Stephen H. Webb on ‘Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate’
Webb, Stephen H. “Review of Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate – By Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott.” Reviews in Religion and Theology 15.3 (July 2008): 426-429(4).
Stephen H. Webb (Ph.d. University of Chicago), describes himself as a ‘conservative Christian theologian’ and is Professor of Religion & Philosophy at Wabash College. His brief four page review of ‘Claiming Christ’ in Reviews in Religion and Theology came as a refreshing critique packed with amazing vignettes and serious gems. He applauds Millet and McDermott’s intense and civil religious dialogue. “I trust [Millett] in part because McDermott trusts him,” Webb explains, “which is to say, the book worked wonders for me.” (427). “Their friendship lets them argue with daring and honesty, but it is their commitment to the truth that makes this book truly edifying.” (426). Webb explained how for him the book was a powerful experience in “recognizing how another religious movement truly recognizes your own savior in spite of differences in how that savior is described.” Ibid.
Indeed, what I appreciate most about Webb’s review is that he doesn’t spill any ink contemplating on the legitimacy of this dialogue. He wastes no time in extending the dialogue and offering his own set of questions and musings. Webb encourages Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints to “think more seriously about the Petrine office” and consider how Evangelicals, Mormons and Catholics adjudicate between “original revelation and authoritative interpretation of that revelation.” (427). Indeed, this is likely to be an important topic for future dialogue.
The most fascinating part of ‘Claiming Christ’ for Webb is the pre-existence of Christ and most of the review is devoted to this topic. Webb explains, “At the heart of Mormon cosmic optimism is the idea that the incarnation of Jesus was not an afterthought to creation or a contingent response to an accidental fall of humanity into sin. Christ embodied is the center of the cosmos; he lived as we do before we were created to be like him . . . Indeed, if Mormons err theologically, don’t they err in taking this worship to an extreme, if such extremity is possible? Do orthodox Christians really want to say that Mormons make too much of Jesus?” (p428-429).
All throughout his review is a consistent call for engagement with Mormons. “[O]ne can only conclude,” Webb stresses, “that the next great phase of ecumenical Christian dialogue with other religions has to begin with the conversation between orthodox Christians and Latter Day Saints.” (429).
Honestly, I felt only four pages was much too short for Webb’s review. How could any reader not want to read more after the observation that:
“Indeed, one of the amazing things about Mormonism is that it transgresses most theological categories as well as the standard account of theological history. Mormonism is like an alternative reality come to life – an alternative history of a post-Nicene development of pre-Nicene theology – the ultimate ‘what if’ theological parlor game.” (427).
I encourage those who have access to Professor Webb’s review to read it today, and I look forward to Professor Webb writing more on the topic soon.
BHodges has posted a thoughtful review of Stephen H. Webb’s new book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (OUP, 2012).