December 2, 2007

Responding to Craig Blomberg

After posting links to a couple of blog entries on last Friday's weekly round-up along with some brief thoughts, Dr. Craig Blomberg wrote a comment:

And hopefully you won't be overly biased by this tantalizing adjective "disturbing," but will actually read the whole chain of interactions and decide for yourself what adjective to use. After fifteen years of Evangelical-LDS conversations, I find "encouraging" to be the better descriptor. Let's pray that some day at least an identifiable wing of the LDS church, if not the whole movement (like happened with the Worldwide Church of God), might turn to orthodoxy. That is a primary motivation behind our involvement. Paul Owen and I have been involved in these meetings; none of our critics on these blogsites has. So filter that in also before you start applying adjectives second-hand and out of context to our efforts. Thanks! :)

To begin my response, I want to state upfront my great respect for Dr. Blomberg. Much of his writing has been greatly informative and deeply edifying to me. I still wholeheartedly reccomend reading his books. They are filled with biblical truth. I want to thank him for his devotion to Christ as well as his excellence in evangelical scholarship.

However, when it comes to Mormons, Blomberg and I do have significant differences in how we understand and relate to Latter-day Saints. To see what I mean more fully, check out an article I recently wrote for the latest issue of Mormonism Researched. In it, I analyze a sermon that Blomberg preached titled "What Would Jesus Say to a Mormon?" (Mormonism Research Ministry has not yet posted the article on their web site, but you can sign up for a free subscription and get it in print).

Of course, I will not recycle my article here. But I do find it relevant in light of the comments made by Blomberg. He writes: "Do Mormons not believe in the deity of Jesus? It no doubt depends on whom you ask. But I’ve heard Bob [Millet] speak so many times on this issue, that I have no question at all that he does. The disagreement remains in terms of what Jesus may have been 'before the beginning' in Genesis 1:1. But there is no question for him that for an awfully long time and certainly today, he is fully God." I simply have no idea how one can make this statement. The LDS concept of divinity and Godhood is entirely different and at odds with historic Christianity.

In my article, I tried to show the importance of the difference between the true Jesus Christ and the LDS Jesus Christ:

First, Blomberg never addressed the identity of Jesus Christ. Is the Jesus Christ that Blomberg is speaking on behalf of the same as the Jesus Christ of Mormonism? Is he the first literal child of a physical Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother? Or is He Himself God—the second person of the Trinity? These two Jesuses stand opposed to one another. Let’s try to grasp the importance of this distinction. A missionary goes over to India so that he can proclaim the gospel to a group of Hindus. After speaking to them about a god-man named Jesus who died for them, they think that the Jesus he is talking about sounds similar to one of their gods. So they rename this Hindu deity "Jesus Christ" and add a story about him dying for them. Everything else about their beliefs stays the same. Their Jesus is one of a number of gods. They believe that his death allows for them to live a better life through which they can be reincarnated to a higher caste in their next life. Would anyone say that this group’s Jesus is the true Jesus that saves? Can they be reconciled to their Creator through this Jesus? Obviously not. This truth is no different for Mormons. Their Jesus is false. Until they recognize the true Jesus, they have no hope. By not clearly addressing this difference in his sermon, Blomberg fails to fully show them the true Jesus Christ in which their only hope lies.

Apparently, he sees no need to. Their Jesus is close enough. Nevertheless, I do not see how an orthodox believer in Christ could draw such a conclusion.

As in his sermon, Blomberg again suggests that he has inside information by pointing to his dialogues with Mormons and other evangelicals. I do not pretend to have any knowledge of these closed-door conversations. But the supposed evidence often marshaled to demonstrate a contemporary shift in Mormon doctrine simply does not stand under scrutiny. All too often, what I read sounds more like concessions from evangelicals rather than true change from Latter-day Saints.

Like Blomberg, and as a former Mormon myself, I desire for Latter-day Saints to turn to orthodoxy. However, I do not share his optimism for the reformation of the Mormon church itself. If the LDS church embraced orthodoxy, it would undermine its very existence! No longer could they believe in a need for their restoration, no longer could they hold to their distinctive foundational doctrines, no longer could they recognize their church's authority. I'll bypass discussing the turnaround of the Worldwide Church of God. But looking at what happened in-depth, its shift is rather unique. A person should not simply superimpose this change to the LDS church, hoping for the same thing to happen. At best, such thinking is far too premature.

Whatever disagreements I may have with Blomberg, I do appreciate his sincere zeal in engaging Mormons. But I also pray that evangelicals will remain committed to proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ to Latter-day Saints. By God's grace, they can be saved--I am one living example!