Monday, June 8, 2015

Six evangelical 'convictions' and Latter-day Saints

(by Daniel Peterson 6-4-15)

In his 1995 book “Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity,” the prolific British biologist and theologian Alister McGrath explains that "evangelicalism is grounded on a cluster of six controlling convictions, each of which is regarded as being true, of vital importance and grounded in scripture.”

How do these “six fundamental convictions” apply to Mormonism? I won’t argue that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, properly understood, are evangelicals just like our separated Protestant brothers and sisters. But the distance between us may not be quite the vast gulf that many assume. I’ll take McGrath’s list, which has been well received in the evangelical community, in order:

“1. The supreme authority of scripture as a source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living.”

For evangelicals, of course, “scripture” means the 66 books of the Protestant biblical canon. Period. “Sola Scriptura,” Latin for “by Scripture alone,” is the standard Reformation formula. Latter-day Saints accept a broader canon, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price alongside the Bible. But, importantly, they also believe in an open canon, to which further texts can be added (and have been added, within living memory).

“It isn’t just that the Mormons have more revealed books than the rest of us,” the evangelical theologian Richard Mouw has observed. “They do, of course; but to say that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. The real point is that books are not where the true authority resides for Mormons. Evangelical Christians often miss this basic point.”

Still, if the fundamental question is where supreme religious authority resides, Latter-day Saints and evangelicals agree that it resides in the Word of God. The disagreement is merely, but sharply, over whether God has spoken — and still speaks — “scripturally” beyond the Bible.

In this regard, Mormonism is perhaps slightly closer to Catholicism than to evangelicalism. “The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book,’” the official “Catechism of the Catholic Church” states. “Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, ‘not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living.’”

“2. The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord and as the Savior of sinful humanity.”

Evangelicals and Mormons alike recognize Jesus as Lord and as the incomparable Savior and Redeemer of humankind, whose resurrection enables and guarantees our own and whose atoning sacrifice provides our only hope of redemption.

“3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit.”

With its robust belief in continuing revelation for both church and individuals and its insistence on the necessity of receiving the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit after baptism, Mormonism surely teaches “the lordship of the Holy Spirit.”

“4. The need for personal conversion.”

There seems little or no daylight between Latter-day Saints and evangelical Protestants on this topic. Both of us believe that personal repentance and personal commitment are indispensable. However, Mormons add to this a characteristic emphasis on personal “testimony,” and on the necessity of accepting and keeping personal covenants that must be regularly and formally renewed in the sacrament.

“5. The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and the church as a whole.”

Latter-day Saints are justly known for their commitment to preaching the gospel around the world. “Every member a missionary,” President David O. McKay famously taught.

“6. The importance of Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth.”

Virtually every Christian denomination agrees on the vital importance of worshiping with fellow believers. For many evangelicals, it’s largely a pragmatic matter: Christians need mutual support in their struggles with the world, their efforts to serve and their attempts to pass their faith on to others.

Latter-day Saints certainly agree. But for them, the restored church is also an indispensable and authoritative channel through which saving ordinances are provided to both the living and the dead. In this regard, again, their doctrine, though not identical, resembles the traditional Catholic teaching that “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (“Outside the Church there is no salvation”) more than it does typical evangelical understanding.

Uniquely, though, Latter-day Saints also believe that all who have ever lived upon the earth will have the opportunity of receiving baptism, even in the world of the dead. Thus, to some extent, Mormonism breaks down the barrier between an exclusivist view of salvation, on the one hand, and universalism, on the other. In the end, only those truly, consciously determined to reject salvation will lose it entirely.


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