I have a meeting this afternoon with a couple of Mormon missionaries who stopped by some time last week and asked to talk with me about their, um, gospel. So I’ve been thinking for the last few days about how to get to the heart of the matter with them as quickly as possible.
The difficulty with Mormons is that they appear so much like ordinary evangelical Christians in their culture and lifestyle that it’s difficult to point out something that is blatantly un-Christian, and at the same time, they have distinctive views on history and biblical texts that make it’s easy to point out errors in their beliefs without ever coming to the issue of the gospel. In other words, it’s easy enough for a committed evangelical Christian to see that Mormons aren’t, and so avoid the possibility of being converted accidentally. But it’s very difficult, in polite conversation, to point out to a committed young Mormon that his religion is different from yours even in its essence, and dangerously so.
Questions of Kolob and ancient Indian civilizations notwithstanding, there are actually two theological errors that Mormons partake in. One is a kind of Arianism, which sees the trinity as three separate entities who are unified only in as far as their personal agreement, rather than three persons of the same substance, eternally experiencing a perichoretic unity. In other words, it’s difficult to explain.
The other error is easier to deal with, because the nature of the gospel hinges on it. The Mormon position is that any human who makes an attempt at self-reform according to God’s law can in time improve to a level of perfection. It is a gospel of self-improvement aided by the power of the Holy Spirit, and God’s gracious repeated revelation of the plan for this self-improvement. In other words, Pelagianism.
Mormon Pelagianism isn’t something that Mormons try to hide, though the true doctrines of grace may escape them. How hard is it, really, to hear that you are saved by God working a heart change in you, to which achievement you yourself make no actual contribution? It’s difficult!
I suppose a more thoroughly indoctrinated Calvinist than I could bring the distinction home through a rigorous application of TULIP, but as for myself, I have a hard time remembering what the letters stand for. And the last thing I want to do is to frighten them by appearing like an enraged madman attempting to throttle them with the gospel.
And besides, I think I have an easier way. Continue reading “Mormon Trilemma”