On page 38 of theologian Richard J. Mouw’s new book, “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), the author recounts a telephone call from an LDS man who, 10 years after his baptism, was questioning whether he was a Christian.
Mouw asked the following questions , quoted from the book:
How many Gods are there, I asked.
Well, there is one Godhead, made up from three divine Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he responded.
Will you ever become a god like them?
Oh no. I hope I’m becoming more Christ-like, but only the three Persons of Godhood are worthy of worship. More like God — yes. To be a God — no way!
What is the basis for your salvation? Do you earn it by your good works?
No, my good works can’t save me. I’m saved by grace, through the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. My good works — those I perform in gratitude to what He has done for me.
Mouw assured the caller he was a Christian, and he also told the man to remain a Mormon, so long as he can give those answers without reproach to his LDS leaders. That anecdote, delivered in this slim, valuable volume, shows the wisdom of the author. There is nothing untruthful in what that man told Mouw.
There are Latter-day Saints who would chastise the man for choosing to become more like God rather than deciding to be like God. And there are evangelicals who will jump all over the man’s statement that the Godhood is comprised of three divine persons. Mouw offers the rational response — why diminish that man’s beautiful testimony of Christ’s atonement?
Mouw, who has angered some evangelicals, is not an apologist for Mormon doctrines that he disagrees with. the book contains, for example, his strong defense of the Nicene Creed. Mormonism’s rejection of that, and its substitution of three separate personages, two with limited form, comprising a Godhood, is the foundation of claims that Mormons are not Christians. Mouw tosses aside this contention by quoting the 19th century scholar Charles Hodge, a prominent Calvinist. Hodge disagreed fervently with an earlier scholar, Friedrich Schleiermacher, who rejected the Bible as infallible and divine. Nevertheless, and this is the important point, Hodge was convinced that the deceased Schleiermacher, who in his lifetime had admired and adored Christ, was with the Savior. Mouw writes: And then Hodge adds this tribute to Schleiermacher: “Can we doubt that he is singing those praises now? To whomever Christ is God, St. John assures us, Christ is a Savior.”
The idea, from any religion that believes in Christ, that one persons’ faith in Christ’s atonement is invalid due to doctrinal disputes, is noxious. Mouw understands that. He’s a remarkable example of religious tolerance, willing to debate long-disputed doctrinal points with Latter-day Saints but willing to concede spiritual equanimity.
Frankly, “Talking with Mormons” should be required reading for LDS missionaries, both full-time and local.
Moux easily dismisses the LDS-is-a-cult argument by pointing out the wide variety of organizations and media that daily engage in debate over Mormon doctrine, as well as the many efforts by LDS leadership to engage in dialogues, whether with other religions or the media. The book contains an account of evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias, and Mouw, speaking in the Salt Lake City tabernacle, the result of a 2004 invitation from LDS church leaders.
The author takes the time to find related ground between doctrines, such as a latter-day prophet and latter-day scriptures, that are usually points of dispute. This effort to look toward similarities, rather than easily leap to long-repeated, well-rehearsed attacks, is admirable and should be reciprocated by Latter-day Saints when talking with people of other faith.
On the Joseph Smith question, Mouw compares him to other prophets who have allegedly spoke to God and provided scripture. His example is Mohammed. Also, Mouw invites evangelicals to think about Mormons, and others, not as “‘How do we keep them from taking over the world?’ to one that emerges when we ask ‘What is it about their teachings that speaks to what they understand to be their deepest human needs and yearnings?”
Framing the question in that manner invites shared knowledge and increased empathy, rather than the sour faux triumph of hurling a negative. However, it must be again stressed that Mouw’s advice is as much for Mormons and others as it is for evangelicals.