A “Plain Truth” Irony?

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A “Plain Truth” Irony?

I have come to enjoy reading Plain Truth magazine these days. There was a time  when I read it with very different expectations. I used to read it at airports, where it was often possible to pick up a free copy. Those were the days when the magazine set forth the views of Herbert W. Armstrong, whose teachings—for example, a “British Israel” perspective on world events, a denial of the Trinity, and a condemnation of the Christian churches—were well beyond the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy.

But things have changed during the past few decades. After Armstrong’s death, those who assumed the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God re-thought their teachings and openly repented of the heretical teachings they had once espoused. They moved into the evangelical mainstream, joining the National Association of Evangelicals.

Plain Truth (now a member of the Evangelical Press Association) is a well-written and interesting magazine these days. The latest issue has a fine study of the fundamentalist mentality, as well as, among other articles, an interesting survey of some controversies within the ranks of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I was taken aback, however, by a short box commentary accompanying the Jehovah’s Witnesses piece. The writer observes that there has been a pattern in recent years of evangelicals engaging in friendly dialogues with groups that have long been viewed by evangelicals as non-Christian “cults.” The Mormons in particular, he notes, have begun using more “Christian” terminology in describing their beliefs–which leads the writer to wonder whether some of us in the Christian world are “falling for a clever public relations ploy.” He also observes that recently “[p]rominent evangelical leaders have apologized publicly to Mormons for misrepresenting their beliefs.” (I wonder who he has in mind!) And then this concluding remark: “Perhaps such evangelical leaders believe that creating a friendly dialog with cultists will afford a better chance for the true gospel to penetrate cultic defenses. Is this true, or will Christians in the next century find themselves a minority in the shadow of groups formerly regarded as cultic? Time will tell.”

He does leave the question open here, but with the implication that there is a real possibility that some of us are making a mistake in engaging in serious dialogue with folks who have long been considered cultic.

I see an irony in this sort of concern being raised in the pages of Plain Truth. There was a time in the late 1990s when the Worldwide Church of God, still considered a non-Christian cult at the time, approached Fuller Seminary with a request for us to allow a couple of their leaders to enroll in our theology classes. They were in the process of re-evaluating their teachings, they said, and they wanted the chance to do so under the guidance of evangelical scholars. We decided to grant them admission, even as we recognized the possibility that they would use their acceptability to Fuller as a way of giving credibility to what were still heretical doctrines.  But we took the risk with them, and from all the evidence it looks like we made the right decision.

But I wonder why this expressed worry now about those of us who choose to engage in dialogue with “cultic” groups? And what is behind the warning that we may someday find ourselves “a minority in the shadow of groups formerly regarded as cultic”? Isn’t that a bit odd coming from a magazine published by the Worldwide Church of God, a group that by its own testimony was once a cult?

Or maybe it isn’t ironic. Maybe the Plain Truth folks are trying to tell us something.

No, that can’t be–I have to put away that thought.

Anyway, as the writer himself concluded: “Time will tell.”

16 Comments »

  1. One of the things I respect about your thinking is your ability to hold to and share orthodox Christian faith in a predominently skeptical environments. For this reason, I trust and support you in your dialogues with Mormons. Undoubtedly, there is much that Christians need to confess in our treatment of Mormons.

    Perhaps because I am not as versed in your discussions, the Church of Latter Day Saints desire to be considered a Christian Church does concern me. I recently had a discussion with a former attender of my church who was “changing” churches to go to a Mormon Church. He believed or was being led to believe that it was a switch like from Catholic to Protestant or denominational to non-denominational. All this to ask how we should “dialogue” at the ground level. At this level, the article from Plain Truth seems fairly clear.

    As far as the irony, I think the thing that makes it less ironic is the quest by the people behind Plain Truth for the truth in Christ… marked most clearly by their repentance. There seems to be no such move in the Mormon Church’s desire to affiliate with Fuller or Christianity.

    Comment by andrew — June 25, 2007 @ 11:21 am


  2. Let me add one last thing to the post I just made. Instead of insinuating there is no desire for repentance or truth in Christ, that should be a question. Is there such a move by the Mormon Church?

    Comment by andrew — June 25, 2007 @ 11:23 am


  3. I have respect for Dr. Mouw and his work at Fuller. Recently in watching a PBS special on Mormonism, I had occasion to view a couple of clips of him commenting on Mormonism. In one clip he said, “I really don’t believe that [Smith] was simply making up a story that he knew to be false in order to manipulate people and to gain power over a religious movement. And so I live with the mystery.” It is interesting to contrast this statement with a statement on the same program by Dr. Michael Coe, a professor emeritus of anthropology: “I really think that Joseph Smith, like Shamans everywhere, started out faking it. I have to believe this, that he didn’t believe this at all. That he was out to impress. But he got caught up in the mythology that he created. This is what happens to shamans, they begin to believe that they can do these things and then it becomes a revelation, they’re speaking to God. Joseph Smith had a sense of destiny, and most fakers don’t have this, and this is how he transformed something that I think was clearly made up into something that was absolutely convincing.”

    Who is right: Mouw or Coe? To me, Joseph’s psychology (whether or not he was consciously deceived) is less important than his theology—to us a self-evident departure from orthodoxy. And yet in his heterodoxy he is not alone. For a number of years I have reflected on at least four interesting parallels between Mormonism and Islam. 1. Both Muhammed and Joseph reported encounters with angels who from an orthodox Christian perspective gave them “another gospel.” (viz Galatians 1:8-9); 2. Both Joseph and Muhammed got another book they said was from God. 3. Both believed the church had fallen away from the truth: Muhammed and his followers believed early Christians had interpolated torah (Old Testament) and injeel (New Testament) and had abandoned Jesus’s true teaching that he was only a prophet; Joseph and his followers believed that the true church had ceased to exist after the apostles, and that in and through them God was at last restoring the only true church—other denominations being an “abomination.” 4. Both Muhammed and Joseph believed that God gave them permission to have many wives, and Muhammed believed he got a special revelation authorizing him to marry his adopted son (Zaid)’s former wife to whom he had been previously attracted. (To me this last point is useful in discerning the mixture of flesh and “spirit” in these revelations. Viz Matthew 7:16)

    In the process of engaging in inter-religious dialogue, Richard Mouw says no more than that he thinks Joseph was sincere. But if as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:14, the enemy disguises himself as an angel of light, then “prophets”, while sincere, may well be deceived. (And is deception really such a mystery?) While this topic of deception clearly might not be the thing one might choose to bring up in the first stages of inter-religious dialogue and outreach, it is something about which Christians must nonetheless be aware…

    Winfield Casey Jones

    Comment by Winfield Casey Jones — June 27, 2007 @ 9:46 am


  4. Dr. Mouw,

    I look forward to meeting you someday, but for now I’ll be content to pray for you from a distance.

    Thanks for setting such a righteous example for me and so many other emerging leaders. We are watching closely, and taking notes!

    In One Peace,

    – Jerry DePoy Jr.

    Comment by Jerry DePoy Jr. — June 29, 2007 @ 1:13 pm


  5. Andrew said, There seems to be no such move in the Mormon Church’s desire to affiliate with Fuller or Christianity.

    Well, as I’m sure you’ll agree, the Mormon church certainly does wish to be considered “Christian” by other Christian denominations. I think the difference in their position vs. the Worldwide Church of God is that the Mormons don’t really understand why their beliefs are so fundamentally different than the differences between “orthodox” (small o) denominations. If both Baptists and Catholics can both be considered Christians (they might say), why not Mormons, also?

    One hopes that dialogues such as the ones Dr. Mouw is engaging in will help Mormon leaders to comprehend the significant distinctions between Mormon faith and “orthodox” Christianity. But this can never happen without having the dialogue occur in the first place.

    Comment by B-W — July 2, 2007 @ 10:12 am


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  15. very interesting and informative

    Comment by Bill — September 27, 2008 @ 11:04 pm


  16. Dear Dr. Mouw,

    Thank you for posting the blog dealing with the Plain Truth Magazine. As a former member of the World Wide Church of God and a friend of several LDS scholars, I find your dialogue with the LDS refreshing and enlightening. Your opening address at Temple Square couldn’t have been stated better and been more timely. As a theologian from the Church of God 7th Day, I’ve often felt my evangelical counterparts have been far to quick to write off believers who are in marginalized faith communities. While there are differences that divide us many of us deeply love the real Jesus Christ and do believe only by grace can we be rescued from our sins. In my former association with World Wide scholars such Dr. Charles V. Dorothy and Lester Grabbe, we had a real problem presenting a fine tuned theological vocabulary which would communicate effectively our understanding of scripture through the parameters of traditional Christian understanding. We also over simplified and generalized the beliefs of our evangelical counterparts. It wasn’t until I finished my PhD work with a small Orthodox seminary that I realized just how the communities within Christiandom do not understand or interpet each community’s theology in a proper fashion because it is viewed through the filters of each. As the Book of Ephesians declares only God knows those who are His. Our communities in the Church of God 7th Day as well as the Community of Christ, formerly the RLDS, the Seventh Day Adventist and other marginalized groups are making great spiritual and theological gains as we dialogue with other Christian scholars. We all have much to gain in our self understanding regarding the origins of our faith communities as we sojourn towards Christ and the Kingdom of God. In my professional opinion, it is a bit ironic how my former church publication entitled The Plain Truth holds such an evangelical ptolemic against cultic theology when one considers their origins. Very few of the original leaders and membership still reside in that denomination due to the fact most were fired and disfellowshipped to make the changes towards evangelicalism more palatable. I am so thankful the Plain Truth now teaches the Christian Gospel but the sad untold story was over the blood shed and the non-Christian activities that took place to bring this conversion to fruition. My final concern is may we enter in to this Christ centered dialogue with Christlike behavior and Christian ethics and an attitude of learning from everyone’s experience as sojourners in the Faith.

    Comment by Tom Roberts, PhD — January 21, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

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