In his new book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals, Richard J. Mouw — president of Fuller Seminary and a pioneering voice in Mormon-evangelical dialogue — shares his insights on whether (and how, and to what extent) evangelicals and Mormons can transcend doctrinal differences to discover common ground.
In the following post, Mouw explains why he wrote the book — and why he intends to keep on engaging in friendly conversation with Mormon theologians.
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Whenever there is any published reference to something that I have said about Mormonism, I get quite a bit of email — most of it containing expressions of disagreement with my views. This happened again a while ago, when I wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times dissenting from the views of some evangelical leaders who insisted that a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for a member of a “cult.” I wasn’t intending to defend Mormonism as yet another version of orthodox Christianity. But I was meaning to encourage folks not simply to write off Mormonism as a deceptive and sinister religious movement.
I received many emails in response to that published piece. Mostly these came from angry evangelicals, but a few expressed agreement with my views. Two emails in particular stand out, especially since they both arrived in my inbox at about the same time.
The first was straightforwardly hostile. The writer could not fathom why I would say anything good about Mormonism. Don’t you know that they worship many gods? he asked. And even worse, he said, they think they themselves are on their way to becoming gods. There is nothing about true salvation in their religion. If they mention Christ at all it is a false Christ!
The other was from a Mormon. He thanked me for my article and said that he knew I would be taking a lot of flak from people who despise Mormonism. Then he touched upon some of the same points made in the other email. Your critics will say, he affirmed, that Mormons think that they can become gods, and that the atoning work of Christ has no real role in Mormon teachings.
He then offered his candid appraisal of those criticisms. Actually, he said, some of what they say is the kind of things he himself was raised on as a Mormon. “We did hear a lot about becoming gods and that sort of teaching,” he recalled.
But, he also testified, things are changing. Mormons like him are hearing much more about being sinners who need salvation by God’s grace. More importantly, he said, in many Mormon cirlces these days there is a much more Christ-centered emphasis. “We hear messages about being sinners and about the importance of the Cross — and about the need to become more Christ-like in our lives.” He encouraged me to hang in there and continue in dialogue with LDS leaders.
I wrote my book, Talking with Mormons, precisely because of people like him. Do I think he represents a form of orthodox Christianity? Probably not. If I were to push him more on the details of his overall theology, I know there is much that I would find disturbing. But I do take encouragement in his kind of testimony. And it does inspire me to keep the conversation with Mormons going. At the very least, it strikes me as important to listen carefully to what Mormons are actually saying these days about what they believe.