[The Classic Christian] Christian Issues: Is Mormonism now a part of the Amer…

Posted: March 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

 

 

 

Mohler became seminary president after serving as editor of The Christian Index, the oldest of the state papers serving the Southern Baptist Convention.

PRESIDENT, THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Evangelicals, Mormons on Same Side of Cultural Divide

Is Mormonism now a part of the American mainstream? That question raises a host of issues — including the question of what constitutes the “mainstream” now anyway?

There are two questions here. One has to do with the status of Mormonism, the second with the definition of the mainstream.

I must answer the Mormon question first, and from two perspectives. As an evangelical Christian theologian, I must clarify that Mormonism is in no way consistent with orthodox Christianity. It borrows Christian themes and texts, but its most basic beliefs directly contradict the central teachings of Christianity.

Mormonism holds that God is an exalted man, with a physical body. Christianity teaches that God is Spirit. Mormonism denies the historic Christian understandings of the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, and the doctrine of salvation. Christianity promises salvation through Christ’s atonement and the sinner’s justification by faith. Mormonism promises deification. Christianity calls for personal faith in Jesus Christ. Mormonism calls for obedience to its own teachings as the path to exaltation. Mormonism replaces belief in the sole authority of the Bible with other writings, including the Book of Mormon. This list is only a brief summary of the vast chasm that separates Christianity from Mormonism. Put simply, Mormonism is not just another form of Christianity. It is a rejection of historic Christianity.

That is a theological summary, but there is a sociological dimension as well. From that perspective, Mormonism can certainly claim to have achieved a comfort level in contemporary American culture — especially in what might be called “Middle America.” Most Americans would feel quite comfortable with Mormon neighbors. The Mormon effort to identify with American culture has been stunningly successful, and the movement’s idealization and inculcation of family values has won it the admiration of millions of Americans — including many evangelical Christians. The convergence of Mormon and evangelical Christian concerns on a host of cultural, moral, and political issues is no accident. The preservation and conservation of the family is a prime concern of both groups.

Now to the question of the “mainstream.” When sociologist Will Herberg wrote his famous work, Protestant-Catholic-Jew in 1955, he was describing what then appeared to be the mainstream of American religious life. The Protestants he described were members of the “mainstream” or “mainline” denominations that, for the most part, became associated with groups such as the National Council of Churches. Evangelicals were largely, if not entirely, left out of that picture.

Fast forward to the present and those “mainstream” denominations have been losing members by the millions while evangelicals have been in a period of rapid growth. The new American mainstream certainly now includes the evangelicals. From a sociological or political perspective, no one can ignore the evangelicals. By the same token, in vast areas of America — especially in the West — Mormonism is certainly a part of the cultural mainstream as well.

Both evangelical Christians and Mormons have, to some extent, worked hard to enter that mainstream. To a considerable extent, both certainly hope to remain there. Yet, I wonder about the prospects for that. As “mainstream” America moves in any number of directions, and as our current cultural shifts take shape, both evangelical Christians and Mormons may find themselves outside the mainstream once again. Issues including family life, sexuality, the definition of marriage, and any number of social, cultural, and moral controversies may drive both groups out of their cultural comfort zones — and fast.

The challenges of modernity confront both groups. How long will this “mainstream” remain the mainstream? Time will tell.

 

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