Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research
In response to the publication of “How Wide The Divide?” by Craig Blomberg, Ph.D. and Stephen Robinson, Ph.D., noted Anti-Mormon author James White (“Letters To A Mormon Elder”) reviews this work for the Christian Research Institute.
White initially acknowledges that this work is “truly ground breaking in that it represents the first cooperative effort of its kind”, but then adds “it is also one of the most disturbing and troubling books I have read in a very long time”… this latter pronouncement fueled, no doubt, by the fear that he be called on the CRI shag for being too tolerant of the book’s objectives, since Hank Hanegraaf, President of CRI, has already declared the book “an abomination”.
White elaborates on the “shock” that the mysterious unidentified mass of “most Christians” feel about the book by seeking to establish the erroneous notion that the perception of his unidentified “masses” should dictate whether scholarly agreement can, or indeed should be reached. He openly wonders “How can Dr. Blomberg and Dr. Robinson say we agree on issues where, up until now, the vast majority on both sides thought we were in disagreement?”
Presumably, the point is lost on White that the very purpose of this joint work is to “advance Mormon-Evangelical dialogue beyond the relatively deplorable state in which it now languishes.” (pg. 25). Obviously, White does NOT want to see this happen, and states as much later on in his review;
“The real issue that is troubling is this: are we to be seeking this kind of dialogue? …Where, biblically, are we encouraged to lay out our areas of “agreement” with false teachers?”.
Besides the obvious insult in labeling Mormons as “false teachers” without any substantiation to back up his claim, White’s main thrust, by his own admission, is to instill a separationist attitude between Mormons and Creedal Christianity, seeing any kind of rational, objective dialogue as “dangerous”.
In order to justify why Mormons and Evangelicals should not, and indeed cannot have meaningful dialogue between them, White proffers his opinion as to why.. obviously, Robinson is lying! White complains that Dr. Robinson presents “what can only be called the “minimalist” view of Mormon theology, refusing to affirm what has been taught publicly by the General Authorities of the LDS Church for 150 years”, and then turns around and claims that Robinson’s book Are Mormons Christians? “has been widely used as an apologetic resource by LDS” One has to wonder.. if Robinson’s views are so “minimalist” in nature, why would his work be “widely used” by Mormons at all?
White strenuously notes that he is not at all comfortable with what Robinson, who White himself admits is “one of the leading LDS scholars”, states are official LDS doctrinal sources. A possible reason for this may be found in White’s own work. The vast bulk of White’s criticism of the LDS Church stems from statements taken from the Journal of Discourses and The Seer, two works that have repeatedly rejected by LDS Church leaders as non-canonical, and non-official doctrinal sources, and in fact have been openly refuted, most particularly The Seer, edited by Orson Pratt.
White indicates that no fair representation of “real” Mormon beliefs can be presented without using these non-official doctrinal sources, which is something akin to stating that Evangelical theology must be defined by what Kenneth Copeland teaches, without regard to what Evangelicals themselves state is an official doctrinal source for their beliefs.
A double standard is then established by White that his own faith would never survive, by claiming that Robinson does not speak for the majority of members of the LDS Church; “[Robinson’s] very unique perspective is not held by the vast majority of Mormons.” Curiously, White presents no evidence to support this statement.
White continues by claiming that Robinson’s arguments are somehow invalid because “the ‘Joint Conclusions’ that close each of the four sections consistently speak of “Evangelicals and Mormons,” as if the positions articulated by Robinson represent the historic LDS view, when they do not.” Rather than acknowledge that Robinson’s views do represent official LDS doctrine, White insists that the “historical” LDS view is really the correct measurement of what LDS believe now.
Robinson declared clearly what constitutes official LDS doctrine: “The Standard Works (i.e., the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, along with the KJV Bible) and official pronouncements by the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve (p. 15, 140).” White takes great exception to this, and attempts to blame the fact that Robinson is “one of the few LDS scholars trained in New Testament at a non-LDS university (Duke)”.. and that “He has been influenced by those studies and views himself as one of the “few” who have “learned to speak [the Evangelical] language and adjust accordingly” (p. 163).” White never attempts to explain the strangled logic he employs here. Why would a quality academic education at a non-LDS university narrow Robinson’s declaration of official LDS doctrinal sources to those he identified? If Robinson were truly influenced by a non-LDS institution in the manner in which White implies, wouldn’t Robinson’s “definition” be much more liberal? Certainly this would be the logical result of such classical training if White’s argument held any validity at all.
To illustrate the point that Robinson is out of touch with what the “vast majority of Mormons believe”, White points to a seeming discrepancy between Robinson’s statement on deification and a statement of the First Presidency in 1909. White ignores the point of Robinson’s argument that those exalted to Godhood after this life will “never become ‘the ground of all being’ and are forever subordinate to their Father”, and instead insists that the statement of the First Presidency somehow negates this truth because they used a capital “G” in one instance of the word “God”, instead of a small “g”. White completely ignores the fact that the content of the First Presidency’s message does not contradict Robinson’s statement whatsoever.
In summarizing the issue of Deification, White states that “throughout this work, those who would hold modern Mormonism accountable for its consistent teaching of this kind of doctrine throughout its history are told they have been shooting at a straw man all along.” White ignores the obvious fact that the LDS have never held the position he claims nor do they believe that man will ever be equal to or not be subordinate to God. The fact is that Robinson’s statement is consistent with both the First Presidency message and other official LDS doctrine taught throughout it’s history.
Incredulously, White claims that “Robinson avoids the problems with historic Mormon theology only by ignoring these issues, not by repudiating the errors that have led to the problems in the first place.” White uses the same kind of straw man argument that he accuses Robinson of employing to draw a conclusion which is completely unfounded in fact or reality. White, sans evidence of any kind, implies here that:
There are problems with the Mormon doctrine of Deification (which White does not even try to substantiate), and
Robinson “avoids” the assumed “problems by “ignoring them and “repudiating the errors that have led to the problems in the first place.”
One has to wonder how one “avoids” something that does not exist, and if no valid ‘problem’ exists, how can it then be ‘ignored’? White never quite gets around to answering either of these questions, nor does he bother to try and identify any of these “errors”, nor does he provide any evidence to support his claim whatsoever. In other words, in the absence of any real evidence, White insists on using his OWN opinion as the ultimate standard of truth by which the validity of Robinson’s arguments must be weighed!
White continues his “review” by introducing into “evidence”, a doctoral dissertation by Dr. David Paulsen, (“Comparative Coherency of Mormon (finitistic) and Classical Theism”. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Xerox University Microfilms, 1975. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan.) which he carefully edits to force-fit Paulsen’s views to fit his own agenda. One has to wonder why White had to so frequently edit Paulsen’s statements, and why he does not want the edited text considered by the audience of his review. Without that text, the true context of Paulsen’s statements cannot be evaluated.
Official LDS doctrine on the attributes of Godhood are stated quite succinctly in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, in the section on “Omnipotent God; Omnipresence Of God; Omniscience Of God”, which is written by none other than… David L. Paulsen. He says, in complete agreement with Robinson,
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the familiar terms “omnipotent,” “omnipresent,” and “omniscient” to describe members of the Godhead.
The Church affirms the biblical view of divine omnipotence (often rendered as “almighty”), that God is supreme, having power over all things. No one or no force or happening can frustrate or prevent him from accomplishing his designs (D&C 3:1-3). His power is sufficient to fulfill all his purposes and promises, including his promise of eternal life for all who obey him.
However, the Church does not understand this term in the traditional sense of absoluteness, and, on the authority of modern revelation, rejects the classical doctrine of creation out of nothing. It affirms, rather, that there are actualities that are coeternal with the persons of the Godhead, including elements, intelligence, and law (D&C 93:29, 33, 35: 88:34-40). Omnipotence, therefore, cannot coherently be understood as absolutely unlimited power. That view is internally self-contradictory and, given the fact that evil and suffering are real, not reconcilable with God’s omnibenevolence or loving kindness (see Theodicy).
Since Latter-day Saints believe that God the Father and God the Son are gloriously embodied persons, they do not believe them to be bodily omnipresent. They do affirm, rather, that their power is immanent “in all and through all things” and is the power “by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:6, 7, 13, 40-41). By their knowledge and power, and through the influence of the Holy Ghost, they are omnipresent.
Latter-day Saints differ among themselves in their understanding of the nature of God’s knowledge. Some have thought that God increases endlessly in knowledge as well as in glory and dominion. Others hold to the more traditional view that God’s knowledge, including the foreknowledge of future free contingencies, is complete. Despite these differing views, there is accord on two fundamental issues: (1) God’s foreknowledge does not causally determine human choices, and (2) this knowledge, like God’s power, is maximally efficacious. No event occurs that he has not anticipated or has not taken into account in his planning.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol 3)
The final result of this criticism on the attributes of godhood is the claim that Robinson is not correct in stating LDS beliefs, and yet White conveniently ignores evidence from his own source (Paulsen) when it disagrees with his position.
White further attempts to establish his argument as follows:
“Here we have the frank words of a current BYU professor, citing a past LDS scholar and General Authority, B.H. Roberts, yet we find Dr. Robinson saying that if an evangelical is convinced that Mormons believe in a finite or limited God, we are in error, for such an idea is repugnant to “us.” I am glad to hear it is repugnant to Dr. Robinson, but that just happens to be LDS theology all the same.”
While Robinson could have, and perhaps should have, done a better job of articulating what he meant more clearly in this respect, the conclusions that White draws from this statement, given all of the available evidence, are simply not grounded in fact or reality.
White continues his invective by asserting that Robinson “is just as misleading in other areas “. The next ‘discrepancy’ that White points to is the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Scoffing at Robinson’s assertion that the JST “does not make very many or very major doctrinal changes in the received text” (p. 63).”, White points to John 1:1, 4:24, 6:44; Romans 4:5, 16 to “show just how widespread and doctrinal are Joseph’s ‘emendations.’”. A careful study of each scriptural cite that White suggests shows no “major doctrinal change” whatsoever, and is certainly not consistent with his allegation that there are “many” such changes.
White next takes serious exception to 2 Nephi 25:23, which Robinson explains correctly, and which White rejects in favor of the “the LDS Bible Dictionary, published under the copyright of the Corporation of the First Presidency of the LDS Church”, which he then quotes.
White somehow neglects to realize that no aspect of his citation from the Bible Dictionary contradicts what Robinson stated at all. The quote from the Bible dictionary does not indicate that our works save us, or merit salvation in any way, shape of form.. merely that they are required of us to make the Grace of Christ’s atonement efficacious in our lives, as stated by Paul: “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that OBEY him;” (Hebrews 5:9)
The simple fact is that Robinson’s statements are perfectly in keeping with official LDS doctrine in every respect. The only problem is, this puts a serious crimp in the entire foundation of White’s criticism of LDS doctrine, which seems to rest solely on majority consensus and doctrinal awareness, non-doctrinal statements, opinions, and non-canonical teachings, as White himself attests:
“The main problem, then, with the book can be traced to the fact that Robinson does not accurately reflect either the “mainstream” LDS view on key issues, or the position exemplified by volume after volume of the sermons and writings of the General Authorities of the Church, or that presented so clearly in the LDS Temple Ceremonies (which many LDS see as authoritative and even “canonical” in the sense of being “revelatory”).”
Nor surprisingly, White cannot come up with even a single instance to show where the accusation articulated above has any validity whatsoever. White must revert to claiming that Robinson, “one of the leading LDS scholars”, is simply lying somehow, since he doesn’t agree with what White has declared should be official LDS doctrine . One would hope that with the inherent seriousness of that kind of accusation, that White would have some evidence, examples, or proof to back it up. If he has such, he certainly never gets around to presenting it.
At least White is consistent and fair in his condemnation though, because he then proceeds to reject Blomberg entirely as a Biblical Scholar and any kind of representative of Evangelical theology by claiming that neither Blomberg or Robinson accurately reflect their respective beliefs. Not content with excommunicating Blomberg from Evangelical Christianity for daring not to agree with the non-credentialled White, Blomberg is then blasted for consorting with the enemy, claiming that he (Blomberg) is “[unfamiliar] with the finer points of LDS theology and history”, and criticizes him for “the very idea that we are to seek some kind of broad plane of agreement in the first place.”
In reality, this last part of White’s condemnation of Blomberg is quite possibly the most revealing aspect of White’s “review”, and can possibly shed the most light on White’s true motives here. In addition to reflecting an attitude that is a common thread through White’s other writings, it also perfectly reflects the attitude of CRI President Hank Hanegraaf, who in reviewing White’s “review” of HWTD?, asked, and answered, the very same question.
White then attempts an apology on behalf of Blomberg for this eminent Biblical Scholar’s failure to “come into this dialogue with a background in Mormon studies.” Not content with the lack of polemics in HWTD?, White conveniently forgets the very purpose of this work in his zeal to tear down LDS beliefs. White seems unaware that each author’s responsibility was to write on, and properly represent his own beliefs.. not the others. White apparently believes that unless one is a widely published anti-Mormon author, one cannot fully and adequately represent the beliefs of Evangelical theology.
White complains that he has “already noted the fact that Robinson gets away with many re-definitions that could have been challenged by the citation of the proper LDS sources.” “Proper LDS sources?” One needs to ask, “Proper to whom?” Again, White pronounces himself sole “definer” of official LDS doctrine, complaining that Robinson, one of the most respected Biblical Scholars and theologians in the 10-million member Mormon church, and Chairman of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, is “redefining” Mormon belief simply because he dares to reiterate the definition of, and to cite official LDS doctrinal sources instead of the more dubious Journal of Discourses and The Seer. In short, the thrust of White’s complaint seems to be that if White isn’t allowed to declare for Mormons what their true and official doctrine is, then the MORMONS are “wrong”, and are “redefining” their doctrine.
White further proves this supposition by not being able to resist the temptation to ignore what Blomberg concluded and instead insists on making his own doctrinal pronouncements and opinions in response to Robinson’s accurate representation of LDS belief. Presumably, White feels that Blomberg is so inept at representing the “true” Evangelical position that only uncredentialled White is “qualified” to declare it. For example, in rejecting Blomberg’s responsible acceptance of Robinson’s explanation of the LDS position on Deification and Eternal Progression, White sputters, “I do not believe it is a “misconception” to accuse Mormonism of polytheism, and hence idolatry.”
In fact, White seems almost beside himself with annoyance at Blomberg’s respectful acknowledgment of Robinson’s factual statements of what true LDS belief constitutes by accusing Blomberg of “acquiescing” to Robinson, and thus, at least to White, “allowing a BYU professor to define what is, and what is not, an ‘official LDS emphasis.’
In all fairness, it seems that even Blomberg can truly do no right in White’s eyes. Consider the following statement:
“Blomberg’s statements, even when hitting upon the real issues and pressing home an important point, are often softened by phrases like “it appears” or “it seems to me” or “it is a concern to me.” Examples can be found on pp. 109, 121, 179.”
Here White clearly acknowledges that Blomberg “hits upon real issues”, and “presses home.. important points”, but is actually offended by the fact that Blomberg is respectful and considerate in expressing his opinions, and is not openly insulting and vitriolic towards Robinson or Mormons in general.
In conclusion, White reiterates that “the real issue that is troubling is this: are we to be seeking this kind of dialogue?” Obviously, to White, these two separate groups of believers in Jesus Christ, though divided in some points of doctrine, are to be forced to be vicious enemies and adversaries.
White concludes his review by inferring that Mormons are “lost”, and need to be “turned around”, much like the Evangelicals claim occurred with the WWCG, which White references;
“We look at a situation like the turn-around in the Worldwide Church of God and hold out hope that it might happen elsewhere.”
White is simply not content with examining the work of Blomberg and Robinson. Since Blomberg did not condemn Mormons as hotly as White would have liked, White has to attempt to turn his review of HWTD? into a pulpit from which to reinforce his bias against Mormon doctrine.
White’s main objection is asked as follows:
“Where, biblically, are we encouraged to lay out our areas of “agreement” with false teachers?”
White then asserts that the actual differences between Mormons and Evangelicals have been minimized somewhat in the conclusions of both authors. “When we say that Mormons and Evangelicals agree that there is one eternal and infinite God, are we not making our disagreements a mere matter of “interpretation”?” What White clearly fails to comprehend (and refuses vehemently to accept), is the fact that this is exactly what the assessment of the authors indicates.. that our disagreements constitute.. “a matter of interpretation”. The whole purpose of the book, which was obviously lost on White, is to examine where these differences are, and how substantial they are from the perspective of each side.
Finally, White abandons his “review” of HWTD? completely, and collapses into a loud and rather bitter diatribe to the effect that Mormons are not worthy of even being called by the title “Christian”.
Shallow and tepid, arrogant and inaccurate, this “review” is fueled not by a systematic, objective scholarly analysis of the respective arguments and conclusions of each author. Instead, it is fueled by the smoldering bigotry of one embracing an “ends justify the means” attitude of hatred towards Mormons. Rather than a scholarly analysis, this “review” is replete with White’s personal opinion and anti-Mormon rhetoric, liberally applied throughout for no other reason than that Blomberg was not nearly hateful enough towards Mormons, and that Robinson was intentionally misrepresenting what Mormons “really believe” by not agreeing with White on what constitutes official LDS doctrinal sources. In any case, White believes very intensely that we should not be speaking to one another.
Hank Hanegraaf aptly summed up the probable effect that HWTD? will have on Evangelicals of White’s mindset. He bemoaned the fact on a Bible Answer Man broadcast which featured White as the guest, that it “would set back the work with cults by decades.”
As for Blomberg, Robinson, and the rest of us;
“We hope that we can spark many similar conversations between Mormons and Evangelicals and thus inaugurate a new era in which such conversations move us beyond the impasse of previous polemics, recognizing our areas of agreement, and clarifying the nature of our disagreements.”