February 5, 2008

Book Review: Bridging the Divide

Robert L. Millet and Gregory C.V. Johnson, Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical (Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Book Publishing Company, 2007), 185 pp.

Can evangelical Christians and Mormons be friends? How should we relate to each other? And what about the differences between our faiths? This book was written to answer these and other questions, but in a distinct way--one author is a Mormon while the other is an evangelical. Robert Millet is the Mormon contributor and a professor at Brigham Young University. Gregory Johnson is an evangelical who began the ministry Standing Together. These two friends seek to understand one another and their differences, publicly sharing their ongoing conversation to help members of both faiths relate to each other.

The outcome of their discussions is Bridging the Divide, an edited transcript from one of their public presentations. This book is broken into four parts: 1) the background of both authors, 2) questions they ask each other, 3) questions they both answer from the audience, and 4) their conclusion. The result is an easy-to-read conversation between two knowledgeable friends of different faiths.

Let me begin with some words of appreciation. Developing relationships with people of other faiths is a good thing. All human beings are important to God, and Mormons are no exception. Personally, I welcome evangelicals building friendships with Mormons and seeking to understand what their LDS friends believe. Johnson and Millet give us a public example of this difficult but important process. If anything clearly comes through in this collaborative work, it is that these men genuinely care for and respect each other.

At the same time, I have some severe reservations about some of the conclusions they have drawn through their relationship. While I could devote a lot of time and space analyzing and critiquing many of the points made by both authors, I would rather deal with the foundational errors that Johnson makes in their book.

To begin, many of his statements of faith are couched in subjective terms. For example, as Johnson introduces this book, he states: "as one who used to primarily engage Latter-day Saint people with an 'apologetics only' mentality, seeking to prove them wrong by contrasting their claims with my understanding of biblical truth, that a dialogue approach is frankly more difficult but at the same time far more rewarding" (xxx, emphasis added). On the following page, he continues: "Thus, in frankness, it is really not my job, nor is it within my ability to make Bob Millet embrace the truth of Jesus Christ as I see it" (xxxi, emphasis added). We have been called by our Savior to proclaim His revealed truth, not simply to share our religious beliefs as best as we understand them. Johnson seems to miss this vital subjective / objective distinction, all too often leaving his arguments in the realm of his own personal religious opinion. Rather than recognizing the need to clearly proclaim God's truth, he is content to merely compare and contrast his beliefs with those of his Mormon friend.

Consequently, Johnson sees himself and Millet as truth seekers on a common journey to know God. He says: "my role is to love Bob Millet, be his friend, to pray for him, share life with him, and honor him as my fellow human being and fellow truth seeker" (xxxi). Later, he writes:
If we can imagine ourselves waling on a road, taking a long journey together, neither of us would be happy if the other one could not reach the final destination. Each of us might be happy that we made it but sad that our friend did not. Therefore the question you ask can never be answered in the spirit of "I'm right and you're wrong" or "I'm going to heaven while you're bound for hell," but rather that we both long to go to heaven together and must be willing to do whatever it would take to help each other discover the Truth (92).

And finally, he states: "It would be wrong to assume that neither Bob nor I are generally seeking truth and would be willing to embrace it wherever it might be found" (95). But is it really wrong to deny their common search? Biblically, no one seeks God unless he has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals and Mormons are not travelling down the same path together--we have reached our destination in Christ while Latter-day Saints are running away from Him by rejecting the essential truths of who He is and what He has done.

Where do Johnson's errors lead? "If you were to ask me if my friend Bob Millet is a saved Christian, I would have to answer that I do not know for sure. But I can say that it is entirely possible that he and other Mormons could be saved Christians in that they have a sincere and genuine relationship with Jesus Christ" (89). Millet and Johnson go on to say together in their conclusion: "But we also know, as C.S. Lewis once stated, that there are many people even outside the ranks of Christianity who are being led by God's 'secret influence' to focus on those aspects of their religion that are in agreement with Christianity and, as he said, 'who belong to Christ without knowing it'" (128-129). This is nothing other than an open endorsement of inclusivism, a dangerous and unbiblical belief that ultimately casts aside the necessity of evangelism. With such ambiguity in evaluating Millet's spiritual condition, it is no wonder that Johnson shuns a more confrontational approach.

Thus Millet and Johnson's book is an unsatisfying conversation. While all evangelicals should strive to foster healthy relationships with our Mormon neighbors, we must not compromise our commitment to the exclusivity of Jesus Christ and His revealed truth. I pray that we will lovingly, patiently, and yet firmly proclaim the gospel of our Savior to Latter-day Saints.