Richard Mouw, Talking With Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Eerdmans 2012).

This short book is difficult to review. In fewer than a 100 pages Mouw manages to say some incredibly helpful things, and, well, some other things too. In the former category, Mouw reminds evangelicals that loving our neighbor means we try to understand his beliefs and describe them accurately. His burden is “to invite us to nurture friendlier relations with the Mormon community” (43). To that end, he rightly notes that evangelicals have not always dealt patiently or charitably with Mormons. Throughout his ministry, Mouw has called evangelicals to greater civility and understanding with “outsiders.” Those who are eager to defend the faith and rebuke doctrinal error should not quickly dismiss Mouw’s concerns. He provides a needed warning for a certain type of evangelical.

On the other hand, Mouw’s approach to Mormonism is not without problems. For starters, his eagerness to build bridges leads him to attempt bridging the sometimes unbridgeable. Mouw does not personally reject any evangelical doctrines. In fact, he explicitly affirms them in numerous places. He understands where the differences between evangelicalism and Mormonism lie. But at every major difference he looks hard (and creatively) for a way to bring the two sides closer together. This basic impulse, while commendable to a degree, encourages methodological confusion. For example, Mouw routinely softens official Mormon teaching by quoting from progressive authors or citing new (potential) trends in Mormon theology (e.g., p. 59). I admit to being suspicious of these “trends,” just like an outside observer might be suspicious to think evangelicals were leaving their conservative politics behind just because of a few quotes from Brian MacLaren or N.T. Wright.

There are other problems with Mouw’s approach. Perhaps it’s the nature of the book, but I found he would only hint at some major differences with Mormonism, while proceeding for most of a chapter to find common ground. At other times, Mouw makes assumptions without any corroborating evidence, like they claim that in the future “Mormon leadership will add nothing new without being sure that what is accepted as new is continuous with the doctrine of faith, as set forth in Scripture” (71). No reasons were given for this optimism except Mouw’s sense that Mormonism seems to be changing.

At the most basic level, Mouw wants evangelicals to approach Mormons in a whole new way. While I think he rightly critiques one approach; his new approach is not the answer.

Mouw criticizes the sort of approach that starts with an assumption that Mormons are some combination of stupid, evil, imposters, and charlatans and then offers the usual anti-Mormon talking points (God doesn’t have a body, Jesus and Lucifer were not brothers, Joseph Smith was nuts, early Mormons were polygamists, etc.). He is right to call evangelicals to a better way.

But Mouw’s way is not it. He works from the experiential conclusion that Mormons have the presence of Jesus in their lives, even if they fall short of theological orthodoxy (99). From that starting point, Mouw tries to bridge the vast doctrinal divide by a combination of the following arguments: Mormonism is changing, Mormonism was trying to correct legitimate Christian abuses, we can find God-given truth in Mormonism, Mormons have been out of touch with the rest of Christianity so we should cut them some slack, Mormons have proved to be personally warm and trustworthy so we should not doubt their commitment to Jesus. The end result is that no doctrinal differences are actually resolved, but we’ve been encouraged to ask questions, look for shared “space,” and keep the conversation going.

If that were the only end result, Mouw’s project would be more benign. But I fear the other end result is that evangelicals will see orthodox theology as officially important but practically negligible. I know Mouw doesn’t think that, but that is the taste left in my mouth after finishing the book. On issue after issue, my take away was: no matter how serious the theological error, there will always be a way to make heterodoxy more sanguine. It’s hard to see a connection between right belief and regeneration in Mouw’s “invitation.” He certainly believes in the importance of truth, but it is largely something we work on to make our relationship with Jesus stronger, not something indispensable for the relationship in the first place. Mouw describes his faith as the experience of Jesus “as a loving Savior who offers me his warm embrace.” With that definition it’s easy to see how one can assume that Mormons are already in the fold, but it’s a far cry from the Heidelberg Catechism’s understanding of faith (Q/A 21-23).

I haven’t met Rich Mouw before, but he strikes me as an eminently likeable guy whose impulse is to find common ground. There are worse things that can be said about a person. Many Christians would do well to have more of that impulse. But the impulse to clarify and correct significant–sometimes eternally significant–disagreements is also admirable. Mouw does correction well when it comes to evangelicals, but seems less probing when it comes of Mormons. This book would be more helpful if the careful rebuke of our mistakes were matched by an equally trenchant correction of their views. I’d like to see a straight forward, deeply evangelical follow-up book entitled, “Talking to Mormons: An Invitation to Historic Christianity.”

Print Friendly
View Comments

Comments:


34 thoughts on “A Review of Richard Mouw’s Talking With Mormons”

  1. Randy in Tulsa says:

    So, Paul should have learned to play nice before writing Galatians? After all, the judaizers were just trying to get those early Christians to follow Jewish customs, such as circumcision. Intolerant Paul wanted the judaizers to “go all the way” and emasculate themselves. Galatians 5:12. Not much of a bridge there that I can see.

    Tolerant Mouw, another in a long line of men who thinks he has found the way to accomodate a false gospel. Was Mouw at one time a Mormon? If not, I wonder what those converted from Mormonism to true faith in Christ would say about Mouw’s approach.

  2. Randy in Tulsa says:

    Last night I was reading to my wife from J.C.Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 9:38 and following, Christ demonstrates how we should analyze the practices of those who are not of our particular group, so to speak. In his thoughts about this passage, Ryle rightly calls for a certain toleration among and between Christians. However, before discussing the need for toleration, Ryle makes two preliminary notes. First, the man in the passage (about whom John had complained to Christ) was “doing a good work without a doubt.” Second, the man in the passage “was warring on the same side as the apostles, beyound question.” From what you say in your review, Kevin, Mouw falls into the common trap of focusing on the “good works” performed by the group in question, without addressing the crucial second question. If that’s the case, then his little book is really nothing more than the product of the kind of good intentions that pave the broad road to hell.

  3. mark mcculley says:

    I fear the end result of evangelical coalitions is that we will see Arminian theology as officially important but practically negligible. No matter how serious the theological error of teaching that Jesus died for everybody, there will always be a way to make heterodoxy more sanguine. It’s hard to see a connection between right belief and regeneration in the “offer” of those who have particular redemption as only their “shelf doctrine” (As Mouw explains himself in his Calvinism in Las Vegas book.

    Of course some in these coalitions believe in the importance of truths of election and regeneration before faith , but these doctrines are largely something they work on to make their relationship with Jesus stronger, not something indispensable for the relationship in the first place.

    A long time working (not easy believism holes) experience of Jesus “as a loving Savior who offers me his warm embrace.” With that definition it’s easy to see how one can assume that Arminians are already in the fold, but it’s a far cry from what Toplady and John Owen said about Wesley’s falsehoods.

    Ephesians 3:14-19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
    from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may filled with all the fullness of God

    There is a big difference between growing in faith, and growing into faith. If Mormons can grow into orthodoxy without ever repenting of being Mormons, if ex-Mormons can say that they already knew Christ when they were Mormons, why can’t Arminians also “get smarter than other Christians” without ever repenting of having been Arminians? After all, in many ways, they are still both Arminians and Cavinists, all at the same time, without antithesis.

  4. mel says:

    Ugh, I wish I would learn to stop at the blog and not read the comments.

  5. Marshall Johnston says:

    So, Mel, are you equating Arminianism with Mormonism in terms of heterodoxy? Wow.

  6. mark mcculley says:

    My name is Mark. No, like Romanism, Arminianism is trinitarian, although Arminianism has all the three persons of the Trinity ignore the justice of Christ’s death. Arminianism denies that God has already imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, and that the legal imputation of this in time is made certain by God’s justice.

    So my point is NOT that Arminians are the same as Mormons. My point is about “Calvinists” who claim to have now arrived at the best version of the gospel, while at the same time claiming to have Christians while they were Arminians. This attitude is terribly patronizing and condescending and even sectarian.

    One popular Calvinist even goes so far as to suggest that the five points of Reformed antithesis to Arminianism are something like the Galatian false teachers’ demand for circumcision. He says this, even though he claims to be a Calvinist. “All us smart people are circumcised, but we don’t ask you little people to do it.”

    I suggest that the reason for this catholic tolerance for Arminians is that these “Reformed” folks still have as their gospel some Arminian version which says that salvation (both now and in the end) is conditioned on the sinner.

  7. David Bishop says:

    Excellent point, Mark! Arminians (not to mention, most Evangelicals today) describe faith in Christ as something available to everyone. They describe atonement as the sin-guilt of everyone charged to Christ at the cross. They describe God’s wrath as unsatisfied until a person applies it of their own free volition. And yet somehow, in some bizarre universe of the mind where up is down and down is up, Arminians are still somehow gospel converts. If this is not a clear cut case of people seeing Arminian theology as officially important but practically negligible, then I don’t know what is.

  8. rick says:

    The fact that anyone would bring up Calvinist/Arminian differences in a discussion of Mormonism is absurd.

    As to the book review, I appreciate Mr. DeYoung’s concern about this book. The Mormon Church has been attempting to “mainstream” for many years, presenting itself outwardly as another denomination of Christianity. This kind of book feeds right into that. We don’t have more common ground with LDS than we do with Muslims. When we try find more common ground we have already succumbed to their false teaching.

    LDS are henotheists and, in reality, the ultimate humanists. Their God was a really smart and good man. How can we find common ground in this?

    We need to share the truth and love of the real Jesus with them. They don’t know him. Let’s stop trying to find fictitious common ground. It is much better to share our differences!

    Of course, we must do this on an individual basis with LDS. Not all LDS are “true believers” in their own church’s teaching.

  9. Rich Mouw says:

    You might want to wrestle with Spurgeon’s “Defence of Calvinism” on these matters. He said of John Wesley: “I detest many of the doctrines that he preached,yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan.” And then this:
    “The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one ‘of whom the world was not worthy.’ I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these [Calvinistic] truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Savior, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.”

  10. mark mcculley says:

    I know you and Spurgeon believe that, Mr. Mouw. Is it because you think that God sovereignly saves apart from the power of the gospel? Or is it because you think that Arminianism and Mormonism are versions of the gospel? It seems to me likely that you will have to argue against Dordt’s Refutation of Errors in order to tolerate Arminianism as the gospel. I do not accept the apostolic authority of Spurgeon, or of Lloyd-Jones, who said that the worse the doctrine was, the more it showed how sovereign God’s grace was in saving the person still holding the doctrine.

    As far as Wesley is concerned, his hatred of both election and imputed righteousness are well documented. He thought that both doctrines would “cut the nerve” of moral seriousness. And this is ironic, given his own lack of honesty in dealing with Whitefield and also with the written polemics of Toplady and Hervey. Wesley not only did not accurately give the position of his opponents, but he edited what they wrote in order to argue against caricatures. For more on this, see the historical work of Tom Nettles. (You won’t find much about it in Ian Murray)

    To have certain doctrines as your “shelf-doctrines” only to be pulled out for certain occasions reminds me of certain shape-shifters who reinvent themselves depending on the demands of the market. I commend to you Gopnik’s essay on Mormons in last week’s New Yorker.

    I also disagree with Whitefield’s idea that some folks are more holy than other Christians so they get closer to the throne of Christ. I am not sure where he got that doctrine, but it doesn’t seem to give the glory to Christ’s finished work of redemption.

  11. mark mcculley says:

    Gopnik: “One element latent in Smith’s theology that Young brought forward was a kind of sanctified materialism. His brand of Mormonism might at times have been extra-planetary, but it was scarcely otherworldly. Right here on earth, he insisted, men became saints and even approached godliness. Smith taught that Gods and men were one species; Young made this idea a practical guiding principle. “We are not going to wait for Angels” was his very American aphorism on the subject. “We intend to build up Zion on the earth.” Since we are angelic already, we should not let the forces of Lucifer drive us from the Heaven we’ve found. There was no virtue in letting your enemies send you to that other, better place, if Salt Lake City was essentially just as good.”

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2012/08/13/120813crat_atlarge_gopnik#ixzz234zr2oTZ

  12. Ben says:

    Kevin,

    I can understand your desire to remind us that there are key theological differences between Mormonism and Evangelicalism. But I feel like you have not been fair to so hastily dismiss Mouw’s optimism for the future of Mormonism. Perhaps God is changing hearts within Mormonism and the truth of the gospel is penetrating hearts in the midst of a lot of false doctrine. I have heard from numerous sources that among Mormon theologians there is a growing acceptance of justification by faith. Yes there are still differences, but perhaps you are discounting God’s power to do an amazing work by drawing more Mormons to himself.

  13. rick says:

    Do any of you actually care about talking with Mormons? Isn’t that the subject of this book review? Based on most of the comments I’d say if you do, you hide it well.

  14. rich mouw says:

    Just so that I can be clear: Am I understanding a couple of you to be saying that Wesley was not saved by sovereign grace because he had an inadequate theology of sovereign grace?

  15. mark mcculley says:

    It seems clear to me, Mr Mouw, that you don’t want to talk about the gospel or the difference between the gospel and your “shelf-doctrines”. In other words, you either don’t know what the gospel is or if God needs the gospel to save a sinner, but you do know that the nature of Christ’s atonement is no part of that gospel.

    You know that the stuff Dordt was talking about is not gospel. But you can’t say what the gospel is. Perhaps that’s the reason you look to the experience of Mormons rather than to their shape-shifting doctrines.

    Even though I agree that we don’t have to talk about Wesley in order to talk about gospel, you don’t seem to want to talk about Wesley, even though you pointed us to Spurgeon. All you can do is act surprised that there’s some crazy folks out here on the internet who would not fit within the boundaries of Fuller Seminary.

    Sure we’re “Reformed” and all (born that way), but if you say the opposite of what Dordt says, there will be no refutation of errors or antithesis. It will merely say that the lies are “inadequate” versions of the same gospel we have.

    John Wesley: “The doctrine of predestination is not of God,
    because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided
    against himself directly tends to destroy holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. This doctrine tends to destroy the comfort of religion, the happiness of Christianity… This uncomfortable doctrine directly tends to destroy our zeal for good works. … What would an infidel desire more? It overturns God’s justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. … This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. (7:384)

    Why didn’t Wesley simply say that Calvinism is “inadequate”?

    Wesley: Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness? A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine… Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard these tender minds against the predestinarian poison. (8:336)”

  16. Melody says:

    I would say “No,they don’t care”. It seems that some care more about looking really knowledgeable about Calvinism than anything else.

  17. John Metz says:

    Kevin,
    I thought you wrote a fair and broad-spirited review of Dr. Mouw’s book. Why is it when someone advocates treating those with whom we disagree with human respect and dignity that others, supposedly of a renewed heart, rise up in arms and are so bitterly against such a horrific idea?

    For the record, I do not consider Mormonism an orthodox belief for a number of important reasons. It has certainly become a world religion but not a scriptural faith community.

  18. Melody says:

    Once someone is friends with a Mormon or interacts with them daily it is very easy to start making concessions on where they stand scripturally. No one wants to think that the nice person living their religion is in fact going to hell.
    People need to be figuring it out because if they elect a Mormon president it will be all the more blurred. They will tell you point blank that Jesus is their savior. But what Jesus and what exactly are they saved from? And who is this God or should I say gods, that they are worshiping? It isn’t as simple as a Trinity argument or even that ridiculous predestination stuff.
    I say ridiculous because an understanding of predestination is not a requirement of salvation. If that were true then we would be dealing with a religion of works, now wouldn’t we?
    So what it comes down to, can you witness to a Mormon?

    My children have no problem sifting through the secular stuff that teachers pass off to them. What gets harder is how to deal with the fact that their large friend group of the well-behaved kids all come from Mormon homes. How can I teach them if all the resources that are coming out keep making concessions?

  19. Rich Mouw says:

    I won’t intrude on this subject here again, but want to go on record on three points, in the light of comments here: one, Kevin’s review of my book was indeed fair and helpful; two, I fully and heartily subscribe to the Canons of Dort; three, I take theology very seriously, while also affirming with Calvin (who held that there were faithful Christians in the Catholic church of his day), Charles Hodge (who said, after detailing Schleiermacher’s heresies, that he believed Schleiermacher was in heaven singing songs of praises to Jesus) and Spurgeon (already cited), that a person can have a confused theology on some key points and still have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

  20. mark mcculley says:

    It’s one thing to take theology seriously, and a different matter to affirm that the gospel is the power of salvation. Instead of listing the names of people who agree with you, what you need to do is positively define the gospel. Is what the Mormons teach the gospel? Is what Dordt teaches the gospel? And does it matter?

    Even if you make a judgment that says that God is far more generous
    with his salvation than you are able to know, this is making a
    judgment and claiming to know something from experience. Perhaps you “just know” that some Mormons are justified before God despite their doctrine. To be tolerant, you need to go in one of two directions. Either, you say that God’s sovereignty means that God saves people apart from the gospel. The second option is to agree with most evangelicals that Christ died for everybody, without that death being what saves anybody.

    Instead of talking about what our faith-experience is and how to prove to ourselves that we have it, we need to attend to the object of our faith. If our faith is in our faith as that which makes the
    difference, then the object of our faith is not only a false gospel
    but an idol. If you mean to deny that God uses the propositions of the gospel in justifying sinners, I disagree.

    Of course there is the old “you don’t need to know how the tv works to watch it” argument. You want to listen to what Mormons have to say about the doctrine, but at the end of the day, you know it works because you want your children to hang out with their children, because their children are better behaved. Of course you think it’s cool for you to have a serious theology cherry on the top of your sundae, but a sundae is still a sundae without it.

    Of course it would bring glory to God if God were to be seen as making the difference in salvation, if we knew that God elected some and did not elect others, and if we knew that justification was not by our morality but by God’s declaration. but nevertheless even apart from the gospel message, just maybe God is not limited to the gospel. So you suggested in your dialogye with Engelsma: perhaps “common grace” is also about eternal life.

    II Thessalonians 2: 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

    REJECTION OF ERRORS, Synod of Dordt

    The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

    SECOND HEAD: PARAGRAPH 2. Who teach: That it was not the purpose of
    the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works.

    For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that “Jesus has
    become the guarantee of a better covenant that is a new covenant …” and that “it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. (Heb 7:22; 9:15, 17).”

    SECOND HEAD: PARAGRAPH 4. Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the OBEDIENCE OF FAITH, ALTHOUGH IMPERFECT, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace.

    For these contradict the Scriptures, being: “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25).” And these proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole Church.

  21. Randy Buist says:

    Mark: Perhaps you do not know Rich Mouw, and so your response would be understandable. He is one of the most respected Calvinist theologians on this continent; so you don’t need to lecture him as if you know some bit of information that he doesn’t know.

    While he is a fantastic theologian, he also gives more grace to others than most people in any evangelical tradition. Perhaps you could find something to learn from him if you were less critical and more willing to consider his thoughts.

    Just something for you to ponder.

  22. Rich Mouw says:

    OK, we’re into Dort and that is a good thing. So one more try–this time the Synod of Dordrecht (I was just in that Dutch city last week) on “experience.” Article 12, on “The Assurance of Election”:

    “Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and
    holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word–such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.”

    This is at the heart of what among the Dutch is known as the “bevindelijke”–“experiental,” sometimes “experimental”–element of the Christian life. We look into ourselves to see if we can find those traits that serve as guarantees of our elect status. And this is what the church elders traditionally inquire into when examining a person who desires to make profession of faith: Do you have a true childlike faith in Christ? a godly sorrow for sin? a hungering after righteousness? (I hope the elders on Kevin’s consistory still ask those questions of communicant classes!) To be sure, as the bevindelijke tradition has always emphasized, Satan can counterfeit these inner states–pseudo faith, a fleshly sorrow, etc. But in the end it is an “experiental” discernment. So, did Wesley have a childlike faith in Christ, a godly sorrow for sin (“and can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me who caused His pain…?) These, and not simply systematic theological formulations, are what we have to go on.

    One of my Mormon friends, as he was dying, insisted that the one thing that had to take place at his funeral was singing the verse from “How Great Thou Art” that goes: “And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it is. How on Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” Does that “prove” his election? Not for me to judge. But it is certainly a hopeful sign in making our hunches!

  23. John Kauer says:

    Good review Pastor, however, I would suggest looking at Scripture and interview those on the field before discounting certain topics of discussion with Mormons.
    “…the usual anti-Mormon talking points (God doesn’t have a body, Jesus and Lucifer were not brothers, Joseph Smith was nuts, early Mormons were polygamists, etc.). He is right to call evangelicals to a better way.” I personally use their plan of salvation almost exclusively; however, I see Scriptural basis for the use of the doctrine of God (Acts 13 and 17), testing false prophets (DT. 13 & 18), and the founding father of your religion had committed statutory rape and adultery (married 14/16 year old girls and other men’s wives while the men were still alive). I work here in Utah in evangelism and pastoral ministries and have heard personal testimony of several ex-mormons who say it was these very things you listed as reasons why they left and/or started their quest for truth. God is using it to draw men (John 6:44).

  24. mark mcculley says:

    David Engelsma: Many Puritans taught that the Spirit saves many whom He does not assure of salvation. Their experimental writers taught that many of those whom God does finally assure of salvation He withholds assurance for a long time—years, many years—after their conversion and coming to faith in Jesus Christ. These puritans taught that some regenerated believers never receive the gift of assurance. Expressions by leading Puritans and the actual condition of churches held in bondage by this teaching leave the distinct impression that those believers who never receive assurance, but die in doubt, are the majority.

    Mark McCulley: Professor Mouw is a Kuyperian neo-Calvinist who gives the priority to “experiential discernment”. He knows this Mormon who may not have known the gospel but who did like “How Great Thou Art”.

    “on Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” What does this statement mean? Can the statement mean one thing to the Calvinist who is “into” some “shelf doctrines” and another thing to somebody who thinks that Christ bled and died to
    take away the sins of every sinner and yet these two things somehow in the end mean the same thing, without antithesis, so that the one thing is only “less adequate” than what the gospel revealed in the Bible says?

    The Lord Jesus did NOT take away the sins of those sinners who do not believe the gospel. Christ’s taking away the sins of a person is not conditioned on that person believing, because the antithesis teaches us that a person believing the gospel is instead a result of Christ taking that person’s sins away (John 10, Phil 1:29, II Peter 1:1)

    The gospel is NOT about some impersonal system or plan in which salvation is made “available” conditioned on what the sinner will do. When Wesley preached his hate of election and imputation, that was not the preaching of an innocent or a child, and his deliberate distortions of what Hervey and Toplady taught were not simple but evil complicated falsehoods.

    When Mouw writes “and not simply theological formulations”, is he opposing his “shelf doctrines” to the gospel and to biblical statement? Does “simply” mean “only”, sola? If gospel doctrine is not the only standard in discernemnt, how much does gospel doctrine factor into his judgments? Is this something like grace and works, not too much of either, just the right mix? (Goldilocks)

    And what would is that right mix? Are you one of those pastors who has a situational approach that says, if you are looking inside, look out to Christ, but if you are looking to doctrine, then look inside, so in either case we need to do something more to gain assurance? The problem with “experiential discernment” is that it assumes a distinction between Christ the person and doctrine about Him, as if we could know Christ without knowing about Him.

    Muslims fear their god and have faith. So the question cannot begin with “true faith” until we know the object of faith is the “true Christ”. The Bible says plainly that there are counterfeit Christs (Matt. 24:23-24; 2 Cor. 11:4), other (false) gospels (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6-9), other (lying) spirits (2 Cor. 11:4), and false prophets who disguise themselves with a lot of truth (Matt. 7:15-16; 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

    How can we know with any assurance that we are believing in and
    calling upon the name of the true Christ, the one sent of God the
    Father? It is only by God’s testimony of both the Person of Christ and the work of Christ on behalf of His elect to save them and secure their salvation.

    Romans 10:14 — How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? {15} And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! {16} But they have not all OBEYED THE GOSPEL . For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? {17} So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    The Gospel is God’s promise to save sinners based on the blood, the
    death, the righteousness of Christ. As many as who believe the Gospel, all who have the faith of God’s elect, know and believe that Christ’s righteousness alone makes the difference between life and death. They see a completeness in what Christ accomplished so that they know that His work, His merits, His death and resurrection alone make the difference between saved and lost.

    If a person is submitted to Christ’s righteousness as the only basis of salvation, then she is convinced that Christ’s righteousness alone entitles her to all of salvation, including the work of the Holy Spirit in her. She sees himself as justified, sanctified, permanently adopted into God’s family, all based on the righteousness of Christ.

  25. Randy Buist says:

    Mark: With your most recent line of thinking, “The Lord Jesus did NOT take away the sins of those sinners who do not believe the gospel,” I have two questions.

    1) How much does one need to ‘believe’ the gospel to be saved?
    2) Calvinists believe that God chooses to save and extends grace as he so chooses. Thus, the logic of how much one needs to believe to be saved is not paramount to most Calvinists unless of course one is not a Calvinist.

  26. mark mcculley says:

    Thanks for the questions, Randy. My point is not that believing the gospel is the condition of being justified. My point is that believing the gospel is a RESULT of God’s imputation of righteousness to the elect. As Paul says to some in Romans 16, you were in Christ before me. So the question I keep asking is: do we think that God soverignly saves some Mormons while leaving them in the sin and flesh of Mormonism (they are saved but they still don’t know the gospel), or do we think God does use the gospel, and therefore try to say that Mormonism is the gospel (despite being “inadequate”?

    As for your second question, there are different kinds of “Calvinists” and yes there are some who deny that God uses the gospel in regeneration and the effectual call (I think of Primitive Baptists). But I am not the kind of Calvinist who denies that God uses the gospel as a means of conversion. (see texts previously cited, such as II Thess 1 and 2, “belief of the truth”). I disagree with L. Jones that God is more glorified when our doctrine is wrong, much as I would disagree that we get more grace when we sin more.

    I Corinthians 5:20—“we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

    As ambassadors FOR Christ, we command all who hear, “’be ye reconciled”. Even though II Cor 5 is addressed to Christians, the message taken by Christians to the lost is not for the elect only. The “be ye reconciled” is for those who have not yet been already justified.

    Some “high Calvinists” don’t have a category for lost elect people. They would tell you that you were never lost, but that you only didn’t know you were already saved.

    Some pastors like to say to people who are still legalists— some of you didn’t know the motives and how reconciliation worked, but you were already reconciled.

    The elect have already been judged at the cross; everybody else will be judged, since all will be judged. But not all who were judged at the cross have been “baptized into that death” yet by God’s legal imputation. Since this is so, we should NOT talk to people assuming that they are Christians even though they don’t know the gospel yet.

    To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, we don’t talk only about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell them that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But we also tell them: if you don’t know the gospel and believe it yet, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear.

    If Christ did not die for you, you should be afraid. Being afraid won’t save you. But legal fear is the reasonable response to not knowing the gospel. Because not knowing the gospel means knowing that you are not yet justified.

    I do not want to preach terror to Christians. But we must not assume that people are Christians.

    Do we address the people in church as if we are all elect, who have been believing some form of the gospel all along? Or do we say: some or all of you may need to be reconciled. Nobody is born reconciled. Let’s not presume.

    Jerry Bridges, p34, Transforming Grace—“if you are trusting TO ANY DEGREE in your own morality, or if you believe that God will somehow recognize any of your good works as a reason for your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.”

  27. mark mcculley says:

    As much as I agree with John Owen against the idea of double jeopardy, I think we need to be careful about how we use Owen’s trilemma about all the sins of all people, or all the sins of some people (the third hypothetical of course being some of the sins of some people).

    The cross-work (the righteousness) of Christ not only entitles the elect to justification (even before they are justified) but also entitles the elect to conversion.

    Even before they believe the gospel, the elect are entitled (because of Christ’s work) to the converting work of the Holy Spirit. Christ bought both the forgiveness of sins and the legal application of the legal satisfaction God needs to forgive and continue to be just and holy.

    What does the application of Christ’s work mean? First, it means that God imputes that work (not only the reward, but the righteousness) to the elect. Before the cross, God imputed the work to some of the elect. After the cross, God continues to impute the work to some of the elect.

    So there is a difference between Christ’s work and the imputation of Christ’s work. Romans 6 describes being placed into the death of Christ. There is a difference between the federal union of all the elect in Christ before the beginning of the world and the legal union of the elect with Christ when they are justified.

    Second, the application (purchased by Christ for the elect, and thus now their inheritance) includes the conversion which immediately follows the imputation. We could go to every text in the New Testament about the effectual calling into fellowship, but let us think now of only two.

    Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
    becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come…, so that we would receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

    And here’s a second text which teaches us that regeneration and
    conversion is a result of the imputation. Romans 8:10–”but if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

    Because the work (righteousness) is imputed, the next result will be life, not only forensic life but the life also the Holy Spirit gives by means of the gospel, so that the elect understand and believe, and are converted. Because the elect are now in Christ (not only by election but by imputation), Christ is in the elect. Christ indwells the elect by the Holy Spirit.

    As II Peter 1:1 starts, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The reason we need to be careful about John Owen’s trilemma is that Christ did not die to forgive any elect person of the final sin of unbelief of the gospel. Christ died to give every elect person faith in the gospel and conversion.

    Of course Christians do disbelieve even in their faith, and Christ died for all the sins of all Christians including all those after they are converted. But no elect person dies unconverted, because Christ died to give them the new birth and the conversion which follows.

    I am not saying that John Owen did not know this. I am only saying that the trilemma (as it is often used by Cavinists) does not take into account the time between Christ’s work and the application and imputation of Christ’s work.

    The trilemma in itself does not give us the necessary reminder that Christ died to obtain not only the redemption but also the application of the redemption. Christ did not need to die for final disbelief by the elect because Christ died instead that the elect will not finally disbelieve.

    Romans 5: 17 speaks of “those who receive the free gift of righteousness” and how they reign in life through the one man Christ Jesus. This receiving is not the sinner believing. It is not an “exercise of faith” (if you check the commentaries, Murray is right here about the passive and Moo is wrong). The elect “receive” the righteousness by God’s imputation.

    The elect do not impute their sins to Christ. Nor do the elect impute Christ’s righteousness to themselves. God is the imputer.

    But here is the point: the receiving of the righteousness by imputation is not the same as the righteousness. The imputation is not at the same time as Christ earned the righteousness. God declaring the elect to be joint-heirs with Christ in that righteousness is not the same as the righteousness. There is a difference between Christ’s righteousness and God’s imputation of it to the elect.

  28. mel says:

    Does the fact that Mormon’s give different meaning to all the words that you use, play into your over the top discussion?

    I can’t tell from any of this conversation if any of you actually know anything about Mormonism. But then I am just a stupid common everyday kind of person that reads this blog so perhaps it is beyond my comprehension.

  29. mark mcculley says:

    1948, Peter Eldersveld, voice of The Christian Reformed Church “Back to God” hour—”The National Association of Evangelicals is Arminian. A formal united front before the world becomes exceedingly questionable for Calvinists when those with whom we are joined deny the real fundamentals of the faith, such as Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. It is ironical, to say the least, that those who deny these Fundamentals should be called Fundamentalists!. What happens to our Reformed witness to the world when, by a formal and official representation, we are silent on those salient points….?

  30. Joe says:

    I sympathize with Mouw’s affection and experience for Mormons as religious people. I also think his needs to be counter-balanced by testimonies of converts to faith from Mormonism. That seems like a significant missing element. Certainly a person like Sandra Tanner or Latayne Scott may suffer some the “Ex” syndrome, but still, their testimonies seem undeniable and undeniably helpful in understanding all this. And yet… crickets. Unless I missed something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kevin DeYoung's Books