Radio and television personality, Glenn Beck, is admittedly a controversial and polarizing figure. He has grabbed the attention of conservatives across the nation and religious affiliation with his call back to a Constitutional based government, grounded in the first 39 words of the Declaration of Independence. These words assert the creator, creation and unalienable rights based on creator and creation. The biggest question we receive about Beck can be summed up, “Is he a Christian?” In all honesty my answer has to be, I don’t know. That may sound odd coming from an apologetics ministry but the question of whether an individual is saved or not is different than the question of the official or authoritative teachings of a particular group. In the case of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints), more commonly known as Mormons, there is voluminous material written containing their official teaching. Based on that we can say they are not Christians in any biblical or historical sense since the church teaches a different Jesus, different salvation and a different gospel than biblical/historical Christianity. Even Mormons seem to realize there is a problem here. On the Controversy tab of the Glenn Beck: An Unlikely Mormon website. We read:
Because of some of his recent statements, however, some Mormons have wanted to make it clear to non-Mormons that Glenn Beck is not an accurate representative of all Mormons.
The site includes video of Beck’s transition to and embracing of Mormonism and exists primarily to persuade Mormons that Beck is indeed one of them. Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend starts off his August 30, 2010 blog Glenn Beck Rally Set Stage for “Christians” to Accept Paganism, and Mormons Say Beck Achieved 200 Year Goal of Getting Evangelicals to Declare That Mormons Are Christians :
I tried to warn evangelical leaders about Glenn Beck’s rallies but most of them laughed at me. Now Satan is the one laughing at them as “Christians” run head-long into embracing non-Biblical theology and call it “Christian”.
Much of what Howse is saying is true, especially with regard to the biblical illiteracy within the church but does not really answer the question of whether Beck is a Christian and/or if he is, does that necessarily mean co-belligerence isn’t possible?
In Evangelicals and Glenn Beck Dr. Jim Garlow defines his view of working with those of other faiths which, as he points out, has its pitfalls, dangers as seen in Scriptures as well as times of success. On the question of Beck and salvation he writes:
On one of his TV shows about a month ago, he laid out the gospel, using his well known blackboard, in the clearest explanation of the crucifixion and the resurrection that I have ever heard on national TV. I called James Robison, and asked, “Did you hear that?” James said, “Richard Land [Southern Baptist] just called me and said he never expected to hear the Gospel so clear on secular television.” It was quite remarkable. A few days ago, Glenn laid out America’s problems and then concluded, “We need God!”
I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation – persons extremely well known in Christianity – and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), “Glenn is saved.” He understands receiving Christ as savior. (Note: I have never discussed with Glenn this topic.)
Earlier in his piece, Garlow talks about Beck’s commitment to the atonement. One of the problems in dealing with false teachers and a false gospel is false definitions to the words they use. This has been a problem since the beginning of the church and also explains why each of the creeds came to be and why they became longer over time. False teachers would co-opt the language and redefine the terms to fit their views. In doing so the average believer could not distinguish between the true and the false as easily. By the time we get to the 5th century the Athanasian Creed was a very long document because it included its definitions in order to prevent false teachers from absconding with the language. This is one of the problems with modern day Mormonism. They define atonement, salvation, eternal life, Jesus, etc. differently than historic biblical does. I was not sure if Garlow and those he interviewed understand the differences or significance of the differences in terminology. Rather than write a treatise on that I contacted one of my favorite missionaries to Mormons who I have a great deal of respect for, Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministries to see if he had or would write something on Mormon terminology. He has been following this situation closely and wrote back with a link to The Not-so Mormon Soteriology of Glenn Beck. He writes:
I was intrigued when he said he spoke of talking to well-respected Southern Baptist Richard Land to make sure his definition of individual salvation was the same as mainline Christianity
So, the definition Beck used on his show comes directly from a Southern Baptist understanding and teaching. A little further into the article Bill McKeever writes:
I have to admit, Beck’s explanation makes me wonder if his close relationships with several evangelical Christians are not having a positive effect. I have played the July 13th clip over and over (being the lousy typist I am, I had to just to transcribe it properly) and it seems apparent that Beck does not agree with traditional Mormon soteriology. And while I want to be optimistic about all of this, I admit that I have been disappointed by many Mormons who use Protestant phrases while failing to set aside the soul-damning, works oriented doctrine of Mormonism. However, at this point I don’t have any reason to believe Beck has an agenda to try and make his church look more “Christian.” I tend to believe he is trying to explain what he believes personally. Whether or not he knows he is out of harmony with his church, I cannot say, but if I understand the above correctly, he most certainly is.
How should we as Christians handle this? Because we are so used to Mormons using “Christianese” to conceal Mormonism’s unique teachings, it is all too easy to assume Beck is merely doing the same. And while I often encourage a healthy dose of skepticism, I think we must also be willing to give a fair hearing to each and every Latter-day Saint in order to fully understand where they are coming from on a personal level. Unless we have reason to believe otherwise, it is imprudent to automatically assume Beck is being deceitful.
It may well be that Beck is a Christian in transition from Mormonism. He is socially a Mormon but it at least appears theologically he is finding himself more aligned with the biblical faith as historically taught and defined. So, whether he is a Christian or not is something we cannot really answer at this point. This leads us to the next question, can Christians work with other faith groups on social issues where we agree? As Dr. Garlow points out, that is what happened in California on Prop 8.
Some are concerned that Dr. Charles Stanley appeared on Glenn Beck’s August 27, 2010 morning prayer (which can be heard on Beck’s Restoring Honor website) and saying he wishes he could be at the Washington event. Stanley continually refers to the state of the nation and the need to call it back to its founding principles. As I pointed out in the beginning, the Declaration of Independence affirmed creator, creation and unalienable rights which extend from these first two. This and the U.S. Constitution were authored by Christians, deists (Thomas Jefferson) and agnostics (Benjamin Franklin) who promoted honor, integrity, and the desire to hold the government accountable by the people who were being governed. Dr. Stanley’s comments were more in keeping with a return to the founding principles of the nation than with being specifically Christian.
In Dr. Jim Garlow’s Evangelicals and Glenn Beck he outlines the “Nature of Alliances”:
In the Old Testament, there were times that Israel forged alliances out of desperation because they did not trust God. That distrust is sin. In addition, Israel compromised herself in those alliances, becoming like those with whom she joined.
However, there were other scenarios in which God used cultures outside Israel for his purposes. Those alliances seemed to have the approval of God.
Thus I developed a personal “grid” regarding the forming of alliance on the Prop 8 battle. It might not be helpful for you, but it is helpful for me. I asked my self two questions:
1. Am I joining with someone simply out of failure to trust God, or does this alliance seem to have the approval of God for this moment, to accomplish his will?
2. Am I compromising biblical truths and values in this alliance?
I concluded that the alliances were not out of failure to trust God, but out of an understanding of how (in this moment) to live out his will on earth, and that there was no compromise of biblical values.
I am not hesitant to say that – though they are not my theological brothers and sisters – the LDS members I have come to know truly are my good friends. We even laugh hard together. Yes, we even tease each other about each other’s theological positions. Yes, I wish they would embrace what I believe. As yet, that has not happened. But in the meantime, we are unabashedly “friends and neighbors.”
This too imitates those who early inhabited the new nation. George Whitfield, a powerful preacher and Benjamin Franklin, an agnostic, were friends. Franklin reminisced on this friendship :
“He us’d, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion,” Franklin wrote, “but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard. Ours was a mere civil friendship, sincere on both sides, and lasted to his death.”
Believers have a great impact on a culture, positively and negetively, not only in what they believe and teach inside church but more by how they behave and interact with culture outside the church. If churches are teaching their people with the church meeting about the faith and equipping them to understand the faiths of those outside the church, there were be less fear in the area of citizenship and holding the government accountable.