Statement On Richard Mouw And Evangelical Countercult Ministries
Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) was formed in 1982 as “a consortium of Christians in North America, seeking to help people distinguish authentic from in-authentic Christianity and strengthen evangelical Christian ministries to new religionists and cultists.” It serves as an umbrella group for about three dozen such ministries and over a dozen additional individual scholars, researchers, and evangelists also working in this field. It does not claim to speak for all evangelicals engaged in such ministry, but seeks to coordinate efforts among like- minded evangelicals and to promote high standards of accountability, scholarship, and ethics in ministry to people of new religious movements. EMNR includes several organizations devoted largely or entirely to apologetic and evangelistic ministry to active and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons.
Over the past ten years or so Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a respected evangelical theologian, has made a number of statements both explicitly and implicitly critical of evangelical ministries to Mormons. In remarks made at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004, Dr. Mouw stated that “we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community.” When challenged later as to the nature of these misrepresentations, Dr. Mouw stated that one such misrepresentation was the claim that “Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become Gods just like God is now.” He has recently repeated and expanded on this criticism in joint lectures with LDS scholar Robert L. Millet in 2012 and 2013. In these public lectures, Dr. Mouw characterized his “evangelical critics” as misrepresenting Mormon teaching with regard to Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet, “What man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” According to Dr. Mouw, the couplet is only “popular Mormonism” or “folk Mormonism,” has “never been endorsed” by the LDS Church, and “doesn’t have official status” or a “functional place today” in Mormon teaching. He similarly argues that the LDS Church is distancing itself from the theology of Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse, in which Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man like us and that human beings can and should progress to become Gods like him. Dr. Mouw suggests that Mormons today embrace a theology more like that of the Eastern Orthodox deification doctrine, or a theology in which the goal is simply to be become “more Christ-like.” Again, these comments were made in the context of upbraiding evangelicals who are supposedly guilty of misrepresenting Mormonism.
However, the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present. Joseph Smith himself “endorsed” Snow’s couplet as a “revelation,” a point made in the LDS teaching manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow released in 2012. In 1982 the Ensign magazine published an article explaining that Snow’s couplet “is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.” The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings: Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scriptures themselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eleven teaching manuals currently available on LDS.org, the official website of the LDS Church, teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including at least six manuals published since 2003.
The issue here is by no means peripheral. Joseph Smith claimed in the King Follett Discourse that understanding God to have been a man who progressed to Godhood was “the first principle of the gospel.” LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that “the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood,” and specifically cited both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet in support (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 46). Thus, what Dr. Mouw claims is “folk Mormonism” wrongly treated as LDS doctrine by other evangelicals is actually central to the LDS conception of the gospel.
Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.
This statement on Richard Mouw and evangelical countercult ministries appears also on the website of the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions.