The letter came to my office via the CRI Journal. I had been asked to write an article for the journal on the apologetic errors of FARMS in the space of about 4800 words as I recall, and I did. The letter was from Paul Owen and Carl Mosser, two students at Talbot. I had never heard of either of them before, but one thing was for certain: from the first letter I read, I knew there was something not right in what they were saying and where they said they were coming from.
As I have noted over the years, Paul Owen developed a fixation on me, seeking, in every way possible, to attack and oppose me at every turn. For years it was just personal, hate-filled e-mails along with the almost inevitable slap in the face in a footnote here, a reference there. A few years ago now, Owen, in particular (Mosser has seemed somewhat less vitriolic), decided to take his campaign public.
The term “vindication” appears a number of times in Scripture. It is something that a believer does not always experience in this life: many injustices will be remedied only in eternity itself. But once in a while the Lord sees fit to vindicate you, often only after a long period of time.
Over the past year or so I have watched Paul Owen, always desperate to promote himself and his great scholarship (he is, in fact, a very intelligent, widely read young scholar: problem is, he well knows it, and wants everyone else on the planet to bask in the glow of knowing it as well), move farther and farther into expressions of a theology far removed from not only my own, but from almost all of those who care at all about ministry to false religions, and particularly to Mormons. His hatred of Baptist ecclesiology, which is rather hard to distinguish from a dislike of Baptists in general, has been expressed forcefully (without apology, as far as I can see). He has promoted a minority view of baptism as if it is the only way of reading the WCF, despite having his historical head handed to him on a platter by Presbyterian pastors he could not help but slander and attack as a result, and just recently again expressed his odd, out-of-the-mainstream, and highly problematic view of the issues present in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, arguing that no application can be made between the errors of Paul’s opponents and the errors of Roman Catholicism. I have watched these developments with interest, and have wondered when Owen would finally come out and completely demonstrate the fact that he is no friend of conservative, Bible-believing Christians, let alone Calvinists. Well, the time has come.
An article appeared today on the new incarnation of the reformedcatholicism blog, communiosanctorum.com. It is written by Paul Owen. It is aimed, of course, at me, as if anyone didn’t know that. But the personal stuff aside, it is the mindset and theology that it expresses that, to me, completely vindicates my observations about Owen over the past few years, and my pressing onward despite his ever-so deeply scholarly opposition and personal acrimony.
Owen begins by noting other members of the forum (I assume he refers to such folks as Mr. Enloe, or Mr. Johnson) may disagree with his view. That is a given. Then he refers to me (“certain personalities”) creating hysteria regarding A Different Jesus? being published by Eerdmans. I thought I had argued my case rather convincingly, or at least, with documentation—which would sort of preclude the idea of hysteria. He says Eerdmans is not caving in to Mormonism, whatever that means. I really doubt Eerdmans wants to sign up a bunch of LDS writers, if that is what he is suggesting, and no one, to my knowledge, has suggested any such thing. I have said Eerdmans is acting on the encouragement of Richard Mouw, and I stand by that assertion. I don’t believe A Different Jesus? would exist without Mouw’s involvement in the project. But when Owen says Eerdmans is not giving the Mormons “an opportunity to deceive the masses” I respectfully disagree. The book is deceptive in its defense of any number of historical items (I documented this on The Dividing Line regarding the Book of Abraham, for example) and, without a Christian voice to provide balance, is nothing less than a full-blown apologetic for the LDS faith, published by Eerdmans, and distributed to a public woefully unprepared to exercise discernment in its reading.
Owen professes he doesn’t know what the hysteria is about, and that’s probably because there isn’t any. There is well-grounded disgust at the lack of discernment being illustrated by Richard Mouw and Eerdmans, but that is not hysteria (one is reminded by such rhetoric as this of the tactics of the left in constantly smearing conservatives). He says Millet is a respected professor at BYU. No argument there—though, ironically, throughout this essay, one in which Owen talks about his involvement with BYU professors and the like, he consistently misspells Millet’s name. It is Millet with one “t,” but Owen consistently uses the form “Millett.” [Update: upon the posting of this article, Owen corrected the spelling of Millet’s name, without note.] Owen then says that if you are going to find a theologian in Mormonism, it will be at BYU. This is part of Owen’s view that the General Authorities of the LDS Church (prophets, apostles, etc.) are dinosaurs, pretty much irrelevant to the future course of the Mormon Church. Maybe—but they are still in charge as far as I can see. He goes on, “Eerdmans obviously feels that it would be worthwhile for Evangelicals to be exposed to Millett’s ‘type’ of Mormonism, which certainly shares more in common with traditional Christianity than is sometimes the case.” Is that so? And why would evangelicals need such an exposure? What is worthwhile in providing such an exposure, when Millet is a published author already, but within the Mormon community? Who convinced Eerdmans that such a work of LDS apologetics would be “worthwhile” I wonder? Owen obviously agrees, for he defends it as a worthwhile project:
Part of being a good witness to the Mormons is being familiar with the breadth of theological perspective which is possible within the Mormon religion. Millett does not speak for all Mormons, but he does speak for himself. And his opinions are shared by many others at BYU, both among the students and the faculty. Given the fact that thousands of students attend BYU each and every year, and they all receive instruction from the religion department in required courses, it is simply burying one’s head in the sand to ignore the massive influence that professors like Millett have upon the laity within the LDS Church, both through classes at the university, and through Millett’s popular books.
Well, thats all fine and dandy. No question about the influence BYU is having, the rise of neo-orthodoxy at BYU, etc. and etc. That doesn’t explain why Eerdmans needs to publish a work of LDS apologetics, does it? That doesn’t tell us why it would be good to put a Mormon’s defense of his faith on the bookshelves of stores that cater to folks with the discernment level of The Prayer of Jabez, does it? Surely not. Next, Owen makes reference to someone writing Millet off “as an insignificant figure within the Mormon landscape.” I confess, I haven’t a clue who he is referring to. It is surely not me, as I have never made any such statement, unless Owen can confuse “Millet is not the Prophet of the LDS Church” with “Millet is insignificant.” Owen then says that we put ourselves in peril if we do not listen to Millet’s opinions, which again is quite true: but is likewise utterly irrelevant as to why Eerdmans would publish this book. You can buy Millet’s books quite easily: Deseret Book sells a very similar title, Getting at the Truth (2004) that, if the advertisement is correct, answers many of the exact same questions addressed in A Different Jesus? So, just why is Eerdmans publishing this LDS work of apologetics again?
In the next paragraph Owen wastes some more time taking useless swipes at me, defending his “the GA’s are dinosaurs” and irrelevant thesis. Millet represents one particular view at BYU, a view representing the neo-orthodox wing of Mormonism. Will that wing someday predominate? Maybe. Maybe not. But while Owen may wish to refer to a “typical lack of familiarity…with the realities of Mormonism” on the part of “some critics,” the reality is that as of May, 2005, the General Authorities have not abdicated their positions and installed BYU professors in their place. And this is all pretty much irrelevant to my criticisms of the book and Eerdmans as well, so I press on.
Some will object that we can buy Millett’s books at the Mormon bookstore if we want to hear their opinions. This simply ignores the fact that many Evangelicals will never step inside a Mormon bookstore. But by putting Millett’s book on the shelves of Christian bookstores, people can come to familiarize themselves with a stream of perspective within Mormonism that they might otherwise never know to exist.
Excuse me, but just why would anyone wish to do this? The vast majority of folks in my church do not need to be reading Millet’s book. Even those who have LDS family and friends do not need to be reading it, I might add, since the majority of Mormons have not yet embraced Millet’s particular views. Further, is Owen saying that reading his own materials, for example, would not accurately represent LDS beliefs? Are all Christian works on Mormonism inaccurate? Surely not. But again, it is quite true most evangelicals will never visit an LDS bookstore. Why on earth should they? Outside of those who need to do in-depth study of the theology of false religions so as to minister to those trapped within them, just what profit is gained from such exposure? Most people will not walk into a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses and buy their literature, either. Does that mean we should have Zondervan start publishing their best efforts, too, and that without a response? I order books from islamicbookstore.com. Most folks don’t. Should we start carrying Islamic works of apologetics in Christian bookstores, just for fairness? This kind of reasoning seems to miss the entire point, does it not? Owen then goes on to note that not all Mormons believe the same thing (as if this is relevant, either: the argument is not that Millet’s neo-orthodoxy in the Robinson vein is an illegitimate subject of study: the argument remains 1) it is still not even remotely close to Christianity, despite its hesitation to be nearly as open as earlier generations on the concept of God as an exalted man, and 2) there is no reason why an allegedly evangelical publisher like Eerdmans needs to be distributing Millet’s views to anyone—Desert Book does just fine, thank you.). He warns that someone might accuse Robinson or Millet of being deceptive if we do not study every possible LDS viewpoint. Again, irrelevant to Eerdmans publishing a book of LDS apologetics, but that aside, Owen is right: there is such a danger. Robinson believes what Robinson believes. Millet believes what Millet believes. But isn’t the danger in doing what Owen leads many to do himself? That is, Millet is not speaking for Mormonism as a whole, nor can he. He is not an apostle. So, what if someone reads Millet’s book, accepts Owen’s praise thereof, and runs into a non-neo-orthodox Mormon? Won’t they be in the same situation, and in danger of not being able to respond to the robust argumentation in favor of a plurality of gods still offered by believing Mormons? In any case, Owen then seemingly felt a need to pump up his ego a few notches, for he then offered up another shot my direction, along with language that I could not help but note sounds so much like what I often hear on Dave Armstrong’s blog:
This goes to show the simple fact that many of the most vocal critics of the LDS Church, who somehow have developed a reputation for having expertise in this field, are in reality among the most dismally ignorant of the realities of the theological landscape within Mormonism. (That of course explains why they are not taken seriously.)
By the way, I guess I should mention that I know what I am talking about in this field. Unlike many critics of the Mormon Church, I have been able to publish articles in two Mormon journals (FARMS Review of Books, and Element), have had the opportunity over the years to participate in closed-door dialogues with representatives of the LDS Church (including Millett), and was able to participate two years ago in an LDS-sponsored conference on Mormon theology at Yale University. Why do I mention this? Because, unlike many critics, I have been able to gain a voice within the Mormon community. How? By earning their respect. And how does one do that? By striving to accurately and fairly represent Mormon theology, even when critiquing it. And yes, I have critiqued Mormon theology: in an article in the FARMS Review of Books, in a volume I co-edited for Zondervan (The New Mormon Challenge), and in another volume I contributed to for IVP (To Every One an Answer, a collection of essays written in honor of Dr. Norman Geisler).
Of course, being published by LDS concerns may not actually indicate that a person has gained anything more than the reputation of being a useful pawn in the hands of others. What has Owen done with this “voice” of his in the LDS community? Well, we don’t have to wait too long to find out. For we are about to get to the important part of this discussion, for we finally get Owen past the point where he is thumping his chest, past the irrelevant bluster that filled the first half of this article, and to the real issue: “Some people are upset with Richard Mouw’s comment that Millett believes in the Jesus of the Bible. I want to make three points here.” These three points will demonstrate that Paul Owen stands far, far apart in his view of what constitutes the Christian faith, true worship, the gospel. He writes (and read carefully!):
1) I have no doubt that people within the Mormon Church (even professors of religion) are capable of having a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Mormons confess Jesus to be God the Son, whom they worship and serve. The Bible is read, taught and regarded as God’s word within the Mormon Church. Wherever the Bible is made available to people, there is the opportunity for the Spirit to call people to faith in Christ. At the same time, there are false teachings which are allowed to co-exist alongside much truth within Mormonism, and these teachings are dangerous to the soul. The Bible definitely teaches that heresy can bring a person to eternal ruin (1 Tim. 1:19; 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:14, 23-26; Jude 3-4).
Now, let us make sure we understand what is being said here. Note that Owen is not saying that there are Mormons who are trusting in the true Christ, the true gospel, and are just confused as to what Mormonism teaches (as in the case of new converts, for example), a point I have made many times. No, he is talking about knowing LDS believers, even scholars, who firmly believe in the God of Mormonism, the Christ of Mormonism, the gospel of Mormonism, etc., including holding to temple ceremonies, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, etc. Owen says Mormons confess Jesus to be God the Son. This is an amazing statement to me, since “God the Son” means one thing to a monotheist, and something utterly different to a Mormon. God the Son is a monotheistic, Trinitarian phrase. Mormons may well use those words in that order, but how can anyone seriously suggest they mean the same thing? Is God the Son worshipped in Masonic-like temple ceremonies? Is God the Son worshiped and served by the promulgation of the First Vision of Joseph Smith, in which such compendiums of Christian truth and Trinitarian theology are identified as an abomination (which would include the confession to which Owen is ostensibly committed, the Westminster)? If the worship of Mormonism is acceptable to God and is “true” worship, then does it not follow that you can believe Jehovah is a separate God from Elohim in the Old Testament and still offer true worship to God? This kind of thinking is so far outside historic orthodox Christian belief it is hard to even recognize it.
We are also told that the Bible is read, taught and regarded as God’s word within the Mormon Church. Once again, a partial truth. But is making the Bible a part of a massively expanded, utterly heretical, completely self-contradictory canon, and making it the only one that is conditionally accepted (8th Article of Faith, “as far as it is translated correctly”) the same as regarding it as God’s Word within the Christian faith? I say it is not. I can see how some liberal evangelicals could over-look such a diminishment of the honor of God’s Word as we see in Mormonism, but that once again illustrates why I care little for liberalism and its sub-Christian expressions.
Owen says wherever the Bible is made available, the Spirit can call people to faith. Exactly true, but does the Spirit draw one to Christ, or to a false Christ and a false gospel? We have seen the Bible bring many out of Mormonism, quite true, but that is not what Owen is defending here. Owen is talking about the Spirit of God bringing people to faith in the Mormon Jesus, and leaving them right there in the midst of Mormonism, like Robert Millet. False god, false gospel, false Scriptures…but the Spirit will work in those circumstances and not bring conviction to leave the religious system itself. Make sure you are following this Presbyterian scholar’s words, for they involve a fundamental repudiation of the entirety of the work of evangelicals in seeking to evangelize Mormons since the start. Paul Owen is providing us with clear, compelling evidence that we have met the enemy, and he teaches at Montreat College.
Owen then warns of false teachings in Mormonism that are dangerous to the soul. Which ones? How about their doctrine of God; doctrine of Christ; doctrine of the Spirit; doctrine of Scripture; and their entire soteriology? Wrong God, wrong gospel, in short? If those doctrines cannot bring a person to eternal ruin, what doctrines can?I think we get a partial answer from Owen:
2) Because of the allowance of certain heresies within the Mormon religion, such as the denial of strict monotheism, redefinition of the Trinity, rejection of the eternal reality of Gods divine status, Pelagian and semi-Pelagian soteriologies, and blurring of the Creator/creature distinction (errors which thankfully are not embraced by all Mormons, or not to the same degree) and because the Mormons do not validly baptize their converts (non-Trinitarian baptisms being invalid in the view of most Christians), I view Mormons the same way I view all unbaptized people who claim faith in Christ. They may well be saved according to God’s secret decree, but they do not profess the true religion, and hence are not members of the visible Church (outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, as affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith). In short, my problem with the Mormons is not that they don’t believe in the real Jesus (whatever that means), but that they are not baptized, professing members of the visible Church. And whereas people outside the visible Church may well be among the elect (and even regenerate in the secret individual sense), they are not outwardly recognizable as true Christians.
Now, before engaging the specifics, just consider what you have just read. Would anyone have ever mounted the efforts to reach the LDS people with the gospel if they believed as Paul Owen? No. Would anyone who believes that you are a Christian on the basis of the object of your faith (not on the basis of a valid baptism) wish to take advice or direction from Paul Owen? No. Would a church wish to have someone who believes like this participate in preparing their people to share with the LDS people? Surely not (unless the church is likewise in favor of such a form of theology). I wish to be very clear here: I do not believe God saves His elect without drawing them to Jesus Christ; I do not believe God is glorified when His saints are left in ignorance of His triune majesty; I believe we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is why the Spirit of God is so powerful as to be able to raise dead sinners to life and grant to them the gifts of faith in the true and living Godand repentance from sin. Therefore, the idea that God would save one of His elect and leave them in abject idolatry, worshipping a false god, a false Christ, a false Spirit, embracing and practicing a false gospel with a false hope, with false Scriptures to boot, is utterly incomprehensible, and I reject it, outright. And I further believe that a person who masquerades as being in “our camp” who would promote such concepts as these is far more dangerous than the entire body of LDS missionaries in the world today, and should be identified as the enemy not only of apologetic efforts to reach Mormons, but of the Mormons themselves, for such a view would lead inevitably to the replacement of the clear proclamation of Mormonism’s errors with never-ending “discussions” of “differing viewpoints” that marks the insipid morass that is ecumenical liberalism today. [continued]