Richard MOUW. Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012. 99pp. Paperback. Reviewed by Richard RYMARZ, St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta
Mormons or Latter Day Saints are part of one of the most dynamic religious communities in the United States. They have a small but growing, highly committed base and an increasingly visible role in public life. As such their relationships with other communities are an area of growing interest. This short book looks at some of the issues involved in dialogue between Mormons and Evangelicals. It is written from the perspective of a senior Evangelical leader, the President of Fuller Theological Seminary.
There is no doubt that there are significant barriers to finding common theological ground between Mormons and traditional Christians. Added to this is the historical lack of interaction, at least at an official level, between communities. Mouw points out that for many Evangelicals their relationship with Mormons was governed by a sense of being in spiritual warfare and that dialogue was a betrayal of the primacy of the gospel. In addition, for many Evangelicals Mormons have been surrounded by a mysterious and, in some senses, foreboding aura. This is marked by factors such as their concentration in Western states, uniformity of appearance, strange rituals and oddly named temples. On a human and personal level many of these barriers are breaking down. The rise of Mitt Romney, for example, gives many a good illustration of a successful Mormon who appears to express the aspirations that are common to a wide range of Americans.
On the theological plane, however, the search for communality and mutual understanding needs to be cultivated. And this is the rationale for this book. Mouw’s general thesis is that if you look past some of the more salient and well known Mormon positions such as a God who cannot be seen in Trinitarian terms there are areas where there could be some overlap in theological positions. Quoting a prominent Mormon leader Mouw argues that it would do well for Evangelicals to cut Mormons some slack and give them the space and opportunity to reflect on and develop some of their thinking.
One area that he identifies as a fruitful one for theological exchange is justification. Mouw sees some contemporary Mormon thinkers such as Spencer Flushman as moving toward a position that Calvin and Luther would have been pleased with. This acknowledges that salvation was only made possible by the free grace that is granted as a gift won by Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Mouw points out that many liberal Protestants find this teaching unacceptable. The fact that Mormons may be moving more closely to this view should, therefore, encourage Evangelicals to establish and then maintain ongoing formal links.
This book is in no way a theological one. Rather it is a conversation starter, aimed at initiating a more fruitful interaction between two of the most significant religious communities in the United States today. Communities that both “hit above their weight”, that is, have a significant impact on religion in public discourse.