Robert Millet publishes a controversial book!

Robert Millet has recently published a book. Another one. How in the world can that be controversial? It’s with an Evangelical publisher.

A Different Jesus- The Christ of the Latter-day Saints is now available from Eerdmans, where it’s prominently displayed on the front page. This apparently has the Evangelical community in a tizzy, prompting very interesting defensive comments from Paul Owen, an Evangelical scholar who has served both religious communities well simply by being a reasonable guy who takes us at our word. (He’s best known within the LDS community for his paper, co-written with Carl Mosser, which claimed that Evangelical scholarship on Mormonism was failing and that LDS scholarship was “winning the battle,” so to speak. The paper is available here.)

I applaud Eerdmans for making the offer, Millet for taking the opportunity, and Richard Mouw (who wrote the fore and afterword) for consistantly putting his reputation on the line for the Mormons. I predict some Evangelicals will actually read it and find that Mormons are not as heretical as previously thought, but not as many as I’d hope. Others will demonize Mouw, Eerdmans and Owen as “giving away the store,” as James White already has. Quelle surprise…
Hat tip to our Catholic friend David Waltz, on the FAIR boards.

25 thoughts on “Robert Millet publishes a controversial book!

  1. I had trouble reading the article you cited, it didn’t come up clear on my computer, but it seemed fair, as it could be.

    Robert Millett is my hero. I love his books on faith, and he is who I would pick to speak for me on just about any topic.

  2. Until maybe a few days ago or at most a week, I hadn’t heard of either Paul Owen or Jack White But I recently stumbled across Jack White’s blog and since the personal debate (with Mormonism, Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) that he’s so entrenched in is new to me, I can hardly figure out what he’s talking about … except that he’s very focused on debating and demonstrating that Mormons (and other non-evangelical groups) aren’t Christians. So it’s interesting to see both these names now come up in a bloggernacle post.

    Jack White’s blog is here. I’m trying to decide if I need to pay attention to this guy or not.

    I have to say that personallyp I find the jealous claim that some evangelicals try to lay to the term Christianity is a bit galling. How in the world do they think they monopoly on the term and that they can go around hitting other people with the “not-a-Christian-stick”?

  3. OK, that last line came out a bit jumbled, but I think you’ll catch my drift anyway.

  4. Dan:
    Jack White is the lead singer of the White Stripes. James White is the anti-mormon. He used to be big in Phoenix, associated with the huge North Phoenix Baptist Church, at least in the 80s when I ran into him on my mission. Looks like he has branched out now with Alpha and Omega ministies. I know that FARMS review has gone over several of his books.

  5. LOL Scott … you got me. I’m actually a fan of Jack White’s guitar playing and music production … and that’s probably why I ended up mixing up names to a certain extent. That’s what happens when I try to multitask … (not to mention my gibberish at the end there). Anyway, as I was trying to say, the name of James White is new to me. Obviously he’s a huge fan of polemics and debates against those who are not of his religious temperament.

  6. Ben, can you fix your link to Owen’s comments? I’d love to see them.

  7. Thanks for those links.
    Those are some nice comments from Owen.

    I probably ought to read the new book before saying anything, but I sympathize with those whom Owen is arguing against. I disagree with Millet’s perspective on some issues and have long felt that he is far too evangelical. He and Robinson have created a new evangelical friendly version of Mormon theology that doesn’t seem to fit with traditional LDS perspectives. I fully understand why evangelical critics would say that his views don’t really represent those of common LDS beliefs.

    But I would like to see what he says in this new one.

  8. I, like Eric, tend to find some of Millet’s and Robinson’s theology which seems to downplay Navuoo and early Utah too much. (IMO) At the same time, however, one must admit that LDS theology is very open and fairly fluid. So books which point that out probably are helpful. The danger is that any of these books become taken as “the word” on LDS theology.

    Fortunately I think there are enough voices at this stage that we needn’t worry about it.

  9. Does anyone else roll their eyes when they read comments like Owens’ (yes, they were good comments) which point out that Latter-day Saints adhere to false teachings and then use rejection of creedal Trinity doctrines as examples, citing to things such as the creeds and “The Westminster Confession of Faith” as their authority for the proposition that Latter-day Saints, by virtue of their non-adherence to such doctrines, are in heresy?

    Take this selection from Owens’s comments, for example:

    2) Because of the allowance of certain heresies within the Mormon religion, such as the denial of strict monotheism, redefinition of the Trinity, rejection of the eternal reality of God’s divine status, Pelagian and semi-Pelagian soteriologies, and blurring of the Creator/creature distinction (errors which thankfully are not embraced by all Mormons, or not to the same degree) and because the Mormons do not validly baptize their converts (non-Trinitarian baptisms being invalid in the view of most Christians), I view Mormons the same way I view all unbaptized people who claim faith in Christ. They may well be saved according to God’s secret decree, but they do not profess the true religion, and hence are not members of the visible Church (outside of which there is no “ordinary” possibility of salvation, as affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith). In short, my problem with the Mormons is not that they don’t believe in the “real” Jesus (whatever that means), but that they are not baptized, professing members of the visible Church. And whereas people outside the visible Church may well be among the elect (and even regenerate in the secret individual sense), they are not outwardly recognizable as true Christians.

    Taking the bolded portions in order, I have the following comments and wonder if others get the same thoughts when reading the writings of Evangelicals:
    (1) redefinition of the Trinity: Owens is claiming that LDS doctrine is heretical because it “redefines” the Trinity.
    (a) Is the Trinity in any sense a “biblical” concept?
    (b) No, it is the creation of committee(s), convening long after the death of the last apostles, trying to placate as many of the splintering brands of Christianity of the time as they could by hammering out a creed that was satisfactory to the largest number of (leaders of) such congregations.
    (c) Since the concept of the “Trinity” is extra-biblical–a committee, lowest-common-denominator effort to understand doctrine that is not very clearly expressed in the New Testament–what gives the committees that invented the creeds any more authority of interpretation and exegisis than the boy Joseph Smith?
    (d) I find adherence to the creeds as a defining factor of what is a Christian to be an ultimate logical fallacy, since it is a prime example of sneaking premises in that then become foundational in conclusory definitions. (The creeds themselves are themselves outside premises to the debate, as they are not biblical, but only purport to restate biblical doctrine.)
    (2) Pelagian and semi-Pelagian soteriologies: LDS doctrine is heretical, according to Owens and myriad other Christians, because it allegedly espouses such soteriologies.
    (a) Just how such post-Apostolic, philosophical sophistry is supposed to define anyone as heretical is difficult to conceive.
    (b) Although certainly descriptive and useful in an exclusive creed-based definition of the religion called Christianity, neither of these concepts can really be argued as biblically heretical (i.e. they rely on later, descriptive and interpretive terminology and philosophical constructs for their meaning, and do not stem straight from the Bible).
    (3) They may well be saved according to God’s secret decree, but they do not profess the true religion, and hence are not members of the visible Church. Latter-day Saints who sincerely believe in the Biblical Jesus might indeed be saved despite adherence to heretical teachings (i.e. teachings that stray outside the invented creeds) if God wants them to be, regardless of their heresies.
    (a) Yes, it is possible and logically consistent for believers in an omnipotent but arbitrary God, who nevertheless condones agency-robbing predetermination and the related doctrine of the damnation of billions of infants and others who will go straight to hell simply because they never heard about Jesus Christ in their entire lives and never had the opportunity to do so either, that God might still save a few Mormons based on His “secret decree.”
    (b) The confusing thing is understanding how people who adhere to a belief in this “secret decree” could claim that anyone else’s conception of God and His ways as being in error. In other words, it is amusing to see people who are forced to admit that they don’t really understand the nature of God (hence, the creeds) or His workings (hence, the doctrine of his secret decree), to state categorically that people of differing beliefs on these matters adhere to heretical doctrine.
    (4) they are not outwardly recognizable as true Christians. Latter-day Saints are presumably not “outwardly recognizable as true Christians” because they don’t accept the restrictive creeds.
    (a) This begs the question and imports forced premises into the discussion. True, creedal Christianity has been in control of this discourse since the mid-fourth century A.D. So, it is only natural that they adopt such self-serving definitions, i.e. based on the creeds, in arguments such as this, in defining what is and is not Christian.
    (b) BUT, as noted above, the creeds are themselves not biblical but only the product and invention of the philosophical mind trying to make sense of often convoluted tidbits in the New Testament. I am sure that many will argue to the contrary, but it is difficult to understand that the very same people who espouse the notion of Biblical inerrancy and fulness even need a creed to define their faith, and above and beyond that, how a creed can have any authority whatsoever, since it is extra-biblical.

    In short, it seems like an almost impossible argument for Evangelicals or other Christians to maintain that the creeds, from which this whole conundrum emanates, have any authoritative priority over the utterances of Joseph Smith or Latter-day Saint apostles. The only way around this, it seems, is to argue that those who hammered out the compromises known as the creeds did indeed have authority from God to do so, or were in fact led by God in what they did. However, this contradicts notions that everything that needed to be revealed was revealed in the Bible and that there is no need for post-Apostolic revelation or the office of Apostle.

  10. I also find the emphasis on no outward appearance of Christianity funny when it appears that the whole reason for this new approach to Mormonism from traditional Christianity is that they finally noticed that we actually act like Christians and found themselves facing the logical dilemma of what is it that walks like a Christian, acts like a Christian and talks like a Christian?

    Wow! That is one run-on sentence.

  11. Personally, I’m thrilled. Why? Because there is dialogue going on rather than a shouting match (hopefully). Also, because now I know that Eerdman’s is at least open to the possibility of publishing the work of a “mormon”.

  12. John,

    Do you publish? I think your analysis of the evangelical assertion that “LDS-believe-in-a-different-Jesus-and-are-going-to-hell” because the LDS don’t ascribe to “traditional” Christianity nor the extra-biblical creeds (whew) is among the best I’ve seen yet. My husband is originally from Illinois–he moved out here a few years ago and joined the church–and there are some evangelical fundamentalists in the extended family that we’ve had to deal with becuase they feel compelled to warn and tell us the “truth” about the big bad Mormon church. They love the un-historical argument almost as much as the different Jesus argument, both of which I think are ridiculous. For some reason it reminds me of that old kindergarten argument of “my dad can beat up your dad.”

    Anyway, their enthusiasm has urged me to study up on the details so I can more articulatly rebut while desperately trying to keep the Spirit in the conversation. Of course, this group apparently still believes the Smithsonian has proved the BoM is false. My husband and I have decided to focus on the whole BRT thing unless cornered, but I’m still searching for the perfect book or essay that I can just hand him and say, “here, read this and then send me a letter.” So, back to the beginning, do you publish? Do you recommend anything in particular? We’ve got a copy of How Wide the Divide, the “Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It” essay, as well as some essays from FAIR, but I’m not an apologist and would like any pointers you (or anybody else reading this) could proffer.

  13. Artemis, thank you for your kind words (if you were referring to me and not John C.).

    As Elder Oaks said in his recent speech at the Joseph Smith Conference at the Smithsonian, authority is not a technicality for Latter-day Saints. Thus, a possibility is to inquire of those who attack your faith just what authority the creeds are supposed to have. If they insist on biblical sufficiency and inerrancy, then why would the creeds possibly be necessary? That they are is an admission of some measure of fallibility in the Biblical text, since one cannot glean a concept of the Trinity straight from it, but most restate any telltale doctrine from the New Testament in Neoplatonic terms (a construct which by its nature relies on the ontological alienation of God and man, and which therefore necessitates the view that the LDS belief in our progression to obtain all that God has must be a heresy; after all, there can be nothing of the physical in the presence of God, as the saying goes) in order to arrive at the language found in the creeds. This is all well and good if Neoplatonic philosophy really does embody (excuse the pun) the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. This seems like more of the off-chance, however, than the alternative that Neoplatonic philosophy was a convenient and accessible lense through which to view New Testament writings at a time when “the Church” was disintegrating in a sea of doctrines taught by diverse teachers for the itching ears of the hearers. The language of the creeds achieves a broad reach in including various branches of Christianity of the time, but once they are in, the creeds become a tool of exclusion, and based on a questionable doctrinal foundation, namely, Neoplatonic philosophy.

    You say you are not an apologist, but I guarantee that if you engage in any discussion in which you defend LDS truth claims with reference to the questionable nature of the Neoplatonic doctrines of creedal Christianity, then you will be decried as an “apologist” (somehow a bad word on many LDS blogs and outside the Bloggernacle generally). My view is that if you believe LDS truth claims, there is nothing wrong with being an apologist in favor of them, including with reference to why the counter-arguments are flawed. But somehow that is perceived as unecumenical, perhaps even politically incorrect (if you are LDS doing it, but it is kosher if you are Christian or secular or whatever doing it).

    End rant.

  14. Oops, that should have been “at the Joseph Smith Conference at the Library of Congress.”

  15. John: nice essay. w/footnotes, i would ahve mistaken it for a law review article.

  16. As for literature, Millet actually has a lot worth recommending (see Ben S.’s link in the original post). FAIR and FARMS (the latter seems to be a bad word in much of the Bloggernacle, precisely because the contributors are self-defined apologists, and somehow that is un-Christian) also have numerous helpful articles and books relating to these topics. And BYU Studies has an excellent bibliography of LDS Christ and New Testament-related publications: BYU Studies Staff, “Latter-day Saint Writings on Christ and the New Testament–2002 Supplement” BYU Studies vol. 41:3:86 (2002). This supplements an earlier BYU Studies bibliography.

  17. John, I’m interested in your assertion that apologists are looked down upon, or seen as politically incorrect around the bloggernacle. This surprises me because I perceive much of what all of us are doing here as defending our faith. I’ve always thought that apologetics were thought of highly among Mormons, and haven’t noticed any difference among online Mormons. Can you specify what you’re talking about?

  18. because the Mormons do not validly baptize their converts (non-Trinitarian baptisms being invalid in the view of most Christians), I view Mormons the same way I view all unbaptized people who claim faith in Christ.

    John,

    I am surprised you didn’t comment on this part of Owens’s rant.

    I was baptized as a Presbyterian at the age of 12; converted to LDS at 21. If my LDS baptism is, as Owens suggests, a nullity, void, and of no effect, then presumably he would agree that my Presbyterian baptism is still in force, no? If so, it seems many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having previously been baptized into traditional Trinity-affirming churches, are saved in Owens’s eyes. Certainly, he would not suggest that a properly baptized and believing Presbyterian, once saved, could fall from grace and lose his salvation by undergoing a rite that he believes has no more effect than not being baptized at all.

    Interestingly, most of Joseph Smith’s family (he and his father being exceptions), under this anlaysis, would be saved. And somewhere around half the current membership of the Church of Jesus Christ, I imagine.

  19. Certainly, he would not suggest that a properly baptized and believing Presbyterian, once saved, could fall from grace and lose his salvation by undergoing a rite that he believes has no more effect than not being baptized at all.

    Edit to read:

    Certainly, he would not suggest that a properly baptized and believing Presbyterian, once saved, could fall from grace and lose his salvation by undergoing a rite that he (Owens) believes has no more effect than not being baptized at all.

  20. Excellent point Eric, and one that I had truly never thought of before! I agree 100% with your analysis. After all, one of the things I was truly most incredulous about as a teenager dealing with the aftermaths of anti-Mormon sermons being delivered in Fort God (Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, TX) at Wednesday night youth group activities, was the idea that I would be confronted with the next day that Christians are saved permanently once they, one single time, accept Jesus Christ in their hearts, and it doesn’t matter what they do at any time in their life thereafter. Under this doctrine, once you have accepted Jesus Christ in your heart (and get baptized, if you adhere to a denomination that actually believes such a dead work is necessary above and beyond the mere fact of such acceptance) then nothing, including adherence to the “heresies” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. the tenets of primitive or pre-creed Christianity), could possibly cause you to lose that salvation. If adultery after such acceptance of Jesus can’t lose you your salvation, then it is difficult to see how simply getting baptized as a Latter-day Saint could do the trick.

  21. Ryan # 18: to name specific blogs or individuals would only risk causing offense. I am surprised that you haven’t noticed the anti-FARMS-because-of-their-apologetic-(= unChristian)-tone feeling at certain blogs and/or by certain individuals around our esteemed institution known as the Bloggernacle. With the list of contributors here, however, I am obviously not referring to this blog.

  22. I actually just finished reading Mosser and Owen’s article you linked to. Lots of very interesting stuff.

    What I want to point out is their emphatic defense of the high academic credibility of LDS scholarship. They excoriate Evangelical anti-mormon writers for being unjustifiably dismissive of such scholars without ever bothering to show why these Mormon writers are all either frauds or mere pseudo-intellectuals. They list numerous examples of where LDS minds are at the cutting edge of ancient world studies.

    What struck me, was how often I hear my own people on the Bloggernacle being similarly dismissive of the credibility of LDS scholarship. I’m not talking about this thread in particular. But I do know that “why are there no Mormon scholars?” is a perennial favorite post for permabloggers.

    It seems to me that Owens and Mosser take LDS intellectuals more seriously than many in the Bloggernacle do.

    Perhaps some of us are starting to believe the propaganda of the anti-cultists?

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