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MrShorty

How Wide the Divide?

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For some time now, @prisonchaplain has recommended Blomberg and Robinson's book. On one trip to the DI this summer, I came across a copy in good condition and decided I would pick it up and read it. Finished it this morning.

A basic synopsis of the book: The book consists of 4 chapters (plus an introduction and a conclusion) that cover four topics: Scripture, God and Deification, Christ and the Trinity, and Salvation. Each chapter consists of a portion authored by Blomberg explaining the Evangelical beliefs on that topic and concerns with the LDS position, a portion authored by Robinson that explains the LDS beliefs on that topic and LDS concerns with the Evangelical positions. Each chapter includes a joint conclusion where they summarize the similarities and differences.

We can talk about any of the chapters, if anyone wants to. A couple of overall impressions that stood out to me. I don't know if I was expecting some kind of ecumenical "bring us all together until we are singing Kum Ba Yah together by the end of the book", but my first impression was how neither author attempted to "gloss over" any of the main disagreements. Both authors, not in a mean spirited way, explained concerns and disagreements, while firmly explaining their convictions and their reasons for belief. For the most part, neither author made any concessions to the other in terms of belief, but neither did they attempt to misrepresent the others' arguments, either. I felt like each chapter provided a good opportunity for the reader to decide for him/herself just how different.

The other impression that stood out to me was my reaction to some of Robinson's arguments. Maybe it is our inherent "mistrust" (or unwillingness to rely on or whatever this is called) of professional theologians/academicians, but I found myself occasionally wondering if the official Church leadership and publication people (correlation committees) would completely agree with what Robinson put into this book. Our Church is more "top down" authoritarian, and Robinson is not among those who are responsible for declaring and explaining doctrine in the LDS Church. He has been published in the Ensign and by Deseret Book, so he is certainly not a nobody in Church publication circles, but he kind of is a nobody. His opinion is just his opinion and carries no real weight. I doubt that anyone in the top councils of the Church would have serious misgivings over what he put in the book, though. When all was said and done, I thought he did a good job of summarizing LDS theology on those points as well as anyone else (especially considering that we don't really have a rigorous theology to refer to).

Overall, I thought is was a good book. It does a good job, at summarizing each side of the chosen topics and how (most) Evangelical churches and the LDS Church can find agreement and disagreement.

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Perhaps it helps that Prof. Robinson was kind of a nobody. The lack of official-representative status allowed him to explain LDS beliefs without the fear that non-members would take his statements and use them as fodder for the next 'Anti' pamphlet. It also allowed him to offer a more fleshed out version of his explanations, so we Evangelicals could understand them better, because he did not have to be overly concerned with misstating church doctrine, since his sections never pretended to be official church statements. Still, your reluctance to give too much credence to a non-official source is understandable.

As FYI, I suspect one purpose of the book was to offer a model for how church members and Evangelicals could engage in respectful, 'convicted conversations.' As such, though both authors are professors, neither can speak authoritatively for their respective faith traditions--similar to how members and their Evangelical acquaintances would be if they were having similar conversations--perhaps even like we do at thirdhour.org. ;-)

Edited by prisonchaplain

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@prisonchaplain Now that you mention it, that is another big take away from the book. How to have a respectful conversation about these religious differences. I think that model can even go beyond LDS-Evangelical relations into other denominational relations (perhaps even the big Catholic-Protestant divide). Just modeling the ability to "disagree without being disagreeable" is a valuable skill -- especially with a topic that can be as charged as religion.

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16 hours ago, MrShorty said:

I don't know if I was expecting some kind of ecumenical "bring us all together until we are singing Kum Ba Yah together by the end of the book", but my first impression was how neither author attempted to "gloss over" any of the main disagreements. Both authors, not in a mean spirited way, explained concerns and disagreements, while firmly explaining their convictions and their reasons for belief. For the most part, neither author made any concessions to the other in terms of belief, but neither did they attempt to misrepresent the others' arguments, either. I felt like each chapter provided a good opportunity for the reader to decide for him/herself just how different.

 

15 hours ago, prisonchaplain said:

As FYI, I suspect one purpose of the book was to offer a model for how church members and Evangelicals could engage in respectful, 'convicted conversations.'

That's what stuck out most in the book for me. It modeled convicted civility. I'll admit I've had some less-than civil discussions on religion in the past and, although scoring points is fun and the intellectual exercise is stimulating, it frightens spectators. I've also attended a number of InterFaith dinners/activities and, I gotta tell you, the lack of conviction is frustrating. If we're getting together as Mormons, Muslims, and Methodists, I'm gonna need you to give a Mormon, Muslim, or Methodist answer to the questions. The discourse was so spineless that no one could stand for their beliefs*.

In contrast, this book showed two believers, who believed differently, able to really explore each others' beliefs because each had a well-defined belief and the courtesy to let the other define it.

 

*see what i did there

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16 hours ago, MrShorty said:

The other impression that stood out to me was my reaction to some of Robinson's arguments. Maybe it is our inherent "mistrust" (or unwillingness to rely on or whatever this is called) of professional theologians/academicians, but I found myself occasionally wondering if the official Church leadership and publication people (correlation committees) would completely agree with what Robinson put into this book.

As far as the content, I thought Robinson perhaps carried a bit too much of his pre-conversion Protestant notions of Grace with him still. But I must admit that I'm probably left over from the old guard in this respect. Well, maybe not. But I will say that this is the sort of discourse I'm hearing from the younger people.

One thing that I especially appreciated was Blomberg stepping in after Robinson answered a question about a Brigham Young teaching and instructed the audience on the impropriety of using doctrines that haven't been taught for 150 years as "typical" Latter-day Saint beliefs. I hope our friends on this forum see something similar when the Trinity is brought up (an attempt at accurate descriptions of belief rather than heretical strawmen).

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1 hour ago, mordorbund said:

I'll admit I've had some less-than civil discussions on religion in the past and, although scoring points is fun and the intellectual exercise is stimulating, it frightens spectators.

I am problem one of the frightened spectators, because I think fear is a big problem for me in having these conversations. Too many examples (a couple of my own experiences) where it wasn't handled well, and I find myself preferring to completely avoid the conflict rather than figure out how to work through the conflict in a good way like these two did. Assuming that it will ever be my place to fully enter this dialog (outside of the anonymity of an internet forum like this), I will need to get over that fear before I can make a meaningful contribution.

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For those who have read the book (or portions)... I have had three different sets of LDS missionaries come to my door over the past few years. Generally, I welcome them, laude them for doing an assignment that most find uncomfortable (cold calling to discuss religion), and then, depending on the Spirit's movement, share a bit of my testimony. Then I may ask them to share theirs ("Did you grow up LDS, or come to it?") On two of the three occasions, as the missionaries left I offered them the book we are discussing. I tell them it may help them understand the Evangelicals they encounter, and that it is not an "Anti" book, noting that one of the authors is a BYU professor.

To the question: Is my approach a good one...would How Wide the Divide be a healthy book for missionaries to read, while on the field?

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37 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

To the question: Is my approach a good one...would How Wide the Divide be a healthy book for missionaries to read, while on the field?

IMO, no. Missionaries are generally limited in their reading to the standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and their missionary handbooks, as well as General Conference reports. Most mission presidents will not even allow books by apostles to be read. So I think that How Wide the Divide would be inappropriate for missionaries. I also think it would be completely inappropriate for a (high-school aged) seminary class or a (college-aged) institute class. But I think it might be a very good thing for parents to have their pre-mission children read through, outside of formal classes. Sounds useful, anyway.

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4 hours ago, mordorbund said:

As far as the content, I thought Robinson perhaps carried a bit too much of his pre-conversion Protestant notions of Grace with him still....

Can I ask, what do you mean by this statement?

M.

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46 minutes ago, Vort said:

IMO, no. Missionaries are generally limited in their reading to the standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and their missionary handbooks, as well as General Conference reports. Most mission presidents will not even allow books by apostles to be read.

As I read this string, I wondered about this. It dawned on me that many missions programs--especially those involving younger people--restrict outside reading and entertainment. Ah well...at least the books were bought used. 😉

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14 hours ago, Maureen said:
19 hours ago, mordorbund said:

As far as the content, I thought Robinson perhaps carried a bit too much of his pre-conversion Protestant notions of Grace with him still...

Can I ask, what do you mean by this statement?

M.

Yes, you may ask.

14 hours ago, Maureen said:
19 hours ago, mordorbund said:

As far as the content, I thought Robinson perhaps carried a bit too much of his pre-conversion Protestant notions of Grace with him still...

What do you mean by this statement?

M.

Thank you for asking. It's been a number of years since I read the books (and @MrShorty can correct me if my memory is faulty), but my impression is that Robinson frames the discussion on grace in Protestant terms. This typically happens in these conversations because Protestants have been (historically) more concerned about recognizing grace and placing it front and center in their soteriology. So in debates and discussions the Protestant brings up either grace, faith, or works to broach the subject, and the Latter-day Saint speaks to how the many works we're associated with still fit with grace*. Robinson takes this a step further and preaches a very Protestant model. I can't remember if he uses the actual terms, but he talks in very much a "grace alone" "100% grace" manner. And if memory serves, he uses a works-as-an-outgrowth-of-grace model, which I wouldn't say is traditionally LDS.

*I think if it weren't brought up in a grace/works framing, LDS would speak more of salvation in terms of a covenantal relationship with God.

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25 minutes ago, mordorbund said:

Yes, you may ask.

Thank you for asking. It's been a number of years since I read the books (and @MrShorty can correct me if my memory is faulty), but my impression is that Robinson frames the discussion on grace in Protestant terms. This typically happens in these conversations because Protestants have been (historically) more concerned about recognizing grace and placing it front and center in their soteriology. So in debates and discussions the Protestant brings up either grace, faith, or works to broach the subject, and the Latter-day Saint speaks to how the many works we're associated with still fit with grace*. Robinson takes this a step further and preaches a very Protestant model. I can't remember if he uses the actual terms, but he talks in very much a "grace alone" "100% grace" manner. And if memory serves, he uses a works-as-an-outgrowth-of-grace model, which I wouldn't say is traditionally LDS.

*I think if it weren't brought up in a grace/works framing, LDS would speak more of salvation in terms of a covenantal relationship with God.

It's like discussing a trip to the moon vs. a trip to Mars in terms of the comparative miles per gallon each rocket might get. It's the wrong paradigm, but when that's all people understand, it's hard to move past that.

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25 minutes ago, mordorbund said:

Robinson takes this a step further and preaches a very Protestant model. I can't remember if he uses the actual terms, but he talks in very much a "grace alone" "100% grace" manner. And if memory serves, he uses a works-as-an-outgrowth-of-grace model, which I wouldn't say is traditionally LDS.

I suspect that Robinson is attempting to explain the LDS views in Protestant terms so Protestants can understand. He knows that we fear LDS teach a "works salvation," and so offers a correcting explanation. Of course, to members, outside this context, this explanation sounds awkward and a bit foreign.

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In the Salvation chapter, Robinson specifically explains (in response to Blomberg's observation that the language used in the book seems very different from one of Robinson's Ensign articles where he gives a "bicycle" analogy) that, in this book, he is using language that Protestants will hopefully better understand. In his Ensign article, he was using language that LDS would understand without being concerned about whether Protestants would understand.

This was one of those sections where, like @mordorbund suggests, I wonder if Robinson was employing a little "spin" to make our thinking a little more palatable to Protestants. I see many Protestants accepting and teaching some variation of "works as an outgrowth of faith/grace" that Robinson talks about. I even recall some statements from apostles like Elder Uchtdorf that fit into this. I wonder, if Blomberg had really pressed him to a yes/no "Do you believe in Sola Fide and/or Sola Gratia?" (I have noted many times that I like to think of those as separate), would Robinson answer "yes" or "no". I don't know how Robinson would answer. I have noted that I could answer yes to one and no to the other (I believe in salvation by grace alone, but believe that it takes more than faith alone to get there), but that's just me.

In this part of the discussion, the thing Robinson did that really stood out to me was framing it as similar to the Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate. It's probably not perfect, but I can see how Robinson sees Mormonism (if you have a better "ism" for this word, I'm open to suggestions) as leaning more towards Arminianism and Evangelicalism (as Blomberg concedes) leans more towards Calvinism. This page (https://www.learnreligions.com/calvinism-vs-arminianism-700526 ) notes that the Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate is potentially one of the most divisive in Christian history, so it should be no surprise that there is a significant debate between us and Evangelicals over these points. But, again, would we as LDS really classify ourselves collectively and unreservedly as Arminians? Maybe not. But, putting the debate into those terms should help Evangelicals, who would likely be more familiar with Arminianism and the different points in that debate, understand it.

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16 minutes ago, MrShorty said:

I wonder if Robinson was employing a little "spin" to make our thinking a little more palatable to Protestants.

 

1 hour ago, prisonchaplain said:

I suspect that Robinson is attempting to explain the LDS views in Protestant terms so Protestants can understand. He knows that we fear LDS teach a "works salvation," and so offers a correcting explanation. Of course, to members, outside this context, this explanation sounds awkward and a bit foreign.

I must admit that I'm always a bit suspicious when I hear someone try to map their beliefs to my beliefs. Firstly (which this very dialog is trying to address), I'm suspicious that the other party is only trying to say what I want to hear. And secondly, I'm not sure that the other party understands what I believe well enough to make that mapping.

I would have preferred Robinson had stated LDS view and let Blomberg poke around the answer a bit. It would give Blomberg an opportunity to share why the response sounds odd to Evangelical ears (sharing his beliefs while doing so) and Robinson could then respond in a cooperative way, clarifying his position and asking questions to clarify Blombergs. The mapping they make would be one they both agreed on, and I could trust that more.

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36 minutes ago, mordorbund said:

 

I must admit that I'm always a bit suspicious when I hear someone try to map their beliefs to my beliefs. Firstly (which this very dialog is trying to address), I'm suspicious that the other party is only trying to say what I want to hear. And secondly, I'm not sure that the other party understands what I believe well enough to make that mapping.

I would have preferred Robinson had stated LDS view and let Blomberg poke around the answer a bit. It would give Blomberg an opportunity to share why the response sounds odd to Evangelical ears (sharing his beliefs while doing so) and Robinson could then respond in a cooperative way, clarifying his position and asking questions to clarify Blombergs. The mapping they make would be one they both agreed on, and I could trust that more.

My view here:

If I'm speaking to a Japanese person, I see no problem speaking Japanese.  Even though frequently we would need to figure out how to articulate concepts that either don't have a direct translation in one language, or there's a difference in connotation.  Learning how to do this well takes a lot of practice and a lot of knowledge of the other language/culture, and you own language/culture.

If I'm speaking to an Evangelical person, I see no problem speaking Evangelical-ese.  Similarly, we do frequently need to figure out how to articulate concepts that don't have direct "translations" or there's different connotations. Likewise, learning how to do this well takes a lot of practice and a lot of knowledge of both "language" and cultures.

So I'm perfectly ok with Robinson speaking a bit more Evangelical-ese.  I do myself with the many Evangelical folks I talk with.  

Running with the "faith vs works example", I know that both cultures have past baggage here-- Evangelicals have a past of fighting the false idea that you can buy your way to Heaven (stemming from the Protestant Reformation events).    LDS Christians are past of fighting the false idea you can shallowly "yeah, I accept Christ" and then never lift one iota as the result of this claimed acceptance.  Evangelicals call this false idea "cheap grace" and likewise believe it is false.    Both groups actively believe that it's Christ that does the saving (not us), that this change should result in action, and if there's no action that's a major problem.  So if you take that angle, understanding the language & culture of both groups, it's much more successful at conveying the true meaning. 

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@anatess2 may be familiar with an organization called Catholic Answers. It uses Evangelical words and thinking to defend the faith in terms we can understand. The priest I worked with most recently seemed to really enjoy their work. On the other hand, the priest before him did not like them at all. He was more liberal/moderate, and probably considered Catholic theology to be much more sophisticated--believing that Evangelicals should just catch up. I suspect some will believe that Robinson "dumbs down" LDS teaching too much, creating an unsatisfying hybrid. Others, perhaps especially those with exposure to Evangelical people and thinking, will appreciate his work more. The book was recommended to me by a member from this site (no longer active here), and I've greatly appreciated it.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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59 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

@anatess2 may be familiar with an organization called Catholic Answers. It uses Evangelical words and thinking to defend the faith in terms we can understand. The priest I worked with most recently seemed to really enjoy their work. On the other hand, the priest before him did not like them at all. He was more liberal/moderate, and probably considered Catholic theology to be much more sophisticated--believing that Evangelicals should just catch up. I suspect some will believe that Robinson "dumbs down" LDS teaching too much, creating an unsatisfying hybrid. Others, perhaps especially those with exposure to Evangelical people and thinking, will appreciate his work more. The book was recommended to me by a member from this site (no longer active here), and I've greatly appreciated it.

I'm familiar... too familiar... I got banned from their forum.   :rolleyes:

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