An Evangelical Graduates from the Mormon Institute Program
I was recently given a book by Stephen E. Robinson that makes several compelling arguments in favor of Mormons being Christians. I'm in agreement with him on many of his arguments, so I will limit the explanation of my change in heart and mind to one simple conclusion. To deny someone who accepts the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ the title of Christian is to deny the sufficiency of that sacrifice, as you surely can't be saved by grace through Christ and not be a Christian. I no longer argue, as I once did, that a precondition for that salvation is a proper understanding of its heavenly manifestation and the sufficiency of the grace that makes it possible. I still disagree with LDS doctrine as it pertains to grace, works and exaltation, but denying salvation to Mormons on those grounds requires passing judgment on the motive of their works. As a Christian and a witness to many apparently humble acts of Mormon service, I'm personally reluctant to pass judgment.
Evangelical Christians sometimes acknowledge the promptings or the perceived presence of the Holy Spirit in their life, and I specifically remember attending a large LDS social event during the first year of my studies where I really felt the absence of the Holy Spirit. I never mentioned this feeling to any of my Mormon friends, but I share it now as an example of a subjective experience that I used to substantiate my academic rationale at the time for why Mormons should not be considered Christian. It's also relevant in that my current acceptance of Mormons as fellow Christians is the result of both intellectual argument and the accumulative effect of more recent subjective experiences. Shortly before my graduation from the LDS Institute, I was invited to attend a Mormon baptism, at which a moving testimony was given by the LDS friend of the woman being baptized. I could not have denied the profound influence of the Holy Spirit in that woman's life or in the lives of others who shared their testimony at an LDS church service I attended on a different occasion. The Spirit could also be felt in many of the prayers offered at Institute gatherings. Such spiritual fellowship is common amongst Christian brothers and sisters and I can't deny the significance of experiencing it amongst Mormons.
How, if at all, has Institute changed your beliefs or views on scripture or doctrine?
LDS Institute did little to change my beliefs as they pertain to basic Mormon and Christian doctrines, but it did significantly alter my views of scripture and in particular the Old Testament. Historically, Mormon teaching has called into the question the interpretations and completeness of biblical scripture. So it was often necessary to think objectively about alternative translations and author's intent for verses I would have otherwise taken for granted. However, most of the scriptural insights I gained in class came from learning proper historical context for Old Testament scripture. I was introduced to the field of biblical hermeneutics and acquired an entirely new perspective for interpreting the scripture that differed from the predominately literal understanding taught in a conservative evangelical upbringing. Being in a college town, I was able to benefit from some extremely well-educated LDS Instructors. I even had an opportunity to attend a class on introductory Greek. In this regard, I believe some of the perspectives I gained were on par with those garnered from participating in college courses on religion and scripture.
I attended Torah Study at a synagogue for over a year, and found it enriching, challenging, and ultimately deepening for my own religious commitments. How would you describe the effects of attending Institute on your own personal faith and religious commitment?
Attending the LDS Institute was also an enriching experience that certainly challenged some of my religious commitments. The end result of that challenge was a more focused devotion to the core Gospel elements our faiths share in common. I haven't abandoned the conventional biblical doctrine of Evangelicals for a Christianity of the least common denominator, but I now am careful to treat doctrinal differences proportionally. In this regard, I could be considered less committed to aspects of the religion that don't pertain directly to the Gospel than when I started my studies.
My personal faith has probably been challenged more by my concurrent graduate study in the sciences and the current political environment than attendance at the LDS Institute. However, witnessing but being unable to share the devout faith of Mormons in specific religious leaders and texts did help me to objectively reflect on my own faith and the source of my religious convictions. As a result, my faith has become less dependent on subjective perceptions of the Holy Spirit's influence, and more attuned to the fruits of the Spirit that come from practical application of the scripture.
If you'd like to ask David any questions, please post them in the comment section below.