Friday, May 06, 2005

More Thoughts on "A Different Jesus?"

Paul Owen has chimed in on the controversy surrounding Eerdmans' decision to publish the Mormon book, A Different Jesus? Predictable, Owen has come down on the side of those who favor the publication (should we have expected anything different?) and had defended its release. I want to comment just briefly on certain things Owen says in his article:

First of all, the hysteria which has been created by certain personalities is entirely unwarranted. Eerdmans is not caving in to Mormonism, or giving them an opportunity to deceive the masses. They are publishing a book by a Mormon scholar in which Dr. Millett attempts to argue for the biblical integrity of his own theological positions within the acceptable boundaries of orthodoxy in the Mormon religion.”
Owen misses the point here, and contradicts himself on top of it. First, no one is accusing Eerdmans of setting out to deceive the masses. What we are saying is that will be the inevitable result of the book. How many gullible evangelicals, upon reading the latest apologetic from some "former-evangelical-turned-roman-catholic," have concluded afterward, "Well, this isn't so bad--it actually sounds a lot like what I already believe," and have converted as a result? Does Owen think that's somehow not going to happen in this case? Is he so naive as to think the goal of Millet is not to evangelize the gullible multitudes and indoctrinate them into his false views about Christ?

Second, Owen acknowledges that what Eerdman has in fact done is to publish a book by a Mormon scholar “in which Dr. Millet attempts to argue for the biblical integrity of his own theological positions.” Wait a minute. If Millet is being given the opportunity to argue the “biblical integrity of his theological position” as a Mormon and to an evangelical audience—read, attempt to convince his evangelical readers that his view of Jesus is actual the biblical view—how is that different from giving him an opportunity to deceive the masses? Once again, as I pointed out about Eerdmans and the endorsers of the book, such a statement betrays a marked absence of pastoral concern for the church. Owen states in his article that Millet is a “very popular author” among the Mormon laity. Very well. Once the book is released to Christian bookstores, just who, in Owen’s opinion, will be buying this book? Scholars only? Only those evangelicals who are discerning enough to read it critically? How about those unsuspecting evangelical laypeople who think they’re getting a Christian view of the issue simply because, “Why, just look; it’s Eerdmans, after all, and I’ve come to trust Eerdmans as a Christian publishing company; and it’s available in my local Christian bookstore, and so many evangelical leaders are endorsing it, and so how harmful could it really be?”

But I honestly do not see what all the hysteria is about. Dr. Millett is a respected professor at BYU, the academic think tank and theological center of the LDS Church. Whatever professional “theologians” the Mormon Church can claim to have, are going to (in the main) be found at BYU. Eerdmans obviously feels that it would be worthwhile for Evangelicals to be exposed to Millett’s “type” of Mormonism, which certainly shares more in common with traditional Christianity than is sometimes the case.
The reason Owen does not see what all the hysteria is about is precisely because Owen is approaching this issue without one ounce of pastoral awareness. Why do you think the New Testament writers held a view that is diametrically opposed to seeing supposed "value" in the church “being exposed” to subtly heretical views about Christ? It is because they thought and wrote like pastors. Owen clearly does not.

For instance, Jude warns the church of “certain men” who “deny our only sovereign and Lord Jesus Christ” and who had “secretly slipped in” the church and were now deceiving many (Jude 4). What is his response to this situation? Is it similar to the response of Eerdmans and Owen; namely to embrace these men, develop close ties with them, publish their views and make those views available to the church?

Not quite. Jude’s solution is rather to exhort the church to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and to snatch “out of the fire” those who might be considering these heretical views, thereby “saving them.” In no case does Jude suggest what Owen suggests; namely, that there is “value” in exposing the church to heretical views about Christ, and that by giving the errorists an opportunity to address the church directly!

The apostle John encountered a similar situation. In his day, some itinerate evangelists were roaming the Roman countryside proclaiming false views about Christ. What are John’s thoughts about this? Does he view it as a great opportunity to get to know these false teachers in a better way, to develop close relationships with them, to expose the church to their views, and to better understand their views about Jesus as together we (in the words of Eerdmans’ sales director, Michael Thomson) “wrestle with the question ‘Who is Jesus?’” Does he think it wise to invite them to air their views in the Christian arena—and indeed, to provide the very forum for doing so? Hardly. Here are John’s thoughts on this:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. (2 John 7-11).

Now compare that to Paul Owen’s thoughts:

Some will object that we can buy Millett’s books at the Mormon bookstore if we want to hear their opinions. This simply ignores the fact that many Evangelicals will never step inside a Mormon bookstore. But by putting Millett’s book on the shelves of Christian bookstores, people can come to familiarize themselves with a stream of perspective within Mormonism that they might otherwise never know to exist. If we fail to recognize that many Mormons do not fit into the canned, cookie cutter presentations of LDS theology which are usually presented in Christian literature, we will not be sure how to react when we encounter Mormons like Millett.
So, Paul Owen doesn’t see what all the hysteria is about? Perhaps that’s merely because Paul Owen doesn’t think like an apostle. Perhaps it’s because he’s too short-sighted to appreciate the ramifications of such an action. Perhaps it’s because he really doesn’t know the New Testament all that well, in spite of his Ph.D. Perhaps it’s because he knows what the New Testament says about this kind of thing, but chooses to ignore it, viewing it as a primitive mode of communication. Or, perhaps it’s just because he doesn’t have a pastoral bone in his body. Who really knows the reasons Paul Owen does what he does and says what he says? My speculations are but guesses. One thing is for certain, though. The apostles and NT writers would never have commended Owen’s voice on this issue--not in a million years. Indeed, men like Paul Owen are in some respects a greater threat to the church than are the errorists they're promoting. How so? Because the “savage wolves” that Paul predicted “will arise even from your own number” will always have more opportunity to mislead the church than will the more obvious errorists, just because most Christians will simply give them the benefit of the doubt, will forget Paul’s words to “be on your guard,” and will follow their bad advice (Acts 20:29-30).

I encourage everyone to take a look at Paul Owen’s article. Read it; digest it; contemplate it. Then ask yourself, “Do I hear the voice of the apostles in this?” I’m confident of what the answer to that question will be.