By Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead* Evangelicals and Mormons both claim to believe in Jesus and assert that Jesus’ person and work are totally sufficient for the salvation of humanity. And yet, while there is overlap at certain points in our respective views of Jesus’ identity and activity, there are also some very significant differences, including how we define important terms like salvation. In light of Evangelicals and Mormons’ close proximity as neighbors, and given our striking similarities and strong differences on beliefs and practices, how might we relate to one another and where might we work together in our communities? “Saved By Grace? A Mormon and Evangelical Dialogue, Part 3” will get at these issues, noting that while fences make for good neighbors, so, too, do front porches, sidewalks, and playgrounds. Please join New Wine, New Wineskins of Multnomah University and Biblical Seminary and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a thoughtful discussion on this subject at River West Church, 2000 Country Club Road, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 97034, from 6:30-8:30 PM, Saturday, October 27th.
This is the third forum we have organized with our Mormon friends. The first forum was held at the Cedar Mill Oregon Stake Center and the second at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Beaverton, Oregon (you can watch the video recording for the second forum here). As with the past two forums, we will be joined by Dr. Spencer Fluhman of Brigham Young University and Mr. Ed Stone, a longstanding leader in the Mormon community.
One of the concerns that fellow Evangelicals often voice to us prior to and after these forums and other dialogues centers on terminology. At times Evangelicals accuse Mormons of dishonesty in the way they talk about their faith given their common theological language. It has been said jokingly that Mormons and Evangelicals are two people separated by a common theological vocabulary. This is certainly the case in that, while we have many similar terms and doctrinal concepts (e.g., atonement and grace), what our religious groups mean by these terms are often very different. Evangelicals need not assume dishonesty in conversations with Mormons, but should recognize how terms are being used, make sure to offer definitions for clarity, and recognize that just as Evangelicals frame their message to be persuasive to Mormons, so Mormons will also frame their message to be persuasive to us.
Contextualization involving shared language is a good conversation strategy in general in engaging people of other communities. It is also a conversation strategy that Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints each use in their missions and evangelistic efforts globally to maximize effective communication. We use not only the language and specific terms of those we are trying to persuade, but also their cultural or sub-cultural thought forms and ways of seeing the world.
So it should not be a surprise when Mormons engage Evangelicals using shared vocabulary. It is up to us as Evangelicals to seek clarification regarding terminology, and to be quite clear and confident in our understanding of our own beliefs. The forums we have organized with our Mormon friends are intended to model such care regarding language and doctrines, as well as civility and charity. In order to love our Mormon neighbors, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and see our conversations not simply as opportunities for understanding and clarification of differences, but also as means of building trust. We need to work through our differences, holding them in a peaceful tension, building trust in relationships so that we can work together to make our neighborhoods better places for all of us to live.
One of the convictions we cherish at New Wine, New Wineskins and the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy at which we both serve (noted in the bio line below) is that we need to account for religious differences rather than discount them. Moreover, we need to work through our differences in peaceful tension. In our experience, many Evangelicals appreciate that we do not ignore or minimize differences or tensions between our faith community and other faith traditions. Doctrinal purity matters greatly to our Evangelical faith community, and to us personally. This is why the blog post title alludes to the old saying “Fences make for good neighbors.” Doctrinal fences provide appropriate confessional boundaries. And yet, there is more. How often do we Evangelicals highlight important differences while also cultivating goodwill and friendships with our Mormon neighbors? That is why the blog post title references front porches. While fences make clear the boundary lines, front porches make it possible to visit our neighbors and get to know them better. We want to do both: prize doctrinal distinctives and distinctive friendships with our Mormon neighbors. When we do both, we can find ways to remain true to our respective faith convictions while also working together for the common good in our neighborhoods and the public square. Will you join us?
*John W. Morehead is the Director of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, and project leader of the Multifaith Matters Collaborative Inquiry Team. Paul Louis Metzger serves with him at FRD as Senior Research Fellow and a Charter Member of its Evangelical Chapter, as well as at Multifaith Matters.