PROVO, UT — The former president of Fuller Theological Seminary appeared at Utah Valley University on Friday, speaking to hundreds about his belief that Christians and Mormons should focus on common ground and “work together for the cause of righteousness.”
Dr. Richard Mouw served as president of the California-based seminary for 20 years, until he returned to his position as a Professor of Faith and Public Life this year. Mouw has been known among evangelicals for defending Mormons—namely asserting that Mormonism is not a cult—and seeking to build bridges and friendships with Latter Day Saints.
“I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community,” he stated in 2004 at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, asserting that Christians have been “bearing false witness” against Mormon doctrine. “[L]et me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: We have sinned against you.”
On Friday, Mouw reiterated his beliefs while addressing a crowd at Orem LDS Institute of Religion, located on the university campus.
“Evangelicals and Mormons have a lot to talk about and a lot to share about the hope that lies within each of us,” he stated. “We need to work together, learning from each other and bearing witness to the hope that shines within us.”
“If we’re all saying, ‘Give me Jesus,’ all of [our] 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,” Mouw continued.
According to Deseret News, he told those gathered that Christians often overlook the common ground that is shared with Mormons.
“[W]e evangelicals have often focused on the origins of the Book of Mormon and questions of Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority,” he said, “but we haven’t paid attention to the content of the Book of Mormon.”
Mouw also advised that he often plays a message on the atonement by LDS Elder Jeffrey R. Holland for his students to show them the commonality between Mormons and evangelicals.
“I show that address to my students at Fuller,” he explained. “They tell me that if they didn’t know it was a Mormon speaking they would have thought it was Billy Graham.”
However, some have expressed deep concern over Mouw’s beliefs that Christians and Mormons should overlook their differences, make peace and work together to promote God’s kingdom. Joel Groat, Director of Ministries at the Institute for Religious Research in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told Christian News Network that he has been following Mouw’s comments for years and is disturbed by his continued assertions.
“I’m very troubled,” Groat stated. “What is most troubling is that I know Dr. Mouw knows better. He’s a very intelligent man. He’s been involved with discussions with Mormons, and he’s had access to loads of documentation, [some of which] I personally put in his hand.”
He explained that he spoke with Mouw earlier this year during his appearance in Grand Rapids and provided him with information on the doctrines of Mormonism, but Mouw has not recanted of his position.
“It is so short-sighted to focus on what might bring common cause temporarily for this life and ignore eternity with God and the repercussions of following a false Gospel and a false Christ,” he said. “If the linking arms requires that we set aside our core theological differences and our understanding of eternity and a right relationship with God, then I would have to completely disagree.”
In April of this year, Groat and the coalition Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) also released an official statement taking Mouw to task for asserting that Christians have been fabricating doctrines about Mormonism.
“EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices,” the statement read. “What Dr. Mouw claims is ‘folk Mormonism’ wrongly treated as LDS doctrine by other evangelicals is actually central to the LDS conception of the gospel.”
Most significantly, Groat noted that Christians and Mormons possess a completely diametric understanding of redemption and the atonement–the central themes of the salvation message.
“When they talk about the redemptive power of Christ, Mormonism offers something different, as part of that atoning work is to allow men to achieve a level of godhood that is identical to the level of Godhood that God the Father holds now,” he stated. “It’s part of a whole packaged deal that goes back to the core teaching that God was once a man like us. And as a man He worked and progressed following laws and ordinances to the level of deity, and once He got to the level deity, He was able to procreate spirit children. … And He now holds out to us through the atoning work of Christ the opportunity to become gods like Him and continue that process.”
Groat said that Mouw is making a mistake by minimizing glaring doctrinal issues in order to forge friendships and working partnerships. In doing so, he said, Mouw is failing to give fellow Christians an accurate picture of the LDS faith.
“He knows,” Groat lamented. “And yet he continues to minimize the radical differences between Mormonism and Christianity that have eternal significance for people’s souls in favor of opening up dialogue based on superficial commonalities that seem to be only for temporal gain.”