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SBTS journal examines Mormon challenge to Christianity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–For the past 150 years Mormonism has been in conflict with biblical, historic Christianity.

But leaders of Mormonism — officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — have in recent years downplayed the cult’s divergence from traditional Christianity and now portray it as merely another form of the biblical faith.

Steven J. Wellum, editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, contends that Mormonism’s efforts at blurring theological lines are designed to make the sect appeal to a broader public. In his editorial in the summer edition of the SBJT, Wellum argues that Mormonism is not merely one variety of Christianity among many.

“Regardless of the Mormon claims, it is difficult, nigh impossible, to maintain that Mormonism is just another version or subset of historic Christianity,” he writes. “Why? Because at point after point, if we compare and contrast Christian orthodoxy with Mormon theology, we have to conclude that Mormonism represents an entirely different theology, an alien worldview — another gospel, which is no gospel at all.

“In this regard, we need to heed the warning of Paul that even if an angel from heaven preaches a gospel other than the one proclaimed by the apostles, let him be eternally condemned (Gal. 1:8-9). That is why evangelicals historically view Mormons as those who need to hear and respond to the true gospel found in Scripture alone, and as standing outside a saving relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The SBJT edition examines the topic of Mormonism from a number of angles from its overall appeal to its particular doctrines. Essayists include Chad Owen Brand, associate professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brand examines the widespread appeal of Mormonism and shows its historical development alongside post-reformation evangelical Christianity.

Evangelicals often find Mormonism intriguing because of the clean lifestyle and conservative values of its adherents. Mormons may make great neighbors, but their doctrines and practices within the church appear as anything but appealing to evangelicals, he contends.

“But it is the faith beliefs and churchly practices, not the lifestyle, of the Mormons that are so off-putting,” he writes. “Odd doctrines, like the eternity of creation, multiple gods, the preexistence of the soul, the deification of men, and virtual universalism all seem quite bizarre.

“Odd practices, such as secret temple proceedings, baptisms for the dead, sacred undergarments, and deep secrecy as to the leadership of this oligarchical (episcopal?) organization are only a few of the things that have caused orthodox Christianity generally to consider the LDS ‘church’ a cult. Yet, both in the 1830s and today, Mormonism has been a religious tradition with wide attraction.”

The SBJT Forum addresses the issue of Christians speaking the truth in love to Mormons, sharing with them the light of Christ and His genuine Gospel. Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern, asserts that Mormons do not need an unbiblical and unsatisfying vision of Christian hope.

“Instead, our LDS neighbors (and all of us) need to hear of the biblical glory of a restored universe in which human beings will rule with Christ over all things, a universe in which nature itself is freed from the curse and in which human friendship, love, and community continue and grow forever.

“LDS families don’t just need to hear that we are pro-family. They need to understand that we are pro-family because the family reflects the Fatherhood of God (Eph. 3:14), a Fatherhood that finds its meaning not in pre-mortal spirit babies but in the sonship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:15).”

Also in the SBJT Forum, John Divito, a master of divinity student at Southern Seminary and a former Mormon, offers advice to those who successfully bring Mormons into a true relationship with Jesus Christ. New converts to Christianity out of Mormonism have two basic needs, he writes: clear, uncompromised biblical teaching and patience. Divito serves as a research associate for Mormonism Research Ministry.

“For some reason, many evangelicals think that when a former Mormon or other cultist comes to Christ, all of his or her former beliefs and attachments simply disappear,” he writes. “This is simply not the case.”

Other essayists include Baylor University professor Francis J. Beckwith, Palm Beach Atlantic University professor Paul Copan, and Eastern University professor Carl Mosser.

The journal also includes a number of book reviews. To subscribe to the SBJT or obtain further information about it, please contact the journal office at 502-897-4413 or [email protected].

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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