Jeff Needle, whose AML reviews I've posted here before, has an other one. This is from the dean of BYU's religion department, Robert Millet. Millet has been part of the driving force among some Mormon intellectuals to try and talk to Evangelicals and reach if not common ground, at least common understanding of each other. The other noted book that attempts this is Stephen Robinson's How Wide the Divide. However I think Robinson's book is problematic as it often presents a somewhat idiosyncratic view of LDS theology. In my opinion Millet tends to have a better balance both focusing in on often neglected aspects of Mormonism while still presenting a very mainstream view of Mormonism. (And often he rightly feels Mormons incorrectly neglect some of the things in our theology but not focused on that much) Jeff's review is interesting since he's neither Mormon nor Evangelical and thus might be said to have no horses in the race.
I should add that Millet's book is the first of several coming out on LDS Christology. The one I'm most anticipating is Blake Ostler's sequel to his The Attributes of God which focuses in on Christology. It was supposed to be out this summer, but I've not heard of it anywhere.
Title: Another Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints
Author: Robert L. Millet
Year Published: 2005
Number of Pages: 226
Binding: Trade paperback
Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle
Most readers of these reviews will recognize Millet's name as a noted professor at Brigham Young University, a tireless researcher and a prodigious writer. I'm not sure how many books and articles he's written or co-written, but the number is massive. If there is one quality that permeates his writing, it is brutal honesty. He is not about to back away from his closely-held beliefs in the restored gospel.
And this is one of the reasons I enjoy his books so much. No mollycoddling those who disagree, but rather an attempt to present the Mormon view clearly and without compromise. At one point in this book, however, I thought he misstated a point of Mormon doctrine, as explained below.
The idea for the current book arose as evangelical scholar Richard J. Mouw suggested that such a book, released by an evangelical publisher, would have a real impact in helping non-Mormons understand what Mormons believe about Jesus.
And while Millet claims that the book does not intend to explore every area of Mormonism, he does in fact cover most of them. This occurs to me to be very smart -- produce a book about Jesus, work in major Mormon beliefs as trajectories of the theme, and thus place Christ at the center of all of Mormon doctrine. I don't know if this was his design, but in my opinion, this is how it worked out.
Following an introductory essay on how the book came into being, Chapter 1, titled "Jesus Before Bethlehem," covers the doctrine of the pre-existence. Nothing is omitted, including the eternal nature of our own spirits, our position as literal children of Heavenly Father, the pre-mortal council, etc.
Chapter 2, "The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith," is a denunciation of the work of liberal scholars, such as the Jesus Project, in diminishing the historical accuracy of the gospels. He argues for the simplicity of the gospel message, and urges readers to return to this perspective.
Chapter 3, "Why a Restoration?", is an extended, and sympathetic, discussion of the Great Apostasy, and just what Latter-day Saints mean when they say that theirs is the only true church on the earth. I felt as if part of this chapter was directed at Mormons themselves; on this subject, there seems to be no end of misinterpretations and exaggerations, causing the Christian world to look skeptically at Mormon claims and beliefs.
Chapter 4, "The Christ of the Latter-day Saints," explains LDS beliefs about the person and work of Jesus Christ. It explores the revelation of the First Vision and the importance of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It is a nice summary of Mormon belief.
Chapter 5, "Salvation in Christ," opens with some intriguing words:
It is not uncommon for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be asked the following questions by a caring or curious Christian: "Are you a saved Christian?" or "Have you been saved?" Almost without exception, Latter-day Saints will stumble over their words and wrestle with how to respond, for to us salvation is generally associated with the life to come, and being saved has to do with gaining eternal life following death and eventual resurrection.
Here, as in other theological matters, we use the same or similar words as our Christian neighbors to describe a Christian concept but discover upon more serious investigation that what we mean is at least slightly different. In that vein, I would suggest that for Latter-day Saints being saved is a process, one that has something to do with what has been accomplished in the past, what is going on now, and what will yet take place in the future. Thus our hesitation to respond to a rather straightforward question about being saved derives, not from any effort to avoid the issue or to suggest that we do not believe in the saving role of Jesus Christ, but rather from the fact that the question is not easily answered. (p. 81)
In these few words, MIllet puts the evangelical world on notice that they cannot easily dismiss Mormon reluctance to answer such questions as an admission that they don't believe in salvation with Christ at its center. And it addresses the thorny issue of disparate religious groups using the same terminology, sometimes with different meanings. Communication can be stilted; misunderstandings can arise. It behooves both Mormons and other Christians to try to understand just what the other side means when they say something.
Chapter 6 is titled, "Those Who Never Heard." It explores the many views in Christendom of the fate of the unevangelized. It is a nice survey of some lesser-known concepts, with a good summary of Latter-day Saint belief on the subject. It examines the historical and biblical support for the concept of proxy baptism, and argues for a logical basis for the practice.
Chapter 7, "Recurring Questions," contains 21 questions often asked of Mormons. Some of the question revisit issues discussed earlier in the book. While most of the answers are straightforward (with still open questions on the subject of DNA evidence and the translation of the Joseph Smith Papyrus), one of the answers raised some problems in my mind.
Q#1: Haven't the Latter-day Saints changed their doctrinal stance on Christ as a part of a public relations effort to persuade people that they really are Christians?
A: Nothing in the LDS doctrine of Christ has changed in the last 175 years. To some extent, there has been a change in emphasis by Church leaders, and that change may be reflected in the Church's public affairs program. (p. 139)
The answer goes on, exploring the increased emphasis on Christ as the center of LDS faith. I had a problem with Millet's first sentence, however. One thinks, for example, of the identification of Jesus as the Jehovah of the Old Testament. This has not been consistently taught in Mormonism over the years. Other examples could be cited. Pivotal works such as "Line Upon Line," published by Signature Books, document the evolutionary nature of the Church's Christology. I would have preferred a less strident statement, acknowledging that some things have indeed changed over the years.
A conclusion, titled "Revisiting the Question," summarizes the main thesis of the book, a nicely written testimony of one man's sincere faith in the risen Christ, and his solid belief in the restored gospel.
Richard J. Mouw opens and closes the text with an appreciation for Millet's openness and honesty, while disagreeing with Millet's conclusions. The two men are obviously good friends who come to faith from different directions.
"The Articles of Faith," and a glossary of Mormon terminology, close the book.
As with the previous volume titled "How Wide the Divide?", this book can be an important bridge between the Mormon and Evangelical worlds. The premise is a good one -- how can the two groups communicate with each other if they refuse to listen to each other? Mouw recounts an event early on where he attended a public lecture by the late Walter Martin, famed evangelical cult-buster. Several LDS attendees engaged Martin in a debate. What was clear to Mouw was that Martin wasn't even trying to understand what the Mormons were saying, a sentiment echoed by one of the young Saints. I also attended Martin's seminars back east in the late 1960's, and well remember his strident tone. Millet's book, and Mouw's contributions to the book, argue for a kinder tone, a more open attitude toward others, and a generosity of spirit that will foster dialogue between the two groups.
This is a fine book, and ought to be widely read. I gladly recommend it to Mormons and non-Mormons alike, and thank Eerdmans for taking on this project and seeing it through to completion.
I'd suggest that I'm not sure discussions over Jehovah is really a matter of Christology. At least as I understand the term. I think all Mormons would agree that there has been an evolution in terminology as well as differences over who is speaking where. It seems to me that the exact nature of the "Trinity" as conceived of by Mormons is an open question in many ways.
Having said that though, I think the debate (battle?) between Orson Pratt and Brigham Young over the nature of Jesus Christ's birth as well as the role of Christ is an example of evolution. I'd be very surprised if Millet got into that. So I think your point is a good one, even if I think the differences are perhaps overplayed: mainly because Mormons can separate out the role from the individual in the role. When discussing Christology it isn't clear which we're talking about.
But of course that is something very alien to Evangelicalism.
Nice review, thanks for posting it Clark. This seems like a book written by a credible Mormon speaker that actually aims to communicate with Evangelicals and other Christians regarding LDS beliefs. In contrast, "LDS apologetics" is largely directed at an LDS audience and just doesn't accomplish much communication. Sounds like a great book for the Christmas gift list.
Thanks for the repost of the review Clark
I must say that I don't understand how discussions over Jehovah are not matters of Christology. I thought Christology was, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, "that part of Christian theology that studies and defines who Jesus the Christ was and is." Whether Jesus Christ is Jehovah or not is a crucial component of that question. But you are right of course that our study of the matter -- with the separation of roles/titles from persons -- makes that an internal discussion rather than an external one.
It seems to me that the primary problem with some of Bro. Millet's claims is the apparent implication that there is a single accepted Mormon belief on many of these questions. It has been an important breakthrough for me to realize that there are many unsettled doctrinal and theological questions in Mormonism and therefore it is often inappropriate to call one opinion "the" Mormon view rather than "a" Mormon view -- even if one is currently the most popular view on a subject.
I think you're still painting with too broad a brush Mormon apologetics. But I do think a journal where more communication is possible. I'd add that many of the apologists have also been building on common ground.
The reason for debate about Christology and whether it changed is the following:
1. if we accept the KFD then in the post-Nauvoo era of Mormonism (i.e. after the major development and evolution) it was always within mainstream Mormonism that there could be many Christs, each for a different creation. (Obviously it also always is possible to argue against this, as some Mormons have - but that's a minority view by far)
2. thus Mormonism has *always* separated out the role of Christ from the person fulfilling the role.
3. the debate about Jehovah is really a debate about who says what where in the OT and a few other places.
4. the debate about Jehovah is not really about the role of a Christ over creation, his involvement in creation, nor his role as intermediary between God and man.
5. the debate about Jehovah is a debate about who is who in the temple ceremony but I don't see how it affects the role of Christ.
I could well be wrong. If I am, could you perhaps clarify why you think it wrong? i.e. is this a debate about names, roles, or what?
Maybe I'm missing something here, Clark. Your original comment was "I'd suggest that I'm not sure discussions over Jehovah is really a matter of Christology." But the debate about the identity of Jehovah has everything to do with "who Christ was", which according to the definition I am using is at the the core of what Christology is.
You seem to be arguing for another point in your follow up comment -- that the Christology of the church has never really changed. That may be technically true -- at least that Christ as Jehovah has always been a possibility and even a school of thought in the church since the KFD was given. But you are certainly aware that it is no stretch to say that the dominant school of thought on the identity of Jehovah has shifted since the 19th century.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think who Jehovah was entails a debate about who Christ was. If that makes sense. Put an other way, I don't think the debate about the use of the name Jehovah makes any difference in terms of what properties we ascribe to Christ.
I'm afraid that doesn't make sense to me. We cannot separate the earthly Christ from the pre-earth Christ any more than we can separate our earthly selves from our own pre-mortal selves. And whether Jesus was Jehovah or not is an essential data point when developing a Mormon Christology. The subject came up just recently over at BCC -- with J. Stapley wondering if we should consider the pre-mortal Christ "fully divine" or not. It seems to me that if the pre-mortal Christ was in fact the Jehovah of the OT then it would be very argue that he was anything less than "fully divine" (whatever that actually means) prior to the atonement and resurrection.
I just can't imagine how we could extract the pre-mortal identity of Christ from any Christology. I'm also still not sure why you would even want to either...
I guess I'm still confused. Who argued that the premortal Christ wasn't divine? I've never heard that before. He clearly wasn't exalted yet. But it seems those two are quite different.
Ha! Oh great, now we're all confused.
You never claimed that pre-mortal Christ was not divine. As I mentioned there was some question at another thread if pre-mortal Christ was "fully divine". Now the idea of degrees of divinity is another can of worms altogether I suspect.
Perhaps our disconnect here has to do with the definition I proposed of Christology: "that part of Christian theology that studies and defines who Jesus the Christ was and is." When I read the word "was" in that definition I immediately think of who Christ was prior to coming to this earth. (I was sort of assuming that the "is" in the definition applies to everything from his mortal birth up to the present). I suspect you might be applying the "was" in terms of beginning at his birth here? (Just a guess... please set me straight on that)
Clark: I treat Christology in the last two chapters of the first volume. Would now be a good time to continue your review of the first volume?
Good idea Blake. It's been a very long time since I read it last and I confess I'm fuzzy on your views. BTW - what's the delay with the next book that focuses in on Christology?
Blake, I actually just read the christology chapters about a month ago and was highly impressed with them. I had a few thoughts/questions I wrote down so I'm looking forward to the discussion here.
BTW -- Any update on volume 2? I assume there were some unforeseen snags...
Actually the first book focuses on Christology. The second book focuses on the nature of love and the requisites of relationships in the context of soteriology. The delay is that Greg Kofford is just not focused. However, look for it in less than two weeks.
I'll start up a new reading club on it, since the last one got a little unfocused on the debate about free will. (i.e. lots of relevant posts not put as part of the reading club)
I'll reread those chapters tonight and hopefully comment on them tomorrow. (I have to type up a post on Tomasello as well - btw, given your background I'm surprised you didn't have any comments there Blake)
It's a little late to the conversation, but I need to clarify my position (as bizar as it is). I think the premortal Christ, the mortal Christ and the Holy Ghost are fully "divine". I just don't think that they are fully Gods qua the Father. As such I submit they are not worshiped as the Resurected Lord and the Father are. That is not to say that we didn't have faith in the premortal or mortal Christ; I'm still uncertain about my conceptions, but there seems little evidence that people worshipped him.
Clark: I would have commented on the Tomasello issues, but I was preparing for a trial -- working about 18 hours a day for about three weeks. Besides, you did a decent enough enough job that I just didn't feel a need.
Ouch. Well don't bother with this then. (I'll probably be toning down the number of posts myself - the equipment for my new company arrives in a week or two)