10
Dec
08

Robert L. Millet and the LDS Church

 

     The most prominent Mormon author that writes about grace is Robert L. Millet.  Some Mormons rely on his work quite extensively. But do his views represent official LDS teaching?  A couple of his books that I have read include a statement like the following:  “This work is a private endeavor that does not presume to speak for either Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

     So how much of his work does the LDS Church recognize?  I did a search on LDS.org and found some articles that he had written for the Ensign in the 80’s and 90’s but nothing since.  Especially noticeable by their absence were any articles written by him on grace – one of his key topics.  I did find him mentioned in a couple of footnotes by other authors in some later editions – but that was about all.  I don’t see his emphasis on grace being echoed or even recognized by the leadership of the LDS Church.  The disclaimer that he puts in the front of his books is accurate – his work does not speak for the LDS Church.

     Therefore, when speaking with Mormons who refer to Millet it is important to establish the fact that his ideas do not represent official Mormonism.  In fact, he relates in the preface of his book “Grace Works” how one Church leader told him how some of the brethren were quite uneasy and uncomfortable with this emphasis on grace.  He says that he does not presume to speak for the LDS Church.  The LDS Church hasn’t said that he represents it.  Therefore it would be wrong for us or anybody else to say that his words represent official Mormonism.  If we want to see what the LDS Church officially says we need to study the sources it says represents it – especially its scriptures, living prophet and apostles.

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26 Responses to “Robert L. Millet and the LDS Church”


  1. December 11, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Why would it be so important to establish what official Mormonism says?

    If you are witnessing to a Mormon, isn’t it more important to address what the actual Mormon in front of you thinks rather than what you think they ought to think about LDS doctrine?

  2. December 11, 2008 at 4:36 am

    Seth,

    If the Mormon you are witnessing to says they believe the LDS Church is the only true church on the face of the earth than it is VERY IMPORTANT to establish what the LDS Church officially says… afterall, in their minds the church speaks for God as it is HIS ONLY TRUE CHURCH!!

    Darrell

  3. 3 Brad
    December 11, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Mormons are often very quick to point out all the different denominations of Christianity, and use that to show how the “one” Mormon church shows unity. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t there be an official belief system?

    How united are Mormons (and specifically the LDS church), really, if many of them believe drastically different things than each other?

  4. 4 markcares
    December 11, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    It has proven very beneficial, over the years, with many Mormons I have talked with, to establish whether we are discussing their own beliefs or the beliefs of the LDS Church. Many times they begin by saying that they are the same. When I demonstrate that what they believe differs from the official teachings of the LDS Church, as defined by the LDS Church, it has caused a number of them to do some serious study and soul-searching. That is why I think it is important that the point of discussion is clearly defined.

  5. December 11, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    It is much more useful to discuss whether a particular author’s views are influential, rather than official. Obviously, almost all Latter-day Saint authors says they do not speak for the church. This is because, in Latter-day Saint ecclesiology, only the president of the church is in the position to speak for the church. It is a given that not every member of a particular church will hold the exact same beliefs as other members of that church or even the official pronouncements of the church. Where core beliefs are concerned, where explicit doctrinal teachings are regularly emphasized there will be less diversity; where the scriptures are silent and the church has not made any official pronouncement on the matter, then it is possible that a variety of views are held by individual Latter-day Saints.

    Latter-day Saints are often criticized either way. If they do all share the same religious beliefs they are accused of not thinking for themselves and just following whatever their prophet tells them to do. On the other hand, if there is variation and diversity of belief, then apparently they are criticized for not being unified.

    Latter-day Saints do not have a professional clergy of seminary trained theologians and there is nothing like a Mormon Catechism that official sets forth official Mormon doctrine. As you point out, individual Latter-day Saint authors typically preface their works by stating that what they advance should not be viewed as official Mormon doctrine. But this has more to do with the authors religious views on authority than with how the work seen by the membership at large. Some writers, particularly Stephen Robinson, are quite influential among church membership. In addition, where an author’s particular views represent only a minority of members at one point in time, such views may represent a growing minority or a greater proportion of the membership at a latter time. Therefore, it makes more sense to ask whether certain views are influential than official.

  6. December 11, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    “Mormons are often very quick to point out all the different denominations of Christianity, and use that to show how the “one” Mormon church shows unity.”

    I don’t argue that Brad. I consider the unity of the LDS faith to be more one of covenant and authority than of doctrine (though I am also not saying that doctrinal unity in certain respects is unimportant)

  7. December 11, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Seth,

    Your position goes against the whole foundation for the Restoration. JS said that DUE TO ALL THE DIFFERENCES OF OPINION ON DOCTRINE. The restoration was supposed to take care of all of the supposed differences ON DOCTRINE. If the church is divided on doctrine that speaks volumes against the whole theory of the restoration itself.

    Darrell

  8. 8 markcares
    December 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Aquinas:
    The problems Christians have is not when Mormons hold differing beliefs where the church has been silent, but when they hold a differing belief when the church has spoken and then claim that their differing belief represents official Mormonism.

  9. December 11, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Could you offer an example of this type of situation?

  10. 10 markcares
    December 11, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Here’s one example. Statements about the living prophet. Such as: “That which a living prophet tells us will always be in harmony with the standard works, but this is not to say he is limited by them.” “When prophets, who are inspired by the Holy Ghost, speak, their words take precedence over other statements on the same issue.” “the lving prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.” “Beware of those who pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always takes precedence.” I have found many Mormons not agreeing with these and other such statements even though many of them were spoken by President Ezra Taft Benson and are presented as the official teaching of the LDS Church.

  11. December 11, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    In my own experience I would say that Latter-day Saints often hold a range of beliefs or positions. They can do so and still be faithful members in good standing. In other cases, there comes a point when the position is so divergent from an established or explicit teaching that their beliefs would fall outside of mainstream Mormonism. If for example a Latter-day Saint said they do not believe there is such thing as living prophets or that they do not believe living prophets are necessary, or that they do not believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, then that seems to me that it would be fair to describe such beliefs as being outside Mormonism. In such a case, if these Latter-day Saints said that official Mormonism teaches that God does not have prophets today, such a statement would be without support. This to me would be very anomalous.

    Two observations as to your example. First, I think it is useful to make a note of which areas of belief the majority of Latter-day Saints seem to agree and which areas allow for variety. Second, I think it is useful to consider why Latter-day Saints can hold differing beliefs in certain situations. Did these individuals explain why they didn’t agree with those statements? What language did they feel more comfortable with? In contrast to those statements, what is the view that they propose is official Mormon doctrine, and how did they attempt to support that view?

  12. 12 markcares
    December 12, 2008 at 12:58 am

    My experience with Latter-day Saints has been somewhat different. In my experience it hasn’t mattered what the doctrinal topic was, rather it has been how much they asked questions about it that caused them difficulties. Quite a number of LDS missionaries have been suddenly moved out of an area ahead of schedule after they started to ask questions. Some have even contacted me after they were moved specifically to apologize for not keeping an appointment with me – and consistently they said they were moved because they were starting to ask questions on some of the topics I raised with them. Their asking questions was the one common denominator – not any specific doctrine.
    LDS members have related similar things to me. It was when they started to ask questions in class that they got into trouble. Again it didn’t matter what the topic was – their questioning of the official lesson was not condoned or tolerated – regardless of the subject matter.
    My question is: how much are differing views tolerated Sundays in the wards?

  13. December 12, 2008 at 2:08 am

    That hasn’t been my experience at all. For example, Latter-day Saint online community isn’t shy from tackling questions on doctrinal issues of every kind. There are several blogs of this nature and Latter-day Saints frequently discuss philosophical, theological and historical issues.

    Personally, I’ve never heard of missionaries being transferred because they were asking questions. It is important to realize that with missionaries their primary purpose is to preach the gospel and they need to scrutinize their usage of time for the time they are in the mission field. However, with LDS members who are not on full-time missions, I’ve never heard of them being disciplined for asking questions about doctrine. Sunday School meetings are devotional in nature and how they are conducted depends on the needs and composition of the class and the instructor. Church-wide curriculum for Sunday School rotates four-year cycle: Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants. Naturally, discussions will focus on the prepared lesson for the edification of all members. Outside of Sunday, during the week, Institute classes are offered for adults and the youth (during release time) and while also devotional in nature, these classes have more flexibility to deal with controversial topics and issues. Yet, ultimately each member is responsible for his or her religious education. There are individuals at all stages and in differing situations. Some people may not really take their religious education seriously and may never be forced to ask difficult questions as they go through life. Others spend large amounts of time studying the issues and the scriptures and are well-read. There are people in between. I find that this is the case in many churches. However, if a person intentionally seeks to disrupt the class its possible the instructor may decide the discussion is best had outside of the class. Many people come to church to be nourished by the good word of God and these meetings are communal in nature. On the other hand, some instructor’s may be prompted to deal with the issue in class and feel this helps the needs of the class. It depends on the particular situation and the needs of the class and the individuals involved and it takes tact and sensitivity.

    To answer your question anyone can personally hold certain views so long as they don’t teach that these views constitute official Church doctrine. Instructors are encouraged to teach from the scriptures and not to speculate on doctrinal matters. So for example, if Brother Smith wants to believe that the age of the earth is exactly 6,000 years old and Sister Jones doesn’t want believe this, that’s fine. But if Brother Smith gets up and in an official teaching capacity and says “You must accept that the age of the earth is 6,000 years old to be a faithful Mormon” then he will probably be told to stop saying this. Or depending on his situation, people might just let it go as just something Brother Smith likes to do. Wards are like families so, sometimes that needs to be kept in mind.

  14. December 12, 2008 at 4:44 am

    I’m fairly well known in my ward (and past wards I’ve been in) for bringing up rather unconventional comments during lessons and not being content with the easy answers.

    I don’t think this has harmed my standing in the community of faithful at all.

  15. December 12, 2008 at 4:59 am

    I should also note that Robert Millet is one of the most popular authors of LDS non-fiction books alive today. His books are always sold in prominent display at Deseret Book (the Church-affiliated bookstore) and I saw all sorts of his titles getting prominent display at BYU’s bookstore as well. His titles sit right next to popular books by Gordon B. Hinckley and Boyd K. Packer.

    Millet has been a fixture in teaching doctrinally heavy courses at BYU’s yearly “Education Week” for the last twenty years (it’s a summer week long symposium of Mormon religious themed courses for LDS adults held at BYU each year). Millet is one of the most prolific LDS authors alive. I’ve lost count of how many books he has published (I’m sure it’s over twenty) all under the ambit of Deseret Book.

    Keep in mind that Deseret Book highly regulates what authors it promotes and carries. Unconventional authors do not typically make a big showing.

    To say nothing of the fact that Millet has been a fully credentialed member of the CES as a BYU professor. That is a highly regulated environment. You don’t get tenure in that system by being an unorthodox maverick.

    Put simply, the guy is one of the most popular LDS authors alive today and has just about every token of authority and legitimacy that you can get in our Church short of being directly quoted in General Conference.

    The claim that Millet is somehow not mainstream will sound like sheer lunacy to any Mormon who reads on the Wasatch Front. My suspicion is that Evangelicals are simply keen to discredit Millet because they are scared by how similar to some of their views he sounds. For many Evangelicals, the quest to emphasize difference from the hated Mormon faith is so all-consuming, that they react with surprising venom toward any Mormon who demonstrates views that make that divide any more fuzzy.

    Don’t worry Mark. You guys are still different from us. Never fear.

    But Millet is the real deal, I’m afraid.

  16. December 12, 2008 at 5:10 am

    Seth and Aquinas, I am of the opinion that bloggernacle is a different doctrinal world than traditional S.E. Idaho.

    But I also tend to think S.E. Idaho will eventually catch up to the more liberal sophistication of bloggernacle.

    And eventually LDS regions for conservative doctrine might be outside the U.S.

    How is that for the lastest conspiracy from the Idaho spud?

  17. December 12, 2008 at 5:17 am

    I think that Millet’s books written to an LDS or secular audience are much more sharply focused.

  18. December 12, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Seth,

    Not many everyday “Joe Mormons” in the local wards have a clue who Millet is. Not only that but his views are not widely held… you don’t hear to many talks in conference that sound very Millet like. He is on a quest to mainstream the church and that isn’t happening anytime soon… as evidenced by many of the talks in the last conference. He might be good fare at BYU… but not in conference. Not to mention that he does not speak for the church so his words hold ZERO authority.

    Darrell

  19. 19 markcares
    December 12, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Aguinas:
    I’m wondering if we are comparing apples with oranges. My experience dialoguing with LDS on the Internet is quite a bit different than dialoguing with most in person. Rare is the LDS member who, in person, talks as openly about their beliefs (and doubts) as many LDS do on the web.
    Again I can’t speak to your experience with LDS missionaries. Have you had many personal, face to face, talks with them? Over the years I have had hundreds of such talks. All I can tell you is what they told me. I have also talked with many returned missionaries. And some of those who told me about missionaries being moved were still very active in the LDS Church. On top of that, I have had other people relate the same thing to me.
    I agree with Darell about the influence of Millet on the average Mormons. Last night I was with a LDS family who had asked their names to be removed from the rolls of the church. Their bishop was there confirming the fact that they wanted their names removed and asking the reasons why. I feel confident in saying that this bishop hadn’t been influenced by Millet at all.
    Finally, about experiences in wards. I think we probably all would agree that the “climate” in wards depends a lot on who the bishop is. Maybe the climate is just more stifling in Idaho. But again I have talked with LDS members around the country and the experiences I mentioned above has not been limited to those in Idaho.

  20. December 12, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Darrell,

    Not a lot of ordinary “Joe Evangelicals” have any clue who Elijah is either.

    Most “Joe Mormons” don’t pay much attention to General Conference talks either. Most of my friends dads sleep through most of it on the couch.

    What’s your point?

  21. December 12, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    And what is more, these Church manuals that everyone likes to cite around here.

    You know how many Mormons actually read them?

    It’s a pretty small number. So even if you guys want to cite Church manuals or General Conference talks to illustrate what most Mormons believe, you’re on pretty shaky ground.

    Ignorance is common in all religious traditions – Evangelicalism not excepted.

  22. December 12, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Seth,

    That is my point… we are not trying to cite what “most mormons believe”. We are trying to cite what the CHURCH teaches and believes.

    Darrell

  23. December 12, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Mark, it’s possible. After all, all we can do is speak from our personal experiences. However, one of the benefits of online communities is that we can learn how things are outside of our particular perspective. We can inquire whether what we face is a local phenomenon or more wide-spread and generalizable.

    Perhaps it would be useful to discuss specifics. What does Millet write in his books that people reject? I want to make clear that, again, Latter-day Saints can disagree with other Latter-day Saints. Latter-day Saints don’t simply accept (and they shouldn’t) accept anything written by another Latter-day Saint simply because they are a member of the church. But for the sake of discussion, what specific teachings does Millet espouse that you feel average members would find alien to their religion?

  24. December 12, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    “My suspicion is that Evangelicals are simply keen to discredit Millet because they are scared by how similar to some of their views he sounds.”

    For the record, I don’t think this is the case. As for me, I am not scared of Millet because his views are closer to that of the protestant world. I simply think that many of his comment do not line up with official church teaching. In addition, I think some of his comments are very misleading (we have discussed some of these in the past).

    What bothers me is when mormons parade his views around as if they hold authority and then try to discredit a statement of an apostle or prophet with a Millet statement. Who speaks for the church… Millet or an ordained apostle? Come on!!

    Darrell

  25. 25 markcares
    December 12, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Aquinas:
    I agree that we should get input from as many sources as possible. I think my talks especially with returned missionaries does give a wide range of experiences since these young men served all over the country and world. It wasn’t just an isolated mission president who moved them unexpectedly out of an area.
    I also think that on-line interactions, although they represent a wide geographic spread, represent only one slice of the pie. I think the profile of those people who actively enage themselves by leaving comments on blogs is still quite specific. The more mediums we use – personal, on-line etc. and the more variety of methods we use in framing the discussion will increase our accuracy. On-line dialogues is one piece of the puzzle, but only one piece.

  26. December 13, 2008 at 1:14 am

    I don’t really “parade” Millet as having any value in and of himself. The only merit he really has for me is the strength of his arguments from scripture. For me personally, scripture is the primary source If you can argue something from the scriptures with me convincingly, then that has a lot of weight for me. I don’t really think any viewpoint has merit simply because “it’s Millet’s.”

    The only time I’ve ever brought him up was to illustrate a strain of LDS thought that Evangelicals might find interesting or a place of common ground. I never tried to portray him as being somehow binding on the whole Church. I point out common points of reference between faith traditions when I find them. That’s all.

    And I really don’t think Millet is marginalized, at least among Mormons who read – whatever their ideology. Among Mormons who don’t read much, I think all print sources (including the actual scriptures), frankly, are of marginal character.


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