LDS-Evangelical Dialogue With A British Accent
Each week Christian Premier Radio in London broadcasts Unbelievable with Justin Brierley. Unbelievable brings together people from different belief systems, typically a Christian participant and a non-Christian participant, to discuss matters relevant to the Christian faith.
On February 28, 2009, Unbelievable made available on their online archives a show they did in 2006 with Baptist Pastor Greg Johnson of Standing Together and Dr. Robert Millet of Brigham Young University.
Listen online begins at audio marker 17:20-1:20:33.
One of the interesting things about this radio program is that callers and e-mailers come from the UK and part of Europe, Finland, etc. Not only do we get to hear these wonderful flavors and tones of English, but it is always good to get a international perspective about Christian issues and interreligious dialogue that may not be the same as that found in the United States. I get the impression that this is a rare kind of communication not normally seen on Unbelievable. During the show, Brierley often remarked that it is rare to find this kind of dialogue.
Brierley asks both Millet and Johnson to explain their stories and background and how it happened that they began to engage in public dialogue. Brierley then asks Millet to describe a brief history of the origins of the Latter-day Saint faith, including Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and notions of the Restoration. Both Millet and Johnson offer some of their views on the difference between the faith, as well as their methodology of engaging in dialogue. Brierly turns to Johnson to explain the main differences between Mormonism and traditional Christian beliefs. Johnson offers three points: 1) The LDS view of God 2) the nature of works and grace, and 3) the ultimate destiny of human beings. Millet and Johnson agree that they personally have discussed the nature of works and grace perhaps more than any of the other subjects.
One of the things I liked is that in taking callers and e-mail questions, there is a dialogue that occurs between Millet, the caller, but also Johnson comes in and explains the tensions and underlying concerns representative of the the caller’s concerns to Brierley and other listeners. This is extremely helpful. Sometimes we fail to appreciate that some concerns are indicative of larger paradigms at work and it is often helpful to take a larger look at what people are getting at. Questions by callers related to the LDS notions of the priesthood, DNA research and the Book of Mormon, notions of prophets and Joseph Smith, nature of scripture and the preservation of the text, Book of Mormon historicity, church organization, church finances, and notions of the afterlife.
Hardening of the Categories
Towards the end of the program there was a interesting discussion about the three degrees of glory. The questions took a turn towards who goes where according to Mormonism. While many critics of Millet would probably think he was trying dodge the issue by not just giving a quick answer, I honestly think that we need to be more charitable of the way Millet has chosen to answer the caller and Brierley on this topic. I think there is more going on here and I think Millet demonstrates the importance to be cautious when people ask you where they are going to end up. Think about it. I also appreciate Johnson’s clarifications and or qualifications on Millet’s answers as well.
Here is just a small selection of the exchange. I recommend listening to the show in its entirety.
Question: “According to the Mormon faith there are various degrees of heaven, Celestial and Terrestrial, where will I fit in, in the scheme of things?” (e-mail from a person who on the verge of becoming a Mormon but backed out).
Bob: “. . . Now, as to her other question, what is her plight hereafter? It would be rather foolish of me to determine where she is headed, that’s a judgment call between her and God. I will say, God will bless every man and woman according to the light and knowledge concerning the Savior and his plan of salvation that they are willing to receive. I read once where the Roman Catholic thinker in the Unites States, Richard John Neuhaus, made this statement, he said ‘You know, I guess I have to believe there’s a hell hereafter because scripture says so, but I can always hope it’s empty.’ And so I don’t know what her situation hereafter will be. I think God will reward and bless her according to the light and knowledge she receives from heaven.”
. . .
Justin Brierley: “Now, I’m just coming at this as a complete novice and obviously both of you gentlemen are far more aware of the issues at stake here, but I am assuming, Bob, while you said earlier I am going to heaven on the basis of my faith in Jesus Christ, I presumably am not going to be in the same kind of place as you are because you will have put your faith in a greater revelation, is that correct?” (audio marker 1:13:23)
Bob: “I don’t think I would say that Justin, and the reason I don’t is because, I mean, I think if you had asked me that 25 years ago I would have said Yes, yes that’s right! You made your bed, you lie in it! (laughter). . . . What I would say is this now–Greg and I have a phrase we use, we tend to suffer on both sides of this from would could be called “the hardening of the categories” and I think the hardening of the categories is a serious issue where we tend to assume the worse or assume something about another faith and I find myself now saying, ‘No, God loves Justin as much as he loves me and he is going to make every, every available opportunity to him just as he will to me, to learn of Christ and accept his Gospel,’ and so no I’m not in a position to say that your level of salvation or your association with the Savior in the hereafter will be any different from mine.”
Greg: “But, but Bob, Mormonism has a mechanism for making your statement a little bit more easy in that you believe in an after-life salvation possibility through baptism for the dead or temple services for the dead, that would allow someone like Justin or myself to embrace the further teachings of Mormonism beyond the grave, and would in fact need to in order to be an inheritor of the Celestial Kingdom, right?”
Bob: “I think that’s correct. That is, for us, life and love and learning continue into the world to come and that no person–the difference I think . . . one of the differences is the belief that Latter-day Saints hold that if a person does not have the opportunity in this life to hear the name of Jesus or learn of his Gospel, then that opportunity will come to them in the world to come.”
I appreciate the charitable but probing manner that Justin Brierley conducted the interview and for Unbelievable’s decision to make the show available online. As usual, I recommend downloading it to your iPods and listening to the show sometime this week.
For readers and listeners who are interesting in learning more of the Johnson and Millet conversations, see my previous posts covering just a handful of dialogues that Johnson and Millet have had across the country and internationally.
Robert Millet & Greg Johnson Dialogue at Christ United Methodist – Sep 27, 2007
Is Mormonism Christian? A Dialogue – Nov 19, 2007
Reading Scriptures with New Eyes: A Baptist and Mormon Converse – June 8, 2008
Mormon and Evangelical Dialogue in Denver – Oct 21, 2008