Below is a message I received from Bob Millett about my blog posts about Mormonism and Christianity. I will let him have the final word in this discussion (for now). Please do not post a comment in response to this or my recent posts about Mormonism. This blog needs to move on to other subjects. Consider the discussion closed (for now) with this response by Millett.
A few days ago one of my colleagues forwarded to me your article on Mormonism. I appreciated the opportunity to read it and felt it might be worthwhile to comment on a number of your perspectives. I didn’t want to simply add one more addendum to the Patheos article but wanted to devote a bit more time to my response. Here goes:
First, twice in your article you state that you are not persuaded that Mormonism in the local ward (congregation) is necessarily the same as Mormonism among LDS scholars. First let me say that I would suppose that such would be the case, as well, with most any Evangelical or Roman Catholic congregation; those in the pews have not generally been involved in the academic study of the faith and would no doubt provide quite different answers to questions about the tradition than would PhDs who have spent decades plumbing the depths of the beliefs and practices and learning how best to articulate the essential tenets.
But having said that, let me kindly disagree with you. I have spoken all over the LDS Church, throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries, have taught the same doctrines in the same way to Latter-day Saints as I have written about them in my books. For that matter, most of my books have been published by the Church’s publishing company, Deseret Book. You would think if I were proclaiming some new doctrine, some “progressive” dimension to the faith, some unusual avenue to Mormonism, that by now I would have been called out, corrected, silenced, or at least questioned by Church leaders, local or general. Such has certainly not been the case. For that matter, I have worked closely with LDS Church Public Affairs for almost twenty years and have been asked scores of times by Public Affairs to be interviewed by the media, to host representatives from other faith traditions, to answer questions about the faith with CNN, the Washington Post, the LA Times, the Faith Angle Forum (a subset of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.), and a long list of radio and television stations. I hardly think my views are in any way considered heterodox or out of the mainstream.
Second, you make mention of the strong desire of Latter-day Saints to be recognized as Christians. You’re certainly right there; we do want to be acknowledged as being followers of Jesus Christ, believers in His divine birth, His timeless teachings, His miracles, His sufferings and death for the sins of the world, and His triumphant rise from the tomb as a physical, glorified, resurrected Being. No question about it.
Having said that, however, I hasten to add that 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. Not too long before he passed away, I had occasion to meet with Father Richard John Neuhaus in New York City. We chatted for a little less than an hour, and as I stood to leave, he shook my hand and said: “I know of the dialogue you have been engaged in with Richard Mouw and the Evangelicals for some time now, and I appreciate the work you folks are doing.” He then added: “There simply has to be more conversation between Latter-day Saint Christians and Nicene Christians.” I said to Richard: “Now that’s a distinction with which no thinking Mormon would take issue.”
Third, those you speak of as “progressive” LDS thinkers are persons who tend to take more seriously the teachings within our own scriptural texts. For example, a person need not believe Joseph Smith’s report of having received and translated golden plates in order to read the Book of Mormon, looking especially for theological matters. You aren’t very deep into the story before you begin to encounter again and again what I would call redemptive theology—namely, the constant and ever-recurring themes of the nature of fallen humanity, the need to be born again, and salvation only through the merits and mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. The Church’s 13th President-Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, charged and commissioned the Latter-day Saints in practically every public sermon he delivered during his decade as our leader (1985-2004), to read and study the Book of Mormon, focusing particularly on the doctrinal teachings. Mormons who did so—and that was the bulk of the Church—found themselves then turning more regularly to the Bible, and especially the New Testament, and picking up on similar theological themes there. It was inevitable as a result of a decade in which the people of the Church were “baptized” in the doctrine of Christ that you would begin to see, on both the general and local levels, a greater emphasis and focus upon the person and powers of Jesus; the means by which we can apply the atoning blood of Christ; and a people who speak more regularly of and live their lives more consistently with what they have come to know as the “enabling power” (grace) of the Savior. In short, what you are witnessing among those academics who speak and write on these topics is a much more generalized emphasis within the whole of the Church, not merely a scholarly phenomenon. In case you haven’t done so, you might appreciate reading a short book by Stephen Webb, a Roman Catholic scholar, entitled Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (Oxford, 2013); Webb’s conclusions may surprise you.
Fourth (and in case you have not signed off by now), 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. I am attaching a copy of an article I wrote on that subject that will appear in a book that Rich Mouw and I are editing, a volume that should be out in August, entitled Talking Doctrine: Mormons and Evangelicals in Conversation (IVP Academic, 2015). I hope the article clears up any misunderstanding.
Robert L. Millet, Coordinator
Office of Religious Outreach
Professor Emeritus of Religious Education
Brigham Young University