Serving the Mormon Jesus (Update)
Over the past few years as I have responded to the public statements of Paul Owen my language, and my predictions of his eventual abandonment of any form of evangelical belief, have undoubtedly caused some to wonder. The “behind the scenes” issues, and years of previous private interaction, explain a lot of it. This is not a “I told you so” post. Instead, the massive confusion created by the movement Owen represents has been illustrated to such an extent relating to Mormonism that it must be used as a clear warning to all who would go down that road: it ends in Babel, where everyone talks, but no one says anything any longer.
This post documents in Owen’s own words his rejection of evangelicalism (or, to use his words, “the evangelical wasteland”). Of course, what “evangelical” means anymore is anyone’s guess, but the rest of this article gives you a good idea. Once again, Owen’s multi-traditional past comes to the fore, even in his own self-diagnosis. In any case, Owen views himself a good Catholic today. A few decades ago that would have meant something in the broader spectrum of things, but today that probably means he will get a wider audience in a post-evangelical landscape where the foundations have crumbled and the boundaries of truth are no longer discernable nor desired.
Two days after posting this testimonial, Owen posted the following:
On March 22-24 we will be holding the annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. The meetings will be held at BYU in Provo, Utah. I will be presenting a paper entitled: “How Being an Anglo-Catholic has Affected My View of Mormonism.” For more information about the society, check out http://www.smpt.org . Having been involved from the beginning in the founding of this group, and having attended the annual meeting last year, I can tell you that there are some high quality theologians and philosophers involved (both LDS and non-LDS), and some very interesting papers and discussions. I find it a refreshing time to get together and converse with my gracious Mormon friends about the God we both profess to love and worship, the Lord Jesus Christ whom we serve, the differences which define our two faiths, and future dreams of drawing closer through the illumination of God’s word.
One cannot help but notice the similarity in this language and that used by Rome regarding Muslims in Vatican II, how Catholics and Muslims together “adore the one true God” etc. In any case, let’s step back a moment and get our bearings.
Mormonism, in its historical self-definition, is the “one true Church on earth.” It, and it alone, possesses authority from God in the priesthood. It is the singular restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ after the church ceased to exist on earth shortly after the death of the last apostles. Its founder, Joseph Smith Jr., taught an extreme form of polytheism (LDS prefer the term “plurality of gods”) wherein the distinction between God and man is abolished: God and man are of the same “species,” and the difference between them is one of degree (exaltation) not one of being. God himself is an exalted man who lived on another planet, and today lives upon a planet that circles a star named Kolob. There were gods before him, there will be many gods after him. In fact, for many Mormons, the number of gods is infinite. God, in Mormonism, cannot create anything, he can only organize pre-existing matter. Jesus Christ has not eternally existed as God in Mormonism, which is hardly surprising in light of the fact that the Father (Elohim) likewise has not existed as God from eternity. Jesus is the first begotten spirit child of Elohim and one of his many heavenly wives (the current LDS hymnal makes reference to our “heavenly mother”). Despite the embarrassment of many LDS scholars, the consistent teaching of the LDS hierarchy over the years has been that God the Father, who possesses a body of flesh and bone (but no blood) sired, fathered, Jesus Christ naturally through a physical relationship with Mary. This is, in fact, why Jesus had the ability to take back his life, for he had, in Mormon theology, an immortal father. Jesus Christ, rather than being the eternal Creator whose all-sufficient death on Calvary redeems God’s people perfectly, is but one god amongst many gods, one of our species, who began the work of “atonement” in Gethsemane, and only finished this upon Calvary. Mormonism has no meaningful doctrine of sin, atonement, holiness, justification, and, being a polytheistic religion, has never been able to produce a scholarly commentary on such books as Romans. It subjugates the Bible to Smith’s “revelations,” some of which, like the Book of Abraham, are so far removed from serious consideration as divine revelation that it is testimony to the power of deception that so many intelligent LDS continue to believe in them.
Let’s put it simply. Islam is closer to Christianity than Mormonism is. If that causes you to stumble, then you are clearly struggling to recognize substance versus verbiage. Mormonism uses our language, our terminology, but it fills those words with utterly foreign meanings. The most basic definition of a religion is whether it is monotheistic or polytheistic. Christianity is monotheistic. Mormonism is polytheistic. You can take all the Christian terminology you want and try to build it into a polytheistic base, and it simply doesn’t work. The root gives form and definition to the branches. Start with a theomorphic man (a phrase taken from LDS sources) and you can never rise above that level. Start with polytheism, and you will never arrive at Christianity.
Now there really isn’t any serious question about the nature of Mormonism’s teachings, at least for anyone who takes seriously the Word of God and believes God can communicate the truth of His own existence to His creatures. If Mormonism can be considered any kind of “Christian” faith, then Islam must be as well. The very concept of language breaks down when you force a word to stretch that far.
So with these things in mind, let’s consider what our newly minted “Anglo-Catholic-I-escaped-from-the-wasteland-of-evangelicalism-former- Presbyterian-former-Pentecostal-former-Mormon” says here about his original faith. He writes, “I find it a refreshing time to get together and converse with my gracious Mormon friends about the God we both profess to love and worship, the Lord Jesus Christ whom we serve, the differences which define our two faiths, and future dreams of drawing closer through the illumination of God’s word.” Let’s lay these out:
Owen asserts that there is a common profession of worship of the same God. I will note his defense of this below. Briefly, even contemplating the idea that the great and self-sufficient God of eternity can be in any way, shape, or form, paralleled with the theomorphic Elohim of Mormonism once again takes us beyond the pale of rationality.
Owen asserts that Mormons “serve” the Lord Jesus. He uses the plural “we,” as in “we
Owen asserts that it is possible to “draw closer through the illumination of God’s word.”
I wish to examine these assertions briefly as a means of illustrating the inherent incapacity of movements like that exemplified by Owen, and on a broader level, Richard Mouw, etc., to maintain a foothold in truth and to actually call Mormons (or anyone else involved in idolatry) to repentance and faith.
First, is it relevant that Mormons claim to worship the same God as Christians? Let’s recognize that for many decades Mormons did not even make this assertion. They were more than happy to recognize that their God differed fundamentally from the God of Christianity. As recently as the lifetime of Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie he could refer to the vast chasm that separates Mormonism and “Christianity.” Much has changed over the past few decades. But this issue aside, this is the same issue facing Christianity and Islam. Do we worship the same God? Can someone who believes in Allah, a unitarian deity, be said to be worshiping the God we adore? I see no reason to believe this to be so, and what is more, I see nothing in Scripture to support such a concept. God’s worship in the Old Covenant was very specific, and the New Covenant has not made that worship any less specific. Would anyone argue that the Israelites should have met in ecumenical discussion with the high priests of Baal, because, after all, we are all just worshiping the same God anyway? But the high priests of Baal were less polytheistic than the leaders of the LDS Church!
Owen attempts to defend his viewpoint:
We don’t always have to speak of the faith of other religions in negative terms. Sometimes it is appropriate to take their claims of faith at face value, and work from that point toward a true and orthodox experience of God’s love in Christ. My empathetic affirmation of Mormon intentions in their worship of God and service to Jesus are amply supported by biblical texts like John 4:22; Acts 17:23, 27; and Romans 10:2.
The contrast between Owen’s viewpoint and that expressed by the prophets of Israel and the Apostles of Christ is marked and simply glaring. Elijah would have had little understanding of Owen’s mindset. But let’s look at the texts cited:
John 4:22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
It is hard to see how this text is relevant, especially in the context of Mormonism. The Samaritans were not polytheists. They were an off-shoot of Judaism, and Jesus said directly that their worship was one marked by ignorance. I see no evidence that this means that Jesus would have supported an ecumenical discussion where “Jewish worship” and “Samaritan worship” could be discussed on equal terms. Jesus is clear: salvation is not from the Samaritans, it is from the Jews.
Acts 17:23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
Again, I am left wondering if Owen thinks this means Paul would have met in ecumenical dialog with the priests of the unknown God? Was Paul giving credibility to the worship of an unknown God? Could anyone argue from his writings that this was the case? Did he not say to the Galatians that when they were idolaters that they worshiped those that were by nature not gods at all (Gal. 4:8)? Did he not identify their worship as idolatry? Most assuredly. Will Owen tell Dan Peterson and Bill Hamblin that their worship is idolatrous at their meeting? Paul immediately moved to a proclamation of the truth in opposition to their superstition, and he uses the idol of the unknown god as a means of opening up that opportunity of proclamation, nothing more. He never would have had the slightest interest in discussing “unknown god spirituality” or in attending a seminar on “unknown god philosophy.” The entirety of his presentation is couched in, “It is not this (your belief) but it is this (the truth).” It ends with a call to these men to repent based upon the evidence God has given in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Owen seems to think that if you have examples of this kind of preaching, this means Christians should meet with heretics in ecumenical forums. But such does not follow. Respectfully speaking the truth is not the same as disrespecting the truth by abandoning the unique truth claims of the Christian faith or subjecting them to being treated equally alongside rank heresy.
Finally, about the Jews Paul the apostle wrote,
Rom. 10:2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
Once again our credulity is stretched to the breaking point to believe that Paul’s words about the Old Covenant people of God can be applied to polytheists. Are we truly to believe that Paul would have said of the pagan idolaters of his day, “I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge”? Surely not! Some of Owen’s own fellow-travelers felt compelled to point out the rather obvious problems with his citations, and he replied,
Obviously, my point in the verses I cited was not to say that the faith of the Samaritans, or the pagan philosophers, or the Jews was valid and orthodox. My point was that Jesus and Paul did not always feel compelled to deny that adherents of other religions did “worship” and have a genuine zeal for God, albeit one that needed to be fulfilled by the gospel. They didn’t employ word games like: “Yes, you worship God–a false god that is!” Or to use an example drawn from common anti-Mormon rhetoric: “Sure the Mormons worship Jesus–another Jesus!”
There is a reason why Paul Owen is the favorite “evangelical scholar” of FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), and one of the main reasons is that this former Mormon sounds so eerily like…most Mormons. The irony is, the apostles said exactly what Owen identifies as “anti-Mormon rhetoric.” Paul said exactly these things in Galatians 4:8 and 2 Cor. 11:4, and Owen knows it:
As I have stated before on numerous occasions, including on this site, I do not accept the argument, drawn from 2 Corinthians 11:4, that the Mormons can only be said to worship another (counterfeit) Jesus. Unlike Paul’s heretical opponents, the Mormons do not claim or intend to be followers of a Jesus who is anything but identical to the Jesus of the entire apostolic witness. Paul’s opponents intentionally denied Paul’s apostolic witness, and professed to worship a Jesus who was not accurately revealed in Paul’s gospel. That puts Paul’s rhetoric in that passage in a different category than the language we should use to describe Mormon faith. I do not believe Paul would tell the Mormons they believe in “another” Jesus. He would tell them that they need to grow into an orthodox understanding of the Jesus in whom they already have a real (albeit theologically defective) faith.
I truly believe we need to understand what Owen is trying to communicate. It is vitally important. Here’s the argument: for this text to be relevant a person must intentionally know the truth communicated by Paul and, knowing this, seek to specifically deny that witness. But, as long as you are honest, but ignorant, you are free from this apostolic warning. Of course, there’s a problem here. Paul wasn’t talking to his opponents in this text. He was, it seems, lamenting the lack of discernment on the part of the Corinthians toward the one who “proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed.” They were willing to receive a different spirit, and accept a different gospel. Paul says he is afraid that their lack of discernment will allow them to be led astray (v. 3). Now, does it follow that as long as a person is sincere, they do not have “another gospel”? If they are sincere they don’t have a different spirit? If they are sincere, they can teach abject falsehood concerning Jesus Christ on every possible level, even to the point of promoting rank polytheism, but we are still to honor their “sincerity” in believing these things? Should we likewise honor the sincerity of the Muslim who denies the deity of Christ and the crucifixion and enter into ecumenical dialogue with those who with us worship the same God and serve the same Christ? Is this not the consistent outcome of this kind of muddled thinking?
No, obviously, the person who may preach a false gospel is accountable for doing so whether he is ignorant of Pauline teaching or not; this in no way changes the falseness of the gospel the person is preaching, because the gospel is an objective revelation. In the same way, God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. The Muslim may have all the sincerity in the world when he says he honors the prophet Jesus, but since the Jesus of the Qur’an “is just another rasul,” he is proclaiming another Jesus. And the Mormon can protest his or her sincerity and devotion with fervor, but the fact remains that this person is spreading falsehood, and is culpable for it as well. So it is quite proper to warn others of the false gospel and false Christ and false God of Mormonism. The Bible warns us of the false gods of the peoples but never ameliorates that warning with “but those idolaters sure are sincere in their idolatry.”
And this brings me to the last point. You do not slowly move into true worship from idolatry. You never find the prophets trying to move idolaters “a little closer.” “You go ahead and keep worshiping 3/4 of the gods you were worshiping before. We are just happy you have decreased your polytheism by 1/4! Way to go!” This was not the apostolic proclamation, for a simple reason: idolatry is sinful. It is something to be repented of, not slowly talked out of. You turn from it, and turn to Christ. You do not continue in it but try to redirect it by a few degrees. The “illumination of God’s Word” can only reveal Mormonism to be the God-dishonoring false religion that it is. You do not “grow closer” to falsehood. You call those in it to repentance and faith. In fact, I cannot think of anything you could do that would show less love for God, and less love for idolaters, than to encourage them in their idolatry by putting God’s truth on the table to be examined as just one of many equally valid, equally scholarly viewpoints. Oh, for the times when men of God honored His truth before they gave the first thought to their academic accolades!
Owen has posted a “woe is me” article that, of course, fails to interact with any of the refutation of his faulty reasoning, etc. Owen’s writings are so self-contradictory that only a small number of like-minded folks could possibly continue to find in them anything of substance. Owen wants to tout his “evangelical roots” while speaking of his leaving the “evangelical wasteland.” He wants to call himself Reformed while constantly attacking Reformed theology. My hope is that simply by the presence of these articles a quick Google search will help to warn anyone who would think of this man as a conservative, Reformed theologian.