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Friday, July 06, 2007

Are Mormon's Christian?

Since we've talked about Mormonism here in the past, I thought I'd pass this along as well. Al Mohler is having an ongoing conversation (HT: JT) with Orson Scott Card on whether Mormons are right in calling themselves Christians, and he makes several good points, in my opinion:
When I asked, “Are Mormons ‘Christians’ as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy?,” I was stating the question exactly as it was put to me. The words “as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy” were part of my assignment, not my imposition.

...With the question structured that way, the answer is clear and unassailable – Mormonism is not Christianity. When the question is framed this way, Mr. Card and I actually agree, as his essay makes clear.

In his words, “I am also happy to agree with him that when one compares our understanding of the nature of God and Christ, we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the “historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations” he refers to.”

Mr. Card would prefer that the question be put differently. I understand his concern, and if I were a Mormon I would share that concern and would try to define Christianity in some way other than traditional Christian orthodoxy. The reason is simple – traditional Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology are utterly incompatible.

Mr. Card is gracious, even when suggesting that I misinterpret the Book of Mormon. He even suggests that I have not read it. The fact is that I have, and I have even studied Mormon theology in the course of my graduate studies. Reading the Book of Mormon was a fascinating experience. Nevertheless, if I were a Mormon arguing that Mormonism is Christianity, I would be very reluctant to suggest that those I am seeking to persuade should read the Book of Mormon. Nothing will more quickly reveal the distance between Mormon theology and historic Christianity.

Mormonism uses the language of Christian theology and makes many references to Christ. Mr. Card wants to define Christianity in a most minimal way, theologically speaking. If I were arguing the other side of this question, I would attempt the same. But Christianity has never been defined in terms of merely thinking well of Jesus. Mormonism claims to affirm the New Testament teachings about Jesus, but actually presents a very different Jesus from the onset. A reading of Mormonism’s authoritative documents makes this clear.

(It's worth reading the whole thing.)
One additional thought - I really appreciate Mohler's tone: gracious and sincere, even when he disagrees. We need more conversation, not less, and that means we're going to have to learn to dialogue with people who think differently than we do. Mohler's a great example, IMHO, and kudos to him (and to anyone, for that matter), who can write/speak in this way.


At 4:22 PM, July 08, 2007, Blogger deb said...

C: This was an interesting article - and timely too! I have a friend who has been attending Mormonism classes and is thinking about getting baptized there and joining. She and I have been discussing things like faith and works, original sin, Christ's diety, His righteousness, our union with Him through His blood, and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. I sent her this link today (after she text-messaged me with another question/quote earlier).

I really hope she will consider commenting here with ideas or questions ...

At 3:18 AM, July 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did read some of this stuff but it's hard for me to figure out what he's talking about. All he mentions is that he thinks mormons aren't christians because of certain differences from
mainstream christianity, but as far as i can tell, really doesn't
go into depth about them - all I could figure out was that he mentioned the difference in the trinity (from what we talked about before), and the fact that the book of mormon proves that they aren't christians (but how? he
doesn't explain).

I also read the debate with other guy, and actually what the pro-mormon guy (Card?) wrote is what concerns me, esp "we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the 'historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations.'"

The guy on this blog talks a bit over my level of understanding of Christian theology.

Then I went to the link you sent deb at:
That site takes a much harsher view about mormonism. Kind of made me mad at first. But now it's got me thinking thouugh. Got a lot of thinking to do. -LT

At 6:42 PM, September 09, 2007, Blogger cameron said...

It is absurd to deny any person or set of religous beliefs or faith which believes in Jesus Christ as their Savior that they are not Christian.

Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian. It is DISHONEST and un-christian like for any other Christian religion or faith to proclaim that another (which believes in Jesus Christ) is not Christian.

Up to this point in my life no one has been able to adequately explain what "Traditional Orthodox Christianity" is or it's doctrines. Because all that really matters in this discussion is wether or not the doctrines are founded in scripture or not. I have studied the Bible and can tell you without a doubt that "Mormon" doctrine is founded in the Bible. Someone asked the prophet Joseph Smith once do "Mormon"s believe in the Bible?", it is intersting and ironic what his response was.

One thing I thought was odd about "Traditonal Orthodox Christianity" is the acceptance of the creeds as scriptural. Which also contradicts the proclaimation that scriptures are the source of the doctrines.

The source of Mormon's (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) beliefs and doctrines are "purely" from the Scriptures. They believe that the "Gospel" is not of man such as "Traditional Orthodox Christianity" but comes from those who have been AUTHORIZED by Heavenly Father which are known to be prophets of God. Not something that has been passed down by tradition and has been tainted by man over 2000 years.

It is interesting to note that the "Traditional Orthodox" Jews rejected Christ and His message because it did not follow their traditions. He was stoned for it several times for "blasphemy". This is ironic because blasphemy is when someone who does not have authority from God, speaks for Him, in His name, and changes His Law. Anyone who usurps authority in this manner is in danger of the judgement. It is ironic that the real blasphemers were the "Tradional Orthodox" proffessors who don't have any real authority.

At 12:56 PM, September 10, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Cameron. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment - I always appreciate it when people who disagree actually chime in (really!). I think I'm going to have to continue to disagree with you though.

When you say that 'Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian' it seems that you are really dodging a much deeper question of 'What does it actually mean to 'believe' in Jesus?'

For example - a quick search on the web reveals that something over 80% of Americans believe 'Jesus is the Son of God'. But we'd both agree (I hope) that simply saying 'I believe in Jesus' doesn't automatically mean I really am a Christian.

Do you really think 80% of America really is Christian?

If so, would you as a Mormon seek to proselytize someone in that 80%?

Based on the Mormon's who've come to my door, the fact that I identify myself as a follower of Christ certainly hasn't caused them to say, 'whew' and wipe the sweat off their brow while they head on to the next house.

On the contrary, they think my Christianity is different enough from theirs that they still need to try and convince me of why theirs is the right brand.

So wouldn't they be guilty of doing exactly what you accuse me of doing - assuming that I'm not _really_ a Christian (or at least not the right kind of Christian)?

I actually appreciate the fact that they stay and talk - because it reveals that they really do believe my traditional Christianity is something different than their Mormonism. They think my faith is deficient (or false), and they want to talk to me about it. They are being honest, not dishonest.

As I said above, I would _hope_ that both of us would agree that simply calling oneself a Christian doesn't make you one.

Scripture actually seems to support this idea - Jesus himself says that 'not all who say Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom' (Mt 7:21).

Then he goes on to say 'examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith - test yourselves' (2 Cor 13:5). In other words, we aren't simply to assume that because someone _claims_ to be a Christian (or because WE claim that about ourselves) that we really are.

It certainly doesn't seem unbiblical then to assume that someone might NOT be a Christian.

The real issue, it seems to me, is precisely the point of the original post - Mormons want to claim they are Christians (while simultaneously asserting that Christians or not). If in fact, you dig beneath the surface to ask what each party means by those terms (eg. 'believe in Christ'), you find two completely different systems of faith, two completely different religions.

And that was Mohler's point - one which Orson Scott Card fundamentally _agreed_ with, btw - whatever Mormonism is, it's fundamentally different than 'Orthodox Christianity' (and while this term might be a conundrum for you, it's certainly not confusing for historians, scholars, etc - including Card! - it's most easily codified by the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed).

If that's your working definition of 'Orthodox Christianity' (you can substitute 'Historic Mainstream Christianity' if you prefer) then it seems you have to admit - as Card does - that we 'we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the “historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations”'.

If that difference is real, it seems very disingenuous to say both parties are 'Christian'...

At 7:43 PM, December 23, 2007, Blogger C.R. Pete Petersen said...

This is an interesting and civil conversation. Volumes have been written on what constitutes traditional Christianity. Many early works (3rd and 4th century) even talk about some so called heretical concepts about Christ and the Godhead espoused by even earlier Christians (2nd and 3rd century). Many of those earlier works were destroyed because they were considered heretical by those who called themselves Christians at the time. Relying on traditions alone may be unwise as another commentator pointed out. Perhaps the scriptures and personal prayer would be a better source. Please see my additional thoughts on the question if Mormons are Christian at:

At 3:05 PM, February 05, 2008, Blogger ***LIZ*** said...

Hi Christian,
It is a fluke that I have come upon your blog, I saw a review that you posted of the memory keeper's daughter and thought it was so eloquent. And as I am a blogger myself I thought I would check out your blog. I am also impressed with how actively you profess and embrace your faith. I was disappointed at the negativity you direct to "Mormons". I know that you have been very civil in your comments, but I am insulted to not be called Christian. I hold our Savior as the example by which I lead my life. I pray for his guidance and try to live the way He would want me too, and these are the proofs that I declare that make me Christian. And the reason I as Mormon try to share my faith, is not to be right, it is to share something with those I love that brings joy to my life and I hope to theirs as well. Thank you for sharing your beliefs and allowing me to share mine.

At 4:22 PM, February 05, 2008, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Liz - thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I want to assure you that they're welcome and appreciate, whether you agree with me on this or not.

You raise a great point - what does it mean to be Christian? That's something ALL of us need to think about, whether we're Evangelicals or Catholics or Mormons.

In short, is it enough simply to say, "I believe in Jesus?" or do we have to look deeper and say "WHAT do I believe about Jesus?"

The whole point of the original article (a conversation between an evangelical Christian, and a Mormon) is that, (to quote) -

“when one compares our understanding of the nature of God and Christ, we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the “historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations” he refers to.”

That's the Mormon theologian, Orson Scott Card, speaking. And what he's saying is that regardless of who calls themselves 'Christians', fundamentally, we have two very different 'worldviews' about God and Jesus in play here.

So there's:

a) "Classic Christians" - 2000 years of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants, all of whom affirm the same set of core creeds (worldview X)

b) "Mormon 'Christians'" - 200 years of rejecting worldview X creeds and offering worldview Y as an alternate (which uses many of the same terms - God, Christ, etc - but means entirely different things by them)

Now, we can quibble over "who's Christian" and "who's not", but we should both be able to agree that "Mormon 'Christianity'" is fundamentally different (antithetical even) to "Classic Christianity".

If this is not the case, then why do Mormons proselytize "Classic Christians"?

I think what bothers me about your approach ("hey, I'm a Christian too!") is that it seems like you're trying to legitimize your relatively new Mormonism by lumping it under the the longstanding banner of 'Christianity' (while at the same time, denying that 'traditional Christians' are actually members of the true faith - hence the need for them to convert to Mormonism).

Do you see how that feels to someone in my shoes? (I'm really NOT trying to be hostile here - I'm just saying it really rubs me).

If I was in the Mormon camp, I would not feel intellectually honest trying to lump myself into the broader Christian camp.

Would love to hear your feedback...

At 1:08 PM, February 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"why do Mormons proselytize "Classic Christians"?"

I'll answer this question. Every Christian faith has wonderful qualities and great people in each church, and as Mormons we do recognize and respect that. Just we feel we have a little more to offer -- Temple blessings. The temple is a beautiful place, for people that are trying their hardest to follow the teachings of Christ. It's white and clean inside, and we expect the people that enter to have a similar characteristics in spirit. The temple is for everyone, just people have to be worthy, which one of the requirements is baptism. In the temple people get sealed to their families forever. Isn't that what people are all about? Family? I love my family and want to be with them forever, and when I meet people and tell them about my church, I'm not thinking oh my these people are horrible people and need to be save, but the opposite. It's more like these are the people that might want to be with their families forever too, maybe i should tell them about it. After all to me, what is heaven without a family?
I hope that answers what you were wondering

At 10:38 PM, September 01, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok. so i find religion very interesting conversation but it is true faith and belief in that jesus died on the cross for our sins for us to be saved. My friend has a broken home and has recently decided to take up mormonism. We have lots of mormon friends and they are very nice people, however i think he is converting for all the wrong reasons. I know this is kinda off the topic of "are mormons chrisians" but i feel its good discussion all the same. What are some things i could tell him to not convert to mormonism without looking at the big picture.


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