13
Dec
08

Robert L. Millet – continued

 

     In the discussion following my post of December 10th, I was asked what might be something specific that the average Mormon might struggle with in Robert Millet’s writing.   Millet answers that question himself.  For example, throughout his book, Grace Works, he sprinkles in examples of how grace is not emphasized much in the Mormon Church.  He talks about how a person’s comment that the LDS Church is willing to talk about mercy and grace makes the brethren nervous and uncomfortable. 

    He also relates how his father reacted when he, before going on his mission, asked him about being saved by grace.  “He stared at me for a moment and then said firmly, ‘We don’t believe in that!’  I responded, ‘We don’t believe in it?  Why not?’ He said promptly, ‘Because the Baptists do!’”  He continues by saying that that statement speaks volumes to him now.

    I know many LDS people today who would still respond as Millet’s father did.  And I submit that they would respond that way with good reason.  They would respond that way because Mormons still don’t hear about grace very much from the church.  For example, I did a word search on the word grace in the last General Conference.  It was mentioned only once and that mention was not even in the context of salvation.  Millet’s emphasis on grace is not only not being echoed by Church leaders, it is often repudiated by grass-roots Mormons.

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17 Responses to “Robert L. Millet – continued”


  1. December 13, 2008 at 1:19 am

    I appreciate the post Mark. One of the problems with the attitude that Millet describes that his father had is that we often reject any teachings taught in another church simply because they are in another church, rather than asking whether our faith can embrace such teachings. Millet isn’t introducing the concept of grace into Latter-day Saint theology as much as he is suggesting we take a closer look at the passages of grace found in the Book of Mormon—passages that were there from the beginning. The history of Mormon-Evangelical relationship is a turbulent one, and has been plagued by caricatures on either side, but fortunately there is more open dialogue between Mormons and Evangelicals today. For example, First Things recently published an October 2008 article by Bruce D. Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. Porter writes:

    [M]any critics of Mormonism charge that we do not believe in salvation by grace. Early in the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Lehi gives a lengthy discourse on the subject of Christ’s atonement that underscores the centrality of his grace in human salvation: “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (2 Nephi 6-7). Then the prophet declares, “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:5-8). Another Book of Mormon prophet, Amulek, explains Christ’s sacrifice as the means by which “mercy can satisfy the demands of justice,” and he sees mankind as irretrievably lost without it: “this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:16).

    If you are having a discussion with individuals like Millet’s father, I think the better strategy for Evangelicals is to encourage Latter-day Saints to focus on these passages. For example, in conversing with Latter-day Saint neighbors, an Evangelical might say: “You know, I’ve actually read some of your Book of Mormon and I really like where Lehi describes the Messiah as full of grace and truth and says that no flesh can dwell in the presence of God save it be through the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah. We should talk more about that.” Such conversations would go a long way and I really cannot imagine any Latter-day Saint resisting a discussion about grace after such an introduction. Often people who do not have a relationship of trust are suspicious of each other. Latter-day Saints are used to being ridiculed for their beliefs and can be suspicious of the motives of people who want to test their religious beliefs. However, taking a more relational approach built on trust would be much more effective where the goal is to actually influence Latter-day Saints.

  2. 2 Todd Wood
    December 13, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Mark, not only in the book, this very illustration by Millet would be used in a Millet/Johnson dialogue promotional video.

    Some Questions:

    1. One pertaining to Millet: Aquinas, have you ever asked Don Peterson if he thinks that Millet accommodates too much to evangelicals? I think he and others might react in a similar way that I do with some evangelicals in their packaging of Christianity to other target audiences. I see a division in the LDS Church on how to handle evangelicals. And who knows what the First Presidency thinks about all this?

    2. And since we are on the topic of grace, Aquinas: remember that phrase, “grace for grace” in John 1:16. Does Millet believe that Jesus needed grace for grace? I need to ask him sometime.

  3. 3 Susan
    December 13, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Aquinas,

    I agree with your perspective on the importance of relationship building and looking for places within the Mormon faith where God is already revealing something about His Nature and His Truth. A lot of Biblical Christians are afraid to do that, because they think it will come across as supporting the beliefs/doctrines of Mormonism as a whole, and give the appearance that we pretty much “believe the same thing”. I don’t see myself as “bringing” God to anyone. I know that God desires for everyone to come to receive His Truth, and He is constantly moving and working in all of our lives. My role as one of His Children is to pay attention to what God is already doing/revealing, and by the power and discernment given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, join Him there.

    The apostle Paul was a perfect example in this approach. He was a student of the cultures/individuals around him, and he used the things that he learned about people to open their eyes to the One True God in their midst….who had been there all along. He wasn’t afraid to point out nuggets of Truth within the pagan belief systems. A lot of times we allow Satan to take us off in another direction, along some tangent that isn’t going to open someone’s eyes to the Truth (what we are saying may be completely truthful, but if not driven by the Spirit of God…inneffective). We can’t join Him in making disciples of all nations if we aren’t accutely aware of the best way to communicate the Gospel to each individual He brings into our lives.

  4. 4 markcares
    December 13, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Aquinas:
    The point of discussion needs to be not if the LDS church speaks of grace – but does it speak of grace alone in relationship to salvation The Bible teaches that, in salvation, grace and works don’t mix. Romans 11:6 is one passage that says that clearly. The LDS Church teaches otherwise. It’s grace and works.

  5. 5 markcares
    December 13, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Susan:
    I agree wholeheartedly that we need to look upon this in a cultural context. I made that very point in one of my first posts, July 30th.
    When studying a culture, a point often made is to have as many “cultural guides” as possible. In this case, the more LDS members we talk with the larger the opening we have into LDS culture. Not only that, the more diverse a group of LDS we speak with, the better understanding we have of their culture. If, for example, we only speak with “scholarly Mormons” we are getting a glimpse only into one segment of Mormonism.
    Another important principle in studying cultures is seeing how a person’s culture impacts their daily lives. In interacting with many Mormons from many different backgrounds over many years and in many different parts of the country, I have seen a common thread – the striving for worthiness and the accompanying, often incredible, stress of feelings of being unworthy. In close connection with that is the uneasiness, even fear, of sharing those feelings. That, more than anything else, has convinced me that Mormonism isn’t pointing their members to the wonderful fact that Jesus’ work and sacrifice has made them worthy. That is a message they need to hear from us becuase that is a message they aren’t hearing from the LDS Church. The proof of that is in how the teachings of the LDS Church has molded LDS members’ thoughts on worthiness.

  6. December 13, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Susan, I appreciate the comment. I couldn’t agree more and what I think we are seeing is that many Christians have confused boundary maintenance with evangelism. I think that there is a definite fear on the part of biblical Christians to support anything at all in Mormonism for fear it would legitimize Mormonism. Such concern however is not directed towards the Latter-day Saint but rather towards other Christians, to prevent other people from being confused or to prevent them from thinking Mormonism is an acceptable expression of Christian faith. It is a containment strategy to prevent Mormonism from spreading, but it is definitely not evangelism nor is it following the Great Commission.

    Many Evangelicals want to keep Mormonism completely distinct from orthodox Christianity on every single point of doctrine. Therefore, when Evangelicals who dialogue with Latter-day Saints discover areas of agreement or areas where the difference is not nearly as severe as has been typically portrayed, this violates the goals of Evangelicals solely concerned with boundary maintenance. This is then followed up with a reaction that those agreements aren’t really agreements, that we don’t speak the same theological language, that it is just deception, or that this particular Mormon is just a minority or doesn’t speak officially, or it’s just a fluke, or it still doesn’t go far enough, etc. Such individuals want to push Mormonism back to the other side of the spectrum so people don’t get the wrong idea. In contrast, Evangelicals who are more concerned with actually influencing Latter-day Saints want to encourage Latter-day Saints to talk more about grace and foster concepts within Mormonism that they perceive are closer to Christian orthodoxy. The problem here again is the idea that Mormonism is getting “closer” to Christian orthodoxy is interpreted by boundary maintenance Christians as Mormonism is getting more acceptable or legitimate, and that is an intolerable state of affairs for them. The deep irony is that one side trying to encourage Latter-day Saints to move towards orthodoxy and the other side is trying to push them back towards heterodoxy so that other Christians don’t become “confused.”

    I think the main thing to do is to clarify what one’s goals are. Is your goal only to make sure other Christians don’t get confused (clearly not evangelism), or is your goal to actually encourage Latter-day Saints to feel more comfortable with certain ideas within biblical Christianity? Then, I think it is important to evaluate the methods that you choose to use and examine whether these methods are actually effective in achieving your goals. If you have a message for Latter-day Saints but they don’t seem to listen to you, or they consistently resist it, then it is possible your method is flawed and it would make more sense in using all your energies towards finding more effective methods. I completely agree with Susan that even if what we want to say is the truth, we have a responsibility to convey that truth in the most effective way possible or else we may in fact end up pushing people away.

  7. 7 Todd Wood
    December 13, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Well, if there is anyone who has read and heard beautiful and effective gospel presentations over and over and over again, it would be Dr. Robert Millet. And I say this sincerely, Aquinas: I continue to fervently pray for this man.

    And when he dies, you will then need to be the one who steps up as a point man in instructing evangelicals on proper effective methods for reaching LDS in the years ahead. I say this with a note of teasing irony. (Does God ever do that in the Bible?)

    In all this talk of effective strategies, sometimes God calls his messengers to speak in love and say things that anger others. Unfortunately, who wants to say words of judgment about compromise in one’s own religious camp or words of judgment against false religions. One sees this stuff in the Bible, and yet we all know it doesn’t jive with the new great emergence of spirituality and religion in America and their missional emphasis.

    Mark, thanks for letting me jump in for the moment with my jumbled thoughts on your blog. I appreciate it. Sometime, I don’t know when, I need to get away for a day or two and really hash out on paper my missional differences with Aquinas.

    But back to your last comment, I would agree. There is much stress. Lately among my LDS friends, three marriages have broken up. And it is with humble joy that I can share with friends how worthiness comes from grace alone in Christ alone.

    Last Sunday, among the baptisms, I baptized a redeemed mother (LDS background) who gave testimony before her unsaved adult family in attendance. It brings tears to my eyes. And her transformation, and all her family coming to this service, had nothing to do with my “effective methods.”

    It was beautiful, marvelous grace alone. God is good. So full of grace to us who desparately need it.

  8. 8 markcares
    December 13, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Aquinas:
    I agree we need to be clear on our goals. My goal is to spread the wonderful good news (gospel) that everything needed for us to live eternally with heavenly Father has already been done for us by Jesus. And that relying totally on Jesus’ work is the only way that we will be with Heavenly Father for all eternity. That necessarily involves pointing out teachings that obscure or nullify that.
    I don’t want to misunderstand what you wrote so I would appreciate clarification. Is your goal to “actually encourage Latter-day Saints to feel more comfortable with certain ideas within biblical Christianity.” What happens if their comfort zone falls short of beleving in grace alone? Does that bother you? Should we have any sense of urgency in talking with Mormons? I would appreciate clarification.
    Just so that I am clear. I feel a great degree of urgency. I believe that the teachings of Mormonism, even when they are getting closer to the truth, are leading many to hell. I have talked with some LDS who have been greatly influenced by Millet and others. But even they still balk at the idea of grace alone. Shouldn’t we be telling them, warning them, that a mixture of grace and works, no matter if it is weighed more to grace than traditional Mormonism, is still a recipe for disaster? Or don’t you believe that?
    Personally, I think this is an issue that needs much more attention in inter-faith dialogues.

  9. 9 markcares
    December 13, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Todd:
    Hope you jump in much more. Appreciate your comments.

  10. December 13, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks for the response Mark. I sense of urgency is important but I think urgency should also include urgency in seeking the best and most winsome manner of conveying gospel truths in a way others can accept at what their particular stage of faith. I would not agree with an all or nothing approach, in other words, to say that unless Mormons completely reject Mormonism then everything is in vain. I don’t take the view that there some sort of “firewall” which prevents Latter-day Saints from feeling the influence of God merely because they happen to be a member of the church. I believe God is much more powerful than this.

    You can tell Mormons that they aren’t saved by works or even grace plus works but the real question is not what you can say but what happens after you say it. What is the effect of this statement on Latter-day Saints? Obviously, if this is coming from a stranger who is hostile it won’t have much effect, in fact it might just cause them to turn into a person like Millet’s father and think “Well, if Evangelicals believe this then it must be something wrong with it.” If it is coming from a friend then perhaps dialogue can ensue. I think the important thing is to realize potential difficulties with accepting “grace alone.” When Evangelicals speak about “grace alone” some Latter-day Saint may misunderstand this to mean what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in “The Cost of Discipleship” the Lutheran theologian would call “cheap grace.”

    Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. . . Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

    It is possible that Latter-day Saints tend to emphasize verse 12 of 2 Philippians: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And it is possible Evangelicals tend to emphasize verse 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Yet, I hope that people can accept that both verses are the word of God and that when we seek to define ourselves against the religious other we tend to reject the word of God simply because the other side likes to quote from it.

    For Latter-day Saints free will or agency is an important concept. The idea that your actions actually have meaning is important. All too often what ends up happening is that Latter-day Saints can only hear Evangelicals to be saying “Look, nothing you do matters. None of your actions, your thoughts, your desires, your decisions, nothing that originates from you has any meaning in life. Anything you choose or decide is totally and utterly insignificant. Isn’t that wonderful news!? Now, all you have to do is leave the Mormon church and you’re saved!” This isn’t persuasive at all.

  11. December 13, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    I don’t think grace-alone is necessary to be “Christian.”

    Eastern Orthodox and Catholics being a case-in-point. You can look to Rom 6:11 if you wish, but there is an equal amount of language in the Bible showing that this is a TWO-way relationship between God and man, and not just a ONE-way relationship.

    It takes two to covenant. Grace alone is not sufficient for such covenant – though it is absolutely crucial and necessary.

  12. 12 Susan
    December 14, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I already shared my (lengthy) undertanding of grace vs. works in a comment to Mark’s post on Definitions in November…so I won’t go there.

    I’m not sure why people frequently assume that when you begin talking about relationship building and following the Spirit’s direction in witnessing, that it means you are just trying to avoid controversy and aren’t taking the urgency of the situation seriously. Maybe this is true for some people…but I personally have not shyed away from controversy in my witness to the Mormons in my life or anyone else. I simply believe that it is the power of God that reaches people, and He gives us the magnificent honor of being used by Him as a vessel to communicate His Truth effectively when we join Him where He is in their lives. The apostle Paul frequently asked his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray that God would open doors for him to communicate the Gospel, and for the words to communicate it clearly and effectively. He didnt’ shy away from controversy (and we shouldn’t either), but he also realized how desperate he was for God’s direction and discernment in each unique situation.

    We can expect that there will be situations where people become angry with the message (and the messenger), and that doesn’t mean that what we are saying is wrong or that we are saying it in the wrong way. But we also need to understand that we can’t bust down doors that God has not yet opened…and if we try, we can actually become a stumbling block on their path to Christ.

  13. 13 InCognitus
    December 15, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Mark, I read your comments about the preface to Robert L. Millet’s book, Grace Works, where you talked about “how a person’s comment that the LDS Church is willing to talk about mercy and grace makes the brethren nervous and uncomfortable.” I didn’t get that idea from reading the preface to that book. I think it’s worth looking at the preface again:

    PREFACE

    A prominent Church leader mentioned to me that while on a flight across the country, he became involved in a conversation with a well-known Christian pastor. After some initial remarks, the other man (not of our faith) said essentially, “I want you to know that many of us in the religious world are thrilled with the changes that are taking place within Mormonism.”
    “What kinds of changes do you mean?”
    “You know,” he replied, “your growing acceptance in recent years of Jesus Christ, and your willingness to speak and teach of his mercy and grace.”
    The Church leader then asked me, “Do you know how nervous and uncomfortable such a comment makes me and some of my brethren?”
    My silence signaled my answer.
    He commented that of course we accept and rely upon the grace of the Savior. We have always done so. That’s nothing new. Of course we’re Christian. But there are some doctrinal differences between our beliefs and those of our brothers and sisters of other Christian faiths, and we must never, in an effort to build bridges of understanding or friendship, minimize our differences. Our strength lies in our distinctiveness.
    He then encouraged me to continue to teach the Atonement, to emphasize the centrality of our Lord’s mercy and grace, but to do so with balance, always pointing out the vital place of works of righteousness and the need for them.
    This book is an effort to be true to that charge. I have written other books and several articles on the subject of grace and works, but not until now have I attempted to synthesize and distill our teachings on faith, grace, works, and salvation in a manner that is at once plain and clear and personally applicable. Not only do I desire to be understood but I have a deep and earnest hope that I will not be misunderstood. (Grace Works, Robert L. Millet, Deseret Book, 2003, pp. v-vi)

    From reading this I got the idea that the Church leader and “brethren” were not uncomfortable about the teachings on grace, but about the perception that somehow this is representing a “change” taking place within Mormonism. The Church leader even emphasized that the LDS have always taught that we accept and rely upon the grace of the Savior. He even told Professor Millet to continue to emphasize the centrality of the Lord’s mercy and grace, but to do so with balance. Another thing that strikes me from reading this is that this book is, at least in Professor Millet’s view, an effort to “synthesize and distill [the LDS] teachings on faith, grace, works, and salvation” in a clear way in an effort to be fully understood. So he’s laying all the cards on the table and making his best effort to represent the LDS point of view on that topic completely and accurately.

  14. December 15, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I actually heard Millet speak a few months ago, and he stated that grace is both necessary and crucial for salvation. But it is NOT sufficient. I don’t think Millet has ever taught that grace is “sufficient” (which seems to be the position of many Calvinist Evangelicals).

    The Mormon view has always been one of a combination of grace and acceptance on the part of the believer.

    Where the lines get fuzzy is in defining what constitutes that acceptance. A “grace Evangelical” might assert that only sincere belief is required. A Mormon would say that certain ordinances are required to constitute such acceptance (as would many Catholics and Orthodox) PLUS righteous works.

    Millet does not disagree with this. He merely reminds Mormons that our works do not “earn” salvation based on their own intrinsic merit – merely that they are tokens of our acceptance of the grace God freely offers.

    If there is any “shifting” going on – that is where it is happening. All Mormons believe in an equation where something more than grace is needed. This flows naturally from our view of humans as non=predestined free agents. You cannot really believe in human free will and assert at the same time that only grace is needed for salvation. Hardly any Mormons therefore, can be really designated as “grace only” Mormons.

  15. December 15, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I think it is important to be careful and theological sensitive when describing these issues. Craig Blomberg, in How Wide the Divide, noted that:

    Evangelicals, like Protestants more generally, can be divided into two broad camps in terms of how they have synthesized these two strands of teaching. Calvinists, following the legacy of sixteenth-century Reformer John Calvin, stress the first set of texts, at times to the virtual exclusion of the latter, in strongly emphasizing the grace and sovereignty of God. . . Jacob Arminius, a Dutch Reformer who came after Calvin, rejected all five points of the TULIP, stressing the second group of texts cited above, as part of his emphasis on human free will. . . Calvinism has influenced Presbyterian thought, while Ariminianism played a major role in the Methodist movement founded by John Wesley in the 1700s. (Blomberg, p. 167-168).

    Therefore, it should be stressed that not all Christians are Calvinists. Latter-day Saint thought, like Arminianism, stresses human free will. Latter-say Saints stress that that men and women have significant free will and God has not predestined some for eternal damnation and some for eternal glory. It is important not to mistake the Calvin-Wesley dynamic with a Evangelical-Mormon dynamic. I highly recommend this chapter in the book as I think it resolves many of these misunderstandings.

    As I understand the Calvinist position, no human activity, be it thought or action, has any bearing whatsoever on human salvation. God has already decided everything and what you think or feel is completely determined by God. So, if a person has faith in Christ and desires salvation, it isn’t that persons doing, but rather God created that person to have those feelings and desires. The person who chooses not to repent and does not want to love God, God did not intervene in this person’s life after the fall. All man deserves to be damned and God chooses to step in save some but not others and how he makes that determination has absolutely nothing to do with human activity and if humans think this makes God unjust, then Calvin would respond by saying, who are you to judge God? (see Calvin in Institutes 3.23.4).

    Evangelicals generally consider synergism (the view that salvation is grace plus human works) to be heresy. In HWD, Robinson asks “Is it synergism to insist that the saved must remain faithful and obedient to the will of God after they are saved, or that their future lives and choices must in some degree reflect their service to the Master? No, we have already agreed on this already. Salvation consists of both God’s offer and the individual’s acceptance of that offer.” (Robinson, p. 159). Some Christians may be adamant that humans shouldn’t even get credit for accepting God’s offer and if humans accept God’s offer it was really God accepting the offer not the human. In such a situation, human will is illusory and this is going to be very difficult for many Christians who are not Calvinists as well as most Latter-day Saints to accept. Many people tend to believe they do make choices and that those choices are real. Indeed, God’s grace works through us (Philippians 2:13), sustains and enables us, but the debate as to what extent human will relates to salvation doesn’t seem to me to be a Mormon issue per se, but rather part of a larger historic debate within Christianity.

    It is very important that if there are disagreements that we are disagreeing on the right things.

  16. December 15, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks for the invite, Mark. I enjoy your posts. I need to set up a permanent link sometime on my blog to your site.

    To be honest, Aquinas, I have not had many believing LDS eager to adapt their sotierology to either the Methodists or Nazarenes, etc., which is my family background. Friends typically say, “I agree with you but now consider adding a little bit more to your sotieriological package in the path to exaltation.”

    Does the First Presidency believe that Arminius shared the full plan of salvation on grace and works?

    And who would you agree with more, Arminius or Pelagius, on the topic of man’s sinfulness? I have received mixed responses from LDS.

  17. December 15, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    If I understand it correctly, Mormons are similar to Arminians, but there are still some crucial differences – even in our view of free will. Can’t recall the details at the moment though.


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