A Strange Dog Indeed

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.

19 Responses to A Strange Dog Indeed

  1. Daniel Phillips says:

    Hey. Bumped into the site. I Like it Perry. Congrats on the twins. I think of you often. I found you comments on praying with heretics to be interesting and it may sway my thinking. I just need to figure out the practicality of it–not to bow to pragmatism, just how is it to be done? Ought it to be like fencing the table but applied to prayer?

    Gotta put the kids to bed…

  2. Perry, I’m glad you clarified that, particularly for the benefit of the other Kevin, above.

    The Rudder is still, however, problematic as anything other than an historical source. Yes, it is *a* collection of canons, but it is not *the* collection of canons; it is not a list of rules to live an Orthodox life by. There is no such thing currently. Kevin needs to hear from his living spiritual director the course to take. Reference to historical background is more likely to confuse the issue, as it simply doesn’t address the particular issue under discussion, and in that case, I would recommend to steer clear of it.

  3. acolyte says:

    Kevin,

    I didn’t recommend the Rudder as the be all and end all of discussion, but as a place to start in terms of looking at documents. So there was no implication that it was the equivalent to a Catholic catachism. Many parishes I know have aa copy of the Rudder so it is not that hard, at least in the three states I have lived in.

    My claim was not that we should never pray in the presence of non-Orthodox but that prayer with them is prohibited. What constitutes “with” is what we need to discuss. Certainly many Catholics and Protestants like to feel as if they are part of Orthodoxy or that we are part of the same church and hence they promote such joint prayer ventures. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Certainly praying with the Mormons in the Mormon Temple or such context is prohibited to Orthodox and it is rather strange that “Evangelicals” can’t see it as a clearly prohobited practice.

  4. Perry, recommending the Rudder to Kevin is not ideal for two very basic reasons: 1.) It is not the Orthodox equivalent of the Roman Catholic Catechism, providing official answers for inquirers’ questions, but is a collection of canons from multiple councils and fathers through multiple centuries, many of which overlap and even contradict one another. It is not systematic, and is certainly not something to be recommended to a catechumen as the end-all be-all of Orthodoxy. 2.) The Rudder, even when recommended, is almost impossible to come by. It is long out of print, and online copies tend to omit the extremely important annotations by St Nicodemus which clarify why so many of the canons are considered to be in abeyance.

    Kevin, you should ask your priest, who will give you an answer appropriate to your situation. My own understanding is that we are not to attend non-Orthodox worship services without explicit permission from one’s priest, who in turn receives his instructions on such matters from his bishop. In your case, a few non-Orthodox were present at an Orthodox Bible study, which is nothing to be worried about. Should we never pray anywhere that there are non-Orthodox present? We would never be able to pray!

  5. Don Bradley says:

    The first paragraph I just wrote was snippy and stupid. Please disregard with my apologies.

  6. Don Bradley says:

    Now we can bifurcate between the faithful and what….. the not so faithful? Sounds an awful lot like the evangelicals that run around determining who are the “true Christians” or not.

    The fact is that most, if not every single reader of this blog, owes an eternal debt of gratitude to some frothing at the mouth fundie for telling them about Jesus, or introducing to them the concept of Trinity, or some traditional protestant for introducing them to Church history, or some Anglican that broke them of Sola Scriptura…… you get my point. I do not have to nuke them with St. Cyprian just so I can feel good about my ecclesiology. Do you really honestly think God will exclude them from heaven solely on the basis of ecclesiology? I certainly don’t think so. Chrism oil is not the pre-Finney altar call. God has His own criteria for Judgement; I hope He’s merciful to me, so it is prudent for me to show mercy as well.

    I don’t pretend to know who is a sheep or a goat. I love debating the non-Orthodox, and I oppose something as absurd as open communion. But I think it is only classy to be gracious to those non-Orthodox Christians that also love God the Holy Trinity considering that most of us once sojourned amongst them.

  7. The censing of the casket didn’t go over so well with the faithful either.

  8. Don,

    Is censing a casket the same as praying with say schismatics? I don’t know. And the prayer of Achbp Demetrius didn’t go over so well with the faithful.

  9. Don Bradley says:

    If the EP can cense the casket of JP2, it is hard to draw a line and say we can’t pray with Protestants. This is a far cry from praying with LDS polytheists, because the RC and prots are at least Trinitarian monotheists.

    Heck, how about Archbishop Demetrius doing the invocation at the Democratic National Convention and not bothering to cross himself?

  10. Kevin,

    There is plenty in the canons on this. I’d check The Rudder and the writings of Cyprian and Augustine for starters, speifically concerning the Donatists in Augustine.

    Inquierers present a unique situation or something near to it. I suppose it MIGHT depend if their interest is casual or if they are catachumens or not. But I am not a canonist.

  11. Sophocles says:

    Dear Don,

    Man. More bad news for me with people I previously esteemed in my Protestant days. I love “The Prophet” by Michael Card. There were some great songs on that album and the theology as I remember wasn’t shabby either. Shucks.

  12. Don Bradley says:

    Craig Hazen said this in his closing prayer at an event in Salt Lake City in 2004:

    “If we, as Joseph Smith, seek wisdom, we must ask God in prayer.”

    Michael Card led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in worship.

    According to the Deseret Morning News, which interviewed Card, he does not see Mormonism and Christianity as being opposed to each other. Rather, “they are more like the two ends of a long thread — part of the same thing…The older I get, I guess the more I want to integrate everything. I think it’s more important to be faithful than right.”

    Bishop Eusebius didn’t Arius was such a bad guy, either.

  13. kevinburt says:

    Perry,

    I am a catechumen in GOARCH, along with my wife and children. Could you direct me to more information about not praying with Protestants? We travel an hour every Sunday to the nearest Orthodox parish, but we also have a weekly study group in our home (under the oversight of our priest, who attends once a month or more) made up of ourselves, a couple other catechumens, and a few interested Evangelicals. After the study, we do nightly prayers together, following an Orthodox prayer book. At one point anyone who wishes to request specific prayers does so. Would this be considered “praying with heretics”? I’ve not come across this view before, and looking through my Orthodox books, I cannot find any comment on it. Thanks for any help or advice you may be able to give.

    in Christ,
    Kevin

  14. acolyte says:

    Paul,

    Thank you for taking the time to contribute and to do so here. Since you are more informed on this matter, I wanted to get your take.

    If I may make some friendly suggestions or simply air the way I perceive things I’d appreciate some critical response from you.

    I agree that Paul preaches to the pagans but I am not clear that he attempts to find common ground. It seems to me he informs them of the truth concerning this other deity, which in fact isn’t what they think it is, the God of the Jews. That isn’t so much appealing to common ground but rather co-opting and reorienting pagan beliefs.

    Granted that Paul does pray with the Jews, but that said, the Jews were monotheists and had the oracles of God and had a special place in the divine economy, even to the extent that their unbeleif doesn’t eliminate that standing. This seems not to be the case with the LDS. Moreover, it seems to me that Paul was in a specific period between the Old and New Covenants when the latter was coming to fulfillment and the latter was “passing away.” After that period, Christians fairly universally prohibited praying with Jews or participating in the synagogue and this practice has long and established Ecumenical consent across early and late Ecumenical Councils. The same can be said for praying with heretics.

    While it is true that God hears the prayers of righteous and unconverted pagans prior to the entrance into the Church, I am not clear how this licenses praying with them in the setting of worship. God is in a specific position which we are not, which it seems why the miracles attesting to gentiles’ conversion in Acts is so significant. Given faith, God is no respecter of persons. But that antecedent condition isn’t there in the case of the LDS.

    Perhaps you can point some mitigating factors out that I have not considerd since you have first hand involvement.

  15. Paul Owen says:

    Perry,

    I’ve been hearing about these criticisms of Hazen through the grapevine, but I’m not particularly in this loop. I don’t know much about Jill Rische. What I will say is this. All Hazen and others like him (I’d put myself in this category) are doing is implementing the sort of missionary strategy we see in Acts 17, where Paul acknowledges the religiosity of the Athenian philosophers, notes those points where they share common ground, and irenically attempts to call them to repentance and faith in the true God who is present though hidden in their own religious traditions. As for praying with people outside the Church, if Peter and Paul were willing to worship in the Synagogue and the Temple with the Jews (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 13:14-15; 17:1-2; 21:26), then I do not see how praying with Mormons can be excluded in every instance. Peter tells us that God hears the sincere prayers of people even outside the Church (Acts 10:30-31, 35).

    As for your other points:
    1. I agree that the Christian doctrine(s) of theosis/divinization rejects the premise upon which the LDS doctrine is based; namely that human beings are the spiritual offspring of God.

    2. I agree that a great deal of LDS apologetic misuses Patristic and biblical sources in its own defense.

    3. I also agree that Social Trinitarianism (as it is defended by some modern philosophers) stretches the boundaries of monotheism, sometimes beyond the breaking point. The social doctrine and the Eastern doctrine are not exactly identical.

    If there is more that I can contribute to this discussion I am happy to talk about it.

  16. Martin died the year before I started working at CRI. Hank I knew and a few others but not Kennedy. None of them had the slightest clue about Orthodoxy, except Horton. Horton’s routine dismissal was to accuse Orthodoxy of “Pelagianism.”

    Hank did practically nothing in terms of research on Hinn. I know. I was there. Half the time Hank needed someone to tell him what was wrong with the statements and at other times covering for the wacked out views of his buddies like Pat Robertson.

    That says it all.

  17. Sophocles says:

    Dear Perry,

    I didn’t know you were involved with CRI. In my detour into Protestantism years ago, CRI played a big role in shaping my world view about Christianity, in much a positive way. I still have “Kingdom of the Cults” by Walter Martin. I’m saddened to hear that Hank is not totally on the up and up as I enjoyed listening to the “Bible Answer Man” way back when the “Faith Movement”, “Toronto Blessing” were really coming to the forefront of “Christian” teaching with Benny Hinn and the like.
    I’ve always been interested in major Evangelicals’ take on Orthodoxy like Dr. Martin, Hank, Dr. D. James Kennedy and others. Were you associated with these fellas and what was their take on the Orthodox Faith? Just curious.

  18. acolyte says:

    Matt,

    Smart people can have justification for falsebeliefs and this tells you that justification and truth are not co-extensive. Just as there are smart atheists. Why are there smart atheists?

    I don’t think words are static either and I don’t have to. I only have to think that meaning is social and not private a la Wittgenstein or Putnam. With Republican the changes occur on a social level and people just do get to re-define the term any way they like since people won’t go along with their practice.

    I agree that many Orthodox do not follow the teaching of the Church, but that is their moral problem. I have and might attend a different group, but I won’t pray in the meeting, bible study or not. It is not that I wouldn’t like to but in good conscience I simply can’t do it without falling under conviction.

  19. Matt says:

    Perry,

    Thanks for commenting on this. It’s something I’ve noticed myself as well. As I’ve mentioned before, I wish you all would “branch out” a bit, but I understand the reasons you don’t. I find Mormonism interesting. I know a lot of smart business people and academics who are Mormons. I am talking sharp people here. Also, there are elements of their value system that I personally admire. However, I’ve never understood how all these smart folks could swallow the theology — it seems so obviously wrong. Do you have anythoughts on that?

    Also, two minor quibbles here. First, I don’t think all words are static. There is no singular definition of a Republican for example. That’s why we have to divide the group further into categories like neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, libertarians, etc. Even refering to a party platform doesn’t help you because that changes over time as well. The fact of the matter is if one of the above groups gains in power then the meaning of the term “Republican” will change.

    Secondly, you may be correct about the Orthodox not praying with other Christians but I don’t think that is really followed at all. Some Orthodox won’t attend other churches but it’s not like they wouldn’t pray with other people in a Bible study or something.

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