08 September 2005

Clueless losers?

In 1997 Carl Mosser and Paul Owen were graduate students at Talbot School of Theology. In April of that year, they jointly presented a paper at the Far West regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The paper, titled "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" was a harsh critique of evangelical counter-cult ministries and a paean to the supposed superiority of Mormon scholarship.

Mosser and Owen said that when it comes to dealing with Mormon apologetics, evangelical apologists are, on the whole, clueless losers. That wasn't the precise language they used, of course, but it was undeniably the point of the paper. In their own words: "At the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate with the Mormons. We are losing the battle and do not know it. In recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not." And, "In this battle the Mormons are fighting valiantly. And the evangelicals? It appears that we may be losing the battle and not knowing it."

If nothing else, the paper was a public-relations bonanza for Mormons. It can still be found on websites offering Mormon missionaries ammunition for use against evangelicals. (One site includes a glossary that explains terms like apologetic and hermeneutics. Evidently, impressive as current Mormon scholarship may be, there are still a few Mormons bicycling around your neighborhood who haven't quite acquired the highbrow theological vocabulary or attained the rarefied level of scholarly erudition embodied in the work of these two Talbot students.)

Anyway, about a year after Mosser and Owen presented their ETS paper, they participated in an e-mail forum on apologetics where I occasionally posted. When the subject of Mormon soteriology came up, sure enough, the Millet-MacArthur meeting (see yesterday's post) was instantly played like a trump card. What follows are my four contributions to the subsequent discussion.

These are somewhat long but (I think) not tedious, and well worth the time. The discussion was filled with insights on the subjects of cluelessness, scholarship, research, even-handedness, logic, apologetics, and effective evangelism. From these four messages you'll be able to discern the gist of what was being said on all sides. (These are posts from a discussion forum, so this is not private correspondence I am quoting from.)

Subject: The truth about MacArthur and the Mormons
Date: Wed, 4 Mar 1998 13:55:33 -800

Carl Mosser writes:

Millet has gone so far as to meet with John MacArthur in person to make sure that they understood matters similarly. I don't know what MacArthur's evaluation of the meeting was, but a pastor friend who was instrumental in organizing the meeting and who participated told me that Millet and MacArthur came very close together in their views on this matter.

That was definitely not MacArthur's perspective.

Millet and others have selectively cited snippets from The Gospel According to Jesus and Faith Works to try to suggest that their view of justification is not much different from John MacArthur's. They evidently imagine that when MacArthur points out the inevitability of good works in a true Christian's life he is saying good works are in some sense the ground of the Christian's justification. The truth is that MacArthur has gone to great lengths to insist otherwise, even to the point of writing a whole chapter exploring this point with regard to justification by faith alone in Faith Works.

The difference between MacArthur and the Mormons (on justification) is that MacArthur believes the imputed righteousness of Christ is the sole and sufficient ground of the Christian's justification. The Mormons deny this. Since both sides believe a changed life is the necessary and inevitable result of conversion, Millet wants to portray their difference over justification by faith alone as insignificant. But it is not. It is the whole difference between the true gospel and the lie the apostle Paul anathematized in Galatians 1. (Proponents of ECT would do well to take note of this point, too).

In the Millet-MacArthur meetings MacArthur highlighted those issues and also pointed out that Mormon Christology is fatally flawed. In fact, Mormonism's flawed Christology is one of the heresies lying at the root of the Mormon error over justification by faith.

I'm told that the meeting was cordial, even warm. (I was supposed to be there but ended up in hospital that week, so my knowledge of this meeting is based on what John MacArthur and Jerry Wragg [associate pastor, who attended the meeting] told me.) But the friendly tone of the meeting should not be used to obscure the substance of what was said. If someone is telling you that MacArthur and the Mormons were close to agreement on the gospel, that person either missed the point or is spin-doctoring the issues for PR purposes.

I was also told that MacArthur—in classic MacArthur style—grilled Millet with questions, forced him to make distinctions, etc. to make sure that he really held the view he said he did.

. . . and he did this to underscore for Millet's sake the fact that Millet's view is not the same as MacArthur's.

All indications are that in certain Mormon circles a substantive move has been made toward an orthodox position.

"A substantive move" toward orthodoxy? I can say this with certainty: MacArthur would call that a gross overstatement. I think the most he would say is that these guys are getting very good at nuancing their position to make it sound evangelical. We're very wary of a Mormon-evangelical effort that mirrors what the proponents of ECT are doing on the Catholic front.

Phillip R. Johnson

Subject: Re: MacArthur, Millet & theological coffee brewing
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1998 16:56:44 -800

Carl Mosser writes:

I suppose there could be something I have missed or forgot, but to my recollection no Mormon interprets MacArthur as saying that "good works are in some sense the ground of the Christian's justification."

I doubt he has employed those very words. That was my summary of Millet's position. It is, I believe, a fair assessment of why he has seized on MacArthur's works to stress the importance of good works. Combine his view that works are necessary with a denial of sola fide, and there's no option I know of but the view that "good works are in some sense the ground of the Christian's justification"—even if that's not precisely the language he is currently using to state his own position.

I agree that Millet wants to portray the difference over the word "alone" as insignificant.; I also agree with you that it is not insignificant. Further, I agree that proponents of ECT should take note of this point. However, the points raised by myself and Paul Owen are not that Mormons now hold a completely orthodox soteriology free from Gal. 1's condemnation. What we are trying to get across to people is that there is a trend in Mormon soteriology toward a more orthodox understanding of grace and works and justification.

I understand. What I don't understand is your eagerness to view this trend with such a high level of optimism. A damnable theology is still damnable whether it is overt, like Zoroastrianism, or subtle, like Galatianism. In fact, I would argue that Galatianism poses a greater danger precisely because of its close resemblance to orthodoxy. The subtlety of it makes it something we should argue even more fiercely against.

Furthermore, I know of no case where any cult has become evangelical through doctrinal evolution. The jury is still out on the WWCOG [Worldwide Church of God], as far as I am concerned. I'm hoping to see them arrive at a sound position and park themselves there, but there's no guarantee it will happen. In fact, I'll be surprised if it does. There is certainly no precedent for it.

(I realize many have already declared the WWCOG perfectly sound, but I fear the "movement" we have seen in the WWCOG is already propelling them beyond evangelical orthodoxy, into neo-orthodoxy mixed with a dangerous ecumenism. More frighteningly, they seem to be following the Brinsmead trail. Some of you will know what I mean.)

Here I think you have not read what I wrote very carefully. I did not in any way say that MacArthur and the Mormons were close to agreement on the gospel. My point was made in direct reference to the specific aspect of grace and works. Millet's and MacArthur's views are close to each other on the role works play in evidencing true faith, how true faith manifests itself in faithfulness, etc..

. . . but only in the sense that Galatianism was "close" to the true gospel. The Judaizers' legalism was certainly closer to the truth than non-Christian Pharisaism. But Paul evidently did not have the sort of enthusiasm about the Galatian legalists that you seem to think evangelicals ought to have for these rogue Mormons' subtle adaptations of evangelical soteriology.

It was reported to me that MacArthur in fact said that he was positive about what he heard if it is genuine, encouraged Millet to keep asking the types of questions he did, and was encouraged of what is happening in Mormonism if Millet is representative. Please ask him if this is accurate, I'll check my source as well.

MacArthur may well have said those things, or something close—but I know for a fact that he said much more. Others who were in the meeting told me he kindly suggested to Millet that when Millet came to a full understanding of biblical soteriology, he would be compelled in spirit and in conscience to leave Mormonism.

MacArthur tells me he does not see how anyone who was present at those meetings could possibly have come away with the opinion that John MacArthur believes evangelical-Mormon rapprochement is a valid means of evangelizing Mormons.

A final point. The fact that there even was a meeting between an important and influential Mormon thinker and a prominent Evangelical for the express purpose of discussing theology is quite an illustration of the points about change occurring that I and Paul are trying to make. First, this shows that Mormons are beginning to read Evangelical literature. This in itself is an important change. It shows that they are not finding their own writings sufficiently helpful when doing theology. So, they are turning to ours. Good. I am glad they are reading our books, this might influence them toward truth (rather than reading liberals who would leave them damned). Second, it is a change that a Mormon of Millet's stature would look up to and learn from an Evangelical like MacArthur.

You're saying you have no fear that this might to some degree involve nuancing or posturing for PR purposes?

There must be something in Millet's theology different from his predecessors' that he would find MacArthur's Protestant views so attractive. That Millet, Dean of Religious Education at BYU, went out of his way to fly to California to meet with MacArthur indicates something new blowing in the wind. The LDS Church may not yet be on the brink of a WWCOG kind of change, but something is brewing in Mormonism's coffee house.

That vague almond-flavor I smell reeks of cyanide, not Amaretto.

Taking my coffee with cream and sugar,

Spitting mine out quickly,

Phillip R. Johnson

Subject: Re: Mormonism
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 1998 11:00:16 -800

Paul Owen gave me permission to respond publicly to a post he sent privately, because the server won't let him post to the list. So in fairness to him I have quoted his entire post below. Nothing has been cut. However, my comments have been interspersed at the points where they apply:

Mr. Johnson, I am emailing you personally because something is not working right with my [DISCUSSION FORUM] account, and none of my messages seem to get through. _________ says he is working on it. Before I get started, just for trivia sake, you probably don't remember me but several years back when I was in Bible college, I sent a critique of Charismatic Chaos to MacArthur and you sent me a rather cordial letter in reply.

I looked it up in my correspondence log. I do remember.

Now, about Mormonism. I am going to be rather straightforward. You need to repent. I find your attitude to be most disturbing.

Interesting. We've never exchanged any correspondence on this issue. You don't really know how much or how little I know about Mormonism. Yet you're insisting I need to repent, and telling me so in unvarnished language.

Excuse me, but isn't that precisely the approach you are labeling uncharitable and unfruitful when applied in Mormon evangelism?

The bulk of the Evangelical counter-cult community is dead wrong in their attitude toward current trends in Mormonism. I don't know how I can put it any more plainly. My reasons for using such harsh language are manifold. First of all, neither you or John MacArthur have done enough reading in current LDS theological literature to make the bold, unqualified statements that you have made to Carl in your responses to him. Your views seem to be based entirely on one conversation between Millet and MacArthur. That hardly constitutes exhaustive research.

Well, I've never claimed that I have done "exhaustive research" into the latest trends in Mormonism. But the truth is, Paul, you have no basis whatsoever for speculating on how much or how little I have studied these issues. In other words, I have far better reasons for saying Mormons need to repent than you have for saying I need to repent.

And please, don't tell me that you have talked with lots of Mormons, and so you have a good handle on what their views are. You critique theological trends by interacting with qualified theologians, not untrained laypersons.

I wasn't going to tell you that. It strikes me as somewhat odd that while you're wagging your finger at me about my lack of scholarship you seem to imagine you can read my mind. :-)

By the way, this is very similar to my complaints about Charismatic Chaos. MacArthur interacted very little with careful Pentecostal and Charismatic theologians, and based his critique largely on the easiest of targets.

Thanks for sharing that. It's perfectly irrelevant to the point we're talking about here, though.

You display your lack of familiarity with LDS views in your comments. For instance, you still cling to the notion that Millet and company believe that good works are 'in some sense the ground of the Christian's justification.' But a reading of the current literature proves you dead wrong. Robinson, Millet, Lund and numerous others have stated rather clearly in numerous published works, that justification is based Soli on Christ's merits. They not only do not affirm, but in fact expressly deny that our works are the ground of justification. They believe and teach, unlike Roman Catholicism, that justification is forensic, and involves the imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness to the believer.

Well, I have read some of the literature Millet shared with MacArthur—enough to know you are giving an overly generous summary of his position. Though he acknowledges in places that the sinner's own works are not sufficient for justification, he insists throughout that our works are necessary for our justification. (You don't cite any quotations that support your interpretation of his position, which would have helped.)

In any case, the Mormons are hardly in the Reformation tradition. The comments on justification I have seen from Mormon sources— even the recent ones—are seriously muddled at best, even if they are not explicit denials of sola fide. I have seen nothing from any Mormon author defending forensic justification, and that was certainly not a point Millet made in his dialogue with MacArthur. However, whatever Mormons might say about the imputation of Christ's righteousness must be understood in light of their mangled Christology, and it cannot be orthodox, no matter how much they employ the language of imputation.

It is true, that current LDS theologians continue to stress the necessity of good works. But such works are not understood as meriting justification in any way, but rather are markers of sincerity, and the fruit of true faith. In other words, works are necessary as evidence of genuine faith and repentance. Because Mormons (I mean of the Robinson-Millet variety—the current trend) stress that faith must be accompanied by works in this manner, they are hesitant to adhere to the formula 'faith alone' unless this is qualified very carefully.

I would indeed like to see how they qualify it without making works a ground of justification, or without making works part of the definition of faith (which is tantamount to the same thing). If you know of a source you can point me to, I'll be happy to read it. But if you're saying the trend in Mormon theology is toward sola fide, and you want me to buy that, you're going to have to supply something more than assertions.

But Robinson himself has stated that he is willing to speak of 'faith alone' so long as works are not thereby excluded as 'evidence' of true commitment. It is also true that Mormons still believe that baptism is necessary for regeneration and union with Christ. But please keep in mind that such champions of grace as Augustine and Luther both likewise believed in baptismal regeneration—so this does not automatically make the Mormons legalists.

It doesn't? I'd say on that issue both Augustine and Luther were wrong, and their views on baptism smacked of a ritualistic legalism. In their arguments against Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism, however, both Luther and Augustine gave enough crystal-clear teaching about divine grace to retrieve the core of the gospel from the murkiness of their own legalistic understanding of baptism. I affirm what they wrote about grace; I deplore what they wrote about baptismal regeneration. I regard them as authentic Christians because their defense of grace made it clear that they understood the gospel sufficiently, even though they did not understand it perfectly. In both cases, grace was the central message of their ministry, and what we remember them most for.

The New Mormons, by contrast, merely seem to be trying to cloak the Pelagian principle at the heart of their belief system with some cunningly-adapted evangelical terminology. That doesn't work for me. There's no valid parallelism between Augustine and Robert Millet.

If you disagree, show me a Mormon source that elucidates the doctrines of grace as clearly as Luther's Bondage of the Will or Augustine's "Treatise on Nature and Grace," and I might think you're onto something. At the moment, though, it sounds to me as if you and Carl think Mormonism might be embraced as truly Christian with a little subtle nuancing. I hope that is not what you are saying.

Second, I can't understand why on earth you say to Carl, 'What I don't understand is your eagerness to view this trend with such a high level of optimism.' Why shouldn't we be optimistic about seeing important and influential LDS thinkers looking to orthodox Christian writers like MacArthur for theological guidance? Why shouldn't we be encouraged when we see adherents of another religion being attracted by the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel of Grace? Why on earth do you have such a rotten attitude about this?

I don't know, Paul. Heresy just has a way of making me indignant.

I can just hear some 1st-century theological student on the banks of the Jordan: "Why shouldn't we be optimistic when important and influential Pharisees come to a prophet like John the Baptist for baptism? Why shouldn't we be encouraged when we see adherents of other sects being attracted by John's call to repentance? Why on earth does John have such a rotten attitude about this?" (Matt. 3:7-8).

Third, your comparison of Mormon theologians to the Galatian heretics is hermeneutically irresponsible. The problem at Galatia was far more than a simple issue of legalism. A comparison with Acts 15 will show that there were a variety of approaches to the Mosaic Law in the earliest decades of the Church, within the genuine believing community. The Pharisaic wing of the Church (Acts 15:5) was not automatically condemned as heretical, although it was determined that the view of Paul and Barnabas was most consistent with Scripture and the will of God. The issue at Galatia was that the false teachers were denying Paul's apostolic credentials and divine calling. They were tearing apart the Christian community by claiming that the Gospel which Paul brought to them was inadequate.

So you're saying all those conditions must be present before we oppose Mormonism as utterly non-Christian? I disagree, and I think your position is the one that's "hermeneutically irresponsible." In fact, what you're suggesting takes the force out of Paul's warning to the Galatians. Paul himself said that when someone corrupts the gospel, that alone is grounds for rejecting them (Gal. 1:8-9). Paul's apostolic authority was not even an issue: "But even if we . . . should preach to you a contrary gospel . . . anathema!" (v. 8).

Now I agree that the Mormon church at the present time still falls under the category of Galatianism in that they claim to be the only divinely authorized Church. But they are significantly different from the Galatian heretics in that: 1) They affirm the Apostle Paul's credentials and authority; and 2) They do not teach that law-keeping is necessary for justification—except as evidence of genuine faith, which I have already discussed.

Whether Mormons accept Paul's apostolic credentials or not is irrelevant if they corrupt the gospel. See above. Plus, they worship a different Christ. They are not Christians.

Finally, I simply cannot believe that you are so suspicious of the motives of these people. Do you really think that Millet flew all the way to California just to learn from MacArthur how to masquerade better as a Christian? I am so weary of hearing all this talk about how the Mormon Church is 'trying' to sound Christian. Maybe they are 'trying' to sound like the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers. Have you ever thought of that?

I'm certain that many JWs sincerely believe they are "trying" to be totally biblical, and Pauline. That does not obligate me to embrace them as brethren. If Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him (Jn. 10:27), what does that say about Mormons, who follow a different christ? (cf. Jn. 10:5).

Anyways, if __________ fixes whatever is wrong my previous message may end up getting posted, which you can ignore because it is very similar to what I have just written to you. Then again, you will probably ignore this email letter. If you choose to say anything in reply, you can do it personally, or on [the public forum]. Sincerely, Paul Owen

As you can see, I did not ignore your e-mail. It strikes me as odd, Paul, that you are so eager to be charitable and friendly to Mormons but are perfectly willing to think evil of evangelicals. I fear for where this crusade will lead you. And I would urge you to contemplate how seriously out of harmony with the NT your approach to Mormonism is. Where do you see Paul—or any NT writer, for that matter—responding to false religion by trying to woo the false teachers into the fold?

Phillip R. Johnson

Subject: Final comments on MacArthur and Millet
Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 01:16:26 -800

Carl Mosser writes:

[Forum members], notice that Johnson has not read Millet or any other Mormons.

I have made no pretense of any broad expertise with regard to "the latest in Mormon theological developments." What prompted me to enter this thread in the first place was Carl Mosser's suggestion that John MacArthur and modern Mormon scholars are "very close together in their views" on soteriology. The implication of Carl's earlier posts seemed to be that John MacArthur's recent meeting with Prof. Millet had resulted in near total accord between MacArthur and Millet on the crucial aspects of soteriology. The point I was keen to make is that John MacArthur himself does not believe that to be the case. I'll reiterate that here for clarity's sake.

Millet evidently came to the meeting eager to assure John MacArthur of his personal agreement with MacArthur's two books The Gospel According to Jesus and Faith Works. After listening graciously to Millet explain why he believed the two of them were in harmony, John MacArthur explained why he believed otherwise. I'm told (by others present at the meetings) that John's side of the dialogue consisted chiefly of underscoring for Millet what a great chasm remained between their positions. John himself tells me he reminded Millet that the two of them worship different Gods, follow different Christs, and proclaim different gospels. There is no real common ground. John says Millet's response was cordial: "I would have been disappointed in you if you had not been frank with me." Others present have confirmed that is what Millet said.

(BTW, I would have been in those meetings myself but I was quite literally lingering at death's doorstep those couple of days, undergoing three surgeries in as many days for a ruptured gall bladder. I'm not speaking as a distant observer but as someone who had a close interest in that dialogue from the beginning.)

In any case, I will be happy to get a formal statement from John MacArthur himself if Carl or anyone else wants to dispute the point further. It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest that MacArthur's views on justification and the role of faith and works are not significantly different from Millet's.

I also want to say this about the broad issue of Mormon apologetics: If Carl Mosser and Paul Owen were only saying that evangelical apologists need to stay abreast of recent Mormon scholarship and handle Mormon beliefs with integrity, I would agree completely, of course. And to the degree that this is what they are saying, I affirm the point.

However, I frankly have not seen much evidence that Mosser's and Owen's own approach to "scholarship" is dispassionate and without an agenda. Their responses to me have been anything but scholarly and fair. Paul's first words to me were a demand for my repentance, and Carl spent a couple of posts trying to discredit scholarly credentials I never claimed for myself in the first place. Both have condemned my "attitude," which they have far less basis to evaluate than I have for concluding that modern Mormon soteriology is unorthodox.

When Carl suggested that Mormon soteriology is substantially in harmony with Reformed and evangelical beliefs and then summoned John MacArthur's name as a witness in favor of that assertion, I felt I had both a right and a duty to speak up on MacArthur's behalf. Mormon scholar or not, I certainly have enough knowledge to refute that claim with some authority. I will do so again if anyone tries to represent MacArthur's position as "very close" to anything that would harmonize with Mormon theology. As MacArthur pointed out to Millet himself, Mormon Christology a priori rules out an orthodox position on justification. The two positions, far from being "very close" to one another, are quite incompatible. That is the main point I have tried to make, and attacking me on the grounds that I have not thoroughly studied Millet's works does not nullify the point.

Carl writes,

It should be mentioned, in order to be fair, that when Mormons like Robinson and Millet say that they deny sola fide they are very careful to qualify just what they mean by this. They deny any version of sola fide interpreted to mean that one can be saved by a faith that is alone, that does not manifest itself in works. That is, they deny the Zane Hodges understanding of sola fide. They are also careful to say that they do not see works as the basis of justification. They are careful to tell us that they believe faith is the only ground of justification and that if one understands sola fide to mean that true saving faith will manifest itself in good works, then they do believe in sola fide.

However (and this was precisely the sort of thing I was talking about from the beginning): we do not believe faith is the ground of justification at all. The ground of justification is the perfect righteousness of Christ. Faith is simply the instrument by which justification is applied. I believe John MacArthur attempted to clarify some of these very issues with Millet. These are not minor differences but the very kind of difference that separates evangelicalism from virtually every cult.

I need to close out my involvement in this thread. We are hosting two international conferences at our church this week, and I will be swamped. So this must be my last contribution to this discussion. But let me say this once more in closing:

On the question of evangelical scholarship, I agree completely that those who work as apologists against Mormonism (I am not one of these and do not aspire to be) should diligently familiarize themselves with current Mormon trends. And all of us who speak about Mormon doctrine should do so responsibly and with the highest standards of integrity.

But I also believe that those evangelicals who study Mormon trends ought to do so dispassionately, without forming any Mormon- evangelical alliances. Mormonism is, after all, a false religion masquerading as Christianity. The spirit of 2 John 7-11 certainly applies here.

If that strikes you as an attitude for which I need to repent, you'll have to give me some biblical justification for that—not just an emotion-laden jeremiad. In the meantime I stand unashamedly against Mormonism as a false religion that damns its adherents. Love for Mormons compels me not to obscure that dreadful reality from them. And loyalty to the gospel binds me to that conviction.

Still wary of Mormons offering coffee,

Phillip R. Johnson

Phil's signature


Scott Hill said...

It is very telling that Talbot produced two students not smart enought to figure out that Dr. MacArthur doesn't even closley agree with the Mormons on these issues. Does anyone know what the motives are for two evangelicals to place Mormons and MacArthur in the same camp?

Steve said...

Touche, Phil. You wield a very sharp pen there. Allowing us the opportunity to view this dialogue will certainly help many others know how they, too, can better defend the faith. Thanks for your willingness to do this.

How tragic that the two Talbot students are merely making it easier for Mormons to masquerade as Christians. They cling to an invisible, nonexistent thread (Millet's assertion that he is close to MacArthur regarding justification) and willfully ignore the embarrassingly monumental evidence taht Mormonism follows a different god, a different christ, a different gospel.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Very enlightening conversation. It always amazes me how some evangelicals are more sure of a heretics salvation than of their own!

Gunner said...

Phil: Thanks so much for sharing this. It was very helpful.

scott hill: I'm not sure that these two Talbot students' theological views are "very telling" about Talbot as a whole. I don't go to Talbot or have much vested interest there, but your statement sounds a bit overdone.

centuri0n said...

When did Owen write that? Yesterday?

At least he's consistent, you have to give him that -- and he always swings for the bleachers.

Tolle, Blogge said...

It seems odd to me that the debate is even in terms if whether Mormons affirm justification by faith or not, since the errors of Mormonism are more in line with the bizzare heresies of the Gnostics than the legalism of the Judaizers. So what if Mormons do affirm justification through faith alone, when the object of their faith is a being so far removed from orthodox christology?

Libbie said...

r reeves, that's the heart of the issue really.. I'm not saved by faith in the man from Kolob any more than I'm saved by faith in the man from Del Monte..

Loved your last point Phil. We were watching one of your lectures from the Met Tab school of theology last night and you helpfully gave my husband some real lightbulb moments about our justification. The point you made in this posting about faith not actually being the ground of our salvation was well made.
It just sounds such an orthodox phrase...

Jerry Wragg said...

Phil –
On the matter of why Dr. Millet would have an interest in MacArthur and request to meet with him, I distinctly remember how this “summit” originated…A Salt Lake local pastor (and a good man as I recall) had met with Dr. Millet and was curious as to the MacArthur volumes on his shelf. Dr. Millet told this pastor that he was “fascinated” (Millet’s term used when meeting MacArthur) with John MacArthur’s ability to exposit the scriptures and wondered if he would ever consider coming to BYU to teach Bible students how to do Bible exposition “like he does”. When the two men did meet, Millet spoke of being impressed with John’s clarity and verse-by-verse approach, and even posed the idea of having John teach his BYU students. It is true that Millet expressed an affinity for the book, The Gospel According To Jesus, and its emphasis on Spirit-produced fruit as evidence of genuine faith, but it seemed clear at the time that his initial interest rose from a pragmatic design on the expositional framework of John’s messages.
Also, regarding Mr. Owen’s assertion that “[Mormon theologians] not only do not affirm, but in fact expressly deny that our works are the ground of justification”, I recall in the meeting the lengthy discourse about their views on justification, and Dr. Millet did attempt to affirm the above. But when challenged to explain how Mormon theology can “expressly deny that our works are the ground of justification” while also teaching that the rite of baptism in the Mormon Church is required for salvation, Millet simply said, “Because baptism itself is a work of grace”. He went on to explain that the Mormon is justified “by faith alone in Christ alone”, but that such faith consists of certain “works” produced by the grace of God. So here we see the careful doctrinal recasting of the words “faith” and “grace” (to say nothing of their heretical Christology). Using orthodox words and phrases is no problem---a few simple “shifts” in meaning and Voila! Now every human work whereupon I ground my justification is not really “human”, but rather a “grace-work” that produces a justifying righteousness in me.
Mr. Owen is using the same old twist!

John Schroeder said...

I wonder if the Mormons are in that process of joining the mainstream? If so, at what point in the process can they be said to be truly Christians?

Pastor Dave Bissett said...

Thanks for the long post -- it was worthwhile. AND I've got to add that your site is as pleasureable for the eyes as it is for the mind. Stay the course!

Jeremy said...

Excellent word and exposé. I agree that evangelicals are flirting too closely with Mormon's and the LDS and as we do so the Mormon's are being more subtle with their language to make it look as if they are orthodox.

One thing that would be helpful is if you could post either some resources or you yourself clarify the differences between the Mormon's view of Christ versus the Scriptural views. It seems that any cult or heresy breaks down usually on its view of the person and work of Christ, which is exactly what Mormonism has done. Any clarification of that would be helpful.

As my dear friend Helen Needham used to say, "They have terrible theology, but their boy's sure sing well."

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

An older appropriate James White quote:

"[I]t seems clear that Mouw has fallen into the same trap that ensnared Dr. Blomberg not so long ago: that of thinking that LDS scholars at BYU define Mormonism."

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

Jeremy, the chart on the front of www.MormonInfo.org might be of help.

BAG said...

Until mormons repent of their "tri-theism" or "poly-theism" and embrace the historic evangelical trinitarian understanding of God; Paul and Carl's assertions are moot.

Jordan said...

You can leave it that it is very telling that two evangelicals made these comments. Don't lump Talbot into this as if they made these students who they were. Anyone can get trained anywhere and come out believing anything they want. Leave Talbot out of this.

Micah said...

Fascinating how Mr. Owen states:

"They [Mormons] not only do not affirm, but in fact expressly deny that our works are the ground of justification. They believe and teach, unlike Roman Catholicism, that justification is forensic, and involves the imputation of Christ's perfect righteousness to the believer."

... and yet elsewhere argues that Mormons are akin the Edomites: "I would reserve the Edomite analogy for groups on the fringes of Christianity such as Mormonism,the Jehovah's Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals." - (Reply to Micah Burke, 9/2/04)

Paul Owen has shown that he'll say what ever he has to in order to oppose 'Baptists' especially those of Calvinist stripe at every turn. It's not suprising to find him speaking eloquently of Mormons here, and yet declaring them to be akin to 'Edomites' elsewhere, it's PO's MO.

May God bless you.

Jeff Downs said...

BAG: Stated
Until mormons repent of their "tri-theism" or "poly-theism" and embrace the historic evangelical trinitarian understanding of God; Paul and Carl's assertions are moot.

Funny thing is that Owen and Mosser stress this point in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview. Edited by Francis J. Beckwith , William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (InterVarsity Press, 2004; ISBN#: 0-8308-2735-8)., pgs. 324-349.

Bottom line, doesn't matter how nice you are, in the end, you will have to call the LDS to repentance - because they are lost and are in rebellion against God.

Jeff Downs said...

Mosser has an article in the newest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 9, No. 2
"Evil, Mormonism, and the Impossibility of Perfection Ab Initio: An Irenaean Defense."

Other articles include:

"Evangelicalism, Mormonism, and the Gospel", by Stephen J. Wellum;

"The Mormon Appeal, Yesterday and Today", by Chad Owen Brand;

"Sects In The City: Mormonism and the Philosophical Perils of Being a Missionary Faith", by Francis J. Beckwith;

"Creation ex Nihilo or ex Materia? A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation", by Paul Copan;

"Speaking the Truth in Love", by Russell Moore, Phil Roberts, Robert Stewart, John Divito and Richard Abanes.

rev-ed said...

Aside from the theological argument, it's fascinating to see two people argue for a point so "grounded" (if I may use that term) in exact wording, all the while ignoring the overall context of those words.

A little like being in a sinking life raft and arguing over it's color.

Carla said...

lol... homeschool moms with heart conditions.

Hardy har, Phil.

Now I'll go read the rest of the entry.

Yankeerev said...


I just want to thank you for allowing us to see the big picture with Talbot and your comments. Your bloggs continue to be an extremely rich resource of information and instruction,


Joe said...

Hey guys. I find it interesting that Mosser and Owen are so ready to grad hold of modern LDS scholarship. Both of them must know that whatever LDS theologians may be saying, it is the LDS Scriptures (the KJV, the BOM, the POGP and D&C) and ultimately, the living prophet who has the final authority. That is one of the key tenets of Mormon epistemology, that they have a true, living prophet with direct access to the mind of God. It is foundational of their claim to be the one true church, the authority of the church is vested in the prophet as God's spokesman, not the theologian. And so referring to 'trends' among LDS theologians is completely irrelevant without a specific declaration from LDS ecclesiastical authorities (the prophet, the 12 apostles, the quorum of the 70, etc...) that this foundational belief has been discarded or modified. Evangelicals have a difficult time understanding this type of epistemology. Indeed, the idea that LDS doctrines are 'evolving' or 'moving towards' what we would consider orthodoxy is not even possible from the LDS position. Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture is given directly from God through the prophet. I have read alot of Mormon literature, but I am in no way shape or form an expert of modern LDS scholarship. However, I have never heard anything from LDS authorities themselves that anything has officially changed, and neither Owen nor Mosser has provided any documented proof that this has changed.

Secondly, even Joseph Smith realized that the most important part of any religion is what one believes about God. He wrote “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God…” Even if (just for the sake of the argument) ecclesiastical authorities wholeheartedly adopted reformational ideas about soteriology, it wouldn't make any difference, because the Mormon doctrine of God is utterly opposed to the orthodox Christian doctrine. In Mormonism, God and man are essentially the same species. They deny the Nicene Creed and its doctrine of the Trinity, preferring a form of tritheism. And certainly, as any scholar who has studied LDS theology (according to official church teaching) knows, they are polytheistic in the idea that men can become gods themselves. This idea of God, again, has not been officially repudiated by the church. And so the discussion about soteriology is moot. This is not to say that what Phil and others of my brethren has said is unimportant or worthwhile, it certainly is. But it is to say that in order of importance as to what consitutes 'orthodoxy' and what doesn't, the matter of who God actually IS is of first importance. Gordon Hinkley recognized this in a public address a couple of years ago when he stated outright that Christians and Mormons worship a different Jesus.

Owen and Mosser are behaving naively at best, in my opinion. Christians and Mormons use much of the same terminology, but couldn't be more different as to the meaning of the terms they use, and who they understand God to be. That being the case, they just ain't Christians, folks. Not in any sense of the word as has been understood by the Christian Church for the past two thousand years. Owen and Mosser surely realize that in the first few hundred years of the Church, we divided over doctrinal differences concerning the nature of the Godhead that were much more subtle than what separates Mormons and Christians. And for Owen to demand the repentance of a man who is simply pointing out these obvious facts I believe is grounded more in misguided ecumenism than in biblical revelation.


Hollands Opus said...

Just a note on Carl Mosser. I am currently working towards a Master's degree in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Dr. Mosser is one of the supervising and attending professors in an Essential Christian Doctrine class. He is zealous for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and requires careful defense of arguments and propositions in our correspondence. He affirms creedal Christianty (in as much as it affirms scripture), and is concerned to specify that doctrine does not save, i.e. one need not understand every doctine to be united to Christ by faith - a son by adoption clothed in the righteous robes of Christ.

And Phil - your stuff is great. I look forward to much more!

Phil B said...

Yes doctrine does not save but it sure shows the heart and fruit. Universities are filled with professors that have to ride the fence for their job sake and this is the warm fruit we see in Carl Mosser and we should spit it out.

Phil Bradshaw

Marc said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cliff McManis said...

Hi Phil-

I was at this meeting. I hosted Millet that weekend, for I lived in Utah at the time. Millet was the chair of Religion at BYU then. Your assessment of the meeting is accurate. The meeting culminated with MacArthur telling Millet that Mormonism has an unbiblical Christology for it taught that Jesus was ultimatley a created being, and not eternal God as the Bible teaches. Then John gave Millet and his associate the simple gospel, in love, and called on them to believe the truth about Christ that they might have eternal life. To this day they have not that I am aware of.

Cliff McManis, PhD
Sunnyvale CA