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Good conversation starter
on July 4, 2001
_How Wide the Divide?_ is a groundbreaking attempt at getting beyond the heated rhetoric Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints often throw at each other to actually trying to understand one another. For this reason alone, it ought to be read widely by people from both traditions. It has already served as a useful point of reference to begin other conversations between Mormons and Evangelicals. As a former Evangelical and current Latter-day Saint, I could not be happier.
The authors have chosen only four topics for this discussion: scripture, God and deification, Christ and the Trinity, and salvation. Even on these topics, Blomberg and Robinson tend to stick to some of the very basics. This book is a good conversation starter, and will serve as a good introduction to both traditions. Those looking for depth will need to look elsewhere. The reader should peruse the notes for further sources on each tradition's theology.
Both authors have attempted to write with a charitable sprit, yet without pulling their punches. They have succeeded to a remarkable degree, but not perfectly. Neither author erects a strawman to tear down. Evangelicals might even fault Blomberg for failing to exploit a weakness or two in Robinson's arguments, but this book was not meant to be a full-blown debate. However, Blomberg might be faulted for occasionally flinging barbs that seem to mock LDS positions. Robinson sometimes sounds too defensive, as if he were fighting anti-Mormons like Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Even while disagreeing with the creeds forming the basis of Evangelical theology, he could and should have shown better understanding in their development and at least allowed they are legitimate interpretations of the biblical material.
Blomberg deserves extra credit for representing the breadth of evangelicalism well. Evangelicalism is more a movement than a Church, and includes a bewildering diversity of members from different churches. It is not easy to speak for a movement that (among others)includes Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals. But wherever there are divergent strands of thought on a given topic, Blomberg usually briefly presented them.
Sadly, Robinson does not similarly represent the full breadth of Mormonism. This is despite the fact he admits "LDS orthodoxy can be a moving target" (14). (Full disclosure: Even given the true range of Mormon "orthodoxy," I am admittedly heterodox on some issues.) Robinson's theology could be called (following Richard Mouw and Blomberg) "Evangelical Mormonism." This is in large measure why Blomberg and Robinson could agree on so much. Though it is orthodox, it is, despite Robinson's protests, a relatively new way of thinking in Mormonism.
However, there are other strands of thought in Mormonism that can be and are debated vigorously - even staying within the bounds of orthodoxy! Yet Robinson is at best silent and at worst disparages these lines. The effect is doubly negative. It will leave many Latter-day Saints straining to recognize themselves, and it opens him to the charges of deception other reviews have made. On a personal level, I am very leery of Robinson's brand of Mormonism, even leaving aside my heresies. I joined the LDS Church in part as a _rejection_ of Evangelical positions. Why in the world would I want to go back to them?
Do not get me wrong here. I am not saying Robinson should have said something about all the fringes of Mormon thought. And I am not asking him to endorse those views. However, he could have at least noted many Mormons would not agree with the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" or the debates on what kinds of limitations God has.
Finally, I am concerned with Robinson's attempt to delineate "official" sources of LDS teaching. He would limit them to the Standard Works and official statements of the First Presidency and/or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Everything else is "supplemental," "commentary," "expansions," or "speculation." I readily grant that Latter-day Saints need some way of separating Church doctrine from the "faith promoting rumor." But, again, is this Mormonism? I doubt it in a church which has traditionally been reluctant to proclaim a creed. Rather, it reminds me of certain Catholics who loudly proclaim their fidelity to the Pope, but wind up confusing the Magisterium for Catholicism itself.
Robinson also does not seem to realize the paradoxes of his position. He supports his position not with the Standard Works or one of those official statements, but with an address of Elder B. H. Roberts. In effect, he is using something he would otherwise consider as a supplemental speculation to establish official Church doctrine! By Robinson's standards, we have no official statement telling us what constitutes official Church teaching.
Furthermore, at least some of the official statements which Robinson would hold to be authoritative are not merely interpretations. They are extrapolations. One immediately thinks of the concept of Heavenly Mother, which is found nowhere in the Standard Works. For someone who complains so bitterly about "extra biblical creeds," Robinson may find himself in a precarious position.
Nevertheless, I would not necessarily want to be held to some statement made by Brigham Young any more than Robinson would. I doubt any modern Lutheran would want to be held to Martin Luther's anti-Semitic remarks, either. Better to let Brigham Young be out of date, placed in context, or just plain wrong. If Evangelicals do not want to deal with how we are now, that is their problem, not ours.
Where does this leave us? Hopefully, we are at the beginning of a better relationship between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals. Whatever criticisms I or anyone else may have, this is indeed a revolutionary publication. If you follow Robinson's theology, the divide does not seem so wide. For other Mormons, the divide will seem much bigger. Clearly, though, a new era where Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints actually listen to one another has dawned. May the day not pass too quickly!