Richard Mouw is probably best known for his seven-minute speech at the Mormon Tabernacle a few years ago that preceded a talk by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. Using half of his fifteen minutes of fame, Mouw apologized to the Mormons for ill treatment over the years by the Christian community. Meanwhile, his words upstaged the main speaker, as the media led off their broadcasts and articles with Mouw’s apology while relegating Zacharias’ excellent talk to nothing more than an afterthought.
Earlier this year Mouw wrote a reprehensible book called Talking with Mormons. Using this book as a basis, Peggy Fletcher Stack—a Mormon who writes about religion for the Salt Lake Tribune—interviewed Mouw in the August 2012 Christianity Today magazine (“Quick to Listen”).
The article is filled with misrepresentations. For example, Mouw explains, “One thing that really upsets me is when evangelicals say, ‘We don’t have time for dialogue with Mormons and all the niceties. We have to stand up for the truth and denounce error.’” First of all, who has ever made such a statement? This is certainly a straw man logical fallacy. Christian apologists are generally willing to dialogue. At the same time, their desire is to stand for truth. If Mormons want to allow for the disagreement of ideas and rightly forego personal opinion while correctly defining Mormonism as taught by the LDS leadership, the Christian apologist is more than happy to accommodate. However, the Christian should not allow for “dialogue” where this disagreement is allowed to be nothing more than superficial.
In the article, Mouw continued, “They (Christian apologists) fail to recognize that if we are to be people of the truth, we need to be sure we are criticizing Mormons for what they really believe, lest we commit the serious sin of bearing false witness against our neighbors.” He also insinuates that these Christians “tell (Mormons) what they believe.” The Christian apologists I know don’t just take a Mormon theologian at his/her word about Mormon doctrine. Rather, they go to the primary sources—including the Standard Works, church manuals, and the teachings of leaders in general conference addresses—to define Mormonism. This is not “bearing false witness” since the Mormon theological structure is set up this way. While LDS scholars may disagree with their leaders, their opinions should not be taken as official doctrine, in any stretch of the imagination.
Mouw goes on, saying, “To be concerned about the truth means we ourselves better be sure we are being truthful, to listen to others and really understand before we tell them that they’re wrong.” To this, I reply, “To be concerned about the truth mean that you, Mr. Mouw, better be sure you are being truthful, to listen to what the actual leaders in charge of the church have said in their addresses as apostles and prophets as well as what they write on church web sites and in church manuals before you tell the Christian apologists that they are wrong in their assessment.” Caution needs to be given in bearing false witness against the Christian brethren.
Mouw then insinuates that the “working theology” of Mormonism is somehow different from “previous declarations.” For example, he believes that “the most important development in recent decades has been an increasingly strong emphasis on the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.” Such a statement shows a complete naiveté of Mormonism. Just what makes him think that LDS leaders believe that the cross alone is what qualifies a person for the celestial kingdom? Just as recently as the July 2012 Ensign magazine, the church said that “a covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return” (“Understanding Our Covenants with God,” 22).
Explaining the covenant of baptism, for example, the article said that “we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We also promise ‘to serve him to the end’ (D&C 20:37; see also Mosiah 18:8–10).” If the covenant is broken on the Mormon’s end, then the covenant will not be kept by God. In other words, God will keep His end of the bargain only if the Mormon keeps his. How can Mouw be accurate when he told Christianity Today, “In the past, (Mormonism) put more emphasis on good works.” Does he even read current LDS manuals and magazines? Or is he merely hearing what he wants from his BYU professor friends?
Unlike the “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and Hare Krishna,” Mouw believes that Mormonism is not a cult because it does not emphasize “secrecy, duplicity, and a rigid ‘one true church’ mentality.” In his book, Mouw even claims that a group like the Mormons who believe in higher education should not be labeled as a cult. This make-up-a-definition-as-you-go mentality is self-serving. Certainly his view goes against Alan W. Gomes, who is a professor of historical theology at Biola University in California and a graduate of Fuller Seminary (where, until recently, Mouw served as president).
Gomes defines “cult” as “a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.” Among these central doctrines are “the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and salvation by grace through faith. These doctrines so comprise the essence of the Christian faith that to remove any of them is to make the belief system non-Christian.” Based on Gomes’ analysis, Mormonism most certainly is a cult.
When asked about Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, Mouw says the character of Smith should not be scrutinized. Rather, a person should consider “the central issue of what Mormons have taught about sin, redemption, and the person and work of Jesus Christ.” While he believes some LDS teachings are “off the charts,” he believes that these doctrines “contain some elements of biblical orthodoxy.” As far as sin, Mormonism teaches that “Adam sinned that men might be.” Mormonism teaches that “redemption” allows for the general resurrection of all humankind but cannot, by the grace of God alone, allow a person into the celestial kingdom without works. And Mormonism teaches that the person and work of Jesus Christ alone is not efficacious for a person to receive exaltation. To the contrary, Mormonism gets it wrong on all accounts involving essential doctrines.
In the article’s last line, Mouw states, “Instead of just criticizing religious movements and their founders, we need to understand their teachings and the communities built around them.” However, it is the teachings of Mormonism that leads to the criticism of this religious movement and its founders, not the other way around. By respectfully disagreeing with our Latter-day Saint friends, Christians want the very best for them. However, pretending that Mormonism is close enough to Christianity is nothing less than damnable for those who are not being properly challenged. Yes, we can have relationships with Latter-day Saints, but not at the high price of allowing these fine folks think that the religion they follow is somehow close enough to the biblical original.