Our churches face a demographic crisis. [Read more...]
The French Guide to American Faith, Politics and Culture
Our churches face a demographic crisis. [Read more...]
So, we’ve speculated about Jef Holm’s faith a bit on this blog, so you might be interested in this interview he gave recently to Reality TV World during a conference call with reporters. [Read more...]
Yesterday the Daily Caller highlighted an excerpt from Jake Tapper’s interview with Rick Warren. In light of Mitt Romney’s all-but-inevitable nomination, he asked Warren, “Are Mormons Christians?” Here’s Warren’s response:
“The key sticking point for evangelicals and actually for many is the issue of the trinity,” Warren said. “That’s a historic doctrine of the church — that God is three in one. Not three Gods, one God in father, son and Holy Spirit. Mormonism denies that. That’s a sticking point for a lot of Catholic Christians, evangelical Christians, pentecostal Christians because they don’t believe that. Now, they’ll use the same terminology. But they don’t believe in the historic doctrine of the trinity. And people have tried to make it other issues, but that’s one of the fundamental differences.”
But let’s think about this for a minute. Is this really where pastors want to circle the wagons? I have three questions:
1. Is Warren’s statement correct as a defining characteristic of Christian belief? In other words, is the creedal belief in the Trinity the dividing line between Christian and non-Christian?
2. If it is correct, where does that leave the millions and millions of members of Catholic and Protestant churches who, frankly, don’t have the slightest clue about the Trinity? I’ve been in church my whole life and can barely remember any in-depth studies of the nature of the Trinity. In fact, responses to questions about the Trinity depend directly on the way the questions are asked. Phrase the Trinity question one way, and it appears that rank and file Christians have sharply divergent views from Mormons. Phrase it a different way, and there’s remarkable unity. This suggests a great deal of uncertainty.
3. If creedal belief in the Trinity is the defining characteristic, and we don’t want to exclude from Christianity the millions of Catholics and Protestants who don’t know what the heck they believe, is the real dividing line then “creedal belief in the Trinity and/or attendance at a church holding a creedal belief in the Trinity?” But that can’t be it, can it? After all, our church’s theological righteousness is not imputed to us as individuals.
I think Warren was answering a different question than the one Jake Tapper asked. Tapper asked, “Are Mormons Christians?” not “Is Mormon theology historically orthodox?” Here’s my shot at answering the latter question: “No, LDS theology is not orthodox. In fact, like other church movements in the 19th century, it was a direct repudiation of what it believes to be the theological error of the orthodox, institutional church as embodied not just in the creeds but also historical practices. It was attempting to restore Christianity to what it perceived to be core truth.”
But what about Tapper’s actual question? Isn’t that the question that’s truly interesting? After all, “orthodoxy” isn’t really that much of a popular concern compared to the core identity as a Christian. Here’s how I’d answer Tapper:
Jake, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 says that if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. Christian identity is not defined by categories but instead by that simple confession and belief, and only God knows who has made that confession and who has that belief. I don’t know whether any given member of the Mormon church is a Christian any more than I know whether any given member of my own church is a Christian. That’s not to say that doctrine doesn’t matter — it does, greatly — but a person can be in error on important doctrines and yet Christ has called them to that core confession and belief.
One final note: I’d argue that our view of salvation — whether Arminian or Reformed — is of enormous consequence, going directly not only to the nature of God but also how we understand each moment of our lives, yet I rarely hear anyone seriously ask, “Are Methodists Christian?” Perhaps that’s not so much because the theological differences aren’t real and profound but because we’ve made our historical peace through shared understanding of our faith in Christ. Perhaps its time that we make that same peace with Mormons.
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I distinctly remember the days when I believed that salvation was a sales job. I grew up in a church that placed a premium on achieving “decisions for Christ” and that believed those decisions directly depended on my behavior.
First, there was the apologetics. I always had to have a “ready answer” for those who questioned my faith—and by that, my elders meant a snappy response to virtually any challenge, whether about the origin of scripture, the origin of the universe, or the ethics of Freud.
Then, there was the “lifestyle evangelism.” A “ready answer” is much less persuasive when it comes from an imperfect vessel. Thus, we had to live our lives with more joy, more wisdom, more love, more courage, and more perseverance than anyone else. What’s more, our friends and co-workers had to see our superiority so that one day they would turn to us and ask that magic question: “What is it that makes you so different?”
Finally, we worried about the competition. I sat through Sunday school classes about Baptists, about Calvinists, about Catholics, and about Mormons. I learned what “they” believed so that I could rebut it, so that my “ready answer” included a very specific defense of my very specific denomination. (Oops. I said “denomination.” I didn’t belong to a denomination but instead “the church.”)
The problem? The model couldn’t possibly work. No matter how much I studied apologetics, I’d never know more about evolution than a biologist, more about Kant than a philosopher, or more about Catholicism than a priest. I could have a ready answer about my faith, but about not much else.
As for my lifestyle? Simply put, I’m not that great. Why would anyone turn to me and say, “How can I be like you?” I struggle with a myriad of fairly obvious flaws and sins, and I’ve known people of many faiths who live with more courage, more love, and more wisdom than I ever have. I’m going to be the beacon that leads men to heaven? Really?
But—thanks be to God—Christianity is not a sales job. We’re not like used car salesmen, running flashy commercials with a shiny product asking our customers, “What can I do to put you in this car today?” In biblical Christianity, as opposed to consumer Christianity, God is the Prime Mover in our salvation, not man. And the goal is not life enhancement, but the reconciliation of our broken souls with a Holy God.
This is plain from scripture, from Jesus selecting his disciples, to Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, to the miraculous interaction between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, to the definitive declaration: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In fact, since His strength is made perfect not in my awesomeness but in my weakness, my tremendous “lifestyle” wouldn’t be much of a draw anyway.
I haven’t thought much about the Bad Old Days of Sunday school, at least until I read Warren Cole Smith’s June 9 interview, where he stated “people’s souls” were at stake if a Mormon became president. What a perfect expression of consumer Christianity. Do our immortal souls hang on so fine a thread as the public image of politicians?
Sadly, if actions speak louder than words, I’d say that many Christians believe that “image is everything.” Slickly-produced stage-show mega-church Christianity is oft-criticized. But the yin to its yang, the “keepin’ it real” alt-culture of the emergent movement is just as image-conscious. Again and again, we worry about appearance and presentation and debate who is driving people away from God and who is pulling them close.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” Why do we believe that God would entrust something as precious as the individual soul to something so trivial as our voting decision? That’s not to say that votes don’t matter. Politicians help shape our culture, they make life-and-death decisions, and they can impact (though we often overstate their influence) an economy that shapes the material dreams of our own lives and our children’s lives. But presidents don’t save or condemn us, and their influence is inconsequential in the face of a sovereign God.
Is there any good fruit to come from the circular, fruitless, and sometimes nasty debate about Mormons in the White House—when ignorance about Mormonism is often trumped only by misconceptions about the very nature of God’s interactions with man?
Perhaps yes. Perhaps we can use this debate to remind ourselves that it is God, not man, who governs the fate of nations, and God, not man, who draws our souls to Him.
Salvation isn’t a sales job. It’s a miracle.