Evangelical leader says commonality with Mormons deeper than differences

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 7:45 p.m. MST

OREM — Borrowing an ancient Hebrew word from an Old Testament text, one of America’s leading evangelical Christian scholars told nearly 2,000 young Mormons at Utah Valley University Friday that his faith and their faith, often at odds with each other through the years over doctrinal disparities, “need to find ways we can work together” to find “shalom,” or peace.

“God has placed us in the world, in this nation, and calls us to seek the shalom together,” said Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president emeritus of the Fuller Theological Seminary and noted author of such books as “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.”

“Evangelicals and Mormons have a lot to talk about and a lot to share about the hope that lies within each of us,” Mouw told a capacity crowd at the LDS Institute of Religion on the UVU campus. “We need to work together, learning from each other and bearing witness to the hope that shines within us.”

That hope, he said, emanates from the beliefs that evangelical Christians have in common with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — specifically their shared belief in “the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.”

“That’s important to us because we have a lot of disagreements,” he said, noting a number of doctrinal issues that can be divisive in discussions between evangelicals and Mormons, including the Trinity, the nature of God and the relationship between human beings and God.

“We need to talk about those things,” Mouw told his audience, which included LDS general authorities — Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Steven J. Lund of the Seventy — as well as a number local evangelical pastors, including Pastor Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries. “But it’s important for us to talk about those things as we hold fast to the Savior. If we’re all saying, ‘Give me Jesus’ (a reference to the beautiful gospel song presented earlier in the program by the Orem Institute Latter-day Celebration Choir), all of those differences will dissipate into academic rarities that probably aren’t important when considered next to our desire to work together for the cause of righteousness.”

For more than 10 years Mouw has been talking about those issues — both the differences and the commonalities — with a group of evangelical and LDS scholars who meet regularly to share and probe and consider varying theological perspectives. One of the things he said he has learned during those years is “there’s more commonality than we realized in the way we talk about Jesus and his atoning work.”

For example, he said, “we evangelicals have often focused on the origins of the Book of Mormon and questions of Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority, but we haven’t paid attention to the content of the Book of Mormon.”

“But when you stop and read it,” he said, “a lot of the doctrine looks and sounds like our doctrine, with language that sounds like the kinds of things we say.”

He read from the Book of Mormon some of the prophet Alma’s language about the life, ministry and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and how people need to “repent and be born again … (and) have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7:14).

“Those are words of the gospel of Jesus Christ that I affirm as an evangelical Christian,” Mouw said.

Mouw also referred to a sermon by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church’s April 2009 general conference about the Atonement.

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