Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The State of Evangelicalism

A few weeks ago, I lamented over the politically correct firing of a Christian radio talk-show host who merely stated that the former pope could not have entered heaven by believing the Roman Catholic "gospel." I asked rhetorically what might be next now that questioning the gospel of Roman Catholicism is off-limits, and mused that we would next be embracing Mormons. And of course (as many of you have already heard), "we" (translated Eerdmans Publishing Company) are doing just that. Eerdmans has decided to publish a book on Mormonism, yet not from a Christian perspective. Instead, they are publishing a book written by a Mormon. Robert Millet, a professor at Brigham Young University, is the author of A Different Jesus?, a book which by its very title suggests there is very little difference between the Christian Jesus and the Mormon Jesus.

Nearly a decade ago I submitted my "Evangelical Answers" manuscript to Zondervan for consideration of publishing it. The response I received then was, "This is a very well written and impressively documented manuscript. However, our current interests lie in building bridges to Roman Catholicism, not burning them." Hence, I can't say this latest move on the part of Eerdmans surprises me much.

Nevertheless, a couple of concerned pastors (Kerry Kinchen and Dustin Curlee) decided to write to Eerdman to express their disappointment. The text of that letter may be accessed here.

Michael Thomson, sales director of Eerdmans, responded with a lengthy letter that seemed to me a naive attempt to defend the indefensible. Here are the highlights:
Let me explain the rationale from Eerdmans side if I might. There are a LOT of Mormons in the US and across the globe. 5.2 millionstrong and growing. While there is a fair body of literature that tells evangelicals and other Christians how to witness or evangelize Mormons, there is precious little published that clarifies what Mormons themselves think. Frankly, a lot of the evangelical material about Mormons is inaccurate. Granted the serious departures in Mormonism from more orthodox views of Christ...shouldn't that fact want to make Christians better understand the Mormon view of Jesus? If one intends to discuss Jesus with Mormon neighbors...wouldn't it be helpful to understand what they believe? That is the purpose of this book! The foreword and afterword by Richard Mouw whom you dismiss so readily in your blog is actually a very helpful evangelical interaction with the Mormon Jesus presented in the book. In those sections, Professor Mouw respectfully agrees where he can but also respectfully but firmly disagrees with the Mormon Jesus as presented by Professor Millet. Our intent with publishing this book was not to become a mouthpiece for the Mormon church but to encourage evangelicals and Mormons to speak together about the most important reality...and wrestle with the question "Who is Jesus?"

First of all, a Christian need not “wrestle with the question ‘Who is Jesus.’” We already have that question answered, and have had it answered for centuries. We know who Jesus is. Mormons don’t. What value is there in allowing a Mormon writer to, in effect, “teach” Christians who the Mormons think Jesus is? If Thomson is still “wrestling” with that question, then he properly belongs in the category of postmodernism, not historic evangelicalism. And whether or not Eerdmans intended it or not, they have indeed become a mouthpiece for the Jesus-idol of Mormonism.

Second, Thomas' reasoning sounds an awful lot like the whiney liberal groups in the days following 9-11 who insisted we just need to understand the terrorists, give them a forum to speak, listen to their ideas and concerns, and sympathize with their plight. Then we can all sing kumbaya with them. The problem was/is, the terrorists were not interested in any of that--they just wanted to kill us.

Mormons are even more dangerous than terrorists. Why? Because while the terrorists may kill the body, they cannot kill the soul. Mormonism can. The purveyors of the Mormon religion--or any false religion for that matter--are not interested in understanding us. They are interested only in converting us.

How would the New Testament writers have reacted to this situation? The apostle John had this to say:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (2 John 7-11).

Unlike Eerdmans, John recognizes that those who do not acknowledge the biblical Jesus are "deceivers" and "antichrist." His concern is pastoral; that his readers "watch themselves" so that they do not lose the doctrinal ground the apostle worked so hard to establish. And what is John's attitude toward providing a forum for false teachers to air their views? "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds."

All this is completely lost on both Eerdmans and Thomson, as well as the endorsers of the book, including Richard Mouw, Craig Blomberg, David Neff, and Craig J. Hazen--none of whom apparently has a pastoral bone in his body. They have not only given Millet a hearty "greeting," but have invited them "into house" so that he can teach the church; the very thing John warned--more, commanded--against! Hence, Eerdmans and the endorsers of the book have "participated in [Millets] evil deeds."

As a side note, Thomson most naively characterizes Christianity Today as "an evangelical magazine if ever there was one." Please. Christianity Today has been post-evangelical for nearly two decades. It was Christianity Today, you'll recall, that posted the papal veneration page in honor of the former pope, featuring such stalwart biblical pieces as "John Paul the Great," "He Was My Pope Too", and "Pope Gave Evangelicals the Moral Impetus we Didn't Have." An "evangelical magazine" if ever there was one, indeed.

First it was praise for the pope. Then it turned into firing pastors on "Christian" radio stations who dared proclaim the true gospel of the Bible. Now we've become the patsy for Mormons who want us to give them a forum for deceiving countless gullible evangelicals. What can we expect next?

How about this: Eerdmans and their ilk can begin installing Mormon bishops as pastors in our churches. Christianity Today can begin promoting this idea, implanting it into the minds of the Richard Mouws of the evangelical world--those who always seem to want to be on the bleeding edge of Christian "progress" toward some heretical group or another--and within five or ten years, Mormonism will officially be known as a "Christian denomination."Make no mistake, beloved; that day is coming, and it is coming soon. The pressure to accept that movement will become stronger and stronger, and if you fail to conform you will increasingly be seen as an unenlightened, backwoods fundamentalist. When that day comes, it will be imperative that you remember the words of those who came before us:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)