Paul Owen, a name well known to anyone who has read this blog with any regularity, has one again demonstrated an incredible double-standard in how he deals with theological issues and movements. We know what the young Dr. Owen thinks of Baptists: his language is as harsh as can be and the accusations, insults, and basic ad-hominem flows freely from his keyboard when anything “Baptist” is discussed (though, of course, he throws all Baptists into one big lump to do so, often resulting in embarrassingly simplistic misrepresentations). But almost no one else receives the same kind of banal opprobrium from Owen’s vaunted and exalted scholarship, including, obviously, the Mormons. This should be important to a wide variety of our readers, since Owen has snagged the attention of Christian publishers and has edited one volume already relevant to the topic of Mormonism. One would think that many of those involved with those publishing projects would wish to be aware of Owen’s constant denigration of anything “Baptist” coupled with his willingness to “spin” the most horrific heresies for everyone else. I refer to some “clarifications” he has posted regarding Mormonism, in which we read the following:
2. I have never advocated accepting the self-professed Christian status of the Mormon Church. There is such a thing as the visible church, united around a common faith which is articulated in the Nicene Creed and similar ecumenical statements of faith, and entered into by Trinitarian baptism. The Mormon Church does not formally give their assent to the Creed, does not accept the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been historically understood, and hence does not validly baptize its converts. I view no unbaptized person as a Christian (which is not to say that God is not free to do so).
Let’s make sure we fully understand this assertion, for it is a long way from why the vast majority of believers have rejected Mormonism as a “Christian religion.” Why have Christians rejected Mormonism from the start and sought to evangelize them? Because Mormonism and Christianity differ at the most fundamental level. Mormonism’s God is not the God of Christianity. Mormonism’s God became a god at a time in the distant past through a process of progression and exaltation; men and God are of the same species, just at different points in their progression. When Joseph Smith, the self-proclaimed prophet through whom the entire Christian faith was “restored,” informed us that his God had not been God from all eternity, he forever separated his followers from the Christian faith. All the rest of Mormonism’s errors—their errors about Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, man, sin, salvation, the Scriptures, priesthood, etc.—all flow from this basic error: that Christianity is monotheistic and believes that God is God and man is His creature; Mormonism is polytheistic and believes God and man are of the same species. Faith in a false god, no matter what names you use for that god, is a false faith that cannot save, and since the work of the Spirit is to sanctify us in the truth, God does not save His people through such false worship.
This was once so obvious, and was such a given, one hardly needed to state it. But with the decline of belief in God’s inerrant Word and the resultant collapse of any meaningful basis for sound theology, we are forced to restate the obvious (trusting, of course, that those born of the Spirit will “hear” that which is in accordance with God’s Word). The idea that Mormonism is not a Christian religion because of irregularities in baptism is surely not what drove believers to give their lives in witness to Mormons from the very beginning for, obviously, their views on baptism are secondary to, and derivative from, their far more fundamental view of God. It should be remembered, then, that for Paul Owen, Mormonism’s separation from Christianity is not due to their worshiping a false god, a false Christ (see below), or possessing a false gospel: it is due to baptismal irregularities. And given his view of Baptists, one truly wonders who is worse off in the long run?
3. I do believe that it is possible for Mormons to be “saved” in the ultimate sense, though they do so outside the Church, and hence this is not normative. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that there is no “ordinary” possibility of salvation outside the visible Church, and that is what I believe. So there is no “ordinary” possibility of salvation inside the Mormon Church. But that is something different from saying there is no possibility of salvation outside of the visible Church, period. That I reserve for Christ. There is no salvation outside of Christ, period. I do believe that some Mormons have a sincere, saving faith in Christ, though it is surely a confused faith. Because such persons are presently outside of the visible Church, I do not feel free to identify them as Christians, but nor do I exclude the possibility, even the probability, that God does view some of them so. God’s mysteries are not openly revealed to me (Deut. 29:29), so I do not know for certain the identity of the elect (2 Tim. 2:19). I do know that God will show mercy to whomever he desires (Rom. 9:15), and that he does not ask for or need my approval of a person’s theological accuracy to do so.
Let us agree immediately that “There is no salvation outside of Christ, period.” Evidently, however, we disagree on what it means to be in Christ. Evidently, given his sacramentalism, this is accomplished normatively by baptism. But in this case, can anyone seriously argue that the New Testament teaching is that those who are in Christ are marked by true worship of the true God, the true Jesus Christ, and a common confession of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is this not the bedrock of the Church itself? What does Owen mean when he speaks of a “confused faith”? Would he include Millet in this, who clearly knows very much what Christians believe, and knows the truth about who God who, who Jesus Christ is, etc., and yet does not embrace these truths when they are plainly (not confusedly) known to him? No, no one knows the identity of the elect in a supernatural fashion, but surely we are not therefore free to say that there are no identifiable signs of what the elect believe! Yes, God will show mercy to whomever he desires, which is why election is free and unconditional. But it does not follow that it is God’s intention to save anyone “in Christ” but in ignorance of Him!
It is a canard to raise “my approval of a person’s theological accuracy.” It is a matter of whether God uses the gospel and whether He saves people in false worship, false faith, and does not, in fact, impart His truth through His Spirit’s renewing of the mind and the ministry of the Spirit-enlightened Word. Are we truly to believe that God has chosen to exercise His elective grace in direct contradiction to His stated purposes in glorifying Himself through the creation of a special people in Jesus Christ who know Him savingly? That is the question.
This comes out with more clarity in Owen’s next comments on the common assertion made by yours truly, and many others, that the Jesus of Mormonism cannot save. And to those comments we will turn in our next installment.