(This originally appeared in the July/August 1997 MCOI Journal)
At our “Defend the Faith Conference” a few weeks ago, a representative of Intervarsity Press (IVP) handed me one of IVP’s books entitled, How Wide the Divide? by Craig L, Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and Stephen E. Robinson, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University (a Mormon institution). The subtitle is A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation. Joy (my wife) and I host a weekly radio show, “Defend the Faith,” on WYLL, 106.7 FM, and we regularly interview authors of books we feel would be helpful in educating our listeners about cult and apologetic issues. Therefore, it is not unusual for Intervarsity Press or other publishers to send us new books for our appraisal as possible subject material. I did not have much opportunity to look at it until a few days later when another ministry pointed out to me the concluding 12 affirmations of these two authors on page 195. The authors state,”… we jointly and sincerely affirm the following foundational propositions of the Christian gospel as we both understand it.” To say the least, I was shocked to see what followed:
“1. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one eternal God.”
I thought there must be some mistake for, unless something has changed in the last ten days that I am unaware of, Evangelicals and Mormons do not agree on this statement. The same can be said of the remaining eleven affirmations. This launched me into dialog with many of the apologetics ministries around the country as well as with Bill McConnell, the Assistant to the President of Intervarsity Press; Craig L. Blomberg; and James Hoover, editor of How Wide the Divide?. Although we do not ordinarily do book reviews in this periodical, I believe this work warrants attention as attempted Evangelical suicide.
Can’t we all just get along?
In Stephen Robinson’s portion of the introduction, he seems to try to make the case that Evangelicals and Mormons not only have much in common morally and socially, but that their beliefs are essentially the same. The “problem,” as he sees it, is that Evangelicals and Mormons just do not understand each other’s language. Among the main obstacles to getting along are what Stephen Robinson and Craig Blomberg call “fundamentalist anti-Mormons,” “extreme fundamentalists,” and “anti-cultists” who disseminate (what they assert) is faulty information and outright lies about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, a.k.a. Mormons).
I dialogued with Dr. Blomberg by e-mail and phone prior to writing this article. When I asked him what was meant by these terms, he was unsure. He said he didn’t have anybody in particular in mind. I pointed out to him that the LDS routinely attach these labels to anyone who reviews their beliefs from orginal LDS source materials and exposes the false teachings of the LDS. Dr. Blomberg, far from defending the right and obligation of Christians to expose false teachings and false prophets, seems to side with the LDS on this issue.
On page 23 he writes:
“Undoubtedly, the most famous Evangelical anti-cult writer, Walter Martin… had a penchant for phrasing his displeasure with groups he identified as non-Christian…”
Does this mean that Dr. Walter Martin and other “anti-cultist, extreme fundamentalists” consider LDS non-Christian, but Dr. Blomberg and IVP do not? When I asked Bill McConnell and James Hoover this question, they agreed that LDS are not Christians. Dr. Blomberg said he, too, believes that the LDS is non-Christian. When I asked Dr. Blomberg if he disagreed with Dr. Walter Martin’s assessment that Mormonism is a non-Christian group, he said no, but the rea¬son he phrased the quote about Dr. Walter Martin the way he did was “for the sake of dialog in this slightly less dogmatic way.” I believe Dr. Blomberg to be an honest man, but his view that Mormonism is not Christian, which he insists he holds, was neither apparent nor implied in what he wrote.
While I agree we need to dialog with non-believers “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15), some statements in How Wide the Divide? remind me of the criticisms leveled at Harold Lindsell, who wrote Battle for the Bible in 1976. In this book, he exposed the slide of conservatives into liberalism. He subsequently was accused of opposing intellectual freedom. He was not an anti-intellectual, and what he pointed out about the “slide” actually was true. In a similar way, some may wrongly accuse Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. of being anti-dialog. We do support dialog, and have promoted such as a basic philosophy of our ministry. Dr. Blomberg asserts his intentions were good, and IVP insists they simply want to open dialog between Mormons and Christians. I believe them both, but strongly believe that their book will serve only to muddy the waters further as to why the divide.
Dr. Robinson and Dr. Blomberg both insist Evangelicals get their information from unreliable, mean-spirited sources. Dr. Robinson writes that “anti-cultists,” or:
as “… Professor Blomberg calls them fundamentalists-usually attack us and usually tell whoppers about us when they do (i.e., are mean-spirited and dishonest) …” (p.11).
It may be Dr. Robinson is eager to conceal the “whoppers” the LDS has told over the years and is upset that others point them out.
Dr. Blomberg adds to this idea by stating that:
“Most Evangelicals gain their information about the Mormon Church, more properly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), from three sources: (1) anti-cult literature, written by fellow Evangelicals in an often polemical spirit, (2) doorstep conversations as members of the two groups share their faith house to house using a standardized and extremely simplified presentation of their beliefs, and (3) information from ex-Mormons who have left the church because they are bitter about how it treated them” (p.22).
What about Evangelicals who have studied Mormon teachings from the original LDS source documentation? What about ex-Mormons who left the LDS because they found Mormonism to be a false religion that was claiming to be Christian, but discovered it was based on the teachings of false prophets, namely, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et, al,?
The Apostle Paul in Romans 9 expressed a deep love and concern for his “brethren,” his “kinsmen according to the flesh,” So too, many Evangelicals and ex-Mormons have a strong love for Mormons and desire to reach them with the true gospel based upon the true Jesus.
We believe the same things
Dr. Robinson writes in his introduction on page 18, “The real sticking point is not what the LDS think of Christ and his gospel …”, Contrarily, this is exactly the “sticking point.” It is crystal clear in LDS writings, teachings, and this book that the Mormons believe in a different Jesus and a different gospel, ones based on the teachings of latter-day “prophets.” Prophets are either false or true; there is no third category for “prophet wanna-be’s” who wrap themselves in an authoritative prophetic mantle, but then wish to distance themselves from prophetic errors.
Jesus warned us to be on the lookout for false prophets who would look like sheep. They would be wearing sheep’s clothing, doing good works, and would appear to be true believers. According to the Lord, we are to judge them based on their fruit, which is not their “good works,” but their prophetic utterances, as to whether they are true or false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23). Paul warned about those who preach a different Jesus and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-9).
The Jesus of Mormonism was born through physical relations between “Heavenly Father” and “Heavenly Mother” on another planet. The biblical Jesus was eternally co-existent with the Father and did not come into existence at some past point in time. Dr. Robinson maintains that modern-day Christianity is not based on the Bible, but on pagan mythology which was brought in through the creeds. What is more accurate is that the Mormon’s Jesus and their view of God originates in pagan mythology. The Mormons, like the Greeks, Romans, Norse, and others, believe gods (plural) are born through normal conceptions and progress to godhood.
Dr. Robinson confirms this view very early in How Wide the Divide?. On page 18 he writes that:
“Latter-day Saints also believe in the literal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity. We believe that God and humans are the same species of being and that all men and women were his spiritual offspring in a premortal existence,” (Italics in original.)
The Bible teaches (and Evangelicals affirm) that God and man are NOT the same “species of being.” God is the creator. Man is part of the creation. God is infinite. Man is finite. The gap between God and man is as wide as the distance from east to west.
Dr. Blomberg generally does a good job of presenting the Orthodox Christian view in these areas. He points to the polytheistic view of the LDS and says the Bible calls this idolatry (p. 105). He goes on to say:
“Robinson helpfully repudiates this popular misconception, but it is not clear how he can do so and consistently still believe in a finite man on his own becoming God.” (Italics in original.)
I would call Robinson’s seeming ability to reconcile these opposing views “double think.” To say, on the one hand, you are a monotheist believing in one God, and yet, assert there are other gods (polytheism) who existed before us, and that we also are becoming gods (the same species), is to hold two conflicting views simultaneously. This is “doublethink” and in dialog form becomes double-talk. Will all the readers of this book be able to discern the fallacy of this position or will some be taken in?
I asked Dr. Blomberg about the joint affirmations on page 195 starting with, “1. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one eternal God.” Did the authors really mean the same thing? He assured me they did. When pressed a little further, I was informed the statement means they both believe in monotheism. It surely seems both are affirming the Orthodox view of the Trinity. This statement is at best misleading because, even if the intent was to affirm mono¬theism (the belief in one God), Mormonism teaches (as Dr. Robinson points out) god and man are the same species. Men becoming gods is a pagan, polytheistic belief, which would make Dr. Robinson’s affirmation of monotheism false.
Only what we believe today counts
Dr. Robinson managed to set the criteria for the discussion: only what he says Mormons hold today as canonical sources are admissible for discussion. Dr. Blomberg points out that the doc¬trine of the deification of man is shown in one of the sources that Robinson considers canonical, Doctrine and Covenants 130:22. But it must also be said that Dr. Robinson is either being less than honest or is ill informed about official LDS doctrine.
In the LDS book, Gospel Principles, 1988 edition, pages 49-51, the LDS enumerate that which it considers Scripture today: the Bible, (“… as far as it is translated correctly “), the Book of Mormon (no qualifier), Doctrine and Covenants (which contains several false prophecies), and The Pearl of Great Price. On page 51, it gives the reader a fifth source of Scripture, saying:
“In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences. Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders.”
Stephen Robinson seems to have left out this fifth canonical source when listing the official Mormon scripture on page 17 of How Hide the Divide?, naming only the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price as the word of God. Since he admits on page 14 he does not speak for the LDS church, but only for himself, we must accept the official statements of the LDS church about what is their official scripture.
At the conference held near the temple in Navoo, April 6,1844, then-President and Prophet of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, delivered a speech in which he said:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”
He went on further to say:
“… for I am going to tell you how God came to be God We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.”
Joseph Smith then challenged those at the conference:
“Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you…” (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 305,306).
In the LDS church publication, Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, the second paragraph of the introduction states:
“It affords me great pleasure in being able to put into your possession the words of the Apostles and Prophets, as they were spoken in the assemblies of the Saints of Zion, the value of which cannot be estimated by man, not so much for any great display of worldly learning and eloquence, as for purity of doctrine, simplicity of style, and extensive amount of theological truth which they develop.”
This official publication sets forth “purity of doctrine,” and an “extensive amount of theological truth.” On April 9,1852, President and Prophet Brigham Young brought forth the following teaching:
“When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken-He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom WE have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later.”
He also says with regard to Jesus’ conception:
“He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.”
Who was the father of Jesus, you ask?
“Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven.”
Jesus was born on this earth by physical relations between Heavenly Father and his daughter Mary. In other words, Jesus is the product of incest! How important was this teaching? We’ll let Brigham Young tell us in his own words:
“Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.”
He went on to reiterate in the next paragraph:
“… Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.” (All quotes from Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 50-51, all italics in original.)
According to the president of the church at that time (who was “God’s Prophet”), accepting these “doctrines” determines a person’s salvation or damnation. This sounds pretty official to me. Dr. Blomberg writes on page 109:
“Robinson insists that the Adam-God theory, as proposed by the various interpreters of Brigham Young, makes no sense and was never officially endorsed “
Robinson may “insist” anything he chooses, but we have cited official Mormon publications to show what is official scripture according to the LDS church. We also have traced the teachings Robinson denies are “official” directly to the LDS presidents and prophets themselves, who presented them as “doctrine” and would bring “salvation” if accepted or “damnation” if rejected. The LDS may at some time officially say these were false teachings. If and when they do, however, they will be admitting they have been following false prophets.
However, the problems with this book in review are enormous. Dr. Blomberg, from what I understand, is an excellent teacher and a valued faculty member at Denver Seminary. In talking with him, I find him to be a gentleman and truly concerned for truth.
How to solve the problem
In my opinion, Dr. Blomberg was not the right individual to carry on this “conversation” with Dr. Robinson. Oddly enough, Dr. Stephen Robinson gives us support for that statement on page 11:
“Ironically, what I most appreciate about Prof. Blomberg is his fairness and honesty. If I say to him, ‘Look, I just don’t believe that’ (as I frequently do), he ACCEPTS [reviewer’s emphasis] it, whereas most Evangelicals of my acquaintance merely smile and think me a liar.”
We are not equipped to judge what is in Dr. Robinson’s heart. He may actually believe he can “adjust” Mormonism to suit his own fancy, and yet, remain an “orthodox” Mormon. He cannot. Then again, I have talked with representatives of many religions who knowingly misrepresented the doctrines of their faith in order to make them appear reasonable and defensible, thereby misleading the unwary.
In 2 Timothy 3:13 the Apostle Paul wrote:
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Dr. Robinson may himself be deceived and, in turn, is deceiving others. Someone more familiar with Mormonism than Dr. Blomberg is needed to be in this “conversation,” someone who would know what questions to ask.
Intervarsity Press has produced one of the best evangelistic tools the Mormon church has had in a while. When an Evangelical tells a Mormon missionary at his door that Mormonism is not true Christianity, but is a different faith altogether, the missionary will be able to pull from his bag of materials a book by an Evangelical publisher which says on page 195:
“… we jointly and sincerely affirm the following foundational propositions of the Christian gospel as we both understand it,”
Intervarsity Press and Dr. Craig Blomberg need to realize their grave error and either retract the book or correct it to show that, in fact, Evangelicals and Mormons do not agree on these areas.
As the apologetic techniques of the cults become ever more sophisticated by deceptively using Christian language and utilizing evasive tactics in order to blur the distinctions, Christians must be ever-more willing to make a clear defense of the true gospel. The divide is very wide, and necessarily so, between tree Christianity and pretenders to the title. The gap cannot be wished away by utilizing “slightly less dogmatic” phraseology in the most well-intentioned dialog. The unvarnished truth will have to be told.