But let us look at the specifics of this anti-apologetic, anti-evangelical position. First, Owen says Mormonism “allows” “certain heresies” in its system. No, Mormonism is based upon, and flows from, fundamental, foundational falsehoods, specifically, that God is an exalted man; that men can become Gods, and that God “became” a God through the eternal law of progression. These beliefs are of the fabric of Mormonism: the temple endowments, eternal marriage—none of the essential, unique expressions of Mormonism can be understood outside of these doctrines. This is not a matter of allowing for heresies. Mormonism is not a defective Christian institution: it has never been Christian at all. When Joseph Smith refuted the idea that God has eternally been God, he set his religion on a course that could never allow it to be called “Christian” again. Only a repudiation of Smith and of the very essence of Mormonism could change that.
Owen says Mormonism denies strict monotheism. Yes, and the Yankees are not popular in Boston. A far more accurate statement would be, Mormonism promotes an extreme form of polytheism. It does not merely “redefine” the Trinity anymore than Arius just redefined it. At what point, we are forced to ask, does “redefinition” become “denial”? I find it odd that Owen, who has criticized me for allegedly mis-using the phrase “semi-Pelagian,” would himself apply it to Mormonism, for at least semi-Pelagianism was based upon some kind of monotheistic concept. Mormonism does not just “blur” the Creator/creation distinction, it obliterates it when it says God and man are of the same species. As for some Mormons not embracing these beliefs, pray tell, what Mormons hold to strict monotheism? Which ones are true Trinitarians? Who believes, and teaches, openly, that God has eternally been God and is unchanging and unchangeable (concepts mocked in the LDS temple ceremonies until 1990) in the LDS Church today? I haven’t met a Calvinist Mormon yet, has Dr. Owen? Even Millet says God was once a man, he just minimizes what he claims to know about what that means.
But after all of this, we truly come to one of the most amazing statements I have ever seen written by someone who surely has the knowledge to know better. I do hope those who have participated with Owen in the past, including all those who suffered through the debacle that was the 1998 ETS meeting in Orlando, will consider carefully what Owen says here. First he says that Mormons do not baptize in a Trinitarian fashion. In speaking with LDS people about this, I have had many indicate otherwise, but let’s leave that to the side for the moment. Owen says he views Mormons the same way he views “all unbaptized people who claim faith in Christ.” It is probably best to allow his own summary to clear up the multitude of questions that flood the mind:
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.
To me, unless Dr. Owen publicly retracts and repudiates this statement, I believe he has completely ended any meaningful influence he may have sought to have amongst the very evangelicals who are concerned about Mormonism and LDS theology. Assuredly, any person seeking to bring the gospel to their LDS family will find such a statement so ludicrous, so outrageous, that they will move on in their search for helpful information, and well should they. Consider this well. A religion founded upon the assertion that the Christian Church is apostate and has not existed with proper authority since the second century after Christ; that teaches a plurality of Gods; that God is an exalted man; that Jesus is the first begotten spirit child of an exalted man from another planet and one of this physical being’s flesh and bones wives; that teaches the most rank forms of works-salvation and Pelagianism (2 Nephi 25:23, Moroni 10:4-5); that adds wildly a-historical and heretical books to the Bible; that says Jesus Christ has not eternally been God; that says that Jesus Christ was begotten by God the Father in the flesh; that says Christ’s atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane and that there are certain grievous sins you can commit that the blood of Christ cannot atone for (your own blood must be shed to atone for these sins); that practices baptism for the dead; —such a religion does not give Dr. Paul Owen of Montreat College a problem. Instead, all of that pales next to the real problem: they do not follow the exact form of baptism Dr. Owen requires (no wonder he dislikes Baptists). Mormons are not Christians not because they are polytheists, or believe Jesus is the spirit-brother of Lucifer, or have a false gospel. No, they are not Christians because they have not been properly baptized. They may well be regenerate in the “secret individual sense,” but their big issue is baptism, we are told.
The ramifications of such an externalization of Christianity at the cost of every single core truth that defines it are many. Thankfully, I know very few vibrant Christians who want a content-less faith that is based upon “proper baptism alone.” What kind of fellowship exists between the worshippers of an exalted man living far away on a planet circling a star named Kolob and the followers of the risen Lord Jesus Christ? None, but evidently that is not the essence of the Christian faith anyway. You can think God lives on a planet in a body of flesh and bones, and that Jesus did not actually ascend to heaven, but came to the Americas (somewhere) and started a church over here, and that you can become a god some day and that you hold a special priesthood no one else holds, etc. and etc., but as long as you have been baptized properly you are a member of the Christian faith. And you can believe Jesus has not eternally been God; is Jehovah, son of Elohim of Kolob, older brother to all of us (by birth via Elohim’s plural wives), only begotten of the Father in the flesh, and all of that error is no hindrance to eternal life. Keep all of this in mind.
Further, please note this former Mormon’s own statement, “…in the real Jesus (whatever that means)….” Dr. Owen does not know what a false Christ might be? He can’t tell the difference between the eternal Son of God, Creator of all things, and the first begotten of Elohim, lately exalted from another planet, organizer, not creator, of all things associated with this creation, but surely not all things? Did Dr. Owen “convert” from Mormonism simply because he saw the light about the proper form of baptism, and all the rest was just details?
But what of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:4, For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough? Owen replies:
The polemical language of 2 Corinthians 11:4 simply does not apply to the Mormons. Unlike Paul’s opponents at Corinth (who rejected Paul’s apostolic claims and credentials) they do not intentionally advocate another Jesus who differs from the Jesus of the apostolic record. Paul is speaking there about those who, like the serpent in the Garden (11:3), intentionally distort and reject God’s word (as it was conveyed through Paul). The Mormons do not advocate faith in a Jesus who differs from the Jesus who appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road and called him into the apostleship. They simply misunderstand the teaching of the Apostle Paul, which they are attempting to faithfully preserve, and which they are attempting to faithfully live in accordance with. Therefore, Paul’s sharply worded polemics in his Corinthian letter do not apply to our sincere Mormon friends.
How does Dr. Owen know the intentions of Joseph Smith? How does he discern over the decades that Smith was honest? I sure see no reason to believe he was—the evidence is quite strong that he was a knowing deceiver and charlatan. Teaching that Jesus founded a church in the Americas is consistent with the canonical, apostolic witness to Christ? Teaching that his blood does not atone for certain grave sins is consistent with the Bible’s teaching? Teaching that He is the first begotten of a physical man and Mary in such a boldly physical relationship that Orson Pratt (cited by none other than Millet I might add—if he can cite him, I can too) had to go so far as to say Elohim was legally married to Mary, and then gave her up to Joseph after Elohim begat the physical body of Jesus—is consistent with the apostolic witness? Teaching Jesus was begotten in the spirit world as the first born son of an exalted man and one of his plural wives is consistent with the apostolic witness? What, pray tell, could possibly be so far out, so false, as to not be consistent with the apostolic witness?
I gladly stand to proclaim that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the leaders of the LDS Church to this day intentionally advocate another Jesus; they intentionally distort and reject God’s word as well. And if Paul Owen doesn’t know this, he has no business even addressing the topic. Owen is simply speaking falsehood to claim the LDS Jesus is the same as the historic Christ who called Paul to apostleship on the Damascus road. Owen betrays his true beliefs and purposes when he says the LDS leadership and Mormons in general simply “misunderstand” Paul’s teachings. Why couldn’t that be said of the Judaizers, or Paul’s opponents in Colossae, or the Jews he opposed in Romans? Why can’t we say this about anyone and everyone? Let’s just say everyone simply misunderstands and all is well! By somehow discerning that all Mormons today are simply following what they believe to be true, Owen dismisses the warnings of Scripture, assuring us that Paul’s harsh words do not apply to “our sincere Mormon friends.” Has Pelagius risen from the dead? Sincere in what? Sincere in worship of Elohim? Sincere in the temple endowments? Sincere in teaching and preaching the Book of Abrahamand its repeated reference to the Gods? As long as you are sincere then the content of your doctrine is no longer relevant to salvation itself?
Owen’s utter abandonment of orthodoxy on this issue is plain to see. And yet, he concludes his failed defense of the Eerdmans book with odd, yet someone enlightening, comments:
In conclusion, there is nothing to be lost in advocating an open-minded approach to dialogue with the Mormon people. We need to be exposed to the breadth of theological vision which is possible within Mormonism. We need to encourage influential Mormon thinkers like Robert Millett to take steps in the direction of sound biblical and ecumenical Christian orthodoxy. We need to praise any attempts they might make to move in the right direction. Such dialogues of course, are not themselves truly ecumenical in nature (as is Roman Catholic/Protestant dialogue); rather they are evangelistic and inter-religious in nature (along the lines of Acts 17:16.). May God continue to use such conversations, as those which are being promoted by good and godly men (like Mouw and Blomberg), to bring the Mormon people to a greater exposure to the light of historic Christian religion.
Just a few notes: “open-minded” = willing to accept the Mormon Jesus as one who can save. We “need” to be exposed to the breadth of theological vision in Mormonism—and that in books published by Eerdmans? Is Robert Millet being encouraged to “take steps in the direction of sound biblical and ecumenical Christian orthodoxy” or are men like Mouw and Blomberg and Owen being used as pawns by the LDS leadership and apologists in helping to mainstream Mormonism within a context of grossly ignorant post-evangelicals who lack the discernment to see the real issues? Is this the means of Christian apologetics taught us by the Apostles? When Paul said to the Galatians that they had once worshipped those that by nature are no gods (Gal. 4:8) are we to assume that he had spent generations slowly moving these folks from their false gods, one little step at a time? No, of course not. They rejected their false gods and embraced the true God. Paul never encouraged anyone to believe in “a little less false god than you did before.” He called them to faith in the one true and living God, period. That’s why it is called “conversion,” Dr. Owen, not “development.”
Can you just imagine Paul counseling as Owen does? Paul writes to the Galatians ten years later. “Oh, I hear Josephinus, one of the leaders of those I anathematized, has moved just a little bit closer to our position. Thats wonderful! Maybe in a few generations we can remove the anathema!” How far from the apostolic example is this kind of thought!
What does Owen mean when he calls the dialogue “evangelistic and inter-religious” when he likewise defends Mouw’s idea that Millet is trusting in the biblical Jesus? Does this reduce evangelism to “let’s get ’em baptized the right way?” It seems so.
There is so much more that could be said concerning Owen’s utter capitulation on the issue of Mormonism that is documented here. Yes, I saw it coming. Yes, there is vindication here, no question about it. Does that make me happy? In no way. It is so terribly sad to see so many lacking the most basic levels of discernment regarding Christian truth today. Am I surprised Owen would write such things? Not at all. But in a sense I am thankful he has finally laid his cards on the table. At least the lines are now very clear. Combined with his defense of Rome, his real position is plain to see. His attacks upon the apologetic community dating back a number of years now are understandable and can no longer be seen as coming from one “inside” the same camp: he is clearly far outside, and happy to be there. Hopefully, no one will any longer be confused by his conservative “credentials.” His views are now open and clear, and for that I’m thankful. Their unbiblical nature, thankfully, is just as clear.