Mormons and Cultural "Orthodoxy"
* There is an important angle missing from your account of the successes of Mormonism, and it points to the abiding need to revive the evangelical mind ["Mormons on the Rise," June 15]. It is true that Mormons have a tough row to hoe in their historical apologetic; that liability is more than compensated for in the power of their philosophical apologetic. One ought to be duly aware of how well Mormon orthodoxy comports to the prevailing cultural "orthodoxy." Evangelicals may smile at a Mormon tradition of stone-peeping, polygamy, and polytheism. However, the materialism in Mormonism and their willingness to conceive of God as a material object makes them very compatible with the materialism of the academy. Mormon belief expresses a very plausible way of holding religion together with current philosophical views of the mind. The universalism, social ethos, and relation of church and state are also, I suggest, very compatible with contemporary liberalism.
Consequently, it may not really be asking a lot for a modern person to become a Mormon. Mormonism has a cultural advantage in holding a modern view of life and potentially satisfying postmodern longings for spirituality. In confronting the success of Mormonism, evangelicals must tackle these fronts—the philosophical and cultural fronts—as well.
* Hooray for the Southern Baptists! I wish the rest of us had had the courage and compassion to go to Salt Lake City for our annual meetings. Maybe some will in the years to come. My thanks to the SBC!
* After studying growth statistics in Operation World, I have regretfully observed that the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are rapidly outpacing the Muslims and Christians around the world. What is causing this? I believe the Christian faith community is not adequately educating our members (like the Mormon indoctrination). Can you imagine how Christianity would effectively grow if our young people were required to serve two years on the mission field (here or abroad)? The zeal of the Mormons is taking away our thunder! Let's follow our eternal Savior, Jesus Christ, who not only died for our personal sins, but also rose from death to save us from these sins. No other cult leader (Joseph Smith included) can ever hold a candle to the power of Christ. I challenge our churches to train soldiers for Christ.
Dale A. Nyberg
* Mormons believe: "what God has said to apostles and prophets in the past is always secondary to what God is saying directly to the apostles and prophets now" (CT, June 15, p. 30). In a way, the Mormons have one up on other Christians. But it is God's style today which is secondary to yesterday. For yesterday and today and forever, the Word of God is relevant. Jesus would be rolling over in his grave, if he were still in it, by the way Scripture "soundeth" so foolish. (Consistently speaketh thou like this for a few months/years and you will see how foolish this bad habit is.)
Mark R. Henninger
* In his review of John Shelby Spong's newest book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die [Books, June 15], Michael G. Maudlin raises what is perhaps an unintended issue. In the review, he juxtaposes a choice for Bill Hybels's "seeker sensitive" worship style with John Spong's skeptic-sensitive version of Judeo-Christian Faith. Is it merely an accident that these two come up in the same illustration?
It could be argued that since both Spong and Hybels seem to perceive the "felt needs" and present experiences of people to be the determining factor in the church's outreach, then perhaps the two deserve each other's company. Perhaps Schleiermacher is the proud grandfather of both perspectives. Could it not be argued that Hybels's appeal to "felt needs" might eventually lead an individual to Spong's reductio absurdum of the old "I theology"?
Pastor Lawrence L. Isbell
Rensselaer County Lutheran Parish
East Schodack, N.Y.
* Maudlin's review uses valuable space to imply that since Bill Hybels has his 15,000 and Spong has a shrinking diocese, Hybels must be right. While Spong by any measure is a heretic, the use of numbers and "success" to help refute him is troubling—especially when this review appears in an issue of CT with a cover showing "Mormons on the Rise." Many Mormons, no doubt, are comforted into believing Mormonism is true because it is bringing aid and comfort to many of the unchurched Sallys Maudlin writes about. Numbers and success were on the side of the fourth-century Arian heretics. Yet "success" seems to be the apologia du jour for many American Christians today. "Successful" Christians today may actually help breed the Spongs of tomorrow by their abandonment or relativizing of doctrines now held only by "fundamentalists." American Christianity must change in this regard or die, eventually.
James M. Kushiner
Theft by Consent
* Your editorial ["Gambling with the Enemy"] and feature article ["None Dare Call It Sin," May 18] on gambling address three major concerns facing Christians in responding to the prevalent climate of moral lawlessness in our culture.
1. Many Christians are as likely as our unbelieving neighbors to fall for the deception of gambling as one of many forms of immediate self-gratification or get-rich-quick schemes. While acknowledging the theoretical validity of the tenth commandment (you shall not covet), we are reluctant to challenge the something-for-nothing mentality that pervades the gambling ethos (and many other areas of economic activity) either as a matter of morality or prudence. 2. Most Christians are unable to articulate ideas of public morality in ways that identify obedience to scriptural teachings with the well-being of our neighbors or our communities. Most of us would acknowledge that good laws are intended to promote the public good—whether in protecting public health or promoting honesty in business dealings. Yet we tend to ignore the fact that the gambling industry is based on theft by consent—aided and abetted by governments who seek to profit from the weaknesses of their citizens. 3. Many Christians and Christian churches preach a gospel of salvation and/ or personal peace unconnected to the Savior's command to love our neighbors—in tangible as well as spiritual ways. If we are indifferent to the suffering and loss created by the gambling industry and its political sponsors, then we will pass along to our children communities that have been morally, socially, and economically impoverished as a result. Just as important, we will have to answer to God for our own indifference.
These principles can also apply to our attitudes to many of the other social evils which beset our communities. But if we are committed to loving and working with our neighbors and not just preaching at them, communities all over Canada and the United States have shown that Christians can make a constructive difference.
Geoffrey E. Hale
London, Ont., Canada
* After three years of right-to-life work in the Reno area (the greatest moral issue of our nation's history), I concluded that evangelicals really couldn't care less. The system works for them. Like me, they are middle class and prosperous. Few have ever suffered oppression or hardship. If they get involved, it would take effort and the authorities might come and take their place.
Evangelicals draw their lines of protection too close to their own front door. Abortions happen to other people. It doesn't affect us. Gambling is for other people. We can't see how it will affect us. We'll always deal with it too late—when it is so widespread and hits our front door.
This is symptomatic of our prosperous evangelical culture. Why should CT be so surprised that gambling has taken over communities in the Bible Belt? Why should we be so surprised that this is a surprise to them? They don't even know what's in their own Bibles.
Pastor Don Nelson
Your recent articles on gambling are both relevant and timely. They focused on a very important religious issue of the day; however, as closely as I read these articles and interviews, I did not find a biblical explanation for the case against gambling. It is clear that gambling takes a toll on our families and society; but if we are going to make a moral argument, we need to base our reasoning on the Bible.
A. Vincent Siciliano
San Diego, Calif.
* The spectacle of Christians who have lived for years below the poverty line, being attracted by lucrative jobs in the gambling industry is not so surprising. If wealthier Christians saw it as their ministry to follow the example of the early church by establishing labor-intensive industries to employ their poorer brothers and sisters in the faith, their example would go a long way toward reducing the fatal attraction presented by jobs in casinos.
Cambridge, Ont., Canada
An Ideal Sinner
I found the late hit on former Colorado coach Bill McCartney by jocular journalist and judge Phyllis E. Alsdurf to be a blend of amusement and amazement ["McCartney on the Rebound," May 18]. I don't recall reading or hearing anywhere that McCartney ever professed perfection or its approximation. My read on McCartney is that he has publicly professed specific identifiable sins, a fact that places him far ahead of the priapic president of the United States—not to mention Alsdurf herself or even me. One is forced to wonder what Alsdurf's ideal penitent alcoholic and adulterer would be. While I would agree that forsaking the glories of football, fabulous femme fatales, and $350,000 a year to spend more time with his wife is not a living end in reformation repentance, it ain't really a bad spiritual preseason.
McCartney strikes me as one of Martin Luther's ideal sinners. And just think, if this old hypocrite can get grown men to stop their drinking and doinking in his current condition, think how God might be able to use him when he gets serious about his faith!
Christianity Today is tragically and realistically portrayed in your cover article on Bill McCartney. A seven-year-old boy bargains with his god for a wallet and is increasingly convinced this is the best way to stop smoking, drinking, fornication, racism, and so on.
Evangelical leadership shows little interest in teaching McCartney that his "zeal for God is not based on knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). Instead, they join him in the stadium crying out as did the Israelites: "We will obey" (Exod. 24:7).
Is not Scripture painfully clear in revealing to us that we have neither obeyed nor kept our promises? Surely the visible church is being given a veil of deception because they do not love that Truth, nor do they really love that one and only Promise Keeper who came to die because of our wretched failure.
Carol K. Tharp
I was at the Detroit Promise Keepers with more than 70,000 men, and I too was very surprised that less than 1 percent were black. The ones we have to fear are the non-churchgoers, whether black or white.
Perhaps if we visited one another's church more, the black preacher would come off his political agenda with habitual cries of discrimination, and the whites would get rid of their racist suspicions in their antiseptic surroundings.
Paul L. Liberty
It is more the approach to reconciliation than the need for reconciliation that invokes my lack of enthusiasm. We need be sensitized to current and future opportunities to live and work in harmony and share each other's burdens in Christian love. Promise Keepers could lead by suggesting promises we should consider, make, and live so that reconciliation becomes the natural outcome. Hope they fine-tune the subject.
David C. Horneys
Mt. Prospect, Ill.
Loving the Colombians
I read the article "Colombia's Bleeding Church" just days after returning from the funeral of my sister's husband, Charles Hood. Charley and Becky, along with their two children have been International Mission Board (SBC) missionaries to Bogot, Colombia for ten years. Charley was struck down by an assassin's bullet on April 21 [CT, June 15, 1998, p. 19].
While the article was particularly poignant for me in light of the tragic circumstances, it brought to mind the reason Charley and all other missionaries are there in the first place: They love the people.
My initial reaction to Charley's death was shock mixed with bitterness and resentment against a nation of people whose violent culture would allow this to happen and a hapless military government that seems paralyzed to change it. But, as my sister gently reminded us, "It was not a Colombian who shot Charley, it was a human being who happened to live in Colombia."
* I believe there is a critical misunderstanding about the Wolf-Specter Bill on religious persecution (May 18).
Wolf-Specter does not allow someone who merely claims to be a member of a persecuted group to enter the U.S. immediately, as James Robb suggests. In 1996, Congress passed an "expedited removal" law that allows the ins to immediately turn back asylum-seekers if they are not able to make a credible claim of fear on the spot. What Wolf-Spector does is recognize that asylum-seekers are often traumatized by the persecution they have just been through (often at the hands of their government officials), and have difficulty expressing their fear to uniformed government officials as soon as they arrive. The bill does not allow such a person access to the U.S., but merely guarantees that if they belong to a persecuted group (as identified by the State Department), they will be allowed to apply for asylum.
More disturbing is Robb's prediction that this asylum provision will empty many Middle Eastern countries of Christians in a few decades. The implication is that Christians suffering persecution should stay where they are and not flee. Those of us who enjoy religious freedom in this country should not presume to know what is best for our brothers and sisters suffering persecution at the hands of intolerant regimes. With 50 years of experience in refugee assistance and as the only evangelical agency authorized by the State Department to resettle refugees in this country, World Relief believes the decision to flee ought to be made by those suffering persecution. Wolf-Specter gives them the opportunity to at least ask for asylum.
Where Are the Women?
* I am amazed! Not one of 1998's best books was authored by a woman ["1998 Book Awards, Apr. 27]—a significant, though not very positive, observation. I could conclude that women don't write, or maybe they don't write in a valuable way. But recently I've noticed that a high percentage of CT's articles—and some outstanding ones at that—have been written by women. So maybe women just don't write worthy books. I wonder how many of the 200 nominated books were written by women. I also wonder how many ballots were sent to women. Lastly, I wonder why the book review editor didn't notice that the absence of the female voice was an additional weakness to the weaknesses he already identified in this year's book list.
West Chicago, Ill.
God's Answer to Prayer Life
With regard to the article "The Myth of a Better Prayer Life," by Susan Wise Bauer [Apr. 27]: Why do we always think we are going to find the answers in books written by man, when God has written his own Book, and all the answers are there? I've told people that prayer is hard work for me. It's a struggle. And I've been piously told that it shouldn't be like that. So I was excited to read once that C. S. Lewis felt the same way about prayer. But the wonderful thing is, God created us as very unique creatures, and we need to respond to him in our own ways—through our own personalities—and how it is most meaningful to us. We don't need books. He's given us the ultimate—his own Word.
* Bauer stopped one short in her search for a good book on prayer. Creative Prayer, by Brigid E. Herman, was written at the turn of the century and recently republished by Paraclete Press. It's the best I've read since Prayer, by O. Hallesby. The emphasis is on God, not me, nor about power nor getting what I want, but about deepening my relationship with God.
Great Falls, Mont.
More Agreement Than Exists?
"The Gift of Salvation" [Dec. 8, 1997] was supposed to clarify deficiencies of the original statement [from Evangelicals and Catholics Together] on the issue of justification. Instead, it appears that we have another ambiguous document, requiring subsequent "clarifying" statements from various signers that contradict each other. To illustrate, one needs only to read the article in the April 27 issue of CT that quoted Jesuit scholar Avery Dulles as saying "The Gift of Salvation" is true to the Council of Trent. In the same issue of CT, Timothy George, J. I. Packer, and Thomas Oden issued an open letter stating that "The Gift of Salvation" confirmed the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. I fail to understand how the statement can do both.
Meaningful analysis and discussion among evangelicals on the issue of justification by faith alone and its importance relative to the message of the gospel is sorely needed. While the "Gift of Salvation" has the appearance of supporting the doctrine of "justification by faith alone," it readily admits that it does not address the necessarily related issues of merit, works, the sacrament of penitence, purgatory, and so on. Additionally, based on the comment noted above from Avery Dulles, I am led to believe that its wording has been carefully crafted such that most readers will be given the impression that there is more agreement than actually exists. Thus, I am convinced that this statement will confuse its readers as to what issues are essential to the gospel. That is a dangerous effect.
Gary G. Nichols
Although there is reason to be thankful that a segment of Roman Catholics believe the "biblical teaching … that salvation or justification is on condition of faith and only faith," it hardly seems reasonable, logical, or wise to speak of ECT when relatively few Catholics adhere to things that are supposed to bring evangelicals and Catholics "together."
Better would it be to speak of and work for ET! This would open the door for "evangelicals" not only in the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions to be together, but also for evangelicals in the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches as well as evangelicals in other church bodies to join hand and heart on the foundation of a basic biblical and evangelical doctrine.
Ralph H. Isensee
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