Really -- What is Mormonism? Most Evangelicals Would Be Surprised.
On May 31st Christianity Today online posted an article which addresses the issue of Mitt Romney and Mormonism, asking, "Can conservative Protestants vote for a member of what they consider a cult?" The article is co-written by Mormon professor Robert Millet and Christian author Gerald McDermott.
Of particular interest in this article is where it addresses the concerns evangelicals have regarding Mormonism's non-Christian doctrines. The authors write,
But evangelicals are reluctant to vote for a Mormon. Historically, evangelicals and Mormons have demonized each other. Evangelicals consider the Church of Latter-day Saints to be a cult and typically think Mormons are not real Christians.
Evangelicals accuse Mormons of adding new revelation (the Book of Mormon) to the Bible. They think Mormons teach that humans are saved by good works rather than by Jesus Christ, and that humans are of the same species as Jesus and can someday attain his status. In addition, evangelicals say, Mormons reject key Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and creatio ex nihilo (God creating the world out of nothing)…
Mormon beliefs are not as un-evangelical as most evangelicals think. Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For Latter-Day Saints, Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists agreed that Jesus was "without sin," Mormons were among the "most likely" to say that Jesus was sinless.
Most evangelicals would also be surprised to learn that the Book of Mormon contains passages that teach salvation by the merits and grace of Christ ( "There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" 2 Nephi 2:8) and others that require personal trust in Christ for salvation, such as 1 Nephi 10:4-6: "All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer."
Note the way the authors have presented the concerns of Christians: evangelicals demonize Mormons; evangelicals accuse Mormons; evangelicals think Mormons teach non-Christian doctrines about salvation and Christ; evangelicals say Mormons reject the Trinity, etc.; but evangelicals are wrong: "Mormon beliefs are not as un-evangelical as most evangelicals think."
Take a look at just one doctrinal issue raised by the authors: salvation. Speaking of evangelicals collectively, the authors write, "They think Mormons teach that humans are saved by good works rather than by Jesus Christ." The authors dance around this significant doctrinal concern. They set it up in terms which give the impression that evangelicals deeply misunderstand LDS soteriology and state that Mormon beliefs are not really so different after all. Millet and McDermott quote LDS scriptures which talk about Christ, mercy and grace, and apparently hope that will be enough to convince the uninformed reader that the Mormon view of salvation is compatible with evangelical (biblical) teaching. But of course it's not.
Mormonism rejects the idea that human beings are saved by good works without the aid of Christ; Millet and McDermott are correct to suggest that those who think otherwise misunderstand Mormon doctrine. But this is not to say that Mormonism embraces the biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone based on the merits and atonement of Christ. The Book of Mormon says,
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)
This is not salvation by faith alone, but salvation by grace coupled with works (please see Paul's letter to the Galatians for an understanding of what the Bible says about this idea). The Mormon teaching on salvation is incompatible with the evangelical understanding of this doctrine -- the doctrine which is at the very heart of the Gospel and is treasured deeply in the heart of every evangelical Christian.
Millet and McDermott don't mention this disparity in their article. Furthermore, they don't tell Christianity Today readers what twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball said about the Christian doctrine of salvation:
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206)
I wonder; is this is what Millet and McDermott are referring to when they say Mormons have historically demonized evangelicals?
At any rate, Millet and McDermott have misled their readers about the compatibility of Mormonism and evangelical Christianity. They have obscured significant doctrinal differences with verbal slight-of-hand. But at the same time it seems they have taken care to keep from going too far. They write,
Of course there is still doctrinal distance between Mormons and evangelicals.
Yes, really an unbridgeable chasm. But Millet and McDermott make no effort to inform their readers of any specifics. If you're interested, some of the doctrines responsible for the vast spiritual distance between Mormons and evangelicals are documented here.