I type this post mere hours before the first set of polls close on election day, and I must admit that I’m as nostalgic as I am anxious. [Read more...]
I type this post mere hours before the first set of polls close on election day, and I must admit that I’m as nostalgic as I am anxious. [Read more...]
Over at Philosophical Fragments, my friend Timothy Dalrymple has been writing an excellent series of posts on Evangelical/Mormon relationships. My favorite of the series begins with a decades-old exchange between Walter Martin, the famed Christian counter-cultist, and a young Mormon: [Read more...]
Just last week I had an enjoyable interview with a reporter from World Magazine regarding evangelicalism, the LDS church, and theological confusion. While pleasant, for a longtime Evangelical for Mitt, the conversation felt just a bit repetitive. [Read more...]
The Chronicle of Philanthropy has released a comparison of the giving rates of all 366 major metropolitan areas. I won’t paste the whole chart, but I would direct your attention to the top 25 areas and the bottom 25. First, here’s the top 25: [Read more...]
On Tuesday I posted six reasons why Mormons are beating Baptists in church growth and then just this morning ran across this chart based on Pew Forum data. Simply put, unless we Protestants can start to change these numbers, we’re going to fade away in the United States. Yes, it will take time. Yes, we’ll be a cultural influence for decades to come. But fade we will. [Read more...]
Our churches face a demographic crisis. [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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Joan Walsh has a great line:
The GOP presidential primary is a lot like a kindergarten t-ball game: When it comes to being in first place, just about everybody gets a turn. And now, congratulations, Newt Gingrich: It’s your turn!
This means, of course, that the amiable professor now will now be freshly scrutinized in both his personal and his political life. So far, he’s not been considered a threat, so his liabilities have been overlooked by his rivals. However, as he rises in the polls, his life is about to undergo the same treatment that Herman Cain and Rick Perry have experienced… and it’s not going to be pretty.
First let’s talk about the most obvious problem – his wives. Nineteen year old Newt married 26 year old Jackie Battley, his former high school geometry teacher in 1962. They had two children, but Newt had an affair with Marianne Ginther and left Jackie to wed Marianne one year later. Then, in the mid-1990s, Gingrich met a staffer in the House of Representatives — Callista Bisek – who is 23 years his junior. Newt married her shortly after his divorce from his second wife Ginther. They are currently married, and Callista plays a front-and-center role in Newt’s campaign. (She has her own portion on Newt’s website here, in a move that shows that Newt might be tone deaf on how much women voters want to see the trophy wife of a Presidential candidate supposedly running to protect family values.)
Of course, it’s not just the fact that he’s had — count ‘em — three wives. There’s the infamous “hospital story,” too. Apparently, Newt visited Jackie and demanded that she discuss terms of their divorce, while she was in the hospital recovering from an operation for uterine cancer. (Read how this anecdote has come to define Newt in ways that do not promise to disappear if nominated for the GOP.)
Gingrich is probably best known for serving his wife with divorce papers while she was recovering from cancer surgery, so he could marry his mistress, whom he later divorced to marry a staffer. But he’s also probably the only politician, who when you’re asked “What’s the worst thing he’s done?” has done a lot of things that rival leaving his cancer-stricken wife for his mistress.
She details some of his strange positions and mistakes in “Newt Gingrich: Even His Baggage Has Baggage” where she points out that there’s even more to the sexually sordid story. When he was cheating on his second wife with his third, he did this while leading the drive to impeach Clinton over lying about adultery… “when he was himself lying about adultery.”
He’s asked for forgiveness. This is not only an important, integral part of the story, it is the story… especially as it pertains to Newt’s salvation. We have all benefited from divine mercy, and are thankful for a Savior who went to such great lengths to make forgiveness possible!
However, as wonderful and life-giving as forgiveness is, there are still real-world consequences to sin. For example, voters might look at him with skepticism as he runs to combat the moral decay of our nation. Voters might find his claims to protect traditional marriage a little hard to swallow. They might also find it hard to trust his political promises, considering how easily he broke his personal promises.
I’ve heard many evangelicals mention Newt as a viable alternative to Gov. Romney, and I can’t help but think that it would be quite ironic if social conservatives make a moral statement against the LDS candidate by rallying behind this thrice married lothario.
I’m not “spiritual.” I don’t think the most important thing in life is my own “relationship with Jesus.” Heck, I’m simply not good enough, smart enough, or wise enough to figure out much of anything on my own. I need the Bible. I need the teachings of the church. I need the wisdom of church fathers. I can’t reinvent the wheel or create my own biblical interpretation.
I’m writing in defense of religion in response to my friend Carl Medearis, who wrote a provocatively titled blog on CNN called “Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing.” To be clear, he isn’t arguing that Christians should stop talking about Jesus. In fact, when it comes to talking about Jesus, Carl has more courage in his little finger than most people will exhibit in a hundred lifetimes (how many Hezbollah leaders have you tried to pray with?) What he means, instead, is that we shouldn’t be trying to convert people to the religion called Christianity but instead to ask them to follow Jesus.
His complaint is common (and compelling):
For one group of people, the words “evangelist” and “missionary” bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that’s wrong with the world.
I understand the confusion.
Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people’s access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.
When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.
When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”
Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.
A nice concept, but there’s a catch. If Jesus is to be Lord, the ramifications for our lives are profound. Indeed, they should be all-consuming — impacting how we live in our homes, how we conduct our professions, how we worship, and — indeed — where we worship.
Does each person start with a blank slate in these matters? Do we work it all out on our own — guided by the Bible and our “relationship” with Christ? Is “it works for me” the right answer when faced with questions of faith, belief, and action? Do we even have the capacity to work through even a fraction of the “how should I live” questions raised by genuine faith in Jesus?
Of course not. And — thankfully, through centuries of God’s grace, we don’t have to. Wiser men have worked through the deep questions of faith, have examined the boundaries and limits of doctrine, and have created institutions that have weathered the storms of war, famine, doubt, and division.
Take the Catholic Church, for example. The media is fond of listing its manifest sins, but we can also drive across this nation and see its hospitals, its social services, and its universities — all standing as an enduring testament of the power of Christ’s call upon His church. I would say the same about many Protestant denominations but sadly as they have become more atomized and individualistic, their own great institutions have faltered and fallen, leaving behind a roiling mass of individuals who are constantly laboring to replace enduring institutions with their own spontaneous creations, and lurching from trend to trend until they too often throw their hands up in despair.
What is one reason why Mormons are thriving? In large part because they are religious, part of a church that shares common convictions, shares sacrifices, and imparts beliefs generation by generation.
Have Christian religions been an instrument of evil during history? At times. But that is because our religious institutions are full of people, and while you may escape a religion, you will never, ever escape your own humanity. Is the world better off because of the Catholic Church? Without question. Is it better off because of you? Or because of me? That’s debatable. Yet why do we exalt ourselves and our own foibles, desires, and quirks over the churches that have endured for 2,000 years?
I’m a Christian. I’m religious. I belong to a church. I don’t trust in my own wisdom enough to take any other path.
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.