accused his evangelical brethren of “bearing false witness” against Mormons in the way they characterized Mormon doctrine. In a subsequent email responding to challenges to his criticism, Mouw asserted that evangelicals in countercult ministry had misrepresented Mormonism as teaching “that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God is now.” Mouw claimed that this idea had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” Huggins responded in the article Mouw mentions, which appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.1 That periodical, of course, is not published by a “countercult” group, but by the premier academic society of evangelical scholars. Huggins himself was at the time a professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary and had published two articles on the Book of Mormon in the academic periodicalDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.2 Referring to Huggins in the context of a general swipe at evangelical “countercult” groups comes across as an attempt to broad-brush all evangelical criticism of Mouw as unscholarly. It also ignores the fact that many evangelicals engaged in so-called countercult work care about scholarship and that many evangelical scholars are supportive of countercult ministry. For example, Huggins himself has been a member of the board of our organization, the Institute for Religious Research, since before Mouw’s appearance at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

In an attempt to frame the controversy as one stoked by “countercult” groups, Mouw claims that after his publicly asserting that the idea of man becoming gods just like God is now is not a part of present-day LDS doctrine, “Right away, Evangelical ‘countercult’ groups responded in a sharply critical way.” He then cites the “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries.” However, that Statement was issued in April 2013, more than eight years after Mouw’s comment about Mormon doctrine (and more than six years after Huggins’s article). That is hardly “right away.”

Perhaps this is a good place to point out that Mouw made his critical remarks about the evangelical countercult movement without having engaged anyone in that movement in the kind of friendly dialogue he has pursued with Mormon scholars. He made no effort to explain to the evangelicals he criticized what he thought they were doing wrong. Between 2004 and the present he has not pursued such dialogue and has not welcomed overtures from those evangelicals who have expressed a desire to have such dialogue with him.

Talking With The Mormons Front Cover

“Talking with Mormons” by Richard J. Mouw (2012)

The Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries3 was prompted not by Mouw’s email in 2004 but by his very public campaign in 2012 and early 2013 to promote the notion that Mormonism was moving away from the doctrine of God and man as the same species. In 2012 Mouw published a book entitled Talking with Mormons that criticized the way most evangelicals have viewed Mormonism. That same year and in early 2013 he made some public appearances with LDS scholar Robert Millet in which the two of them discussed some of the subjects addressed in Mouw’s book. In effect, the book and appearances were a public relations campaign to argue that evangelicals should view Mormonism in a more positive way religiously and theologically. In both the book and his public appearances, Mouw expanded on his claim that evangelical “countercult” organizations were misrepresenting Mormon doctrine, especially with regard to the issue of the nature of God.

In early 2013, the Institute for Religious Research reached out to Mouw and attempted to pursue dialogue with him about his critical stance toward countercult ministry. On February 14 of that year I sent to Mouw on behalf of IRR a three-page letter along with a 36-page documentation packet that had been specially prepared to address the comments he had made regarding the LDS doctrine of God and man. Perhaps I might mention that I am a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (1981), where Mouw later served as president, and I had met with Mouw in his office at Fuller and discussed Mormonism with him in about 2001. After receiving no response to my letter, I sent Mouw a follow-up letter on March 14, which was answered by an email to me from Mouw on April 9. Mouw declined our invitation to dialogue, complaining about a number of things he thought we had said about him. After I responded with an email explaining that we had made none of the statements to which he took offense, Mouw wrote back and admitted that he had indeed confused us with someone else. However, he still chose not to engage us in dialogue or even to respond to the documentation we had provided him.

In the wake of Mouw’s unwillingness to participate in dialogue with evangelicals on the subject of Mormonism whose views he had been criticizing for years, we had a lengthy discussion on the matter at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions conference in April 2013. EMNR is a consortium of evangelical organizations and researchers who are committed to supporting Christians in mission to people in a variety of new religious movements, including Mormonism. On April 12, 2013, EMNR issued a statement (which I drafted) responding to Mouw. After explaining briefly why we disagreed with Mouw’s comments about Mormonism, the statement concluded as follows:

"Talking Mormon Doctrine" edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (circa 2015)

“Talking Mormon Doctrine” edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (2015)

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.

Mouw has never taken us up on this invitation.

Ironically, Mouw continues to claim, as he did in his 2012 book, that unnamed evangelical critics of Mormonism disagree with him because they are closed in principle to engaging Mormons in respectful dialogue. Here is how he put it in his book:

Again, there are many evangelicals who are convinced that those of us on the evangelical side who are involved in these dialogues have been duped by the Mormons. Worse than that, they’re convinced that by engaging in friendly—and hopeful—dialogue with representatives of Mormonism, we’re hurting the cause of the gospel…. Promoting the idea of friendly dialogue with Mormons isn’t a popular thing to do.4

In his recent article in First Things, Mouw again criticizes unnamed evangelicals who think dialogue with Mormons is impossible:

At stake in this dispute is a choice between two approaches to Mormon teachings and practice. One is skeptical and presumes that Mormonism is a ­deeply heretical form of Christianity, so much so that dialogue is impossible. The other is more trusting and is willing to entertain the possibility that Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction, and that dialogue might help in this process.

I do not know of a single evangelical in “countercult” ministry who thinks that dialogue with Mormons is a bad idea, let alone that it is impossible. Indeed, every such evangelical I know seeks opportunities to engage Mormons in dialogue. It seems here that Mouw is using the term “dialogue” as code for something else. Note that Mouw’s comment implies that he disagrees about Mormonism being “deeply heretical.” This implication is confirmed by the title of his article, “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.”

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during his visit to Salt Lake City. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a visit to Salt Lake City in 2008. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

The Real Issue: What Do Mormons Actually Teach?
Here’s what is really “at stake in this dispute.” It is a choice between accepting what official LDS Church publications and its leading theologians actually teach their members or accepting what Richard Mouw says he thinks is happening based on his conversations with his “Mormon friends” despite the public record of LDS Church teaching.5 Mouw gives lip service to the importance of considering what the LDS Church teaches its own members when he writes, “The test for me is not what Mormons say to me, but what they say to each other.”6 However, he doesn’t actually show that this is the basis on which he has formed his theological judgments about Mormonism. Instead, he repeatedly appeals to the assurances of his Mormon friends, as in the following telling comment:

Mormonism is often portrayed as a self-deification program—and not without some legitimacy, given the popularity of the Lorenzo Snow couplet: “What Man now is, God once was; what God now is, Man may become.” My Mormon friends are quick to point out, however, that this couplet has no official canonical status—indeed, Gordon Hinckley famously told Time magazine that he had no idea what it means to say “As God is, man may become.”7

With all due respect, what Mouw’s Mormon friends told him carries no authority as far as defining what has official or canonical status in Mormonism. Gordon Hinckley’s statement to Time magazine also does not pass what Mouw himself says is the test, which is what Mormons say to each other—not what they say to the secular media.

Yet there is more to the story with regard to Hinckley’s supposed denial of the doctrine. As we explain in a separate article,8 Hinckley did not disavow any understanding of the Snow couplet. We will summarize the issue briefly here. In Hinckley’s 1997 interview, he was asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?” Here is what he said:

I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.9

In saying that he didn’t “know a lot about it,” Hinckley was admitting implicitly that he did know something about it, while at the same time saying that Mormonism doesn’t provide much in the way of details about God the Father’s life before he became a God. Thus, Hinckley was not suggesting that the doctrine expressed in the Snow couplet was not part of Mormon doctrine. It may not be something the LDS Church emphasized, but it is still part of their belief system.

In his recent First Things article, Mouw interprets Hinckley’s remarks as “signaling a decision on the part of the Mormon leadership to downplay the Snow couplet within the corpus of Mormon teachings about the deity,” suggesting that they are “interested in joining the broad Jewish and Christian consensus that God is ontologically different from man—or at least that Mormons today don’t want to directly contradict that consensus.” Since Hinckley’s comment to Time was made in 1997, we have had nearly twenty years to see if the LDS Church actually has pivoted away from its earlier doctrine. The record of the past twenty years demonstrably contradicts Mouw’s interpretation. Some of the evidence comes from sources surprisingly close to Mouw himself.

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

Robert Millet: God Was Once a Mortal Being
If Gordon Hinckley was signaling in 1997 that the LDS Church was moving away from the doctrine that God was once a man as taught by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow, Mouw’s LDS friend Robert Millet did not get the message. The very next year Millet and Noel Reynolds, another BYU scholar, published a short book addressing “10 basic issues” including number 6, “What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man?” After quoting approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet, Millet and Reynolds wrote:

That God was once a mortal being is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he now has all power and all knowledge and possesses every virtue, grace, and godly attribute. He acquired perfection through long periods of growth, development, and progression, “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation,” as Joseph Smith explained…. Not much has been revealed about this concept beyond the fact that God was once a man and that over a long period of time he gained the knowledge, power, and divine attributes necessary to know all things and have all power…. These doctrines are not clearly stated in the Bible. Mormons believe, however, that this knowledge was once had among the ancients and that it has been restored through modern prophets.10

This is not the only place where Millet has affirmed the doctrine of the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet. In his 2005 book A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Millet offered the following comments for the benefit primarily of evangelical readers:

The tougher issue for many Christians to deal with is the accompanying doctrine set forth in the King Follett Sermon and the Lorenzo Snow coupletnamely, that God was once a man. Latter-day scriptures state unequivocally that God is a man, a Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) who possesses a body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). These concepts are clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration. We teach that man is not of a lower order or different species than God. This, of course, makes many of our Christian friends extremely nervous (if not angry), for it appears to them that we are lowering God in the scheme of things and thus attempting to bridge the Creator/creature chasm.11

Mouw definitely knew about this statement from Millet, because Mouw wrote a foreword and afterword to the book! Moreover, in his afterword Mouw acknowledged that Mormonism teaches that we human beings are of the same species as God:

At the heart of our continuing disagreements, I am convinced, are very basic worldview issues. Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and the creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable “being” gap. God is the “Wholly Other”—eternal and self-sufficient—who is in a realm of existence that is radically distinct from the creation that was brought into being out of nothing by God’s sovereign decree. On this view of things, to confuse the Creator’s being with anything in his creation is to commit the sin of idolatry. Mormons, on the other hand, talk about God and humans as belonging to the same “species.” Inevitably, then, the differences are described, not in terms of an unbridgeable gap of being, but in the language of “more” and “less.”12

Mouw and Millet were obviously working on this book in 2004 (if not before) in order for it to be published in 2005. This means that at the time Mouw spoke at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in November 2004 and shortly thereafter sent out an email claiming that the doctrine epitomized in Snow’s couplet had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine,” Mouw knew that in fact that doctrine was “clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration,” as Millet put it in his book. Less than a year after Mouw had denied that the doctrine had any functioning place in current Mormon doctrine, a book appeared clearly affirming that very doctrine as part of the Mormon doctrinal restoration, with a foreword and afterword by Mouw himself. Mouw’s own statement that in Mormon belief God and humans are members of the same species clearly presupposes the doctrine that God was once a mortal man like us who then became a God and that we as his children can do the same.

"Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow" official LDS Church manual (circa 2012)

“Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow” official LDS Church manual (2012)

God Was Once a Man: It’s Still Being Taught
The doctrine of eternal progression—that God the Father was once a mortal man, that he became a God, and that we can become Gods like him—has continued to be taught by Mormons right up to the present. In his May 2016 article in First Things, Mouw devotes several paragraphs to explaining why the inclusion of the Snow couplet in the 2012 curriculum manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, part of a series of manuals on the past presidents of the LDS Church, was not necessarily endorsing the first half of the couplet. According to Mouw, the discussion of the couplet in the manual focuses entirely on the second half, neither affirming nor denying the first half. Mouw’s analysis of this particular manual’s treatment of the Snow couplet has some weaknesses, but the bigger point to be made is that this is only one of many publications of the past twelve years in which the LDS Church has reaffirmed the validity of the Snow couplet, the King Follett Discourse, and the traditional LDS doctrine of eternal progression. As I pointed out to Mouw in my first letter to him in 2012:

The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scripturesthemselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eight teaching manuals currently available on LDS.org teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including six manuals published since 2003.13

For example, the LDS curriculum manual Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), which is still on the official LDS website, states:

What we know about God is limited to what he has chosen to tell us through his prophets. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–20) and the famous King Follett discourse given shortly before Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844 (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 343–62) are significant doctrinal teachings on the nature of God. From the beginning of his ministry until its end, the Prophet shared his increasing understanding of his Heavenly Father…. In the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith declared that the first principle of the gospel consists of knowing the character of God. Joseph taught that God “was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself” (Teachings, p. 346…).14

In 2014, the LDS Church posted a “Gospel Topics” article on its website with the title “Becoming Like God.” Here is some of what that article stated:

What kind of a being is God?” he asked. Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him…. Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” When asked about the belief in humans’ divine potential, President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.15

The above statement provides a convenient basis for a review of the main points that have been made here:

  • The LDS Church continues to cite approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet. Mouw’s claim that the Snow couplet or the idea it expresses has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine” is still false.
  • Joseph Smith is credited with having “collapsed the gulf…between God and humanity” found in traditional (orthodox) Christian theology. The statement here, in attributing that “gulf” to “centuries of confusion,” obviously is approving of and affirming Joseph’s teaching that collapsed that gulf.
  • The LDS Church affirms here that human nature is divine; this is another way of saying that God and humans are the same kind or species of being, albeit at very different stages of development.
  • Hinckley’s point that not much is known about God’s life before becoming God is affirmed. To say that little has been revealed or is taught about this doctrine is not to deny that the doctrine exists. The LDS Church is still committed to teaching that God was once a man like us and became exalted to Godhood, even though it has little more to say about the matter than that.
  • The LDS Church also affirms strongly the doctrine of eternal progression, which includes the idea that human beings can become like God in his essential attributes. God is an exalted man, and we who are mortals can likewise become exalted like him. This doctrine clearly goes outside the boundaries of orthodox theology, according to which redeemed human beings will become like God morally (perfect in love, holiness, etc.) and become immortal but will not become ontologically the same kind of being as God.

Toward the end of his First Things article, Mouw writes:

My own sense is that many in the LDS community, including several of its leaders, recognize that the first half of the Snow couplet, the statement about God having been like man, is incompatible with what they genuinely want to sing about: spiritual reliance on the all-sufficient Savior. They also see that it works against the spiritual outlook they want to nurture in new generations of Mormons. Evangelicals may wish for an explicit denial by the LDS leadership of the first half of the couplet. But it is important to recognize that another option—to be sure, a less stabilizing one theologically—is simply to ignore that first half and focus on the second and potentially more orthodox half in what is affirmed and taught in Mormonism.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Up to now, what Mouw says is his “sense” conflicts with the direct statements made by the LDS Church’s leaders, curriculum manuals, and official website statements. The LDS Church continues to affirm the validity and truth of the first half of the Snow couplet even while acknowledging that it does not have anything to offer in the way of elaboration or details as to what God the Father’s life was like or what he did prior to attaining Godhood. The problem here is not merely that the LDS Church has yet to repudiate or explicitly deny the first half of the couplet. The problem is that it continues to affirm its validity, as well as the validity of Joseph Smith’s teaching along the same lines in the King Follett Discourse.

Thus, there is simply no basis for thinking that Mormonism is “approaching orthodoxy.” There has been no significant theological change on the controversial issue at hand. At the very time that Richard Mouw began asserting (in 2004) that the idea of God as a former mortal man had no functioning place in contemporary Mormon doctrine, he was working with Mormon theologian Robert Millet getting his book published by a Christian publisher (Eerdmans), and even writing a foreword and afterword to it, that flatly contradicted Mouw’s claim.

Mouw’s claim about the Snow couplet and eternal progression was refuted by Ronald Huggins in his excellent 2006 article. In the ten years that have passed since that time, Mouw has not rebutted Huggins or offered anything along the lines of a scholarly treatment of the subject. Meanwhile, throughout those ten years the LDS Church has repeatedly reaffirmed their belief in the theology set forth in the King Follett Discourse and epitomized in Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. Except for the 2012 manual on Lorenzo Snow, Mouw has yet to comment on any of the documentary evidence that contradicts his claim.

Forced to choose between accepting Mouw’s assurance that the sense he gets from his Mormon friends is that they would like to abandon the doctrine that God was once a man like us or accepting what the LDS Church’s leaders and theologians (including some of Mouw’s friends!) say is their position on the subject, the only reasonable course is to accept what the Mormons themselves say. Mouw may have his reasons for taking the position he does, and he may sincerely think he is doing the right thing. Regardless, the truth is that Mormon doctrine still stands opposed to the orthodox Christian belief that God is ontologically unique and radically different from his creation. Genuine dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons must begin by coming to terms with what each other actually believes.

Richard J. Mouw

Richard J. Mouw

NOTES
1. Ronald V. Huggins, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/3 (Sept. 2006): 549-68.
2. Ronald V. Huggins, “Did the Author of 3 Nephi Know the Gospel of Matthew?” Dialogue 30 (1997): 137-48; “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith.” Dialogue 36 (2003): 157-79.
3. The statement is available on IRR’s website: see “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 13 April 2013.
4. Richard J. Mouw, Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.
5. Mouw’s book Talking with Mormons makes references to his Mormon “friends” over twenty times. By contrast, he cites Joseph Smith only twice and has only one or two other references to authoritative LDS sources.
6. Mouw, Talking with Mormons, 41.
7. Ibid., 55.
8. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Gordon Hinckley, Richard Mouw, and Eternal Progression” (IRR, 2016).
9. This is the full answer in the unedited transcript provided to IRR by the interviewer for Time, Richard N. Ostling, and quoted in Luke P. Wilson and Joel B. Groat, “Dodging and Dissembling Prophet?” (IRR, 1997). See David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come: Salt Lake City was just for starters,” Time, 4 Aug. 1997.10. Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University—FARMS, 1998), chapter 6, emphasis added.
11. Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 144, emphasis added.
12. Richard J. Mouw, “Afterword,” in ibid., 182, emphasis added.
13. Letter from Robert M. Bowman Jr. to Richard J. Mouw, 14 Feb. 2013.
14.Chapter 3: God the Eternal Father,” in Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), 7–8.
15.Becoming Like God” (LDS.org, 2014).

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He has been with IRR since 2008 and is IRR’s Executive Director. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ(co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.
(source: “Who We Are: The People of IRR and What We Are All About”

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author.

Introduction: In 2004, after Richard J. Mouw’s now infamous apology in the Mormon Tabernacle, Ron V. Huggins of  the Salt Lake Theological Seminary wrote an article that the ensuing years has come to be known as “the infamous Pander/Slander Article”. That is, the watershed article on how Christians wishing to enter into interfaith dialogue or relationship with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will slander their brothers and sisters in Christ and pander to Latter-day Saints. Now, one would think that an article written eleven years ago would have little relevance over a decade later wouldn’t you? However, the recent pander/slander tactics of Baptist Theologian Roger E. Olson, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Pastor Chris Duckworth, have prompted us to reintroduce this classic article to a new audience for their edification and enlightenment. Folks, it looks like it’s 2004 all over again! — Editor

Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats itby Ronald V. Huggins, B.F.A., Th.D.
On November 14, 2004, well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias appeared in Salt Lake City’s Mormon Tabernacle. What might have been a remarkable opportunity for interfaith dialogue between Mormons and Christians was seriously damaged when Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, issued a controversial apology that seemed to portray Evangelicals as commonly bearing false witness against Mormons. Evangelicals present at the event, even some of those sitting on the stage, went away with the clear impression that Mouw was aiming his criticism at them and excluding only the small group of out-of-towners brought in by Greg Johnson’s ministry, Standing Together, which sponsored the event.

Let me make it clear that I agree that some Evangelicals have certainly been unkind to Mormons and have been guilty of inaccurately portraying Mormon beliefs. But this does not characterize the attitudes and actions of most evangelical churches and ministries, which is what made Mouw’s blanket apology inappropriate.

In the days following the event Ravi’s powerful preaching was radically downplayed, as Mouw and his apology moved to center stage. The LDS Church News carried an article entitled “Ravi Zacharias Speaks at the Tabernacle,” that dedicated more than a third of its three columns to Mouw’s remarks and only a single paragraph at the end to Ravi’s message. The official LDS Church web page reported the event as if Richard Mouw had been the main and indeed the only speaker at the event, making no mention of Ravi Zacharias at all. I include here the entire story as it appeared on the official LDS Church website (www.mormonnewsroom.org) on 29 Nov. 2004:

Evangelical Calls for Greater Understanding. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest in North America, spoke at Salt Lake Tabernacle November 14 during an ‘Evening of Friendship.’ At the event Mr. Mouw said, ‘I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. …We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe.’

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

The story is accompanied by a photograph of Dr. Mouw along with a link to Beliefnet.com, where his entire remarks on that occasion are found under the heading: “‘We Have Sinned Against You.’ A leading evangelical speaks at the Mormon Tabernacle and says evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs.”

Richard Mouw is credited with posting the remarks, but the introduction speaks of Mouw in the third person. In that introduction the Southern Baptists are specifically named as representing (apparently) the kind of thing Mouw was attacking in his remarks, despite the fact that South East Baptist Church was one of the sponsors of the Tabernacle event and its pastor, Mike Gray, was included among those seated on the stage.

It’s hard, in light of this reporting, not to view the LDS Church as somewhat self-serving in its backing of Ravi’s appearance. Acting as if it wished to engender good relations between Mormons and Evangelicals before the event (which was co-sponsored by the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Studies at BYU), the LDS Church seemed to quickly drop any interest in Ravi once it was over.

Some Christians in Utah were surprised and disappointed by the apparent bad faith reflected in the LDS Church’s post-event coverage; others, including myself, expected it on the basis of the conviction that, contrary to the belief and hope of many Evangelicals, the LDS Church does not appear ready for, nor does it seem really to desire, authentic dialogue with Evangelicals. What the LDS Church certainly does seem to desire is mainline respectability. It is clearly interested in finding room at its events for those Evangelicals who are willing to publicly disparage their own brethren and so to lend a hand to its own project of marginalizing (rather than interacting with) careful and credible critics like Jerald and Sandra Tanner, the Institute for Religious Research (IRR), and others. As such, the LDS Church appears to be interested in “dialoguing” only with Evangelicals who lack an in-depth knowledge of Mormon history and doctrine, and who are thus more likely to take at face value the representations of its PR people.

This was dramatically illustrated for me at the 2004 regional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Association of Religion held at BYU. After the event Dr. James Wakefield and I were talking with another Evangelical scholar visiting from Fuller Theological Seminary. All three of us had presented papers. Suddenly a senior Mormon scholar and apologist very deliberately and ceremoniously reached his hand between Dr. Wakefield and me in order to introduce himself to the scholar from Fuller. He displayed no interest whatever in speaking to Dr. Wakefield or me, despite the fact that he had sat intently taking extensive notes during my entire paper, and also, that I had recently published an article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought that had interacted with, and challenged, some of his writings.

Many pastors in Utah, including those supportive of the Tabernacle event, were deeply disappointed by Dr. Mouw’s apology. On December 3, 2004, some twenty-five pastors and other Christian ministers met with Standing Together director Greg Johnson to discuss the event. A number of those present (including myself) had come from ministries that had financially supported the event. Some had even been present on the stage during the event. There was, I think it is fair to say, a solid majority that felt Dr. Mouw’s apology was both ill-advised and inappropriate; a significant number of those present (again including myself) felt it was highly inappropriate.

After Greg Johnson had assured them that there had been no way to know beforehand that Dr. Mouw would make his unfortunate remarks, the gathered pastors naturally expressed surprise at learning that the faculty of Salt Lake Theological Seminary (SLTS) had communicated with Dr. Mouw in August 2004 and expressed concern that he avoid following the pattern he had established in writing and public events during the past few years of disparaging earlier Christian efforts to reach Mormons for Christ. Regrettably, Dr. Mouw ignored the SLTS faculty’s concern. Nearly all those present at the meeting understood Mouw’s accusation to be directed at ministers in Utah in general.

how-wide-the-divideUnfortunately, Dr. Mouw’s disparaging remarks towards his fellow Evangelicals at the Tabernacle are not the first example of this kind of behavior in an event sponsored by Standing Together. The difficulty is that Evangelicals associated with that ministry have developed unhealthy, lopsided relationships with Mormon apologists. Several years ago I came up with a name for this “evangelistic strategy” – the “Pander/Slander” method: “If you want to pander to the Mormon apologists not ready for real dialogue, the cost is going to be a willingness to slander the Christian brethren that went before you.” Anyone who has read How Wide the Divide? by Evangelical Craig Blomberg and Mormon Stephen Robinson, a project spurred on by Standing Together’s Greg Johnson, will have noticed that Mormon scholar Stephen Robinson very quickly wraps himself in a cloak of victim privilege and makes sure Blomberg understands he is going to regard any challenges to his idiosyncratic expressions of Mormon doctrine as persecution. He acts, in other words, as a victim-bully. Once the book was out there, anyone who criticized Blomberg for not challenging Robinson’s evasions was denounced by Mormon apologists. So the cloak of victim privilege was thrown over the shoulders of Blomberg too. So also now with Richard Mouw and Standing Together.

In saying this I must stress that Craig Blomberg is an excellent scholar and the fact that he behaved in a more scholarly and gentlemanly manner than Robinson did in that exchange should surely not be held against him.

As early as 2002 I cautioned Greg Johnson against belittling earlier Christian efforts at reaching Mormons as a way of buying credibility with Mormon apologists. In 2001 I similarly cautioned Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, two of the editors of The New Mormon Challenge, a work with a Foreword by Richard Mouw, in which he again declares himself “ashamed” of fellow Christians who have labored in the field before him.

Acting, in my view, with similar lack of good faith in relation to the publication of that book, the Mormons first pretended to be supportive of the project and then quickly panned it afterwards as just another anti-Mormon effort. Not only so, but after promising to appear at a public book-launching event in Salt Lake City (The New Mormon Challenge Conference), the major Mormon participants cancelled out at the last minute, leaving only the idiosyncratic Mormon maverick lawyer-theologian-apologist Blake Ostler to represent the Mormon side. When the FARMS Review of Books came out with its take on The New Mormon Challenge in the winter of 2002, one of its authors, Louis Midgley, quoted one of the principles set out in Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley’s 1963 “How to Write an Anti-Mormon Book” against the book’s editors:

“A benign criticism of your predecessors will go far towards confirming your own preeminence in the field. Refer gently but firmly,” Nibley admonishes, “to the bias, prejudices, and inadequate research, however unconscious or understandable, of other books on the subject.” It should be noted that Mosser and Owen began their venture into Anti-Mormonism with an essay in which they neatly positioned themselves to come to the rescue of the evangelicals overwhelmed by the “new Mormon challenge,” by doing what previous writers have lacked the skill and knowledge to accomplish.[1]

The New Mormon ChallengeMidgley’s comments are interesting. Prior to the release of the book, FARMS had singled out Mosser and Owen for high acclaim as if they were the only Evangelicals that ever deserved the name “scholar,” even at the time when neither had his doctorate. It had even re-released and praised the article Midgley now damns as “anti-Mormon.” More than a year before this review I warned Mosser and Owen that they were being used and that all the apparent friendship and support the Mormon apologists pretended to be giving them then would suddenly vanish the moment they ceased being useful. I had hoped I was being too cynical, that there might have been a glimmer of something real in the Mormon apologists’ relationship with Mosser and Owen. Sadly, my fears subsequently appear to have been confirmed.

Mosser and Owen are fine scholars who should not be condemned for being naïve. They are young and it is surely forgivable that they would have wanted to assume that the trusted leaders of a religious organization that claims to represent Jesus Christ on the earth would act with greater ethical integrity in its relationship with outsiders. Alas, we must all live and learn.

In any case, The New Mormon Challenge did represent an important bluff caller. For a long time previous to its release Mormons had been complaining that no one with scholarly credentials had critically and carefully interacted with their scholarship. My own position on that question was that it was incumbent on nobody to interact with the work of Mormon apologists until they produced something of real scholarly significance that could stand on its own outside Mormon circles. I had read a good deal of it and found that in the areas in which I had particular expertise, their work was, with a few exceptions, appallingly inadequate. The New Mormon Challenge at least provided exactly the scholarly interaction the Mormon apologists wanted, and yet since its release they have shown themselves to be as disinterested in real interaction as before. Their only long-term interest seems to be with Evangelicals who, lacking a sufficient understanding of their teaching, will pander to them without challenging them with anything deeper than broad allusions to “serious differences that divide us.”

With Dr. Mouw’s most recent apology at the Tabernacle, I am concerned that Standing Together will become fixed in its commitment to a strategy of disparaging earlier efforts to reach Mormons. If this appearance is correct, it is not a healthy development.

Dr. Mouw’s troubling comments at the recent Tabernacle event have damaged not only his own credibility among ministers in Utah, but also the credibility of the leadership of Standing Together. This is regrettable because their role in fostering Evangelical-Mormon dialogue is an important one. Many Christians in Utah and elsewhere would long for an apology on the part of Dr. Mouw to Utah pastors and mainstream Evangelical ministries to the LDS community affected by his comments. This is especially so in view of his planned participation in a Joseph Smith bicentennial event at the Library of Congress event in May 2005. Robert Millet at BYU has had a leading role in planning this event and the non-Mormon scholars who are participating in it have apparently been carefully hand-picked for what they will not say rather than for what they will say. We should be very troubled if Mouw insists on offering another one of his blanket apologies at that event, although I am concerned that he may very well do so.

Meanwhile, I would urge those at BYU and the Library of Congress who are planning the May 2005 Joseph Smith Bicentennial event to include the participation of legitimate Mormon and non-Mormon scholars whose work is not necessarily “faith promoting.” My desire as a representative of the latter group is to participate in dialogue that is not only respectful, but also authentic.

Postscript: The Joseph Smith Bicentennial event (entitled “The Worlds of Joseph Smith”) was held at the Library of Congress on May 6&7, 2005. And, as the author anticipated, the roster was stacked with scholars whose work and narrative regarding Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church was overwhelmingly skewed toward the “faith promoting” side of the line. The audio and video files from this event are no longer available but a bound volumes of the papers presented at this event can be purchased from Amazon. — Editor

Ron Huggins Bio ShotABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ron V. Huggins, is Assistant Professor of Theological & Historical Studies, Salt Lake Theological Seminary and an Executive Board Member at The Institute for Religious Research.

Born in Moscow, Idaho and reared a Roman Catholic, Ron came to know Christ in 1976 during his last year as an undergraduate at the University of Idaho.

Shortly after his conversion Ron read a biography of Martin Luther, and it became clear to him (much to his surprise) that God can use educated people to further His kingdom. This new understanding sparked a desire for further theological education, which was not realized for a number of years while Ron was engaged in various ministries (including a four-year stint on the staff of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho).

In 1984 Ron was able to see his dream fulfilled by beginning to pursue a Masters degree at Regent College, Vancouver. After finishing his doctorate at Toronto in 1997 and before coming to Salt Lake Theological Seminary, Ron taught Church History at Moody Bible Institute Center for External Studies in Spokane Washington. During the same period he also taught Latin in private Christian Schools.

Ron was married in 1980. He and his wife Marguerite have four daughters: Sarah, Anna, Nollie, and Mary.

NOTES
[1] Louis C. Midgley, “Faulty Topography,” FARMS Review of Books, 14.1-2 (2002): 148.

Further Reading
– A transcript of Dr. Mouw’s original November 14, 2004 Mormon Tabernacle apology can be read here.  
– The Beggar’s Bread review of Richard J. Mouw’s book, “Talking With Mormons” can be read here.
– Mike Thomas’ critical analysis and editorial on Dr. Mouw’s methods and mean cans can be read here.
– The Official Statement on Richard Mouw by Evangelical Ministries to New Religions can be read here.
– Fred W. Anson’s apology for Richard J. Mouw can be read here.

a_logo© 2015 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research website. It is republished here per IRR’s usage guidelines and with their express permission. Beggar’s Bread is thankful to IRR their generosity in allowing us to republish Dr. Huggin’s classic article. 

BACK TO TOP

duh Introduction: On June 12, 2015 Dr. Roger E. Olson, a professor of Theology at Baylor University and award winning Christian author, published a lengthy article on Mormonism based on his recent experiences and encounters with Mormon scholars at Brigham Young University. While such an article isn’t uncommon, Dr. Olson’s piece was unique in his stunningly abrasive, condescending, dismissive, and even rude treatment of those who attempted to reason him out of the less than fully informed understanding of Mormonism that was manifest in the article. This included not only active Latter-day Saints and Ex-Mormons, but fellow Christian scholars who specialize in Mormon Studies. On June 16, 2015, after several frustrating days of interacting with Dr. Olson, Arthur Sido, a former Mormon who is now a Christian, took the time to write about his experiences. — Editor

by Arthur Sido
A few days ago, one Roger Olson, writing for Patheos, wrote a rather lengthy and largely ignorant post titled: Is Mormonism Christian? (Long But Everyone Interested in Mormonism Should Read This). Patheos often is a breeding ground for aberrant teaching, although some of it is decent. This is not one of the decent ones.

Now at the outset let me say that I know of Olson mostly for his Quixotic tilting at the Calvinist windmill. He is a fountain of trite and demonstrably false quips about “Calvinism” so I wasn’t expecting much. I try to stay out of the Calvinist/Arminian wars as best I can but I simply cannot stomach those who mischaracterize those they disagree with. Dr. Olson may get a wide audience and publish a lot of books but based on his interaction with me and with others who know a lot more about Mormonism than he does, he comes across as a middle-schooler on the playground rather than a serious academic. Please refer to the below screenshot of my published moderator approved comment, his response and my rejoinder. And please note that my rejoinder never made it through moderation (although he seemed effusive in his praise of Mormon comments).

(click to enlarge)

“Duh, I know this”? I didn’t think my comment was “Duh” worthy but there you go. I guess that is what passes for academic discourse these days.

Back to the article itself.

From the get-go the question in the title itself is ridiculous. No orthodox Christian tradition has ever considered Mormonism to be Christian in any sense of the word. You might as well have a post titled “Are lemons made of uranium?”. Any theologian with even a cursory understanding of Christian teaching and Mormon teaching knows that we are not talking about two different flavors of ice cream, we are talking about the difference between a rock and a tree. Also, again as anyone who pays attention realizes, the Mormon religion has changed tactics over the last decade or so, moving away from the prior position of emphasizing how different Mormonism is from Christianity to trying to soften the public face of Mormonism to emphasize the alleged similarities. I don’t even know if a lot of younger Mormons realize how much the alleged great apostasy and the vitriolic way that Joseph Smith describes “Jesus” speaking about orthodox Christianity is foundational to their religion. It is all P.R., as the response to LDS teachings becomes more widely disseminated thanks to the internet and their aberrant teachings more clear in the public square, Mormons have had to change tactics to keep bringing in the converts. Olson seems to blithely accept that Millet is in the vanguard of the change in Mormonism to become more orthodox. That is a wonderful idea but it is impossible. Every aspect of Mormonism, from the “prophet” who claims direct revelation from Christ to the temples where pagan ceremonies are held to every bit of the Mormon proselytizing machine would have to be torn down. My fervent prayer is that Mormons as a people leave Mormonism and come to saving faith in Christ but I have no hope for orthodox reform of the religion itself.

BYU Professor Robert Millet

BYU Professor Robert Millet

Second, Olson may consider Millet to be his buddy but Millet has no authority to speak for Mormonism. When the current “prophet” declares that Joseph Smith was a liar, as he was, and that the “Book of Mormon” is a fraud, which it is, and that the teachings of all of those who came before Monson and claimed the title of “prophet” were also liars and deceivers, then we can cheer their progress. Until then this is all just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Third. Here is the thing about false prophets and wolves. They lie. It is kind of what they do. I don’t know Millet but I imagine that someone that deep in the Mormon hierarchy and with the ear of many top Mormons has to know that what they teach is untrue. He has to. So his continued defense of mormonism, nuanced as it may be, is tantamount to lying and false teaching. He is a wolf, not a slightly confused Christian.

Fourth, Olson’s response to fellow Christians often seemed (as shown above) to be arrogant, juvenile and downright nasty. His use of the term “Anti-Mormon” to describe those who have been doing the heavy lifting of witnessing to Mormons while he hides away in his ivory tower is insulting and childish. I got a chuckle of out the statement he made on his follow-up post, , where he states:

This blog is for civil, respectful, constructive dialogue, not preaching, flaming or advocacy.

Ah, I see. Maybe where Olson comes from “Duh, I know this” qualifies as “civil, respectful, constructive dialogue” but it doesn’t where I am from.

Olson’s final paragraph is his follow-up post, What I Learned from the Responses to My Post about Mormonism tells you everything you need to know.

On the other hand I do not consider the LDS Church a cult. I consider it a quasi-Christian denomination and a Christian-based world religion. I still think there is enough Christianity in Mormonism that there is reason to hope that someday the LDS Church will emerge, as the WCG [Worldwide Church of God] did, as a truly Christian denomination.

Dr. Roger E. Olson

That kind of says it all. In one fell swoop he discounts the cultic behavior that left scars on virtually everyone I know that left Mormonism, myself included. I know of families that are divided and devastated by this cult. I know first hand the cultuc tactics used to scare people into staying in line. On top of this he sees “enough Christianity” in Mormonism and sees it as a “Christian-based world religion”. In what possible way? Taking aside some common terminology with a different meaning, which Roger “Duh, I know this” Olson claims to understand, there is not one shred of Christianity in Mormonism. None. It is a polytheistic, pagan religion more akin to Islam than to Christianity. Trying to find common theological ground with Mormonism is like trying to find common theological ground with ISIS. That is not an exaggeration.

Dr. Olson is not doing anyone any favors with his kid gloves approach to Mormonism coupled with his pompous treatment of fellow believers. Hopefully someone with more time on their hands can disassemble his posting for the benefit of the church because Roger Olson has done Christianity and those trapped in Mormonism an enormous disservice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arthur Sido is a husband of one and the father of eight in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He and his wife are homeschoolers and amateur small scale farmers. A convert in adulthood to Christianity, he has a particular interest in how Christians gather as the church and the ways that our cultural assumptions impact the manner in which we meet. Describing himself as a Particular Anabaptist, his goal is to get Christians to look beyond “church as we know it” so that the church can focus on equipping believers and sending them out to the world. Mr. Sido is also a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

black sheep2(this article was originally published on the author’s “The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia” website, on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015. It is republished here with permission and has been very lightly edited.)

APPENDIX: The Fallout
by Fred W. Anson
The day after the above Arthur Sido article published (that is, June 17th, 2015) Roger E. Olson published a letter from Robert Millet in which Dr. Millett corrected him on some key points. Here are some excerpts:

…we have no desire to become a part of mainstream Christianity. We do want to be better understood and appreciated for what and who we are, but we are not traditional Christians and have never claimed to be. We do in fact see ourselves as Christians with a difference. Mormonism professes to be restored Christianity, and its adherents believe that God has chosen to restore the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, and that the divine priesthood authority he received—the power and authority to act in the name of God, apostolic authority—has continued in rightful succession to modern apostles and prophets within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

… you seem to have gotten a false impression of my view of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, the notion that “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” I do accept fully as doctrinal the latter part of the couplet, since deification is definitely a part of LDS theology. I do not know very much at all about the first part, and it is not in fact something the Church or its leaders speak of very often.

Further, on the same day (June 17, 2015) the Baptist Standard website picked up on Dr. Olson’s article, loudly proclaiming “Mormonism moving closer to Christianity, Truett prof observes” in the headline. The article concludes with the following quotes from Dr. Olson:

“There is no doubt in my mind but that something is going on in the LDS Church and Mormonism in general that constitutes a gradual but discernable [sic] shift away from those doctrines most anti-Mormon Christian critics like to highlight toward a somewhat more biblical and even evangelical account of Christ and salvation,” he said.

Based on that shift, Olson said: “I can envision someday the LDS Church evolving into a Christian denomination. For now, though, I consider it an alternative religion rooted in Christianity but also rooted, unfortunately, in Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s fantasies.”

Say it with me: “Damage done!”

But, if that weren’t enough, a day later (June 18, 2015), in his typical, “It’s my world – you little people just live in it!” manner, Roger E. Olson issued the following public statement on his blogsite:

Please note that I closed the discussion of Mormonism yesterday. The response to my and Robert Millett’s essays were so voluminous and lengthy that I simply do not have time to moderate that discussion anymore. I think virtually everything that can be said was said by someone. If you are interested in the subject, read the books I recommended in my initial post about Mormonism and Christianity. If you attempt to comment here about Mormonism you will be wasting your time. I will not approve such comments. I have approved many of all kinds already. The subject is closed (here) for now. Thank you.

And that was the last that the world has heard from Dr. Roger E. Olson on the subject of Mormonism – hopefully, it will stay that way for a good, long time. Frankly, forever would be nice in this author’s opinion.

MRM_CropBut this story isn’t quite done yet, there’s still the fallout to deal with. Starting on June 29th and running until July 10th, 2015, Mormon Researchers Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson devoted an audio series to deconstructing and analyzing Dr. Olson’s article on their “Viewpoint on Mormonism” podcast/radio program. This series represents the most thorough, and evidence driven analysis of the flaws and problems with Dr. Olson’s article done to date. Here are the direct links to the shows: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten.

I was particularly encouraged by the fact that Bill McKeever – who is one of the most objective, even keeled, dispassionate, and even toned Christian scholars in Mormon Studies that I know of – confessed throughout the series that he was having a great deal of trouble governing, his passion and frustration in regard to the arrogant tone and rookie mistakes in Dr. Olson’s Mormon Studies work.

“So why all the animus toward Dr. Olson?” one might ask – and it’s a valid question. As stated in the introduction and Mr. Sido’s piece, Dr. Olson’s article and the discussion board behavior that followed was extraordinary in the level of pomposity, condescension, and rudeness that he displayed toward those of us who were already embedded and engaged in Mormon Studies before he arrived on the scene. Many of us have years, even decades, of study and first hand experience with Mormon culture, history, and religion. Some (including many who were in the Mormon Church at the time) have even lived through events in Mormon history that Dr. Olson can only read about now.

And while the other Evangelical scholars (like Richard J. Mouw, Gregory C. V. JohnsonGerald R. McDermott, Craig L. Blomberg and others) who have participated in Robert Millet’s past joint Mormon/Evangelical academic sessions at BYU have occasionally criticized other Christians in Mormon Studies, they have never shown the level of hamfisted ineptitude coupled with over the top contemptuous disrespect of fellow Evangelicals that Roger E. Olson did.[1] Stated plainly, Dr. Olson seems to have a real knack for alienating friend and foe alike!

For example, I would ask the reader to scroll through the comments underneath Dr. Olson’s article and ask yourself this question: “Why are there so many rebuttals to Dr. Olson’s comments but very few rejoinders?” The answer is simple: When it comes to public discourse Dr. Olson doesn’t play fair. It didn’t take long for those of us who responded to the article to figure out that Dr. Olson had a preferred narrative that he was looking to push. As a result, countering evidence and arguments which didn’t support his agenda were simply deleted. It didn’t matter how cogent, empirically valid, or within board guidelines they were, they just got “nuked”. And, you will notice, that in just about every discussion thread Roger E. Olson gets the last word – that, dear reader, is no coincidence.

Arthur Sido has already provided some examples of this in his article, but let me supplement with one of my own. I submitted this rejoinder for moderator approval on June 13, 2015:

Q: “What do you make of Bob Millett’s claim–to me [Roger E. Olson] directly–that he has the full support and backing of the LDS Church leadership including its president?” [this quote is clipped from Dr. Olson’s rebuttal (which he has since deleted) to the only comment that I had approved by him. Click here to see my approved comment.]

This is no secret, it’s well known in Mormon Studies circles that several years ago Dr. Millett was missioned by Mormon leaders with acting as an Ambassador to mainstream Christian churches and other outside organizations to convince them that the Mormon Church is Christian. His involvement with Greg Johnson’s “Standing Together” as well as his other private efforts with Evangelical Scholars has been the net result.

So, yes, he certainly has the full support and backing of the Brethren, up to and including the First Presidency to engage with outsider scholars. However, this is a non-sequitur since, as previously stated, he and his BYU colleagues, “don’t interpret official doctrine, they don’t define LdS orthodoxy, they don’t dictate LdS Church policy and they have exactly no “Priesthood Authority” over those who do.” They could articulate a systematic theology that’s fully orthodox with historic Christianity and it would still mean nothing.

In fact, don’t be surprised if Dr. Millett arranges private meeting with high ranking Mormon leaders (typically Jeffrey R. Holland, sometimes Dieter F. Uchtdorf, sometimes others) for you where they will reiterate their support for his efforts to your face while behind your back and after you leave absolutely nothing changes.

Further, as I pointed in the aforementioned article Dr. Millet has proven to be less than fully reliable and trustworthy:

“BYU Professor, Robert Millet, who is featured prominently throughout the book, has regularly been “caught in the act” [that is, spin doctoring and lying in his exchanges with outsiders]. Numerous examples could be cited for Mr. Millet but probably the most dramatic example was his presentation to a group of LdS Missionaries preparing for their 2-year mission in which he coaches them on “how to handle anti-Mormon criticism”

(link to referenced video removed to comply with board policy)

In this video Millet speaks about how to handle the tough “anti-Mormon” questions missionaries may face while on their missions (or afterward) using tactics like: “We never provide meat when milk will do”, in other words obfuscation; “We seek to answer any serious question by finding the most direct route to the Sacred Grove”, in other words redirection; “Don’t answer the question they ask, answer the question they should have asked”, in other words deflection. And while we’re not privy to the private sessions between Mouw and Millet’s “teams” it seems reasonable to expect that the Millet team engages in such tactics.”
(see Fred W. Anson, “Scolasticus cum Peter Principle”; Beggar’s Bread, August 13, 2012)

As the saying goes, “the proof of the pudding is in the tasting” and while Evangelical Scholars may be enamored with the flurry of activity with BYU Scholars in Provo the fact remains that NOTHING has changed, or is changing in Salt Lake City in terms of official, correlated Mormon doctrine. Even the two case studies that typically get cited here – Dieter Uchtdorf’s, “The Gift of Grace” Spring 2015 General Conference address, and BYU Professor Brad Wilcox’s, “His Grace Is Sufficient”, Ensign, Sept. 2013) when carefully considered are nothing more than the same old, same old conditional grace and works intermingled with Evangelical sounding language to make them appear more mainstream Christian.

So Robert Millet can hold a million interfaith meetings and seminars at BYU but ultimately until we see change in the official, correlated doctrine coming out of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City it means nothing.

(Please note that the embedded links that I’ve provided here for the reader’s convenience were not in the rejoinder that was submitted for moderator approval in accordance with Dr. Olson’s board guidelines)

Another Roger Olson tactic that’s invisible to the public is how he privately antagonizes and insults respondents by putting up snide moderator responses to comments submitted for moderation. In other words, he has found a shrewd and creative way to create something like a hidden chat tool that only the commenter and he, the moderator, can see. Unfortunately, rather than using this tool for good, he uses it for private bludgeoning, insults, and other forms of behind the scenes bullying. So after a few rounds of seeing this pattern I started responding to him in kind using the same technique. Here’s an example from June 14, 2015:

I find it interesting that I’m being accused of being cynical by the man who won’t post rejoinders that present an opposing view – even if they’re within board guidelines.

I would say that any cynicism regarding Robert Millet and these interfaith discussions was validated by your behavior yesterday Mr. Olson.Clearly there’s something wrong here.

So I’ll just leave you to the manipulative and deceptive agenda driven public monolog and private censorship that appears to be your standard Modus Operandi.

In short, I expect to see this post and any others that don’t fit your agenda, or that can’t be used to make the commenter look foolish, deleted.

My Approved Comment

“the only comment that I had approved by him”
(click to enlarge)

The last tactic that Dr. Olson engages in has already been hinted at: He selectively deletes comments – even his own comments – after they’ve publicly posted if they no longer suit his purpose. Thus, there is no guarantee that a comment that was approved in the morning, will still be there the same hour, afternoon, evening, day, week, or month. Nothing is certain and everything is subject to change at any time.

Apparently, in Dr. Olson’s mind the comments section of his blogsite isn’t really a public forum, or open exchange of ideas – rather it seems to be his sandbox for building, modifying, and promoting his preferred stance and/or narrative regarding the subject. For example, to the right you will see a screenshot of my aforementioned “only comment that I had approved by him”. Originally, this comment had several responses underneath it – including at least one by Dr. Olson himself. These posts had been moderator approved and could be seen and read by the viewing public.

If you click on this live link you will notice that conspicuous in their absence are all those comments. Yes, they’re gone, Roger E. Olson deleted them all after the fact for reasons known only to himself. In true Orwellian fashion they have gone down the “memory hole” forever. Of course no casual reader would see any of this as the overriding public agenda for this particular blog article seemed to be to make Dr. Olson look like the adult voice of reason in the midst of unruly and less enlightened children. The private agenda, like that of most bullies, seemed to be another matter entirely.

In a nutshell and in conclusion: Scheming, deceiving, manipulative, censoring, spin doctoring, Christian slandering, Mormon pandering, white washing, propagandizing, verbally abusing, condescending, arrogant, myopic, agenda pursuing, pompous, overbearing, and bullying. These are all the descriptors that I and many others have used to describe Dr. Roger E. Olson’s online behavior. Frankly, his absence from Mormon Studies won’t be missed. But should he ever reenter the arena, we will be waiting. And this time, since we know what to expect now, we’ll be ready for him.[2]

NOTES
[1] Craig L. Blomberg may be the exception here. While I am personally unacquainted with the incidents, in the July 9, 2015 Viewpoint On Mormonism broadcast Bill McKeever references two occasions where Dr. Blomberg has made disparaging remarks similar to those of Dr. Olson’s. As Mr. McKeever notes in the broadcast, the lowest common denominators in both of these cases is that they are Christians scholars who rely on Robert L. Millet as their primary source of information regarding both the modern Mormonism being pandered to as well as the Christian Mormon Studies scholars being slandered.

Mr. McKeever terms this form of argumentation “Pander/Slander” and references the Institute of Religious Research’s Ronald V. Huggins‘ well known article, “An Appeal for Authentic Evangelical-Mormon Dialogue” which documents it. In light of the events documented in this article, Dr. Huggin’s article is highly recommended reading.

[2] And it turns out that we won’t be alone in being ready for Dr. Olson – his reputation for engaging in “monolog not dialog” is well known. Calvinists discovered this in 2011 after the release of his book, “Against Calvinism”. On his “Radio Free Geneva” radio show Dr. James Whites describes the same tailoring of a preferred narrative via manipulative online tactics, censorship, misrepresentation of facts, and arrogant condescension toward knowledgeable Christians who try to reason with him. It appears that we are merely seeing history repeat itself. Here are the links to those “Radio Free Geneva” radio shows:

Radio Free Geneva: Roger Olson’s “Against Calvinism” Reviewed (Part 1)
Radio Free Geneva: Roger Olson’s “Against Calvinism” Reviewed (Part 2)

Perhaps it goes without saying that these videos are both very enlightening and highly recommended. While the subject wasn’t Mormonism it still explained a lot about Dr. Olson’s methods and means in general.

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