For those of you who don’t know, one of the things I used to do was work for the Christian Research Institute once headed up by the late Walter Martin and now ursurrped by Hank Hannagraaf. Since Hank’s take over of CRI there have been a number of employee purges and financial scandals. The daughter of the late Dr. Martin is Jill Rische with whom I became acquainted by our common interest in deposing the fraud and fiend, Hank. Recently, Jill took a shot at Craig Hazen of Biola University, an evangelical school in my old stomping grounds of Orange County, California. It seems that Hazen not only attended, spoke at, but also prayed at a LDS-Evangelical joint meeting praying jointly with the LDS (aka Mormons).
Jill then took a good deal of heat from some not so unnoteworthy evangelicals for her comments as well as a noteworthy LDS philosopher and apologist. Apart from my personal friendship with her, I happen to think for the most part, she is in the right and so below is my apologia in her defense.
Why would this be any concern of readers of Energetic Procession? Well for some time the LDS have been trying to piggy back on the Orthodox doctrine of theosis and claiming, rather loudly, that they have restored the teaching of the Apostles. The argument has been made by them to remove the claim of heresy regarding their doctrine of deification. “See, Athanasius, Cyril and Co. believed we can become gods and they aren’t heretics, so we aren’t either.” Needless to say, anyone seriously familiar with the Orthodox view knows that this is, let me employ the academic technical term, bullshit. (And yes, since Harry Frankfurt of Princeton has now coined the term it is a term of art.)
It is important that the Orthodox engage the LDS heterodox views to make it clear what we are and not saying, especially when we wish to call Latins back to the faith of the Fathers, and Jesus Christ.
I have a dog in this fight though my dog is a rather strange one. I am neither an “evangelical” (whatever that may be) nor a LDS. I am Eastern Orthodox. I also know to some degree or another some of the parties involved, Jill and Craig. I think both are nice people. So here is my take.
Jill is not Walter Martin, but Walter for all of the good things about him was not Alvin Plantinga either or a Peter van Inwagen. Perhaps Jill could have framed her criticism better and without some of the rhetorical flare. Ok, we could grant that, but it seems to me that the fundamental issues are still present and left by and large untouched.
I met Craig Hazen a number of times at Biola apologetics lectures and at CSUF when he came to speak to the Atheist club there, when I was a (covert) member of it. Needless to say I was not impressed qua apologetic content or ability. It took me all of literally 10 minutes to dismantle his evidentialism with some Humean type skepticism a la Greg Bahnsen and I was an undergraduate. Craig was seriously speechless. He is a nice and friendly person, but he seems more of a poster boy than having any real academic substance. Surely he can toss out in a persuasive and friendly manner the William Lane Craig type apologetic but so can lots of people.
As an Orthodox Christian, I am canonically not permitted to pray with non-Orthodox. (This includes Protestants as well as Catholics btw) That would imply a common faith which we simply do not have as much as I would like it to be so. Prayer, like the Eucharist is not the bare minimum to practice so that we may eventually become united, it is the manifestation of a real and already existing unity. This is a long established point in Judaism as well as the practice and teaching of the earliest Churches.
Preaching at the LDS temple is one thing. St. Paul certainly preached at many pagan and Jewish centers that were opposed in one way or another to the Gospel. What Paul would not have done was pray with pagans or schismatics. The Fathers make it clear that praying with heretics is immoral. But you say, “I am a Protestant so what do I care what the Fathers say?” So be it, but they cannot be ignored either. Just because they are fallible doesn’t imply that they are either wrong or that you are more likely than they to be right, when in fact it is so much the more reason to think you might be mistaken. In any case, praying with idol worshippers or heretics makes you complicit in their idolatry or heresy.
It is certainly true that the LDS has been at times unfairly tarred by popular apologists. It is true that Christians should go some way in the name of fairness and charity to correct such obvious abuses. To that extent the actions of Paul Owen, Craig Hazen, et al are to be commended. By the same token, in good faith we should expect the same reciprocity from the LDS. The LDS have no shortage of pop apologists (Barry Bickmore for example comes to mind) who routinely misrepresent Christian teaching and has no shortage of theological slurs against Christianity. So far I haven’t seen any serious reciprocity coming from the LDS, token gestures notwithstanding. This doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I don’t spend my life watching what the LDS do, but they aren’t hitting the Christian world over the head with it either.
Also, how are we to distinguish good faith efforts on the part of the LDS from a strategy of assembling useful idiots? Certainly mimicry is possible and it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened in the history of the world. And just because it wasn’t the case with the Worldwide Church of God doesn’t imply that it isn’t so here. Various heterodox groups make a great effort to paper over terminological differences to pass themselves off as Christians. The LDS elders at my door, let alone the local LDS bishop, stake elder, et al haven’t stopped trying to tell me that they believe in the “Trinity.” Perhaps they missed that memo though.
Clarity and not ambiguous language is what is needed. The routine complaint of the LDS that why they get excluded from being labeled Christian since there is an illigetitimate copyright on the term rings hollow. The term has established usage, like other terms like “cat”, “dog”, “Marxist”, or “Republican.” Either conform to usage or get your own terms.
Nor am I particularly pleased with the LDS strategy to claim the teaching of the Fathers of the Church on theosis or divinization for their own apologetic purposes. As someone quite familiar with the teaching of the Cappadocians and other Eastern Fathers on this point, the LDS writings, even the better ones amount to nothing more than academic legerdemain. The stammering of Western Christians concerning this doctrine is not proof that the LDS have restored early Christian teaching for two simple reasons. First, you can find some form of theosis among the Latins (Protestant or Catholic) and second the LDS doctrine isn’t the teaching of the Eastern Church, not by a long shot. Becoming “gods” in the East (or for C.S. Lewis for that matter) doesn’t mean becoming a member in a sequence of a long and infinite line of corporeal deities. It means acting in God’s eternal incorporeal acts/powers/energies and derivatively so. The Orthodox always maintain the fundamental difference between divinity and creatures even in and especially in theosis.
New attempts to piggy back LDS polytheism onto the thought of some contemporary analytic philosophers of religion via Social Trinitarianism doesn’t wash. First because it is entirely speculative and isn’t the formal teaching neither now nor in the past of any Christian tradition. It is dubious that it will even last long enough to be so in the future. The faith of philosophers is a different beast altogether in any case.
Trojan hoarse moves to re-define monotheism not only violate established usage but are about as plausible as the attempts made by Jehovah’s Witness apologists a la Greg Stafford to claim that they are “monotheists” too. Are JW’s Christians now too? How about the Moonies? Besides, they do no work since they now only tell us that we disagree over the meaning of monotheism. They move the problem of incommensurability between LDS and Christian terminology rather than solving it.
Consequently, finding common ground is not the name of the game. Finding neutral ground is, but I simply don’t know of any and I don’t think anyone else does either. All ground is Christian ground and everyone else, be they atheist, a worshipper of Zeus, Apollo and Athena, or LDS polytheists are epistemological squatters waiting for eviction. Use (Wittgenstein) or reference (Russell-Frege) makes no difference since the semantic content of terms varies across conceptual schemes and it is at least not obvious that those schemes are commensurable or overlapping.
I also have a problem with what seems to be the underlying motive of praying with the LDS on the part of evangelicals, namely that this will or could result in their salvation so it is therefore permissible. While I am not an Evangelical and I am not a LDS, one of the other things I am not is a Utilitarian so the ends do not justify the means. It seems to me to assume a lack of confidence in either the image of God in humanity a la the powers given by God via the intellect and free will or a lack of confidence in divine providence. Take your pick since either of them will be problematic.
So should Christians talk to the LDS? Sure. Should we in a non-rhetorical and charitable way try to work past any possible misunderstandings? Yes. But it would be stupid to think that the division is all or mostly a misunderstanding. The other half of being gentle as doves is being wise as serpents. For some problems it doesn’t matter how long we talk about them, until one side alters its view talking is all you are going to do. Not all disagreements are resolvable through dialog. Ask Hitler and Osama.