Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It? Part 2
by Justin Hart
This is the second in a series of articles examining the recent dialogue between anti-Mormon proponents and Mormon apologists.
In 1997, a year before Owen and Mosser published their article, another pair of scholars (a very unlikely pair) attempted an unprecedented feat: a full length book on Evangelical and Mormon beliefs. The “unprecedented” and “unlikely” part is this: one scholar is Evangelical, the other Mormon.
In one corner: Craig Blomberg (Ph.D., Aberdeen), professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary and the author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels and Interpreting the Parables. In the other corner: Stephen Robinson (Ph.D., Duke), professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and the author of Are Mormons Christians? and Believing Christ. Under the usual rules of engagement, the gloves would come off and we would hear the words: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
Astoundingly, and to the chagrin of many a rhetorical boxer, the book is a courageous attempt at “listening” to the other side, and explaining one’s own beliefs. In the book: How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation, Blomberg and Robinson tackle four general topics: the Scriptures, God and Deification, Christ and the Trinity, and Salvation. Each author takes up his pen for half of each chapter, discussing their respective religion’s viewpoint, responding to perceived “misconceptions” that the other side has, and co-authoring a conclusion to each topic.
The result is an excellent resource for Mormons and Evangelicals to identify common grounds for discussion. Furthermore, the book dispels common “caricatures” about each other’s faiths that have grown increasingly un-Christian over the past decade. Most importantly, the book becomes the first major dialogue between a recognized Evangelical scholar and his Mormon counterpart.
As Robinson points out in his introduction: “Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals do not understand each other very well, and much of what we say about each other is untrue.” (pg10) He notes that previous dialogue “has been dominated by those on both sides having the least training or the worst motives” (pg11). Blomberg finds these past misunderstandings and misinterpretations understandable:
If an immensely successful game company cannot distinguish between nineteenth- and twentieth-century Mormonism [referring to a historical trivia game that claims Mormons still practice polygamy], and if many in the popular press cannot distinguish between Jim Bakker and Billy Graham, is it any wonder that grassroots Evangelicals and Mormons in churches around our country seem similarly confused? [pg23]
The authors hope the book will start a new dialogue that will “move us beyond the impasse of previous polemics, recognizing our areas of agreement and clarifying the nature of our disagreements.” [pg32]
While there are a myriad of well-produced points from both authors in defense of their beliefs, there is no knock-out, no split-decision and no panel of judges to declare the blue or red square the winner. As Robinson concludes:
The purpose of this book is neither to attack nor to defend-there will be no winner and no loser at the end of it. The purpose of this book is to explain and to educate-at last to hear and to tell the truth about each other. [pg 21]
An excellent example of this dialogue can be found in their discussion on salvation. The perceived differences between the faiths can be poignantly glaring (e.g. Evangelical and Mormon perspectives on exaltation). But within the same theme, typical “bashing” topics such as “saved by grace or works?” turn out to be mostly rhetorical.
In their joint conclusion to the chapter, Blomberg and Robinson point out that Evangelicals see Mormons placing too much weight on the works we must perform to be saved, while Mormons see Evangelicals elevating grace to where no works are necessary. In reality, the two see nearly eye-to-eye on the issue, but couch their language in differing terms. As Robinson notes:
Unless Mormons and Evangelicals make greater efforts to investigate what the other means. we shall remain, to paraphrase Twain, two peoples divided by a common language. [pg 14]
While the results of this book are exciting and laudable, the reaction to the book from some corners is not. As the authors note in the book’s final chapter: “We have found many in our respective circles who are suspicious of the project, some even encouraging us to abandon it” [pg 190].
Soon after its publication, a prominent head of an evangelical organization declared the book to be “an abomination”. Evangelical bookstores started efforts to boycott the book and the publisher. Still others wondered aloud: “Are we to be seeking this kind of dialogue?” Even Deseret Book pulled its backing from the project which was originally intended to be a joint publication with InterVarsity Press [source]. Clearly, this was new ground for all the parties involved. The boat was definitely rocking.
For all the controversy around it, this book, as we will see in next week’s article, has spawned some of the most exciting, forthright and positive dialogue that our two faiths have ever witnessed.
Next week: Messrs. Owen and Mosser return to our story and publish an article in, what!? a Mormon publication ?! Stay tuned.
You can purchase How Wide the Divide? From Amazon.com – click here to find out more.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.